David Koyzis finds simplistic a critique of faith-based political activism that applies grace across the spectrum. The critique of Social Gospel like evangelical calls to social reform goes like this:
Now, ask yourself this: if charity is a picture of the grace of God in the gospel, then what message are we sending about the grace of God, and about the gospel, when we preach that charity is deserved? Answer: We are teaching that God’s grace is, likewise, deserved. When we teach that we owe money to the poor, we are teaching that God owed us the cross. When we teach that the poor deserve monetary assistance, we are teaching that we deserved what Christ accomplished for us. When we teach that “economic justice” consists of giving to those in need, we are teaching that divine justice consists of the same — and the inevitable result is a grace-less universalism in which everyone gets all the blessings of heaven, because they need it. You cannot pervert the meaning of justice in “society” or in the “economy,” and not expect it to bleed over into theology. You cannot have one standard of justice in Church on Sunday morning, and another for the world the rest of the week.
Those of us who are two-kingdom have been saying this for a while. The state is not supposed to forgive when it uses the sword in contrast to the church which does use the double-edged sword of Scripture to pronounce the forgiveness of sins through the cross of Christ. Heck, if you want the criminal justice system and the Pentagon to turn the other cheek, you might as well become Anabaptist. And at that point you suffer Friedrich Nietzsche’s withering critique of Christianity for having turned the West into a civilization of wusses.
But Koyzis is not buying this critique:
One needs to be cautious in drawing too close an analogy between God’s unmerited grace, which we do not deserve, and the creational contexts rightly ordered by the jural norms conditioning ordinary human interchange. If someone buys my house, then, once I’ve turned over the keys to him, he definitely owes me the amount of money we had agreed on irrespective of whether either of us has received God’s saving grace.
The crucial difference here is that God is God and we are not. As his creatures, we confess that our very existence is conditional on his freely granting us life. God owes us nothing. But this is definitely not true of our relations to each other, whether in the context of ordinary economic life or in the realm of assisting the poor to fulfil their respective callings. Whether such help for the poor is deserved or unmerited must be weighed according to a variety of factors related to the norms for economic life and not by analogy to God’s relationship to his people. For example, is poverty a byproduct of lack of effort? Or is economic life structured in such a way as to exclude indefinitely certain segments from its benefits? Either or both may be true. Who deserves what will depend on how we assess a variety of economic and other factors based on observation, synthesis and analysis of conditions on the ground.
What we ought not to do is pretend that a correct theology of grace will by itself give us an answer to the complexities of economic life in our society.
Fine. Either way, it looks like trying to apply the gospel to social and political dilemmas is not so easy. In fact, trying to make politics conform to gospel ends is to miss the ginormous gap between God’s ways and ours. In which case, all the talk about failing to do justice as a compromise of the gospel is simplistic right next to naive in my cabinet of horrors. And to call for “a full-blooded, deep, sanctifying, transforming, humbling, radical-making gospel,” well, that’s just nuts.
But it will signal you are no fundamentalist, this might work. But I can think of much more pleasant options.