The internet is buzzing with responses to the (supposedly-)Evangelical statement on Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel by John Macarthur’s circle in California.
Not everything in the statement is bad, it does affirm justice as a social good, it rejects racism in principle, it urges people to walk justly, it reckons that justice is rooted in God’s character rather than the flux of cultural fads, it makes some affirmations and denials that are sensible and biblical even if they are too short and require further unpacking.
That said, I do have a few points of contention.
First, there is a denial that “the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel.” Well, I see the problem they are responding to, but their solution is not quite right. True, the gospel is not merely social liberation from racism and homophobia, etc., but the gospel actually does include salvation and salvation in its holistic biblical coordinates includes justice for the marginalized and oppressed as well salvation from sin and judgment.
I mean, just read the “Nazareth manifesto” of Luke 4 where Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read,
17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luke 4:16-21 NIV)
That sounds, well, pretty social-justice-esque to me and Jesus himself makes it part of his gospel.
Consider also the punch-line in the parable of the wicked judge:
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!'”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
(Luke 18:1-8 NIV)
This parable is about justice for an oppressed widow as an example of the gospel from the Gospels!
Salvation is not just economic equality and rescue from oppression, it is multi-dimensional – from judgment, from sin, from disease, the demonic, and dispossession – it is all of these.
Second, then there is the denial that “that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.”
Again, of course the church is not primarily a social justice organ, it exists for worship, but true worship means advocating for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the immigrant, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
To quote James: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27 NIV). To do that kind of stuff requires a social justice approach!
Third, on sexuality, marriage, and complementarianism, oh dear, even if you swing conservative on this issues, and I do for the most part, these are clearly inadequate responses to domestic violence and sexual predators in the church and inadequate responses to same-sex attraction, people who are intersex, and suffer from gender dysphoria.
Fourth, on race and ethnicity, it says: “While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.” Oh gosh, I get the point that feeling offended is very subjective, but some people who are offended have a genuine right to be so.
Fifth, the noble statements on rejecting racism are ruined by the remark that, “We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another.” Somebody needs to get these people a subscription to Fox News!
Can I ask, did these guys ever see the movie Amazing Grace? You know, William Wilberforce, setting the slaves free, Christian social justice stuff.
This SSJG document is a document that no woman, no African-American, no Latino/a, no immigrant, and no-one who has suffered under prejudice or marginalization would be able to sign.
I don’t know what these people imagine hell to be, but I’m guessing it involves worshipping in a multi-ethnic church with a Chinese female pastor, who organizes assistance for Syrian refugees, writes a book about the history of racism in evangelicalism, and preaches on the Book of Amos and Sermon on the Mount like a cross between Charles Spurgeon and Martin Luther King.
Now, not to be outdone, Union Seminary, a bastion of progressive theology, has tweeted a thread of its own counter doctrinal statement to SSJG, with equal disregard for historical orthodox and the mind of the global church.
Again, not everything here is bad, it is better on Gospel and Church for my money than the SSJG, even if I’d still do things differently, but it has some serious cray cray going down.
I. Scripture While divinely inspired, we deny the Bible is inerrant or infallible. It was written by men over centuries and thus reflects both God’s truth and human sin & prejudice. We affirm that biblical scholarship and critical theory help us discern which messages are God’s.
So revelation is exclusively propositional, they can identify and surgically separate the divine bits from the erroneous human bits of Scripture (wow, how about that), and critical theory rather than catholicity is our hermeneutic. O-kie-do-kie-then. This is the bit where I avoid eye-contact and walk backwards.
But it gets better.
VII: Salvation We deny that salvation is only found through Christianity, that God’s salvific grace is exclusive to any single faith or religion. Moreover, in God’s eyes there is no difference in spiritual value or worth between those who are “in Christ” and those who aren’t.
Jesus is the Saviour, exactly from what, nobody knows, it is definitely not judgment or sin, probably from cis white males at a guess. No real benefits to being a Christian besides an excuse to hang out with some progressive democrats on Sunday mornings.
I’m reminded of Addison Hodges Hart (Strangers and Pilgrims Once More: Being Disciples of Jesus in a Post-Christian World [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014] 116) when he wrote: “Mainline (‘liberal’) Protestantism, meantime, continues to evaporate like an insubstantial morning mist. Left-wing in politics, ‘nice,’ bland, ineffective, graying, vague in message, spineless in matters of sexual morality, and doctrinally vaporous, it has little spark left within it and suffers from a relentless loss of numbers from its pews. And so on. The handwriting might well seem to be on the wall – ‘weighed and found wanting.’”
Sorry if everyone is offended, but it is on days like this that I feel like moderate evangelicals or conservative mainliner’s just might be the only sane people in this religious asylum.