*This article was first published at The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel
The Reformation was a recovery of God’s Word. For ages, the Bible had been lost in the darkness of Roman Catholicism. Once the Word of God was unleashed upon the people—light entered the scene. When talking about church history, people often ask what Martin Luther’s great accomplishment was in the work of the Reformation. Some point to his Ninety-Five Theses while others point to how God used him to reintroduce singing into corporate worship. Without a doubt, his greatest accomplishment was the translation of the German Bible. This project unleashed light into a world of darkness and was the fuel of the Protestant Reformation. When people lack a sufficient Bible they lack a guiding light.
We have seen this pattern work its way into evangelical circles in the past. With the rise of theological liberalism, it was more than the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886–1968) and German theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) who were permeating the ideas of an insufficient Bible. Theological liberalism ran through seminaries and local churches and major denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. The Conservative Resurgence was a return to the Bible and anytime in history where there is an awakening—the Bible is at the center. That reality presupposes the fact that for darkness to prevail, people must be led away from the Bible. That was the pattern in the pre-Reformation era and it was the same pattern in the days prior to the Conservative Resurgence.
Make no mistake about it, the Word of God is sufficient and the very moment that we take a step away from the sufficiency of God’s Word we take a step into darkness. Let me begin by stating that while I disagree with the social justice agenda and believe it to be a dangerous movement, I likewise believe that we can be guilty of talking past one another and at times—misrepresenting one another in this debate. We need to deal with the issues, the terms, the definitions, and connect the dots to the problems while at the same time seeking to represent people properly. We all have blind spots in this area, and for that reason, I open myself up for correction where necessary, but I do not apologize for standing in opposition to the social justice movement.
What is social justice? In short, it’s a movement that positions itself to aid the oppressed within a group or a society. That could be a society as a whole or a group within a society. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel was not framed to address the secular culture’s version of social justice. It was formed to speak into the culture of evangelicalism itself and to point out the inaccuracies of the evangelical version (which is connected to the secular movement too). Some people may be asking why it’s wrong to aid the oppressed? A better question would be—who is truly oppressed within evangelicalism and how are we seeking to help them? Is there really an evangelical system that’s committed to holding specific people back from serving God? Is “White privilege” really alive and well within evangelical circles preventing gifted Black brothers and sisters from serving God?
When we do find oppression at any level (individual or systemic), is it through political strategies like intersectionality that we need to engage or is it through the sufficient Word of God and the power of the gospel? That’s the issue, and that’s why I feel the need to engage at this point. Is the Word of God sufficient or have we arrived at a juncture where we must employ other tactics and trendy political strategies in order to reach the pinnacle of unity and to further fuel a God-glorifying mission?
Social Justice Has an Incorrect Beginning and a Flawed Conclusion
Social justice has a really bad starting point. Rather than beginning in the Word and seeking biblical justice—social justice by its very definition begins in the social environment and imports ideas from sociology, politics, and a wide array of disciplines into the Scriptures. This is why you hear gifted theologians talking about justice through the lens of intersectionality and systemic racism as opposed to James 1:27.
In many ways, the starting point of social justice likewise denies a key hermeneutic that goes beyond the presuppositional apologetic—it actually denies the literal, grammatical, historical approach to biblical interpretation. This is clearly put on display by what one preacher recently stated in a sermon:
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.
Aside from the obvious support of Nike, Bishop Rudolph McKissick, Jr missed the point. The clip above was a quote from Luke 4:16-30, where Jesus preached in the synagogue on what was one unforgettable Sabbath. Jesus read from Isaiah’s scroll and then proclaimed himself to be the fulfillment of that prophecy. When the people of Nazareth pressed upon him to do in his hometown (miracles, signs, and wonders) as he had done elsewhere (as if they deserved some special privilege) he explained that God’s ways are sometimes illogical. While many widows were present in Israel during the days of Elijah, he was sent to one widow in the land of Sidon. Jesus continued by explaining that there were many lepers in Israel during the days of Elisha, but he was sent to none of them. Instead, he was sent to Naaman the Syrian.
Ultimately Jesus was pointing to the wideness of God’s grace and mercy that extends beyond the Jews, but the ultimate fulfillment is that Jesus came to release those who were oppressed by sin and to give sight to the blind by setting the captives free from the prison of human depravity (John 8:32). Social justice focuses on the social needs (and sometimes the wants that supersede genuine needs) rather than the need of the soul. If we want a picture of true justice, we must look to the Scriptures rather than sociology books.
Social Justice Allows Victimology to Replace Theology
It must not be understated that one of the central problems with the social justice agenda is its fascination with victimology. In many ways, the evangelical version of social justice is following in the footsteps of the secular version. Colin Kaepernick, a former quarterback in the NFL, was unsuccessful as an athlete, but eventually became the face of the National Anthem protest that was greatly controversial. Although he was unsuccessful as a professional athlete, Kaepernick has become the face of a movement and is now one of the leading faces of the Nike corporation. How did Kaepernick receive a lucrative contract from Nike? It wasn’t because of his performance on the football field, it was because of the fact that he took a knee as a victim to “systemic racism.”
There is power in victimhood, and many women have come to recognize that reality. Following closely behind racism is the oppression of women. Within evangelicalism there has been a sudden surge among women who want to have their voices heard too. More than that, they expect absolute equality of roles and position across denominational lines. This trend for women under the banner of social justice was fueled by Beth Moore who wrote an article titled, “A Letter to My Brothers” at the beginning of this summer. In the article she complained of mistreatment and systemic oppression within the evangelical community.
Her letter resulted in a flood of support from major evangelical leaders and a massive tidal wave of support from her fans across evangelicalism. Thabiti Anyabwile responded with an open apology letter titled, “An Apology to Beth Moore and My Sisters.” In his letter Thabiti Anyabwile writes:
I do now commit to being a more outspoken champion for my sisters and for you personally. Not that you need me to be but because it is right. I hope, with God’s help, to grow in sanctification, especially with regards to any sexism, misogyny, chauvinism, and the like that has used biblical teaching as a cover for its growth.
Dear Beth, and all my sisters, I hope you will forgive me.
Just like that—a new wave of “women empowerment” and “women equality” was fueled. It was one more example of how to use victimhood as a means of moving forward into greater success. I’m not at all suggesting that people haven’t mistreated or misrepresented Beth Moore in person or online, but the victim card is the new method of instant success. Beth Moore’s move was one that not only helped her, but it added a great deal of momentum behind conversations regarding how women should serve in evangelical conferences, in denominational positions, and within the local church. Suddenly, a large percentage of people within evangelical circles are rethinking the historic position of complementarianism.
Other groups are quickly following behind seeking to get a seat at the social justice table as well. One such group is the “LGBT Christian” group who claims to be oppressed within evangelicalism and is demanding that we redeem queer culture (the language used in the recent Revoice conference) and embrace them as brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no avoiding the issues in the social justice agenda—and it quickly becomes a slippery slope that leads to disaster. Many different voices are claiming to be oppressed and are demanding an apology for their victim status.
Social Justice claims to run to the aid of the oppressed and the victims of discrimination, racism, and other evils of society. What Christian doesn’t want to help the oppressed? What Christian wants to turn their back upon the evils of discrimination and racism? The problem with the social justice movement is that it leads to oppression rather than liberation. Social justice fuels the idea of victim status while promoting false ideas of systemic racism and systemic oppression of women within evangelicalism. Finally, social justice often uses political methods and cultural ideas as the answer to these problems rather than the sufficient Word of God.
In the early church, they courageously stood on God’s Word and turned the world upside down. During the days of the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others wrote, published, and relentlessly preached the Word of God. In the days of the Downgrade controversy, Charles Spurgeon relied upon God’s Word to expose false doctrine. During the inerrancy controversy (the Conservative Resurgence) in recent history, faithful men brought us back to the inerrant Bible. Sadly, while we embraced the inerrant Word, we have apparently turned our backs upon the sufficiency of the Bible. I conclude with the words of Spurgeon:
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).