Social Justice means many things in the United States. Most of it comes down to politics. However, outside of America and the larger Western World, the context of social justice or social concern charges greatly.
I am a conservice politically and seem Marxism in the modern America view of social justice. However, I have recently had that view challenged by reading Pentecostals and the poor by Dr. Ivan Satyavrata.
What would a theologian from India have to tell us that would be different than the things we head on Fox News or the 700 Club? Then, I realized he is the pastor of the 4,000 strong Buntain Memorial Church in Kolkata and serves on the board of directors for Teen Challenge in India.
The question of contextual ministry matters. He would have in understanding of how the gospel connects with the social concerns of the people. In his culture, it is not social justice vs the gospel but social concerns empower the gospel.
To be clear that a bowl of rice is never a substitute for the Holy Spirit. Giving someone food or medical care without telling them of the Savior is still humanism. It must be a tool, not the purpose or it loses its purpose.
Understanding Social justice globally
For many decades, the connection of social concern and the gospel was not two different matters. Azusa Street Mission was known for its works of compassion, for example. The same is true of the earlier Bethel Healing Home in Topeka (1901). However, in recent years the issue has become more of a political one than theological one.
This is the main things that Ivan Satyavrata seeks to remind us in Pentecostal and the Poor.
The extraordinary success of the Pentecostal movement is largely due to its outreach to those on the periphery of society. (p.38)
The message of redemption to the poor found in the gospel is hope for eternity and hope for the present. Many have no choice but to trust the Holy Spirit for their daily bread (and about everything else).
Historically, we have been better at the work of compassion than we have to discussing it but in recent years, we have developed great theological works about it while our actions became less and less. While we wanted to be moved with compassion, we did not want to attached to anything that was close to a “social gospel.”
Outside of the Western context, especially the United States, social concern and the Pentecostal message that Jesus saves, heals and delivers is natural and inseparable. They are more passionate about caring for the broken man than they were having great theological discourse. This remains the case in the developing world that Quest for Souls does most of its work.
The explosion of the Pentecostal movement around the world is directly in relationship with its’ application of compassion for the poor of the nation they work among. Social engagement is the gasoline on the fire of the gospel being preached. There is no dismissing this.
Working out social concern practically
When I was in living in the Philippines as a missionary, it was critical to get people to come for a work of evangelism to give them a meal. It is just standard in many outreaches, especially in the squatters. Many missionaries did not like the model but in most cases, without feeding the people; they would not come.
There is a place that personal philosophy and missiology does not matter and only what will actually reach the lost takes importance. This was the case in the Philippines. Personally, I struggled that a plate of Chicken Abodo made the people come, not the fire of God’s presence.
There was something powerful learned that I did not know in bible college: full stomach becomes open hearts. This is not true in all contexts but this is true in the Filipino understanding. (In Japan, offering food would be offensive.)
Pentecostal and the Poor is a monograph published by Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio City, Philippines. You can find it on Amazon in the United States.