Last year around this time, the statement on Social Justice and the Gospel came out and set off a firestorm. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in a breakfast joint in Hartford, CT just hours away from my flight back to Dallas. As I scrolled through the statement, I found myself nodding a lot. But the more I nodded, the more I also grimmaced. As I wrote about in The Problem is Not About Social Justice, I saw pretty clearly the set up of the statement–you were either for Christ (and the framers of the statement) or against Christ. There was no middle ground. I suspected that the statement would have the effect of reinforcing camps that would devolve into tribalistic disputes. People would be accused, and sometimes unjustly, of aligning with a pro- or anti- social justice camp with just the utterance of a few statements. I suspected the result of the statement would spawn more feuds than fruit, even though there were many good points in it. That’s what happens when you set up that kind of dichotomy.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what I’ve seen play out over the past year. Even my own orthodoxy has been called into question because I won’t lock step with anti-social justice advocates in repudiating wholesale social justice even though I have issues with it depending on what you mean by “social justice.” But when you lump the term into a nebulous definition (that can have a range of meaning) and slap a “social gospel” or “anti-gospel” label on it without digging into the weeds to separate the wheat from the chaff, that’s what you’re going to get.
As I stated a year ago, I can appreciate the concern of the framers. They felt something was at stake and the gospel needed to be preserved. After all, the church has seen its fair share of opposition to orthodoxy and councils and such were formed to contend for the faith that was handed down ala Jude 3. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, I penned a piece, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church, that got a bit of attention. The piece was the product of growing concerns I had regarding where the racial reconciliation was headed. I had questions of whether we were legitimately seeking reconciliation or was an agenda being imposed on the body of Christ that actually is driving a wedge through it. And now that I’ve seen the movement morph into an anti-racist and social justice paradigm that adopts a worldview that seems to run contrary to a Christian paradigm in doctrine and practice, I stick by every word I wrote in asking the questions I had.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of discussion on Critical Theory lately especially with the denouncement of whiteness in our churches. Neil Shenvi has done an excellent job in examining this theory and asking if integration is possible. Check out his website here and this hour talk. What I most appreciate about his work is that he doesn’t ignore the issues that Critical Theory is attempting to address given the very lengthy history that the false of construct of race has produced. We can refute Critical Theory as the means to bring correction but we can’t refute the annuls of history whereby the white “superior” race dominated every aspect of culture that subjugated those of the so-called inferior race (namely those of African descent) to a sub-human classification. That white superiority complex also has denegrating views of Jews as well.
So we do have to be honest with history and particularly churches’ complicity in maintaining this false construct. However, one of my concerns is how we imposing the weight of history on to the present as if slavery and Jim Crow are very much enforced and we’ve made no progress at all. Surely, we can recognize changing attitudes that have weakened the hold of racism on institutional and cultural infrastructures.
But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are still issues, particularly with prevailing mindsets that uphold some kind of racial superior mindset and wants to preserve white heritage…against Blacks, Latinos, and even Jews. And yes, even in our churches. Continue reading
The past few days, I’ve watched the internet ablaze over this statement on social justice and the gospel. I read the statement and largely agree with many of the points and had trouble with others. My overall take, as I read through it was it seemed to set up a dichotomy where one was either for the gospel or for social justice as if orthodox believers can’t be involved in matters of social justice and still hold to biblical Christianity as historically articulated.
In his response to the statement, Joel McDurmon has expressed my concerns well;
In the name of a “closer examination” of the issues, the document not only offers no real “examination,” but precludes any future discussion on aspects central to the topic. It brings unnecessary division, demagoguing, grandstanding, pigeonholing, and fearmongering—all while neglecting any defined or substantial discussion of some of the actual points of disagreement or denial.
This document is not about issues, even though it uses pointed buzzwords. It is about power and alignment—tribalism. In the name of standing firm for Gospel truth, it works to solidify one group of believers against another group by demonizing the other with broad, undefined labels. The result is something like the following sentiment: “social justice” (undefined) is evil, and either you agree with us (sign the document), or you are dangerous to the church.
The aspect about power is a hefty charge that I’m not sure about. But I wholeheartedly concur that underneath the nebulous buzzwords lies a dividing stake that says either you are with us and for Christ or against us and against him. I’m pretty sure the crafters of this statement were sincere about upholding Christian orthodoxy and wanting to take a stand on factors that, at least in their mind, worked against it. But the the premise of the concern rests in an area in which there is a spectrum of beliefs that all do not work against the church. Continue reading
I’m currently going through the book of Matthew and paused at this passage;
Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matt. 10:40-42)
It’s the phrase in vs. 42 that caught my attention “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple.” We might be inclined to think that Jesus is referring to children but the context tells a different story. The chapter begins with Jesus sending out the 12, the ones who would proclaim the apostolic message on which the testimony of Scripture rests (cf. Eph 2:20). So by inference, the application today would be those who have a responsibility for testifying to the risen Lord. Yes, that is all of us but I think the context of this passage bears on those who are charged with preaching and teaching.
So the connotation of “little ones” is not about children but those of little reputation. These are the ones who go about proclaiming the name of Christ and speaking his truth. These disciples may not be well known, or seem to do big things for God but their heart is to be a witness for Christ and to live out his truth in their lives. What is Jesus saying here? That the ones who strive to honor him are the ones to be honored. Don’t neglect the “little ones” because they don’t have a big standing. Continue reading
Occasionally, I come across an article stating reasons to either choose a church or make a decision to leave a church. The recommendations typically look something like this. Don’t leave for selfish reasons. Find a church that honors Christ, teaches the Bible and takes fellowship seriously. All that is well and good.
Over at Core Christianity, I thought this was a good list on 4 questions to ask when looking for a church;
What does the church believe about Scripture?
What is the church’s confession of faith?
Is the church man-centered or God-centered?
Is Christ faithfully preached each week?
But one thing I’ve discovered in my varied church experience and many years of being a Christian is that it’s not always that simple. You can have those standard elements present but there still be a hole. Just because the preacher uses the Bible doesn’t mean he’s being faithful to Scripture. Just because he quotes Bible verses doesn’t mean he’s preaching Christ. Just because people gather, doesn’t mean there is genuine love in the body. Just because there is evangelism doesn’t mean the church is being faithful to its whole task.
There’s also the varied expressions of church practice. Aside from the absolute essentials of the faith to which any Christian must be committed, there are questions to be asked about the way in which church is conducted. What does that church believe about the sacraments? The practice of spiritual gifts? The make up (liturgy) of the service? Continue reading