John MacArthur and company have riled things up with their Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel; indeed, they even pushed Union Theological Seminary to offer a counter statement via a Twitter-storm. I would like to do a more researched post on this, but my off-the-top thoughts will have to suffice for now. Here is the SJ&G’s Introduction:
In view of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ’s church, we wish to clarify certain key Christian doctrines and ethical principles prescribed in God’s Word. Clarity on these issues will fortify believers and churches to withstand an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.” If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.
We submit these affirmations and denials for public consideration, not with any pretense of ecclesiastical authority, but with an urgency that is mixed with deep joy and sincere sorrow. The rapidity with which these deadly ideas have spread from the culture at large into churches and Christian organizations—including some that are evangelical and Reformed—necessitates the issuing of this statement now.
In the process of considering these matters we have been reminded of the essentials of the faith once for all handed down to the saints, and we are re-committed to contend for it. We have a great Lord and Savior, and it is a privilege to defend his gospel, regardless of cost or consequences. Nevertheless, while we rejoice in that privilege, we grieve that in doing so we know we are taking a stand against the positions of some teachers whom we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides. It is our earnest prayer that our brothers and sisters will stand firm on the gospel and avoid being blown to and fro by every cultural trend that seeks to move the Church of Christ off course. We must remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
The Apostle Paul’s warning to the Colossians is greatly needed today: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The document that follows is an attempt to heed that apostolic command. We invite others who share our concerns and convictions to unite with us in reasserting our unwavering commitment to the teachings of God’s Word articulated in this statement. Therefore, for the glory of God among his Church and throughout society, we offer the following affirmations and denials.
We aren’t going to get into the body of the statement, but I wanted to at least offer the Introduction as an introduction into my own reflection.
In itself the introduction doesn’t seem out of line with what we should expect from anyone in the church of Christ concerned with maintaining clarity and faithfulness to the whole Gospel reality. In itself I don’t have any problems with the introduction as it stands; I’d doubt anyone would, per se. Okay, so there’s that. But let me share further what I tweeted in response to Phil Johnson (Mac’s right hand man), and Johnny Mac in regard to this very statement:
One of the problems is that *social justice* seems to presuppose a natural law and thus universalizing binding and innate understanding of what justice actually is. For my money this comes back to a question of knowledge of God in general, which indeed makes it a Gospel issue.IOW, this whole morass is a morass because things are not being defined carefully. I think JMac ought to spend more time developing his theory on knowledge of God, and how that implicates how justice is strictly understood from theology proper and the Gospel itself.IOW, so called social justice warriors use the language of *justice* vis a vis God equivocally which invites a defintional understanding of justice on other ideologically derived terms other than God’s holiness and righteousness.It seems that many Christians aligning themselves w/ the social justice movement seem to think that there is an univocal identity between the way they understand justice and the way SJWs understand justice; but it’s only an semantic identity of language.So I don’t, in principle, strangely, disagree w/ JMac when it comes to the problem that social justice presents (ideologically vis a vis the Gospel), but when it comes to theology proper and theory of revelation this is where my critique arises in re to JMac.
Let me expand on this further. If we are going to think about justice from Christian premises then I’d contend that we must do so as Christians in a participatory relationship with God through Christ wherein not only is God known, but his idea of justice can genuinely be conceived of. It is here that I think Johnny Mac is onto something (as I’ve noted). How can an unbelieving world have any sense of what God’s justice/righteousness entails when they have—by definition—rejected the reality of God in Christ for them? How can anyone who has rejected the shed blood of Christ for themselves, who has rejected the new creation who is the resurrected Christ for them, have any light to see the darkness they proclaim to see? Clearly, the ‘world’ can recognize that something is wrong, that there are inequities afoot of the most sinister type; but is their recognition something they have come to themselves, or is it a borrowed recognition that comes from the light of the witness of those who genuinely name the Name of Jesus Christ? If it is a borrowed recognition it is only going to be a mixed recognition of the actual source of darkness and inequities they are seeking to right.
When Jesus confronts people as the Light of the World he doesn’t leave them in their sins; he doesn’t give them half of themselves to mix with the other half of themselves shaped by this world system—the one run by the ‘prince of the power of the air.’ God has come decisively in Jesus Christ to confront us in our sins, and he tells us to REPENT. This is not an unclear exhortation; it comes with the force of the One who holds the world, seen and unseen reality together by the Word of his Power. Can the world genuinely identify the root problems in-built into this ‘evil age’ by social analysis and arrive at not only accurate descriptions but prescriptions in regard to what righting the wrongs actually ought to look like?
It might be because I have such a strong commitment to anti-natural theology, and natural law theory that it sounds like I am agreeing with the Macites. I don’t think non-believers have any ultimate sense of what justice actually is because I don’t think non-believers have any capacity for a genuine knowledge of the true and living God. If they don’t have a capacity for a genuine knowledge of the true and living God, then they can have no true and genuine knowledge of themselves (per Calvin), and as such cannot come to understand the deep problems that are sourcing the darkness they can only tacitly identify (based upon a borrowed witness they live off of as they inhabit the same space that God’s children do in the world). If this is the case, then how can anything good come from something based upon a profane social analysis; further how can justice ever be genuinely thought if it is based upon an ideology sourced from a social analysis grounded in and from the rock hard hearts of a fallen people with no access to the holy of holies of God’s life in Christ?
Okay, so at the above level I can agree, in principle, with the concern of the Macites. But when it comes down to who the Macites think God is this is where I offer a grand critique. Since I’ve spent years making that critique (against the sort of classical theistic five point Calvinist God that MacArthur et al. posits) here at the blog I won’t do that now (since I’ve already gone long). Suffice it to say I don’t think MacArthur et al. has the proper theological proper to follow through on providing a statement that best reflects the heart of the living God as that is understood from a properly framed Trinitarian theology. Further, because of this lacuna in MacArthur’s theological universe, his doctrine of salvation, ethics, so on and so forth also suffers blights that do not allow him to offer the sort of thick and robust theological alternative and critique that he would like to offer as a counter to the so called social justice warriors he is seeking to repudiate and correct.
Do I think there are inequities in the world? Yes, of course! But I don’t think so called social justice offers much more than a pottage of stew concocted from the ingredients that an unbelieving world has to offer. The Gospel distinguishes; it rounds; it draws bright lines; it brings the sword and division. The Gospel does not flatten, it does not universalize, and it particularizes as it identifies the center of God’s reality in the man, Jesus Christ.