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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