The slippery slope of social justice: a reflection about that statement

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

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Worst advice possible…telling Christians to look within themselves

woman hugging herselfWhile scrolling through my Facebook feed not too long ago, this statement assaulted me;

The wizard [of Oz] says look inside yourself and find self. God says look inside yourself and find [the Holy Spirit]. The first will get you to Kansas. The latter will get you to heaven. Take your pick.

Well, based on the title of the post it’s pretty obvious that I think this is this worst advice to Christians. Sadly, this came from a pastor who is telling his congregation this. I hate to say it, but it is actually sub-Christian that unfortunately has gained solid footing within Christianity. Aside from the fact that nowhere does God tell us in Scripture to look inside ourselves to find the Holy Spirit, this is problematic because it puts emphasis on the wrong person -us.

Considering the role of the Spirit, the 3rd person testifies to the Son (John 15:26) and provides the seal of regeneration for those who believe by the will of the Father (see Eph 1:3-14). It is to Christ that we look. The Holy Spirit within enables us to do this (see 1 Cor. 12:3). Consider the book of Hebrews. These Jewish Christians were tempted to go back to Judiasm because they missed the glory of the temple and prominence of their status as God’s elect. Instead of telling the troubled Christians to look within themselves, the writer instead points them to the Son. “Consider Christ.” This is the theme of the book. This is the theme of Christianity.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV)

Look at what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul is contrasting the Old and New Covenant, he highlights where the veil imposed by the law is lifted in Christ; Continue reading

Why Positively Powerless (expanded) is positively needed

book cover_positively powerlessRecently, I was in a business meeting in which I represented the organization I work for in a collaborative project with other organizations. The collaborative involved a grant application and therefore was contingent upon receiving those funds to be implemented. While we were putting the application together, at times others involved would assert positive declarations about receiving the funds under the premise that this would happen if we just declare it…in Jesus name.

These folks were acting on a strain of teaching that has infiltrated evangelicalism, that is positive declarations are needed to make circumstances happen. In Positively Powerless, Laura Martin, DTS grad, addresses the foundation and fallacy of this teaching as it contradicts the premise of Christianity. She sketches the historical development, which is built on the Positive Thinking movement that considers the mind a force in which we can “will” events in our favor. She notes this is not found in Scripture but rather has its foundation in Eastern Mysticism (I would have loved to see this built out a little more).

She then provides a snapshot of what Scripture does provide regarding the reality of sin and how that has impacted us. More importantly, Christianity is not built on positive declarations but rather submission to the lordship of Christ. In Jesus’ upside down kingdom paradigm, “success” from a kingdom perspective will sometimes result in our lives not looking successful or at least as the world sees it. We will see complete reversal of the Fall’s effect in the new heavens and new earth, but not entirely now. I love that she brings up Joni Erickson Tada because she is a prime example of what successful Christianity looks like from a Christian perspective, which does not jive with the proclaimers of positive thinking.

The chapter entitled A Christian View of Self is particularly noteworthy.  Fueled by the the prominence of self-esteem that took root in Christian teaching in the 20th century, positive thinking places an emphasis on the power of self to create reality in contrast to the emphasis on Christ. She concludes, “When the church came under the power of this movement it had the significant consequence of distracting us from Christ, shifting our priorities, and creating a different gospel entirely.” Indeed, this movement has created a great distraction and emphasizing the wrong things! Continue reading

Why you won’t see me endorsing these people…

I spent 6 years at DTS to get my ThM (Masters of Theology). In those 6 years I heard numerous chapel messages since chapel was a requirement (6 years is a long time!). Truth be told, in my maturing years, I have trouble recalling a lot. But one message made a profound impact on me delivered by Nathan Holsteen, a professor in the Theological Studies department. Now I took many classes with Dr. Holsteen and he was also one of my thesis readers. But what really resonated with me is this chapel message he delivered in 2013 entitled Beware of Mud.

The message was built on 2 John 6-11

And this love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of the Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

He laid out the problem, that certain teachers from among the flock were going about teaching something that contrary to the Christian message. And let’s be clear; they weren’t just some obvious outsiders disparaging Christianity but those who came from within the church, who “proclaimed” the name of Christ but used his name in a dishonorable fashion. Continue reading

Christians, let’s re-think this new year’s tradition…

new years clockI don’t want to be one of those kinds of Christians, hyper-critical and disrupting cherished beliefs simply because I see problems with it. I recognize that some of our practices, rightly or wrongly, can become so ingrained because of teaching that has influenced us, that animosity will possibly result from anyone who tries to knock it out of our hands.

But there’s something I do want to address, that runs rampant in some Christian circles, some more than others. I’m not addressing this merely because I believe it’s inconsistent with the whole counsel of Scripture, which it is or because I disagree, but because of the implications that it can have especially for those young in the faith.

It is simply this: declaring what God is going to do in the new year. This typically comes in the language of “breakthrough” – answers to prayers, financial gain, better circumstances, overcoming sinful patterns or bad habits – basically a change because you declare it to be so. Often this is prompted by the proclamations of church leaders under the guise of prophecy, that this is “your year.” My friend Ekemini said it best in her excellent piece at Reformed Margins;

[T]his is the time of year that our social media timelines, news feeds, and even television commercials teem with declarations from false prophets who boldly prognosticate about the impending new year.

They “decree and declare”—through memes no less—that 2016 is your year! Deceptively they tell their followers to simply “Claim riches, health, and prosperity! Bind death, destruction, and poverty. Do this and 2016 will be yours!” Never mind that they said the same about 2015, 2014, and so on. God is doing a “new thing” in 2016!

Now before I go on and discuss why I think we need to re-think this “tradition,” please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying we should not expect for God to move in our lives. I’m not saying that we should not hope for answered prayers. I’m not saying don’t hope for change. Yes, let’s hope, pray and expect.

But it’s something else to impose upon God’s agenda what he will do in your life. I hate to bust bubbles, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the way of breakthroughs. People can declare and decree that 2016 will be their year, that won’t change God’s sovereign hand. Yes, pray for change, pray for open doors, pray for those trials and circumstances. But also pray that you might know Christ better, that you might know the power of his resurrection, and that you might serve his body more faithfully. Continue reading