BreakPoint: Generation Z, Justice, and the Gospel

A Call for Balance

Many members of Generation Z are choosing justice over the gospel, but they don’t have to. They can choose both.

Generation Z—roughly those young people born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s—is known for a lot of things: its technological savvy, its commitment to social justice, its loneliness, its online connectedness, and its seemingly endless quest for “authenticity.” One thing it’s not as known for is a commitment to gospel proclamation and traditional evangelical doctrines.

Writing about these “young evangelicals who have ‘expanded their mission’ to include social justice along with evangelism,” pastor and author Tim Keller says, “Many of them have not only turned away from older forms of ministry, but also from traditional evangelical doctrines of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement and of justification by faith alone, which are seen as too ‘individualistic.’”

And for all the good they’re doing—and they are—Generation Z Christians have become unbalanced. That’s not old fogeys like me or Tim Keller talking; it’s coming from one of their own: Jaquelle Crowe, the author of “This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years.”

Writing for The Gospel Coalition, Crowe says, “The fundamental problem is that we’ve created a false dichotomy. When you pit justice and gospel against each other, you miss the point of the Bible and devalue God’s heart for both. Justice fits squarely in the framework of biblical Christianity. It flows fiercely out of the gospel as a practical implication of loving God.”

Now, that’s a common theme of the Colson Center. John Stonestreet, my colleague here, has talked a lot about truth and love not being in opposition. And he’s exactly right. As the letter of James reminds us, what good is it to say, “Stay warm,” without giving someone a blanket? That is how we can begin bringing balance back to the gospel.

Pointing to the shining examples of William Wilberforce, Hannah More, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Crowe says we need a biblical balance not of justice or the gospel, but of justice and the gospel. But Crowe goes a step farther. She says we need to make the gospel our priority, because only a right understanding of the human predicament before heaven will power our passion for justice on earth.

“If we want to live out justice the way God commands and celebrates,” Crowe says, “we must prioritize the gospel. If we truly want to see human flourishing and reduce global suffering, we need to deal with the biggest problem humanity faces: sin and death.” She’s right, and because you’ve heard plenty from me about Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce, let me point out another example.

William Carey was an 18th-century cobbler-turned-minister who heard God’s call to go to India and became known as the “father of modern missions.” Urging his fellow Presbyterians to care about the lost, Carey said, “Multitudes sit at ease and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry.”

But Carey’s concern for the lost didn’t stop with their souls—far from it! Besides translating the Bible into many Indian languages, Carey was instrumental in banning the Hindu practices of sati—which is widow-burning—along with infanticide and assisted suicide. He lived out a personal philosophy that any Christian can get behind: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God!”

Jaquelle Crowe would agree, saying, “We need justice operated out of gospel love,” adding, “That’s what Jesus did. He drew water for the thirsty and told them about the Living Water that could eternally satisfy. He served food to the hungry and preached about the Bread of Life.”

Thank God for Generation Z Christians who are passionate about justice, and for Jaquelle Crowe, a young woman who knows that justice and the gospel go together and who is bold enough to call her generation—Generation Z—to own all of the gospel.


[Editor’s note:  In the original text of this commentary we identified William Carey as a Presbyterian missionary. We erred. He was a Baptist.]


Generation Z, Justice, and the Gospel: A Call for Balance

Kudos to those of this generation, like Jaquelle Crowe, who marry the concepts of truth and justice even as Christ demonstrated.  As Eric pointed out, the priority of the good news, the Gospel, leads us to walk out the truth through our words and our actions, to work toward human flourishing and justice for all.


Gen Z, Let’s Prioritize the Gospel as We Pursue Justice
  • Jaquelle Crowe | Gospel Coalition | May 7, 2018
9 Important Insights about Generation Z
  • Sean McDowell | Josh McDowell Ministry | December 8, 2016
William Carey: Father of modern Protestant missions
  • Christian History | Christianity Today

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  • Just One Voice

    “We need justice operated out of gospel love” I couldn’t have said it better!

    All too often humans argue and fight for causes out of their own selfishness. It would seem the motivation is simply to see their own ways promoted above others. That, indeed, is the question we must all ask: who or what is being promoted by my actions and words?

    Our church is having a couple weeks focused on “global outreach,” where many of the missionaries come home and get treated to a week of rest and quality time. The main message though is one for us all: we need to have Paul’s urgency and importance about us when it comes to sharing & preaching the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Acts 20:17-38)

  • ah.1960

    C.S. Lewis said: “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”

    This is the message we should be sharing with Millennials: Seek Christ and you will also get justice. Seek justice without Christ, and you will get neither. Someone else also expressed this idea in Matthew 6:33. Perhaps we should listen to him?

    • Timothy D Padgett

      Thank you! I was trying to recall this very quote on my way to work this morning while thinking about this article.

      Timothy D Padgett
      Managing Editor

  • Bill Knapp

    In most western non American societies, most young people do not go to church and have not for a long time, however those who do, are generally committed to the Lord Jesus; it is a stark choice in our “un churched” societies …

    the so called social justice emphasis among evangelicals is often a bit artificial in nature and smacks of marketing, PR outreach (even though there is some good done) ..

    we evangelical non americans generally speaking do not have to deal with the so called conservative political cultural such as you find in the US with the amalgamation of gun lobbies, libertarianism etc with pro-life, pro family lobbies … as well we do not have to deal as much with the embarrassment of some major religious and mega church leaders making outrageous salaries, flying in private jets, living questionable moral values and etc ..

    It seems to me that the younger generations want nothing to do with what they are seeing lived out before them in some of our major religious organizations … Personally I believe that a turning back to the basics, to the word, to holy living, genuine faith in Jesus and personal and corporate devotion to the Lord as living examples to those younger than us and with much prayer, this will do more than any tactic or program promoting social justice or whatever …

  • Just One Voice

    Yikes, that strikes me as kind of a dismal view. When you say, “The Church,” are you lumping all churches in America/the world into your claims?

    I, for one, would like to claim exemption. I’ve been going to the same church for about a decade. Our senior pastor cited a study recently about another church that surveyed its flock to see what topics it would like to hear preached about. At the bottom was giving, then hell was one step up from that. (So people would rather hear about hell than giving, eh?)

    He concluded that segment saying something to the effect of, “Don’t get your hopes up. A survey like that will never happen here. We’ll just continue going through the Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.” (In my 10 years, we’ve walked through Hebrews, 1 Corinthians, Matthew, Mark, Malachi, Ruth, the 10 commandments, 1 and 2 Peter, amongst others.)

    If we’re at a point in the Bible that talks about hell, our pastor will faithfully talk about hell. If it talks about giving, he will preach about giving.

    I also have never seen or heard of a church that takes church discipline as seriously. If someone is caught in ongoing sin, yet refuses to repent and change after repeated attempts to counsel & assist, that person is asked to leave & the members are asked to treat him/her as an unbeliever.

    So, back to my question, are you lumping all churches together? I do believe there are exceptions.

    • n9wff .

      I guess ” American” is the world.
      Wow, thought I made a good adjective.

      • Just One Voice

        What? I’m lost.

        • n9wff .

          I mentioned the American church, not the world church.

    • n9wff .

      Hopefully you read my response carefully.
      There are Laodicean Churches all over America and many are content and stopped growing, just keep me happy.
      Not all are like thus but prayer meetings are dying. Years ago, they used to be daily or weekly.
      Monthly now, if any. The passion has slowly faded away. The church has lost true worship, the art of studying the Word and communion with the Spirit. We changed it to form that suits us in our laziness and comfort.