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 The Lord 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 Out and 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.
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- Fred W. Meuser, Luther the Preacher, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Pub, 1983), 40-41.