The Gospel is Social Justice

The Gospel is Social Justice September 7, 2018

There is no other gospel, but a social justice gospel.  Any other type would be truncated, partial, a mere sliver or shadow of what the good news encompasses.  The gospel, the good news, is a cosmic, comprehensive, reality–that cannot be separated from aspects of justice or its relation to the community of all things (creation), their interconnection and participation.  Any other type is woefully inadequate to the teachings and understandings of the very best theologians and scholars of any Christian tradition whether Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant, of any age.

What I mean is this: salvation is incomprehensible without social justice, without things being made right between God and people, people and people, creation and people, creation and God.  We are told that, “For in him all the fullness of God was please to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”- Col 1

Justice is inherent in the making of peace and the reconciling of all things.  Where there is no peace or reconciliation, there is no salvation, no justice, and therefore no “good news.”  They are all of one piece.  The “all things” is the social part.  I am not asserting that the gospel is the historical social gospel movement; I am asserting the gospel cannot be understood without its inherent social and justice aspects.  And any proclamation of the gospel, or teaching, must include these aspects with a view toward seeing their reality reflected in this world and life, not just heaven above.  It is why we pray for the Kingdom to come…here.  Social work is simply the living out of this prayer.

Of all the Christian traditions, only the modern fundamentalist/evangelical stream tries to separate the two (a notion James disabused us of some time ago: James 2: 14-17) or views one suspiciously.  They are still fighting some sort of battle, mostly in the political and cultural arenas, with the modern secular left, of which coin, they are just the opposite side.  Since it doesn’t appear they understand what moderate and progressive Christians are talking about, they assume there is some sort of alignment with, or capitulation to, the secular left as to how social justice is framed or understood.  Fear and misunderstanding drive their efforts.

Their most recent effort is seen here.  Like the Chicago Statement and the Nashville Statement before, what I am mostly struck by in all these is their irrelevance.  They will inherit the wind.  What I note here regarding inerrancy, pretty much sums up my attitude toward these others.  Yawn.  All they do is reveal how fundamentalism and its evangelical variants are products of modernity.  But we knew that.  These statements are dusty ideology masquerading as Biblical teaching.

Of course, the writers of these statements will assert the same against their interlocuters.  Perhaps they are right.  I think a key difference however is that those who raise objections to their work, at the very least, have recognized the modern, post-modern divide, the decades of conversation surrounding hermeneutics, and understand (have attempted to understand) that conversation.  Even a sense of that conversation is absent here on the part of these writers.  They assume everything is an attack on the Bible, or God, when it is their interpretations of the Bible, their understanding of that God, that are the issue.

Having said that, there are two areas in this recent statement, where I feel compelled to point out the incongruity, perhaps even the hypocrisy, therein.  First, from the Introduction:

“Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Why are they not as “deeply” concerned that values they have borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of capitalism, materialism, nationalism, racism, sexism, hostility toward the stranger, and violence?

I also love how even though all the initial signers are men, they will now tell us the mysteries they have plumbed, the depths reached, as to the experiences of women and what it means to be a woman.  After all, who better than a group of men to tell us of such matters.  Oh, right, it’s not the, “men,” telling us, it is the “Bible” telling us.  Right.  Got it.

They go on:

“The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for ‘social justice.’”

First, no, the Bible’s teachings are not being challenged.  You are being challenged.  Your interpretations, understandings, and teachings are being challenged.  Quit confusing challenges to you as challenges to the Bible or to God—they are not the same, you are not the same.  If the writers understood post-modernity, they would know this.  Second, the rubric, social justice, isn’t really that nebulous:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”- Micah 6

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”- Mark 12

The second area was affirmation number eight, regarding the church.  We read:

“WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.”

Did the “court evangelicals” get this memo?  Did Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Paula White and the rest hear this?  Because this sort of activism certainly seems integral to their current mission.

Further, of course social work (“activism”) is integral to the gospel and primary.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’- Luke 4 (bold for emphasis)

A much better statement is available to us.  While I might quibble here and there, and frankly have not come to a settled decision regarding some of these areas, I was happy to sign this statement and would encourage others to do so as well.

William Blake wrote that, “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.”

I would add it also breeds statements like the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel.

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  • jekylldoc

    So, supposing we agree on this much, which basically I do. I don’t think it tells us that much about what to do based on it. I think social justice is a lot like relationship in marriage: there is a ton of work to be done, and getting involved to do it matters far more than arguing about what is to be done first.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Thank you, Darrell. I was beside myself when I saw MacArthur’s statement(s) come out. Basically: “I mean, it’s nice and all to try to promote justice among neighbors, but let’s not forget the real issue is where you go after you die.” Can you imagine the exiles living in Babylon saying that?

    What I want to know is: where are all these evangelicals MacArthur thinks are too oriented toward social justice? What problem is he trying to solve, here? Where are these hordes of evangelicals throwing themselves into social justice issues? Is he upset about the 18% that didn’t vote for Trump or what?

  • Phil, there are some glaring inconsistencies with the evangelical narrative. The first that you’ve touched on is the narrative of “being in the world but not of the world.” In evangelical parlance it means to be “so heavenly minded you are of no earthly good.” The message from the pulpit is that this world is fading away, it is temporary, so this world is largely unimportant. Pair that with the evangelical love affair with libertine capitalism and you end up with a form of gnosticism, a consumer driven, self centered group of people trying to grab as much “things” as they can before they “go to heaven.” Their blatant materialism is of little import because they are “spiritual beings.” They have “knowledge.”
    Secondly, do not underestimate the 18%. It represents a far bigger number, and MacArther knows it. Figure in black evangelicals and the younger evangelicals who tend to be drawn to the Emergent Church and you have the makings of a disaster for classic evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is bleeding out. MacArther, Piper and others, are frantically trying to staunch the bleeding while at the same time driving people away. You cannot expect church growth when you are constantly anathematizing members of the church family. The hand is writing on the wall, but they refuse to acknowledge it. If they can just ignore it, it will go away! Sorry, but, no! I expect a 30% loss over the next decade based on what I can see in the various Pew Reports.
    The classic appeal to authority, i.e., modernism, that “the Bible says,” is no longer a working paradigm in a post-modern settings. People shrug their shoulders and answer, “so what?” Orthodoxy is not a driving force anymore, but orthopraxy is. Evangelicalism never moved far enough away from its fundamentalist roots. At core, it is a hierarchical structure that is obsessed with who’s in, who’s out and who must we keep out. This is true of any legalistic religion. Rather than allowing the crucified Christ to “draw ALL men to himself,” we have a ritualized “salvation” that separates people rather than unite them. Rather than allowing Christ to separate the tares from the wheat, they are busy deciding who the “goats” are themselves.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Thanks, Kirk. Those are great points, and I admit my cynicism often blinds me to the good things that are happening in evangelicalism.

  • Not sure evangelical leaders would view them as good things, lol. Sometimes, tho, the church needs to fail and fail miserably for the HS to do His work. The husbandman knows best how to prune the vine to produce the best fruit.

  • Another good take on this:
    “It’s taking everything in me to avoid condemning this new Statement as a love letter to the Beast. Its express purpose is to pull Christians out of social activism in the world and reorient our focus to the afterlife. A spirituality like that serves the interests of the principalities and powers in this world. It helps them out. It keeps the engine running. I don’t believe John MacArthur is intentionally in his own mind trying to keep the powerful in power and assure them that evangelicals won’t rock their boat, but this is functionally what that statement declares.”

  • DebbyJane65

    The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. Social Justice is a part of the mission and witness of Jesus Christ. We exalt Jesus and give Him the glory in everything we do. Let us be careful to not replace the Gospel as the Good News of Jesus Christ with “social justice issues”!

  • kcwookie

    Excellent point, and I’ll take it one step further, Evangelicals quest for absolute political power is a complete hypocrisy. They are a huge part of the sewer that is US politics. They lie to achieve power and then use that power to try to crush the godless, which is everyone who doesn’t support them.

  • kcwookie

    They want that earthly power. The afterlife will sort itself out later. Evangelicals want as much control over politics in this nation as certain Muslims do in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Zionists in Israel.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    What would you say is the “Good News of Jesus Christ” and how is this totally separate from his mission and witness?

  • Cynthianna Matthews

    “Faith without works is dead.” If we are not living the Love of God daily in our witness to our neighbor through our words and actions of caring for his/her/their need for food, shelter, health care, education, a peaceful society, etc., then we are without faith. We are just “noisy gongs” like the Pharisees praying out loud in the temple just to show off. It’s just that simple. You can’t have one without the other. Christians must take action or be “activists” in our society (community) or else we are not following Jesus’ commandment to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

  • Dean

    It does certainly sounds like death throes, but it seems so clearly to be self-inflicted. You would think that JMac would realize that as you further alienate larger and larger segments of Christianity (Arminians, Pentecostals, fellow Calvinists and now social justice oriented Christians), that eventually, there will just be no one left in the tent. I wonder what kind of ego it takes to have this kind of worldview.

  • The ironic thing about white priveledge and evangelicalism is that if predominately white folk keep leaving and the fastest growing group in evangelicalism is people from South and Central America, eventually Whites will be the minority and evangelicalism will be predominately composed of people of color! As well as Asians and other ethnic groups. I think God has a sense of humor!

  • Ivan T. Errible

    There is no god-therefore there is no need for a “gospel”.
    And certainly no need for religion.

  • Miguel Rivera

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

    It does not seem to me that MacArthur, Baucham, et all, are saying/doing what you claim they are doing. They seem to be acknowledging God’s justice as an important aspect of the Gospel. Justice is for all of us regardless of the worldly groupings of which we may be a part. Now let us forgive one another as Christ forgave us. Let us work together rather than divide ourselves based on superficial and worldly groupings. Let us do the work of Christ. Let us ensure we are counted as the wheat.

  • Hey Miguel,

    I was a little surprised to see a response to this nine months later, but thank you for taking the time.

    The portions of the statement on gospel, salvation, and racism makes the division quite clear. MacArthur et al are, in fact, saying precisely what I accuse them of. The Gospel is about an individual decision to receive Christ, and this is of far greater value than any effort toward social justice.

    And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

    Unfortunately for these old white men, the reign of Jesus and the kingdom of God is much broader than individual salvation. Injustice exists in systemic structures in society, and it does no good to say, “Well, we should all just treat each other as equal.” Yes, we should, but we don’t. Are we going to fix that or not?

    Basically, the statement offers a false dichotomy between a spiritual conversion and a life directed to bringing justice, mercy, and compassion to every corner of the world – every structure over which Jesus is Lord. They don’t want all this destroying the works of the devil to get in the way of personal conversion, which is utterly unlike Jesus’ ministry.

    These men benefit from power structures being unjust. They are fighting to protect them.