What's Behind the Social Justice Gospel-ers?

"It's a lesson that has been reinforced repeatedly by the cyclical rhythm of church history. ... When one merges human amelioration of suffering and injustice with divine remediation of sin, inevitably the purpose and impact of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ takes a backseat." - Pyro

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Ken S's picture

This article completely mischaracterizes the motives of those involved in social justice. The article answers the question of what's behind social justice gospel-ers with this: the social justice gospel is, at its core, driven by a desire to avoid repudiation by the world.

This is simply not true. Responsible advocates of social justice are not motivated by a desire to be liked, nor do they promote social justice as a "gospel" (as critics seem to like to tack on the word "gospel" whenever they reference social justice).

Here's what Tim Keller had to say about his motivations (from a TGC interview):  I read the Bible and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of Biblical material that expresses concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. My main gifting is evangelism and I’ve never had extensive experience in a poor community or country. So I reason—if I can see all of this in the Bible, despite the fact that I’m not especially oriented to do so—it must be important to God. I’m passionate about it because I’m passionate to be shaped by the Bible.

Read the whole interview here. He also cautions against equating social justice with the gospel and says it is rather an implication of the gospel, as works are to faith.

Bert Perry's picture

I think error #1 on the part of the pyro team is to assume that "social justice" is monolithic.  It's not, but rather consists of a number of interest groups, some of which are quite orthodox, and some of which jettison every critical doctrine.  Many of them are also at each others' throats from time to time.  

Besides, being a bit familiar with MacArthur's work, he fits squarely in the mode of one of those social justice groups--really one of the oldest--that against the use of alcohol in beverages.  Whatever your take on that particular issue, it is squarely "social justice" and has been for over two centuries.  So it's kinda hard to take a blanket denunciation of "social justice" seriously when most of our movement is completely in on one of the oldest parts of it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You say something so right:

I think error #1 on the part of the pyro team is to assume that "social justice" is monolithic.  It's not, but rather consists of a number of interest groups, some of which are quite orthodox, and some of which jettison every critical doctrine. 

... and then you take a predictable turn into defending drinking again! That isn't the way to win friends and influence people! Heh, heh ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Yes, Tyler, that's why I said "Whatever your take on that particular issue".  Obviously I wanted to leave no ambiguity on what the proper stance is by pointing deliberately at ambiguity.

Um, no.  My point is that prohibitionism and abstentionism are indeed one of the oldest "social justice" movements out there, going at least all the way back to before 1751, when Hogarth published "Beer Street and Gin Lane." 

In other words, if fundamentalists want to protest social justice movements, they need to look in the mirror first.  Really, in a manner of speaking, all of our hot button/200 comment topics are indeed centered on the same basic impulses as movements like #MeToo.  We think we see an evil, and we work to make that better.

And in recognizing our own social justice movements, we therefore must concede that (a) social justice is not monolithic today any more than it was in 1751, (b) we engage in it, too, and (c) we therefore ought to be a little more charitable to today's "social justice warriors", and refuse to engage in mindless generalities like MacArthur's team is using.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You don't have the feel of this, at all! Just jump onto the bandwagon, make sweeping, generalized statements with little regard to context, and start a Twitter hashtag. Stop being a stick in the mud!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Sig changed in honor.  I hope

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Paul Henebury's picture

I don't object to the Keller quote above.  What I DO object to is being preached to by the David Platt's and Matt Chandler's of this world about my white privilege and how I ought to feel bad because my church isn't sprinkled with blacks or non-whites.  It is that which is divisive and shifts the focus away from the Gospel. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Agreed. On this issue, it depends on who you're talking about.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Rob Fall's picture

Considering your location, to meet Platt's and Chandler's expectations would mean you'd have to bus folks in. At HSBC, over the years, our congregational demographic has changed with the City's.  

Paul Henebury wrote:

I don't object to the Keller quote above.  What I DO object to is being preached to by the David Platt's and Matt Chandler's of this world about my white privilege and how I ought to feel bad because my church isn't sprinkled with blacks or non-whites.  It is that which is divisive and shifts the focus away from the Gospel. 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Bruce Rettig's picture

A criticism I have regarding some of the social justice discussion on SI recently is that many of the comments assume to have a fuller understanding of the social justice arguments and motives than the critics whose articles have been posted on SI as of late. The social justice discussion and the ensuing controversy has been going on for quite a while on the world wide web, especially leading up to and following the MLK50 Conference in April.  There is a lot of data out there. Social media has been a massive outlet for some pretty radical social justice arguments, a handful of which have been the catalyst for the Pyromaniacs series (IMO).

I agree that generalizations can be a less than sincere way of making a point, but that is not true by default. Generalizations have to made to make an argument that is short enough for people to actually read the article and can be made with honesty. Phil Johnson, et al., have written enough articles and contributed enough by way podcasts to demonstrate that they really don’t think the social justice crowd is a monolithic block of closet commies. 

As for the post above, when I read it, I had the same thought about getting the motives of people wrong. It is very easy to do, we often fail to understand our own motivations. Ironically, Tim Keller has determined that he knows the real motive behind the Dallas Statement on social justice.

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B181001

 

As for the claim of the post that has our attention:

So here is our answer to the question posed in our title: the social justice gospel is, at its core, driven by a desire to avoid repudiation by the world. Do you doubt this? Then look and see the extent to which those propounding a "social justice gospel" have in their teaching and ministries any statements or positions that would incite the world's opprobrium. Go to the body of teaching of any prominent spokesperson for a "social justice gospel" and see how often that individual highlights the vilification and persecution God says will come to those who faithfully pursue His true gospel. Look hard and look long, because the data will be slow in forthcoming.

Not every social justice proponent will have this accurately applied to them, but certainly it isn’t too hard to come up with examples, is it? 

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

Bert Perry's picture

More or less, Bruce, what I object to is the "all" assumption.  Certainly I can come up with examples of Gospel-denying people who are keying in on certain subjects.  But some is not all--that's basic Aristotelian categories, really--and to argue that it's one Gospel-denying, monolithic movement simply doesn't correspond with what I know of many of the proponents.  

To draw the picture, part of #MeToo wants to, per #IBelieveYou, pretty much end the presumption of innocence and gut protections for the accused.  Another part simply notes that there are legions of victims of clergy sexual abuse who have gotten no help from their churches, and that is indeed a barrier for the Gospel.   Is it a denial of the Gospel to suggest the Church has a lot to gain by apologizing for past wrongs and to create a culture that will help victims achieve justice?

To use another picture, there are some who would, per Rob's comment on Paul's note, force churches to bus people in to achieve some predetermined racial distribution.  I've been confronted by some such people myself, to which I had to respond "I'm in rural Minnesota.  Diversity here means you have not only Norwegians, but also Swedes, Czechs, and Germans."  

On the flip side, there are others--Joel Schaffer here comes to mind--who would point out that there are certain cultural practices that say "you're not welcome" to blacks and other minorities, ensuring that even in diverse communities, the pews remain "lily-white."  If we repudiate those practices, are we denying the Gospel?  I don't think so.

Which is the real example of social justice?  And again, a lot of "our" hot button issues are social justice issues, really.  Are we denying the Gospel in them?  How do we avoid going on the wrong side of this?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bruce Rettig's picture

The argument made in the article is that emphasis shows priority, and priority reveals motive. The author is concerned that some leaders within evangelicalism are headed down the same path as the mainline denominations of the previous century.  He draws on that historical record and makes conclusions about contemporary priorities and by extension, motives.

a rise in the focus on enhancing social welfare tightly correlated with a decline of interest in (and understanding of) how sinners might be saved from their sin. 

There might be enough evidence to discern a trajectory in the social justice proponents, others would disagree. Certainly it bears watching, comparing what people are saying and teaching against Scripture and maintaining a resolve to keep the main thing, the main thing.

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8

Joel Shaffer's picture

Bruce,

Unfortunately, the author makes some huge generalizations and creates a fundamentalist folk tale version of why churches succumbed to the social gospel with the misnomer that somehow "When one merges human amelioration of suffering and injustice with divine remediation of sin, inevitably the purpose and impact of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ takes a backseat."  Its actually a mixed bag.  William Carey, the father of Modern Missions, preached the gospel faithfully, discipled many Indian nationals, and translated the Bible into 40 different languages.  At the same time,  Carey also spent a significant amount of time righting the wrongs that had permeated the Indian culture during that time period.  In other words, the conservative Calvinist Baptist missionary William Carey also championed social justice!  Vishal and Ruth Mangalwadi (who have been jailed several times for evangelizing Hindus and doing Christian Community development/social justice among impoverished Hindus) wrote this about William Carey:  William Carey “introduced the concept of savings banks to India to fight the all-pervasive social evil of usury.  Carey believed that God, being righteous, hated usury, and thought that lending at the interest of 36-72% made investment, industry, commerce and the economic development of India impossible.”  William Carey “was the first man…who led the campaign for a human treatment for leprosy patients.  Until his time they were sometimes buried or burned alive in India because of the belief that a violent end purified the body and ensured transmigration into a healthy new existence.”   William Carey “began dozens of schools for Indian children of all castes and launched the first college in Asia…..For nearly three thousand years, India’s religious culture had denied to most Indians free access to knowledge, and the Hindu, Mughal, and the British rulers had gone along with this high caste strategy of keeping the masses in the bondage of ignorance.”   William Carey  "was the first man to stand against both the ruthless murders and the widespread oppression of women, virtually synonymous with Hinduism in the 18th and 19th centuries.   The male in India was crushing the female through polygamy, female infanticide, child marriage, widow-burnings, euthanasia and forced female illiteracy, all sanctioned by religion…..Carey opened schools for girls.  When widows converted to Christianity, he arranged marriages for them. It was Carey’s persistent battle against sati for 25 years which finally led to Lord Bentinck’s famous Edict in 1829, banning one of the most abominable of all religious practices in the world: widow-burning.”   

Besides Carey, there are multiple upon multiple examples of Christians who were very evangelistic and yet championed social reform in the 1800's and have stayed true to the gospel to this very day.  There are also multiple upon multiple examples of Christians that strayed from the gospel and ended up embracing the heretical social gospel.  The common thread of those who slid down the slope of the social gospel was that they were jettisoning the fundamentals of the faith such as original sin/depravity of man, the necessity of substitutionary atonement, and final judgment.   For instance, 100 years ago, Walter Rauschenbusch denied that the fall of man took place the way it did in the Bible and that it wasn’t an essential doctrine to believe.  He felt that original sin/depravity of man was too individualistic (interestingly Reformed Theologians such as Cornelius Plantinga and Michael Horton have argued that original sin/depravity leads to a more robust theology of sin, including the reality of institutional sin).     He argued that it was theological speculation that diverts attention from how active social sin permeates.    Fast Forward 100 years and we see the emergent heretics such as Brian Mclaren, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones recycling Walt’s liberal theology, denying the reality of the fall of man/original sin/depravity of man in their own different ways.  Mclaren’s view mirrored Albrecht Rietschle who followed in the steps of Friederick Schleiermacher, the father of modern day liberalism.   Both McLaren and Ritschl believe our human problem is ethical and not inherent to our nature. Instead, the web that surrounds us of bad systems and stories creates a bias within us toward selfishness and compels us to sin. Our solution must also be ethical, as well as the one bearing it. 

I think we can all agree that the conservative evangelicals who are advocating for social justice whole-heartedly reject that.  Then you have liberal evangelicals such as Paggitt and Jones reject the idea of a fall, original sin, and total depravity, although their view mirror Pelagius more.  I could go on and on with modern day examples such as Rob Bell who embraces a form of the social gospel and is a champion of social justice.  He is very adamantly opposed to the authority of scripture and he cherry-picks the areas of the doctrine of creation and fall that he likes, leading to a combination moral/ethical and a scapegoat view of the atonement.  

Contrast this with the MLK 50 speakers/gospel coalition types who advocate for social justice.  They have held fast to the fundamentals of the faith and because of it, they are faithfully preaching the gospel and aggressively planting churches.  Tim Keller’s church has planted around 340 churches since its inception is right now is trying to raise 15 million to plant 87 more in NYC.  Dr. Eric Mason who just released his “Woke Church” started Epiphany Fellowship over 10 years ago and the church has planted 3 churches with another 2 church in the beginning stages.  The danger of them succumbing to the boogie man of the social gospel that the echo chamber of the pyromaniacs has associated them with is next to nil.  There are a few more things I want to say, but I don't have time to write it right now.    

Bruce Rettig's picture

Thanks Joel. I appreciate your examples, especially William Carey.

Doug Wilson wrote an article about Tim Keller and touched on what Keller is currently emphasizing. It ties in nicely with the original post.

https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/prophetic...

I hope you're right, and the conservative evangelicals who are leading the social justice discussion stay where they have always been regarding priorities and the gospel, and encourage those who listen to them to do the same. 

Bruce

O taste and see that the Lord is good:

Blessed is the man that trusteth in him. 

Psalm 34:8