What is the social gospel? Can it help change the world and turn people to Christ?
The Social Gospel
The social gospel is a Christian faith practice that is not just a call to salvation, but it’s a call to social reform, and it’s been around a very long time. Some say it began as a North American Protestantism movement where Christian ethics were to be used to address social problems like social justice, economic inequality, poverty, abortion, alcoholism, divorce, and many other social ills. This is more than Bono digging wells for African villages. That is good in itself, but it is not the gospel. Jesus would have us render unto Caesar the things of Caesar (Matt 22:20-22), not revolt against the things of Caesar and try to change or overthrow the Roman Empire. Jesus never taught that His believers are to take the world by force, or try to change the world into what the Bible teaches. He does call us to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them the same things He taught the disciples (Matt 28:18-10), which are now in the gospels and the New Testament. And that does change the world…at least one person at a time. 
Believers aren’t called to change this world into God’s world, but they are called to speak up when they see evil being done to someone. The Proverbs command us, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov 31:8), and that includes the unborn. Since they cannot speak from their mother’s womb, we must speak up “for the mute” and stand up for “the rights of all who are destitute,” many of which are the poor and disabled. When we see an injustice, and fail to speak up about it, for us, it is sin, so “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and need” (Prov 31:9). If you see wrong, and you can change it by legal means, then by all means, change it. You and I are obligated to speak up for those who cannot or those who have no power or influence to speak up for themselves. We can’t keep our mouths shut about some things, like child abuse. Loving God and loving our neighbor is all the law and the prophets (Matt 22:40). You may not be an attorney, but you can make sure to do “no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Lev 19:15). This was part of ancient Israel’s civil law, but there was always mercy and justice within God’s laws. He always made provisions for the poor, the lame, the widows, and the orphans. Today, that’s up to us.
Some believe that Jesus was participating in the social gospel by feeding the 5,000 (Luke 9:10-22), and in another place, 4,000 (Matt 15:28039), but what was Jesus’ reason for feeding these masses? Jesus “said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matt 15:32). They were far from home and hungry, so Jesus had compassion on them, but He never used this to change the world. We cannot change the world, but we can help one person at a time. Maybe it’ll change their world, but it may also change ours! The Apostle John writes that “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him” (1 John 3:17)? Jesus saw their need and filled it, better than anyone ever had, but He was not interested in reforming Rome or the Jewish religious system. He often slipped away when they tried to come and force Him to be king (John 6:15). They completely missed the message and His purpose (Mark 10:45).
When a person is born again by God (John 3:3-7), they become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17). That new creation now does things that please God, and those things are generally better for the world than those things done by unbelievers. The new creation in Christ now prays for their enemies, does good to those who abuse them, and blesses those who curse them (Luke 6:27-28). That’s not social reform; that’s personal reform, but it can act as an agent to draw others to Christ. In our church’s ministries, we never require conversion before helping someone. Jesus never singled out the believers and only fed the believers, and not the rest of the 5,000. We are here to help others as we are able, but our help doesn’t depend on their being saved or not. That is God’s business. At best, we are only unworthy servants (Luke 17:7-10), doing what we are told (Matt 25:35-36). We let God take care of the rest…and He does! The Bible clearly teaches that “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). That’s not a social gospel, but a gospel that feeds the poor, visits the sick and those in prison, welcomes the stranger, and clothes the underdressed, but it’s not for us that we do these things. We are doing it as unto Him (Matt 25:40). Love is all people….saved, and lost, will know who Jesus’ disciples are (John 13:34-35), but also, who they are not (1 John 3).
The social gospel is not just making the world a better place to live in. If that’s the only goal, then we’ve got the wrong gospel and we’re only rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. If we help others but fail to speak up for Christ, we’re only making it a better place for them to go to hell in. It’s not just soup and soap; it must be soup, soap, and salvation. This is not our Father’s world…we’re only passing through. We all yearn for the coming kingdom, and the appearance of the King of that kingdom. The gospel is what Jesus said it was; repent and believe (Mark1:15). Either you believe and receive eternal life (John 3:36a), or you reject Christ and die with the wrath of God abiding on you, forever more (John 3:36b). Why not put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? There is positively no other way you can be saved (John 6:44; Acts 4:12). Do it today.
Here is some related reading for you: How to Share the Gospel with Family 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.