Social justice and the gospel – either or both?

As a gospel preaching, community activist I recognize the need to do what the following text exhorts us to do and yet get involved in our communities and address some of the social injustices that are clearly evident. I fear as in so many aspects of life that balance is sometimes missing, for it may not be a matter of one or the other.

One of my Facebook friends recently posted an article that is much to do with these considerations, titled: “Why John MacArthur’s social justice statement makes for baffling reading”. It begins: “Last month, the popular preacher and founder of Grace To You ministries John MacArthur wrote a blog post called “Social Injustice to the Gospel”. In the piece he claimed the “detour in quest of ‘social justice'” was “the most subtle and dangerous threat” to the gospel. Now, MacArthur has joined over 6,000 other pastors and leaders in signing a controversial statement on the subject… It is baffling to me that a group of Christ followers would fail to see the importance of striving for social justice. It is troubling to me that it’s possible to say you believe in the inherent dignity of all yet fail to see it as even in part your mission to tackle the structures in place in our societies that seek to oppress others and lead to alarming disparities in wealth and opportunities. And it is inexplicable to me why you would go to all this trouble to distance yourselves from fellow Christians who do…

As much of the article was a critique of what MacArthur wrote in: “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel”, I decided to read this. The article begins “In view of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church, we wish to clarify certain key Christian doctrines and ethical principles prescribed in God’s Word. Clarity on these issues will fortify believers and churches to withstand an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.” It ends with a statement of what it is his group believes and what they don’t.

My friend who posted the first article was enthusiastic, quoting from it “…to me – and to theologians over the centuries social justice is not some new-fangled millennial trend – the strive for social justice cannot be separated from the Christian faith” and adding his own “AMEN and a thousand times AMEN!”

It got me to reflect on the two articles. My response was: “Thank you for sharing this article. I note your enthusiasm and as one who has devoted the past several years to community activism and addressing social justice issues while recognizing the paramount importance of gospel proclamation but not always successfully living it, I cannot do anything other than say Amen. HOWEVER, even though I am not John MacArthur’s biggest fan, I do NOT share the “baffling reading” bemusement of the author of this piece but rather share the concerns that MacArthur raises and concur with his statement. As a young Christian I was warned about liberal types taking over sections of the church. I later rebelled because among other things my early mentors did not “get” social justice, whose lives often did not match their pious words. Yet now I watch with consternation the liberal drift by many sections of the church including the Baptists you are part off. An example is we have had a number of people visit us perturbed they have gone to Baptist churches in SOUTHEND, focusing on feel good and being nice and inclusive to all and of course social justice, yet hardly a mention that we are hell bound sinners that need to repent and believe the gospel. I believe we must do what umpteen verses in the Bible tell us to do regarding social justice etc. but at the same time we must maintain sound doctrine and cooperate with the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgment (three of the more unpopular subjects) and not get taken in by worldly falsehoods”.

While as a community activist I might be expected to side with the first author given the need to get involved concerns raised, MacArthur while he doesn’t strike me as sharing entirely my views in this area, rightly points out that churches, however well intentioned, have too often wrongly taken on secular and sometimes anti-Christian agendas and thinking, and while I don’t like criticizing other church leaders, they need to take heed. We all need a touch of Holy Ghost fire to be emboldened to preach and practice the message of salvation and deal with as best we can the social injustices that afflict our communities. I should add, what I have shared is far from the last word on the subject and I am not convinced the two articles give simply opposite sides of where we should focus: social justice or gospel? Moreover, definitions matter and each term as far as Christians go incorporate elements of the other. Some of these points are well made in another article that has just come my way: “Is Social Justice a Gospel Issue?

I have noticed in recent years the church getting involved in all sorts of social justice issues, which is often a good thing and, as one who works in the area of homelessness, I recognize the benefits. Yet I sense a subtle drifting away from or even rejection of gospel certainties and that is a bad thing. We need to be concerned about social justice, enough to take action, but we should also be concerned people get saved and once saved taught to become mature disciples of Jesus. The challenge before us is to get involved in social justice matters, in order to make a difference, but also contend for the faith, live holy lives and go and make disciples of Jesus. I believe both articles make valid points, but if pressed I am more drawn to MacArthur’s affirm and deny statement, and am concerned with what I see as a wrong emphasis being made in many churches, not that any should claim holy one upmanship, and those who say focus just on so called spiritual matters are wrong also, for in praying “Thy Kingdom come” that does include social justice.

We affirm that the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone.

We deny that Christian belief, character, or conduct can be dictated by any other authority, and we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching. We further deny that competency to teach on any biblical issue comes from any qualification for spiritual people other than clear understanding and simple communication of what is revealed in Scripture.“

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One thought on “Social justice and the gospel – either or both?

  1. glen says:

    It is strange to me that there are people who claim that the Bible is ‘inerrant, infallible and the final authority on what is true’…. Not only does the Bible contradict itself, it also contradicts science. We know the universe and the world did not begin 8,000 years ago. We know the human race did not begin with two people in a garden. We know there were huge land reptiles known as dinosaurs which roamed the earth and died out, long, long before man came on the scene and evil was around long before. We know the Bible itself was written by many fallible human beings and there is no proof that everything they wrote is literally true. Even the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ never wrote a word. It was all written by other imperfect human beings. The four gospels, all telling the story of Jesus, differ from each sometimes.For instance, the quote on which Christianity bases its claim that it is the only true religion, i.e.’ I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me’ only appears in John. One would have thought such an important claim would have appeared in the other three gospels… iIndeed, if four witnesses reported seeing a crime but only one reported seeing a suspect present that no one else saw, one would likely conclude that the fourth witness was mistaken …or lying …Likewise, the claims about eternal life. Only Christians get to heaven – yet this is contradicted by Jesus himself in the Bible. E.g the Sermon on the Mount – ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
    Both these examples do not state that it is neccessay to be a Christian and both of them put the onus on us to ‘do good’ to go to heaven yet this is explicitly denied by Christianity. If a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Hindu were to read these words, they would surely conclude that they would be saved if they did what Jesus said. Of course there are ways that have been developed over the centuries to get round all the inconsistencies, the contradictions and the scientifically impossible – but it begins more amd more to look like making reality fit this fundamentalist viewpoint, rather than adapting religious belief to fit in with reality. Finally, one has to question why Protestants would have dumped an infallible pope and replaced him with an infallible book – written by a lot of fallible human beings…

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