Last summer as a group of concerned Christian leaders gathered in Dallas, Texas for the summit on social justice, several times it was repeated by others, and by me personally, that social justice is the biggest threat to the church of Jesus Christ in the last one hundred years.
As we discussed these matters in great detail, as we were departing for the airport, a few of us got into one vehicle and one of the men from the back asked me directly, “How do you know that this is the greatest threat in the last one hundred years?” What I said in that ride to the airport I maintain to this very day, but now—with much more clarity.
The Three Headed Dragon
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings, interesting characters emerge onto the scene in TheLord of the Rings and The Hobbit. One formidable character is the great red dragon, the fire-breathing monster known as Smaug. The dragon has taken over Lonely Mountain and the entire story of The Hobbit is a dramatic build-up to the teamwork of an unlikely and eclectic group that is determined to overcome the dragon. The only way to do so is by storming the door and defeating the beast.
Throughout history, the church has faced a number of controversies and a number of dragons along the way. From legalism to ecumenism to postmodernism, the evangelical church has drifted through the years. Perhaps the biggest controversy to face the evangelical church in recent history has been the inerrancy controversy. This problem crossed denominational lines and affected many institutions and entities along the way—not to mention the local churches that were devastated. The story of the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention is nothing short of God’s providence. Other denominations never recovered when they were overtaken by theological liberalism.
The main issue, although filled with serious complications that were played out in the theological, legal, and local church circles—was the inerrancy of God’s Word. No matter how large the dragon, it had only one head. It was easy to rally people behind the cause to fight for the Bible. The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June ebbs and flows from 5-9k people every June depending on the city, but during those years of controversy (in the late 70s), the local churches were busing in thousands of people to vote—to take a stand against error. In Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1985 during the heat of the resurgence, 45,519 messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention showed up to vote.
When people suggest that social justice is “the greatest threat to the church in the last one hundred years”—many Christians who know their history begin to see images of large crowds at the annual SBC meetings over inerrancy and they think of the church growth movement of pragmatism, and the Emerging Church movement and the racism of divided churches in the Jim Crow era—and they just don’t understand how social justice could be that big of a deal. We must remember, no matter what the beast is—if it’s liberalism, pragmatism, or some other theological or political conglomeration—those beasts had one head to focus upon during the fight. I’m arguing that social justice is a three-headed dragon—one that’s often difficult to define—yet one that has a powerful push both in terms of numerical and financial support. That’s what makes this social justice issue the biggest threat to the church in the last century.
Complementarianism—Does It Need a Revision?
The social justice controversy is complicated. One of the “heads” of the dragon of social justice is the issue of complementarianism. Simply put, social justice is driving us toward the need to redefine and clarify where we stand on women serving in ministry. This was one of the biggest issues facing The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary near the end of the inerrancy controversy of the SBC. You can see some of this in a documentary that was made by liberals to chart the “takeover” of Southern Seminary. Through the faithful leadership of Albert Mohler, the institution was led back to the biblical and theological position.
The Danvers Statement was first produced by The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988 and to this very day, remains a solid document that articulates the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity as designed by God from the very beginning. The point is clear—if such differences and if such roles were the product of God’s original design, why would we suddenly desire to redefine the boundaries for women in the local church? Many voices today are advocating for women’s leadership in the church so long as a woman is not ordained to the office of elder. Others are promoting the idea of a woman to lead in denominational life—such as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Such conversations have led to the recent release of the SBC Womens’ Leadership Network.
During times of controversy, we tend to focus upon what certain people cannot do rather than celebrating what they can do. In this case, we should celebrate what God has called women to do and help them fulfill God’s calling on their lives. We are not living in the past where women were, in many ways, discriminated against because of their gender. However, we should stand opposed to any agenda that presses the boundaries that extend beyond the God ordained roles and responsibilities for women in the church and culture. The social justice agenda is currently beating this drum that suggests we need to rethink complementarianism.
Ethnicity—The Modern Racism Debate
Craig Mitchell, in his explanation of Article 12 of The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, writes the following, “The science of race is getting louder and clearer all of the time. Race is at best an overblown social construct that has been harmful to our society. It is a concept that is best forgotten.” He cites Svante Paabo, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany as stating the following:
What the study of complete genomes from different parts of the world has shown is that even between Africa and Europe, for example, there is not a single absolute genetic difference, meaning no single variant where all Africans have one variant and all Europeans another one, even when recent migration is disregarded. 
In other words, throughout history, we have made a horrible mistake of dividing over the tone of skin. The melanin count in one person doesn’t make him a member of a different race of people—all of us can be traced back to one historic human—Adam.
However, throughout American history (and world history) we have often divided over skin color. Even after the slave trade was ruled illegal, our nation went through a difficult time of division in the Jim Crow period. Far more than water fountains were segregated. Much of our culture—including local churches were divided by skin color.
Since that time period, we have watched those days pass away. Much education and repentance has occurred through the years allowing for an equal playing field in various spheres of culture—including business, academia, athletics, politics, and the church.
Although we are living in days of great opportunity for all ethnic groups within the United States—and specifically within the evangelical church circles—we continue to see a resurgence of rhetoric regarding racism, discrimination, and white privilege. Certain evangelical voices are leading this conversation through confusing statements on social media and conference platforms such as the MLK50 event which was held on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. While many praised the event, it was filled with moments of tension and a lack of clarity on the person and beliefs of King himself.
Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr. recently posted a clip of a sermon where the following statement was made:
Social justice is a biblical issue…it’s not a black issue, it’s a humanity issue. It’s not a hood issue, it’s a global issue. And until we understand that Jesus himself said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captive, to set free those who are oppressed.” If that ain’t social justice, I don’t know what is.
Sadly, McKissick missed the point of Luke 4:16-30. A clear contextual reading of that account of Jesus in Nazareth will demonstrate that God often does the unexpected. Furthermore, the emphasis is placed upon the spiritual poverty and slavery to sin and how Christ delivers people from spiritual poverty rather than the social needs of individuals. The social justice agenda is hyper-focused on equality of opportunity and equality of social position both inside the church and outside the church. This is simply not the message of Jesus.
Through the years, the church has suffered the mistake of mission drift on social issues. We see this in many black church circles where they have turned the pulpit into a political stump, but it has likewise been in seminary education like the Carver School on Social Work that was closed in 1997 on the campus of Southern Seminary in Louisville. It was transferred to Campbellsville University in 1988. Albert Mohler, in a statement, articulated that one of the key reasons for the closing and transfer of the school was the direction that social work as a profession had taken in the last 20 years.
While we must stand upon a firm commitment to “do justice” and we must stand in opposition to injustice in our society and within evangelical circles—the current social justice movement has a different motivation. As a means of acknowledging the wrongs of the past, we are being encouraged to empower people with certain melanin count to high ranking positions within the local church and denominational circles. In some cases, even if the individual is under qualified for the position, it has been suggested he or she should be chosen in order to achieve a respectable level of skin tone diversity. This is severely patronizing to the black population—and anyone else with darker skin than whites.
In order to press an agenda, you must convince a population to accept your ideologies. The normalization of terms and ideas and theories such as “systemic racism” and “white privilege” is one means of continuing this agenda. Many people today haven’t even been willing to pause and honestly evaluate evangelical circles to see if systemic racism is really alive across the system (which is different than individuals). In the same way, many people haven’t paused to evaluate the theory of white privilege within evangelical circles.
Once again, if it does exist, why are we not all working together to name the names of leaders, institutions, and entities that are engaged in this sinful discrimination scheme? We do this with sexual scandals and discrimination against women, but we aren’t willing to call names with racism? Could the ideas of systemic racism and white privilege be nothing more than a political strategy to deconstruct hierarchies and to gain political power within the evangelical church?
As we continue to see a growing divide among ethnic groups within evangelicalism, the way forward for the proponents of social justice is merely a repeat of historic mistakes regarding collectivism and a hyper focus on group equality rather than biblical justice for the individual. Samuel Sey explains:
Over time the term ‘social justice’ became associated with critical theorists and Neo-Marxists from the Frankfurt School in Germany. They rejected universal rights or human rights as a basis for justice. They essentially rejected liberty for individuals as the hallmark for justice in society. They believed, instead, that parity between groups were the mark of justice in society. They rejected individualism and embraced collectivism. They did not define justice as equality of opportunity; they defined justice as equality of outcome.
In our ongoing debate on social justice in the area of ethnic division, we must evaluate the conversation and see if we are interested in establishing biblical justice for all, or if we are advocating for advancement and empowerment for our group. That’s what separates biblical justice from social justice. The agenda of social justice is interested in power—not unity nor is it interested in biblical justice. If the machine can use such tactics as social solutions to ethnic division in order to obtain the power, that’s often how the game is played.
Gay Christianity Demands Inclusion
In 2014, as a direct response to the controversy caused by Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary released a comprehensive response to Matthew Vines. In the opening chapter, Albert Mohler writes the following:
Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question. 
In our present social justice conversation, the false category of “gay Christianity” is being promoted by evangelical leaders—many of whom speak in major evangelical conferences and lead evangelical institutions. If you search on Google for “gay Christianity” (as of 4-3-19), the second listing on the first page is for Living Out. This is a ministry devoted to helping those who experience same sex attraction and clearly states the following on their website:
Can you be gay and Christian? Is it a sin to be gay? How do you live life without sex? How do I support my same-sex attracted Christian friend/family member?
We are a group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction bringing out into the open the questions and dilemmas that gay Christians can often face.
Recently, Tom Buck, who serves as the senior pastor for the First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas devoted nearly a week for the release of four consecutive articles (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) that pointed out the errors of the Living Out ministry and called for separation and acknowledgement regarding the endorsement of the ERLC and Russell Moore—among other evangelical leaders. Since then, the ERLC has removed their endorsement, however, you can still see it on the web archives.
If we are to be committed to biblical justice, how can we both love people and accommodate error at the same time? That is precisely what the proponents of gay Christianity are asking the church of Jesus Christ to do. Heath Lambert provided clarity on this issue by writing the following:
Is a “gay Christian” consistent with the gospel of Christ? Matthew Vines’s answer to this question is the exact opposite of the one provided by historic Christianity. Vines’s book, God and the Gay Christian, is an unfortunate reversal of thousands of years of moral clarity about homosexuality. 
He goes on to make this statement, “What is at stake in this debate is nothing less than our love for troubled people and the very gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Make no mistake about it, the capitulation on the false category of gay Christianity and the acceptance of new “ministries” such as Living Outand Revoice demonstrate that the LGBTQA+ proponents are planning to bang on the same door, use the same rhetoric, and demand the same equality that has been shouted loudly through this social justice conversation from the beginning.
The Way Forward
The way forward is not to continue to shout at one another or to talk past one another. In fact, we must avoid misrepresentation and labor to achieve unity through the cloud of controversy. As we continue to talk, study, and work through this controversy—there is a better way forward. I would like to propose a few suggestions.
Commitment to the Sufficiency of Scripture: Unfortunately, the social justice agenda is primarily a political agenda. There are theological talking points that often get brought to the surface, but the fabric of the agenda is politically driven and motivated. In order to untangle the web of controversy, there will need to be an uncompromising commitment to the sufficient Word of God. There is no controversy and no trial too big for God’s Word.
Conversation. There hasn’t been much conversation happening on the issue of social justice. There has been no real serious conversation. It has been primarily a one sided conversation with responses shouted back and forth—mostly in the 280 character limit of Twitter. At some point, there needs to be a honest and transparent conversation between people who talk to one another directly.
Pursue Unity in the Gospel of Jesus: True unity will not come as a result of the social justice agenda. It will only cause division and compromise of doctrinal fidelity. The only means of true unity will come as a result of seeing ourselves marked by our union with Christ. This is not the outward mark of circumcision as the Jews often misunderstood, but by the circumcision of the heart. The ground is truly level at the foot of the cross (Gal. 3:28-29).
Do Justice: The call of all Christians is to practice biblical justice and to stand against injustice. We must do this within society and evangelical circles (local churches and denominations). We must love people and care for people properly and biblically. This means that we must not tolerate discrimination of people based on skin color and gender. Once again, the Bible is clear about how to do justice, walk humbly, love God supremely, and love our neighbor (Micah 6:8; Mark 12:28-30).
The only way to honor Christ, protect the gospel, and to gain the trust of people is by standing upon the Word of God without compromise and acknowledging error when necessary. Where necessary, and it may be necessary at some point, we must be willing to divide friendships over important theological issues—specifically those that denigrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Until then, we pray for unity and peace as we continue to work through the controversy of social justice.
Martin Luther once urged ministers of his day to take action and to not be lazy. He stated:
Some pastors and preachers are lazy and no good. They do not pray; they do not read; they do not search the Scripture … The call is: watch, study attend to reading. In truth you cannot read too much in Scripture; and what you read you cannot read too carefully, and what you read carefully you cannot understand too well, and what you understand well you cannot teach too well, and what you teach well you cannot live too well … The devil … the world … and our flesh are raging and raving against us. Therefore, dear sirs and brothers, pastors and preachers, pray, read, study, be diligent … This evil. shameful time is not the season for being lazy, for sleeping and snoring. 
You can describe social justice in terms of a train with boxcars to identify an agenda or a three-headed dragon to identify the threat. I still believe this is the biggest threat to the church in the last century. Once upon a time, Martin Luther stormed the door of the Roman Catholic Church and took on the beast of a false religion. Today, we must not underestimate the three-headed dragon of social justice. We must not forget that while we see the beast of social justice, this enemy of the church is merely a puppet for the true dragon—Satan himself who hates Jesus and God’s church. Be alert (1 Pet. 5:8). Stand firm (Eph. 6:13b-14a).
Megan Gannon, “Race is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue.” Scientific American.com(February 5, 2016).
Albert Mohler Jr., ed., God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, (Louisville: SBTS Press, 2014), 9.
Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1983), 40-41.
It is no secret that American politics has been overtaken by identity politics—one of the popular layers in the social justice agenda. There is a political agenda involved in using one’s identity group to gain power. The conversation has become so intense, that political groups are using every strategy possible in order to virtue signal voters and to gain support.
Elizabeth Warren, a white woman from Oklahoma, understands the power of identity politics as she has recently been trying to identify as an American Indian. The “white” category has been polluted by identity politics leaving people like Elizabeth Warren no other option other than self-identity tactics. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “It’s important that we don’t ignore the power of identity because it is very powerful, especially for women, especially for the rage of women right now.”
Intersectionality was originally coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a political activist and radical feminist, in order to help identify and aid individual classes of discrimination or victim groups. Through intersectionality, the more victim groups a person identifies with—the more power they can obtain. What Kimberlé Crenshaw was able to do in the leftist world of the LGBTQA+ movement through intersectionality is now being used to leverage a social justice movement within evangelicalism. How is identity politics infiltrating and changing the church?
Hinderance to Discernment
There are many scandals and schisms facing the church today. With the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the #MeToo movement, an intense focus upon identity politics within the evangelical church has impacted the politics of denominations and the conversations within local churches around the nation. It should be pointed out that the grievance industry is a very lucrative industry and it has now entered evangelical circles. Has this intense focus on victim categories and identity politics hindered the church’s ability to discern?
Take the issue of human sexuality and gender identity for instance. The United Methodist Church has already made historic decisions about their embrace of egalitarianism, but now the debate is centered on human sexuality. Although the outcome is uncertain, most people believe the entire denomination is gearing up for a massive split.
Within the Southern Baptist Convention, a new conversation arose in the weeks leading up to the 2018 annual meeting in June that was centered upon the denomination’s historic position on complementarianism. While many offered up their opinions, we must not forget that just prior to the Convention, Beth Moore wrote a very important article that garnered much support and sympathy. The article was titled, “A Letter to My Brothers” and in her letter she discussed details of marginalization and discrimination based on her gender. In the weeks leading up to the SBC meeting in Dallas, Texas—pastors from all over the nation were debating the issue of a woman serving as the president of the largest evangelical denomination in America. That debate is in motion to this very day and will likely continue over the next few years.
However, that raises the question about discernment. Has the church lost its ability to discern due to the cloud of identity politics? A large number of Southern Baptist pastors would not embrace Beth Moore’s theology, but due to identity politics and the perceived need to empower women within evangelical denominations—she receives a pass on her deficient theological positions. Does one’s identity or victim category take priority over truth?
In a similar struggle, both the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have been marked by the Revoice Conference controversy of 2018 that has promoted many troubling ideas and positions regarding same-sex attraction and LGBTQA+ Christianity. Although not officially connected to the Revoice Conference, it was held in a PCA church in St. Louis in 2018 and founder, Nate Collins, identifies himself as a Southern Baptist. The Revoice Conference mission states that they exist for the following purpose:
Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.
The point is clear—homosexuals will use the same social justice playbook to gain recognition and acceptance as other groups who have gone before them within evangelicalism. Now, another ministry has arisen within evangelical circles with a similar purpose under the name, Living Out. One of the first questions they tackle on their website is the question of whether or not a person can be gay and Christian? The hyphenated Christian is becoming more and more acceptable within evangelical circles.
Many black Christians are instructing white Christians to be quiet and listen on matters of social justice. Women who fit into a victim category are elevated to a platform and given a greater voice within the evangelical church. Likewise those who claim to be gay and Christian are suggesting that they must have a place at the table to talk too. Has sola Scriptura been replaced by sola identitatem? Has identity politics hindered our ability to exercise good biblical discernment?
Pragmatism is the historic thorn in the church’s side. The wave of the pragmatic movements such as the church growth movement have left the evangelical church weak and superficial in many ways. When churches, seminaries, and denominations make decisions based upon the desired benefit rather than the truth of God’s Word—it weakens the church. The desire to be culturally relevant has caused many churches and denominations to crumble.
Today, identity politics has entered the evangelical church. Some leaders are instructing pastors on how to diversify the color of their church staff in order to reach across ethnic lines within their communities. In some cases, they are being encouraged to choose lesser qualified black leaders over more qualified white leaders in order to reach the goal of diversity among church leadership. Once again, such a pragmatic decision is harmful upon the leaders chosen and the church as a whole—and the desired benefit will not outweigh such capitulation. While many conservative evangelicals embrace the sovereignty of God and the sufficiency of Scripture—they give greater priority to pragmatism in how they make decisions.
Identity is not only based on ethnic identity, but also gender identity. Why did the United Methodist Church vote to allow women to serve as pastors on May 4th, 1956 in their General Conference? It certainly wasn’t a theological decision, because the text of Scripture is abundantly clear regarding the office of elder (see 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). It was a pragmatic decision in order to appeal to the masses and a desire to offset the declining numbers within their denomination. That move didn’t work, so now, they’re discussing the issue of homosexual leaders within their denomination. Once more, it’s a pragmatic move. When the church bows to pragmatism—the boundaries of Scripture are ignored in order to accomplish goals.
Will the Southern Baptist Convention go down the same pragmatic road? In many ways, the denomination has been traveling the road of pragmatism for years. However, will the denomination that stood courageously upon the inerrancy of Scripture and returned to a commitment to God’s Word repeat disastrous patterns of the past? Will the identity politics of American culture cause the massive ship of the Southern Baptist Convention to drift so far off course that it will be lost in the sea of social justice identity politics? What decisions will the SBC make on women in leadership? Will the SBC continue to embrace intersectionality and a form of evangelical affirmative action in order to move certain non-white ethnic groups through seminary programs with the goal of diversity among SBC missionaries and pastors serving on the field?
The outcome has yet to be determined, but what we must recognize is that without a firm anchor in God’s Word and without a firm commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture—the SBC and other evangelical denominations will drift far off course and will likely never be recovered. Pragmatic decisions regarding ethnic diversity, new definitions and boundaries for complementarian positions, and an embrace of the false category of LGBTQA+ Christianity will prove to be a tragic mistake for the church of Jesus Christ.
What is our Identity?
In the fall of 1620, 102 colonists sailed for the New World on a well known sea vessel known as the Mayflower. These Separatist Christians renounced the religious practices of the Church of England and believed that the Church of England was beyond redemption. In 1630, another group would join the Separatists in the New World. This group is known as the Puritans. During the “Great Migration” of the 1630s, some 21,000 English settlers came to New England. When these farmers, fishermen, merchants, lawyers, and entire families walked off of the boats—they had one common book among them—the Geneva Bible.
As they formed communities—the Christians planted churches. The churches found their identity in Jesus Christ. The church in America today is being driven off course by identity politics. The identity of the church today is being attached to the color of skin and the priority of gender empowerment rather than Jesus Christ.
The church has been through an identity crisis before. After the church was established by Christ—followers of Jesus were called Christians which was originally a term of derision. What the anti-Jesus movement was attempting to do was to identify the followers of Jesus with his name—specifically the office of the Christ of God. Today, the church boldly identifies with Jesus by embracing the title—Christian.
When Paul wrote to the church in Galatia—he pointed to the union that both Jews and Gentiles have in Christ. The bond is Jesus and the church’s identity cannot be focused on ethnicity or gender. Paul wrote, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:27-29). Paul said almost the same thing in Colossians 3:11. We don’t find our identity as the “woke church” or the “black church” or the “white church” or the “hipster church.” Instead, we find our identity in Jesus. We are Christians.
In days of confusion and mission drift, the church must find encouragement in the promise of Jesus in Matthew 16:18. During these days of confusing identity politics, we must courageously reject the need to identify the church of Jesus with the woke movement of the social justice agenda. We must boldly stand in opposition to the intersectionality politics in light of the fact that we have a sufficient Word that is capable of guiding us along the broken roads of our culture (Ps. 119:11). For me and countless thousands of Christians across America—the Word of God is enough.
If the church continues to feed the monster of identity politics—it will eventually bite the arm that feeds it. Consider the direct connection between identity politics and the freedom of speech restrictions and hate crime legislation that are quickly approaching the church in our day. These items are not isolated nor are they disconnected from the overarching social justice agenda. Today the church is becoming increasingly woke, but in reality it needs to be awakened to the truth of the gospel alone.
As I explain in the sermon, not only is it the building blocks for a brave new religion, it’s absolutely a flat denial of the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we really need to attach “woke” to the church of Jesus Christ? Is it really necessary to connect “social justice” with the gospel? Should Christians be laboring to make leftist political strategies sexy and cool? In order to live under the banner of the gospel as a slave of King Jesus—is there another manifesto or document or book that’s necessary to achieve God’s glory among his people in a broken sin cursed culture other than the Bible?
With all of the competing voices, books, conferences, and blog posts being written that suggest otherwise, I stand firm on my position that the Bible is sufficient and nothing else is necessary to achieve God’s will for his people in this fallen world. We don’t need to replace theology with victimology or the Scriptures with sociology. However, we’re living in a time when intersectionality and social justice tactics are being employed as a new church growth model.
Meanwhile, the boundaries of complementarianism are being revisited, racial tension is increasing among ethnic groups, and homosexuals are knocking on the door with the same demands from the same playbook of social justice. That’s why the social justice agenda is such a dangerous agenda.
Finally, it is a grotesque error to suggest that the framers (including me) of “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” are ignorant of injustices and social ills in our culture. The fact is, we believe the sins are real and present in our culture—even within the evangelical culture. The difference between us and the proponents of political social justice methods is that we believe the Scriptures are sufficient to address every evil, every injustice, every sin—no matter the size or complexity. Just as the Reformers embraced sola Scriptura during the days of the Reformation, we too continue to embrace sola Scriptura in our present culture as we face different challenges—none of which are bigger than God’s Word.
How is intersectionality a brave new religion? It replaces the gospel and central, rejects the sufficiency of Scripture, and through a woke cultural lens—works to rescue people from oppression and injustice. Once again, the question must be raised—is the gospel enough? Is the Word of God that brings the good news to the sinner who is lost in the darkness of our sin cursed world somehow not enough?
I trust the sermon will be an encouragement to you. I leave you with the very words of Charles Spurgeon in which I concluded my sermon in the conference:
This weapon is good at all points, good for defense and for attack, to guard our whole person or to strike through the joints and marrow of the foe. Like the seraph’s sword at Eden’s gate, it turns every way. You cannot be in a condition that the Word of God has not provided. The Word has as many faces and eyes as providence itself. You will find it unfailing in all periods of your life, in all circumstances, in all companies, in all trials, and under all difficulties. Were it fallible, it would be useless in emergencies, but its unerring truth renders it precious beyond all price to the soldiers of the cross (Sermon: Matthew 4:4).
Therefore my brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that your labor is not in vain in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15:58).
*All sermons and the panel discussion from the social justice conference can be accessed here.
The classic definition of pragmatism is simply, “if it works, do it.” That has been the motto for many years within evangelical church growth circles. Entire conferences and seminars have been dedicated to the methods of building a church in a specific community. Nearly every tactic under the sun has been used, from community surveys to smoke machines and rock bands.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Many people today are offering solutions to this pattern of religious segregation. One such trend is ethnic pragmatism—the idea of using skin color in order to become more appealing to a certain ethnic segment of the community. Not only is this problematic, it’s simply not the blueprint God provides in the Scriptures for the local church.
When a church culture is drunk on church growth and is willing to push the boundaries in order to get results, pragmatic varieties begin to surface in all directions. For the people who attend the local church, the most important thing for them is their spiritual growth and maturity from the Scriptures—whether or not they recognize this reality. To waffle on this commitment in order to embrace a pragmatic scheme to gain new people into the church is tragic.
When it comes to appointing elders in the local church, the issue should not be based on the color of their skin. The decision should be based on the gifts, abilities, and competency of the man in question. If there is a need for an elder in the local church and there are several different men who are able to lead, if a church chooses a black man who doesn’t have the abilities of another white man in the same congregation based on a desire of the leadership to reach out to the black population in their community—they have made a decision that will harm their congregation.
When you read 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, you never see Paul communicating to Timothy or Titus to look out among the congregation and choose a man who is a Jew for one area and a Gentile for another area. He simply drives home what is required of the man who leads. Paul wasn’t interested in ethnic marketing schemes to grow the local church. Such qualifications are based on the spiritual maturity and the God ordained call of the man who will aspire to the office of elder—not the color of his skin. Qualifications matter because truth matters and God’s church is to be cared for properly.
Ethnic Pragmatism is Patronizing Tokenism
As the social justice debate continues to expand and as people continue to reveal their cards in this complex conversation—more often than not the proponents of social justice continue to support a brand of ethnic pragmatism. One of the tragic realities is that such pragmatic logic is patronizing to the elder who is chosen as a token black man in order to market their church to the black community.
If a specific black man in the local church is biblically qualified, gifted in preaching and teaching, and called by God to the office of elder—he doesn’t need a white congregation to give him a hand up in order to help him reach his goals. To choose him primarily because he is black is tokenism. It’s ethnic pragmatism—the use of a man’s skin color in order to reach specific ethnic goals in the local church. This is patronizing, disrespectful, and completely unhelpful to the man and damaging to the congregation.
The best way for a primarily white congregation to reach out to a black population in their community is to do so naturally through evangelism that runs through friendships and individual circles of influence in the community. This should happen through friendships at the local ball park, the local school, the workplace, and other natural points of contact. Pragmatic ethnic marketing is not the way God reaches a community—it’s the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:18-21; Rom. 1:16).
Furthermore, a local church communicates something extremely dangerous to their community when they choose a man based on his skin color in order to reach people of a different shade of skin in their community. If a local church is willing to do that in order to reach black people in their neighborhood, will the local church be willing to offer push button app driven personal deacon service for the millennial population to be comfortable in the worship service too? What’s next? What modifications should be made to a local church in order to reach the LGBTQ+ community? When a church bows the knee to pragmatism, there is no limit to the level of capitulation. It’s all about the power of the vote among the elders and the congregation itself. Truth no longer matters.
The best way to love a community full of different shades of skin is to preach the gospel, evangelize faithfully, and intentionally reach the whole community with God’s good news. When people are saved by God’s grace, they want the truth of God’s Word and they want to grow in grace—regardless of the color of skin communicating the message. Ethnic pragmatism continues the long trend of division—making people believe they need a certain shade of skin color rather than the robust truth of God’s Word. Ethnic pragmatism seeks to communicate that ethnic varieties do not matter to the local church when in reality it communities that the color of skin actually does matter. In the end, ethnic pragmatism harms the church and weakens the foundation as a whole.
The category of “women preachers” has drastically risen in recent days and while some celebrate this trend—others are very concerned. How did we arrive at this juncture? Why are more women pursuing the pulpit and why are more Christian leaders promoting this movement? While we can’t be certain about the motives of certain leaders who seem very complicit in this uptick in women preachers, we can be certain that there is reason for concern.
The Increased Numbers
In 2017 Barna Research Group pointed out that there was a rise in the number of women pastors. According to their study, “One of every 11 Protestant pastors is a woman—triple as many as 25 years ago.” In a new statistical analysis, “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” the numbers indicate that within “most Mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994.”
While this is mainly Mainline denominations, the trend still demonstrates an uptick across the board. When adding totals from American Baptist Churches USA, Disciples of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and United Methodist denominations, the numbers indicate 32 percent of clergy from those denominations in 2017. Compare the most recent percentage total (32%) with numbers from 1994 (15%) and 1977 (2.3%) and the trend is easy to follow. The numbers reveal an explosive growth of women serving in the office of pastor.
It seems that while evangelical churches are still slow to respond to this trend, there is an increase nonetheless. However, if you remove the office of pastor from the statistical analysis within evangelicalism—you would discover that many women are regularly preaching in conferences and church settings. This trend has continued to rise through the popularity of Beth Moore and Priscilla Shirer along with others who are popular within the LifeWay brand and the Southern Baptist Convention. Look for these numbers to drastically grow in the coming days, especially if the recent heated debate on the need to elect a woman as the president of the SBC is any indicator of where this conversation is headed in the future.
What we’re really talking about is race. And so, I think we have a long lasting issue within evangelicalism of people saying ‘Let’s not talk about issues of racial reconciliation, unity, and justice—that would be a distraction from the gospel.’ That’s exactly what was happening in the 19th century as it related to human slavery. That’s exactly what was happening in the 1920s and 1950s as it related to Jim Crow and it persists among us.
According to Russell Moore, the Statement on social justice is merely about race. In an unbelievable slanderous manner, he aligns us with the oppressive and sinful agenda of the Jim Crow era. Not only is that unbelievable, but he didn’t want to address Lauren Green’s point about Voddie Baucham’s involvement with the Statement and his positions as a black man who served as a pastor in the United States for years before moving to Zambia. Furthermore, what Russell Moore didn’t want to discuss is the Statement’s denial in Article XI on Complementarianism where we point to the unique roles of biblical manhood and womanhood and insist that remaining consistent in our positions of complementarianism will not prohibit women from flourishing within the church for the glory of God. Out of a total of fourteen articles in the Statement, only two of them are specifically designed to address the issue of race.
Victimology has replaced theology beneath the banner of social justice. To play the victim card in our culture today is like playing the Ace of Spades in a card game. The victim approach to ladder climbing is both politically correct and extremely powerful. According to specific data, women are claiming to be discriminated against in their work environment—claiming that unreal expectations are placed upon them on a regular basis. Now, with the rise of the #MeToo hashtag, it’s clear that women are speaking out, speaking up, and demanding that when they step up—they must be accepted.
The social justice movement is driving a strong egalitarian agenda down Main Street of evangelicalism. Some would argue that this is an unfair assessment, but let’s be honest, if it’s not egalitarian—whatever we call this trend, it shouldn’t be labeled complementarian. When Beth Moore stepped into the #MeToo world with her twitter account and social media presence, it was like throwing gasoline on an open flame.
A well meaning mentor told me at 25 that people couldn’t handle hearing about sexual abuse and it would sink my ministry. It didn’t. #MeToo
What I’m not suggesting is that women who have been mistreated or abused should remain silent. What I am suggesting is that this social justice agenda is now claiming that we must not only admit wrong in the past by how we have mistreated, discriminated against, oppressed, and held back women from serving in the life of the church—but now we must empower them.
It’s precisely this language of empowerment that is quite disturbing. J.D. Greear released a short video just prior to the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at which he was elected as the president of the SBC, and in that video he pointed to the need for empowering women. He likewise tweeted back to Beth Moore and stated that he saw a need for the “tearing down of all hierarchy.” Therefore, it seems clear that many in the SBC, including Russell Moore are committed to this new direction and social justice is the platform that’s being used to make it happen. In a recent post on Instagram, Russell Moore who serves as the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the SBC, posted a picture of himself with Beth Moore and Jamie Ivey. The caption for the picture read, “What a joy to get to minister with two heroes in the faith @bethmorrelpm and @jamieivey here at #erlc18!” Now, if you read the comments, you would find a lady (inesmcbryde) who responded with these words:
sooooo jealous that you get to hear her! she was the first woman preacher i ever heard in the USA when i was in college. made my preacher heart awaken! love mama beth. 💜
If God had a plan from the beginning that was spelled out in the Garden of Eden and rooted in creation why must we suddenly change directions now? If the early church recognized God’s intent in the differing roles and responsibilities of women as revealed in the sufficient Word of God—why now are we suddenly hearing a consistent drum beat of empowerment within the social justice conversation?
We need doctrinal clarity, definitional clarity, and methodological clarity in evangelicalism on issues related to complementarianism. When the Word of God takes the central place in the life of the local church and the church body is consistently looking to the elders for leadership and shepherding through God’s Word—what will emerge is a healthy church where both men and women flourish for the glory of God. When social justice and any other cultural fad takes the focus off of God’s plan for his church—then the people will walk down a broken road filled with many pains.
Throughout history, different degrees and forms of liberation theology have emerged within Christian circles. This has been true of Christian circles in America and beyond. The Church of Jesus has faced Black Liberation Theology, Women’s Liberation, and the Civil Rights movement. Today, we are witnessing a rebirth of many liberation ideas under the banner of social justice. With all of these different brands of liberation theology—why are we not arriving at the ultimate goal of liberty?
Liberation Theology Is Fueled by Politics Rather than Theology
Liberation theology often embraces Marxist ideas which emerge through the political streams that find their way into Christian circles. Today’s social justice movement is politically motivated on three fronts: race, women, and homosexuals. American culture has been through the slavery debate, Jim Crowe era, and the Civil Rights movement. We know what it looks like to fight over the color of a person’s skin. However, if anyone should know better—it would be the Church of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the political race debate has now found its way into conservative evangelical circles and it’s a very hot topic that’s dividing people. Many are crying foul and claiming that “White Privilege” exists in evangelicalism and is driving a systemic racist approach to the local church and denominational life.
Throughout our American history, we have witnessed the fight over the equality of women. The Women’s Liberation movement championed the idea that women are equal and should be treated as such in all areas of life and culture. Sadly, the culture bought into the ideology of the Women’s Liberation movement and it led women astray from God’s intended plan. Suddenly, we are now revisiting these ideas within evangelical circles as many are suggesting that the evangelical system is guilty of systemic oppression and injustice against women. This has become another very hot topic and one that’s gaining steam quickly.
While homosexuals have been beating a drum for equality and acceptance within the American culture for years and now that they’ve reached legal recognition in society, they’re demanding the same within the Church. That’s why conferences like the recent Revoice event (2019 is already being planned) are becoming more popular. Should we normalize the lifestyle of homosexuality and accept the false category of LGBT Christianity in the Church? This is one more extremely hot debate that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. They are using social justice as their platform to speak to these issues of equality and acceptance.
These three groups are turning to political strategies (intersectionality, religious affirmative action) and demanding to have their voices heard regarding equality, acceptance, and empowerment. They are demanding for a whole new hierarchy of leadership within the local church and denominational structures. We continue to hear politics, elements of Marxism (especially as it pertains to equality and economics), and an enormous amount of pragmatic strategizing rather than biblical theology at the center of these heated conversations. Politics cannot force unity and bring about the results of the gospel. We must remember the dangerous results of the Civil Rights movement  and the Women’s Liberation agenda that resulted in placing people in positions that led to oppression rather than liberation. Anytime we seek to change God’s plan that’s rooted in creation, it will never lead to liberty. Sin always leads to oppression. We must not turn our backs on the sufficient gospel of King Jesus.
Liberation Theology Produces a Victimhood Approach to Life
Many look to James Cone as the father of Black Liberation Theology. In his book, God of the Oppressed, he writes:
The hermeneutical principle for an exegesis of the scriptures is the revelation of God in Christ as the liberator of the oppressed from social oppression and to political struggle, wherein the poor recognize that their fight against poverty and injustice is not only consistent with the gospel but it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” 
Not only is this a socially charged statement—it’s completely out of step with the gospel of Jesus. The hermeneutical approach of Cone leads to victimhood where people complain about injustice and demand to be liberated. In the history of American politics, this leads people to run to the government rather than to God for such liberation. It often encourages the cry of victim rather than encouraging hard work and perseverance through difficulties. When we teach people that they’re victims of sinful behavior and that they’re owed something as a result—it creates a posture of welfare and affirmative action rather than hard work and a fixation on the God who will make all things new at the return of Christ. Are we expecting for paradise to appear through social strategies and political ideas or are we looking forward to the city whose builder and designer is God (Heb. 11:10)?
If we’re honest, James Cone’s idea that Jesus came as a Liberator to fight against poverty and injustice is not only off base—it’s simply heretical. It creates a different gospel than the gospel of Jesus. Therefore, when we hear people discussing social justice from the lens of Cone or cultural Marxism—we should stand in opposition. Did Jesus promise us a safe life without hardships and oppression? The Bible promises us pain and suffering for walking in the footsteps of Jesus. That promise came from Jesus and the apostle Paul (2 Tim. 3:12). Christians will be the recipients of great injustices and tragic persecution, but we are not called to cry victim—instead we’re called to count it all joy (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:1-5).
While the Church of Jesus should stand in opposition to injustice and care for the poor—we must not encourage the victim mentality that flows from liberation theology. Furthermore, the Church has a mission that centers on the gospel and from the gospel flows a commitment to biblical justice. If we’re committed to being champions of social justice, local churches will turn into a humanitarian organizations that care for the needs of the poor and oppose injustice while ignoring the greatest need of reconciliation for broken sinners to a sovereign God. We must avoid such mission drift. We must likewise avoid misusing the Bible to make such claims as James Cone. There is a much better hermeneutical approach to studying the Bible.
Jesus Did Not Come as the Liberator—He Came as the Savior
When the angel spoke to Joseph, the words were not, “She will bare a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall come to be the Liberator of poverty and injustice.” Instead, the angel said, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). When Jesus ministered, he called the outcast, the unclean, the poor, and the lowly to serve alongside him. He called a bunch of misfits to himself and then sent them out with the gospel that would turn the world upside down. Jesus spent time with publicans and sinners. Jesus did not call many wise, nor many mighty, nor many strong (1 Cor. 1:26-31). When Jesus was preparing to leave, in his Great Commission, he didn’t commission his followers to go and be champions of social justice. Instead, he sent people out to make disciples (through the gospel—Matt. 28:18-20).
The way to change a culture is not by preaching sociology and politics—it’s by the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). It’s not the message of James Cone or any Civil Rights leader that sets the captive free—it’s the message of the cross. If Jesus came to set captives free from poverty, injustice, and oppression—many people would have considered his mission an utter failure. Especially those early followers who were cast down from the temple pinnacle, dragged out of the city and clubbed to death, boiled in large basins of boiling oil, exiled to Patmos, crucified on crosses, stabbed with spears, fed to wild beasts, and burned at the stake—all while experiencing poverty and injustice. Was Jesus’ mission a failure then and does it remain a failure today?
The answer is absolutely not. Jesus came to reconcile sinners to God (Rom. 5:10). Jesus was successful in his work. He did not fail (John 18:9). He fulfilled the will of the Father. Jesus accomplished what the first Adam could never do. Jesus was the prophet greater than Moses, the priest greater than Melchizedek, and the king greater than David. Jesus cried out, “It is finished” in his dying moments and accomplished the work of redemption (John 19:30; John 8:32-36; 1Peter 2:24). While many Christians will suffer injustice and oppression in this life, one day when Christ returns he will bring an absolute end and final conclusion to all injustice, oppression, sin, death, and tears—for the former things will have passed away.
Until then, we long for his return and we must seek to change the culture through the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls (2 Cor. 5:17). The way to true change is from the inside out. It may be possible to convince people to tolerate other ethnic groups and to work alongside women, but it will never be possible to deliver the Kingdom of God through the lens of secular political strategies. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. will never be realized in this life. So long as sin fills the hearts of people—oppression, racism, injustice, and brokenness will fill the land. Liberation theology is like a well without water as it provides false hope. Liberation theology produces victimology that replaces biblical theology. Only in Christ’s rule when he returns will every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord and only then will we see no more death, pain, tears, oppression, racism, injustice, and brokenness because those former things will be passed away (Phil 2:5-11; Rev. 21-22). Only through the gospel will people experience true liberty. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
James Cone, God of the Oppressed, (Ossining, NY: Orbis Books, 1977), 81-82.
NOTE: Not everything the Civil Rights movement did was bad. In fact, through those days, many injustices were brought to the surface. However, the system as a whole was driven by politics rather than theology. It’s important for Christians to admit this rather than embracing everything within the movement without proper discernment.