27 June 2019

Social justice IS evangelism

Apparently over 7,000 pastors have signed on to a recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, associated with John MacArthur and several other like-minded signers, warning us against social justice as a danger to the Gospel.

I'm guessing that's actually a small percentage of the Christian establishment who would agree with MacArthur and friends on this point, while possibly differing strongly with them on other aspects of their leadership. In any case, two of the most problematic points they make in their statement are these:
  • WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. (from Part 8).
  • And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel. (from Part 14).
If I twist my head a certain way, I can sort of see what they're driving at, but I can't shake my severe doubts about two related dangers in these statements:

First: this division of the church's public presence into priority one: preaching of the gospel, exposition of the Bible, and priority two: everything else.

Granting this division for the sake of discussion, shouldn't the "priority one" people and the "priority two" people be in an accountable relationship with each other? If there's mutual accountability, the things done by either group would actually represent the whole community's testimony, which would be grievously incomplete without that full participation.

In other words, in a healthy church, this prioritizing is artificial and threatens to set up an unnecessary hierarchy. To borrow a phrase, "such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel."

Second: advocacy of social justice, up to and including civil disobedience, is among the signs and wonders that proclaim and validate our Gospel teachings to the wider audience beyond those already engaged with us. This is true whether or not literal miracles occur, and they very well can occur.

In his book, Churches that Pray, Peter Wagner tells the story of the prophetic prayer journey to the Wurtsmith Air Force Base back in 1983, during which the prayer team first reached the runway (renouncing "Satan and all his works") and then, unseen, reached the high-security area where the bombers were kept, although that area was fully lit up and patrolled. Wagner concludes, "Who knows what the future holds? But we do know that since that prophetic prayer journey the danger of worldwide nuclear holocaust has measurably been less and less."

The world is still dangerous, and armed power continues to represent conventional wisdom; to put our trust in God rather than violence, wealth, and social status, can require miraculous faith.

The unity of faith and practice is as important today as it ever was. In Chuck Redfern's important historical "evangelical myth-busting" overview of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, he puts it right out there: "Like it or not, 'evangelical' conjures Donald Trump's image, not our Lord's." It's in this atmosphere that cartoons like Mike Luckovich's (above) appear. (Friday update: Also see Michael Gerson, Evangelicals are naked before the world.)

Without evidence, there's no persuasive proclamation, no matter how exquisitely tuned to orthodox specifications. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether those guardians of doctrinal boundaries are as concerned about that proclamation and its external audiences as they are worried about being found defective by each other.


Ralph Beebe; source.
The late Ralph Beebe exemplified the unity of faith and practice that Quakers advocate, particularly in relation to peace. Read Cherice Bock's powerful sermon on the occasion of last Friday's meeting for worship for remembrance of her grandfather.

Friends and the humanitarian crisis on our southern border: observations by Lynn Gazis-Sax.

In the U.S., are Democrats less religious than Republicans? Or is this only true among white Democrats? Reposted in connection with Democrats' appointment of a new faith outreach director.

Myriam Reynaud: Will young evangelicals come back to church? (Compare my rather less temperate post from twelve years ago: Can evangelicals reproduce?)

An American experience of Russian criminal process: Gaylen Grandstaff.

Peter Beinart: Ocasio-Cortez's generation doesn't automatically presume America's innocence.

Harpdog Brown -- blues from Canada. (Looking forward to hearing him at the Waterfront Blues Festival.)


Bill Samuel said...

I wish these folks would carefully and prayerfully study 1) the Gospels, much of which they ignore, and 2) 19th century evangelicalism, which viewed saving souls and social justice as integrally related making for the most successful period of sharing the Gospel in modern history.

Johan Maurer said...

Bill, on your second point, see the Gerson article I just added as a "Friday update" to the post.