Results tagged “Social Activism” from Reformation21 Blog

A Social Savior

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As I continue to scan the landscape of Christian social justice activism, that is, social justice-labeled activities that are said to be carried out "in the name of" Christ, I've noticed many Christian activists have a tendency to proffer to the world an image of Jesus that is tantamount to that of a sanctified social worker, a holy humanitarian, an exalted egalitarian.

This visage of Jesus as a "Social Savior" is borne of a proclivity many Christian social justice activists have to leverage the works of Christ as the primary impetus not only for individuals who profess to follow Him to do likewise, but also institutions, such as governments and corporations, so that an equitable, just, and impartial society and world, which they believe Christ envisioned for mankind, ultimately becomes reality.

It is through this paradigm that such works of Christ as healing the centurion's servant (Matt. 8:13), and the blind man (Jn. 9:6-7), and feeding more than 5,000 people on one occasion (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 on another (Mk. 8:1-8), as well as His love for the poor (Luke 6:20) and the oppressed (Luke 4:18), are viewed as evidences that mandate Christians to take upon themselves, in accordance with Christ's words in Jn. 9:4, to "...work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no man can work."

This kind of sanguine worldview may seem admirable, perhaps even virtuous, to some, especially given the current milieu in which Christianity - and white evangelical Christians in particular - are being called to account for the deliberate and systematic misappropriation, to put it mildly, by their ancestors of various biblical precepts for the express purpose and intent of enslaving and otherwise oppressing black people in America.

That Christianity was practiced in such a deliberately iniquitous manner is both a sad and unarguable fact.

As author and researcher Richard Reddie notes in a 2007 BBC article on the Atlantic slave trade and abolition:

"Religion was...a driving force during slavery in the Americas. Once they arrived at their new locales the enslaved Africans were subjected to various processes to make them more compliant, and Christianity formed part of this. Ironically, although the assertion of evangelization was one of the justifications for enslaving Africans, very little missionary work actually took place during the early years. In short, religion got in the way of a moneymaking venture by taking Africans away from their work. It also taught them potentially subversive ideas and made it hard to justify the cruel mistreatment of fellow Christians."

Conversely, theologian and author Timothy Keller, in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, extols:

"Violence done in the name of Christianity is a terrible reality and must be both addressed and redressed. There is no excusing it. The typical criticisms...about the oppressiveness and injustices of the Christian church actually come from Christianity's own resources for critique of itself. The shortcomings of the church can be understood historically as the imperfect adoption and practice of the principles of the Christian gospel. Historian C. John Sommerville claims that when Anglo-Saxons first heard the Christian gospel message they were incredulous. They couldn't see how any society could survive that did not fear and respect strength. When they did convert, they were far from consistent. They tended to merge the Christian other-regarding ethic with their older ways. They supported the Crusades as a way of protecting God's honor and theirs. They let monks, women, and serfs cultivate charitable virtues, but these virtues weren't considered appropriate for men of honor and action. No wonder there is so much to condemn in church history. But to give up Christian standards would be to leave us with no basis for the criticism."

So, admittedly, there were those, including many Christians, who, while professing to be followers of the God of the Bible, appropriated the teachings of the Bible in such ungodly ways as to devalue, disparage, and destroy those who were equally the bearers of God's image (Gen. 1:27; Acts 17:26) as those who, "in the name of" God, volitionally chose to oppress, maltreat, and, on many occasions, murder them.

Be that as it may, to whatever extent the gospel was leveraged in such base and sinful ways is not the fault of Christianity. Quite the contrary. It is the fault of that which Christianity unambiguously and forthrightly addresses. Namely, the innate depravity of the human soul (Gen. 4:7, 8:21b; Eccl. 7:20; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 3:23; Gal. 5:17.)

To view Jesus preeminently as a "Social Savior" is a misguided, short-sighted, and dangerous proposition, as it fails to take into account the fundamental root cause of many of the historical and contemporary socio-ethno inequities which many Christian social justice activists, particularly blacks, are seeking to redress through such propitiatory gestures as the removal of Confederate statues and monuments and the paying of reparations for slavery.

Notwithstanding the innumerable and tangible good works performed by Jesus for the practical benefit of those to whom they were graciously and mercifully imparted, those works were subsidiary to the primary reason Christ came into the world which, contrary to what many Christian social justice activists - and others - believe, was not to remedy socio-political or socio-economic inequities by improving the material, financial, or social station of those with whom He interacted, but to point people to Himself as the long-awaited Messiah.

This reality is underscored in , in which the apostle John declares:

"Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

A problem many Christian activists have in their pursuit of social justice is that they confuse Christians with Christ.

That is something that should never happen.

As theologian and historian Thomas J. Kidd cautions in his 2012 article titled Slavery, Historical Heroes, and "Precious Puritans":

"The Christian faith has only one perfect hero. He is our proper object, not just of emulation, but of worship. We all fall far, far short of his example."

In other words, only Jesus is Jesus. We are not.

Even in our most well-founded expectations that those who profess to believe in Jesus display a certain level of consistency in living out that belief (Eph. 5:1-2), we must never lose sight of the fact that when an individual professes faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9), it is their salvation that is instantaneous not their sanctification (1 Jn. 1:8, 10).

It is with this thought in mind that we would do well to consider the words of theologian John R.W. Stott who, in his classic work The Cross of Christ, reminds us of this spiritual reality:

"For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; whereas God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be."

Stott's words highlight the futility of espousing a Jesus who is a "Social Savior"--whose coming to earth is viewed strictly in terms of how works-righteousness (e.g. removing statues, paying slavery reparations, etc.) can be a means toward the kind of society in which justice, equity, and righteousness are normative (2 Pet. 3:13).

At the risk of disappointing many of my social justice warrior (SJW) brothers and sisters, Jesus is not a Social Savior. Christ came into the world save sinners not society (1 Tim. 1:15; Matt. 10:34-36). If the works of Christ themselves were sufficient as the model for how the kind of egalitarian social structure so zealously desired by many Christian SJWs is to be realized in today's society, the question still remains: why, then, was it necessary for Him to die?

 

Darrell Harrison is a member of Rockdale Community Church, a Reformed Baptist congregation located in the Atlanta suburb of Conyers, Georgia. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell was the first African-American to be ordained as a Deacon in the 200-year history of First Baptist Church of Covington (Georgia) where he attended from 2009 to 2015. Darrell blogs at "Just Thinking...For Myself"

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Mr. Moral Magoo?

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I'm sure there's a generational gap when someone refers to Mr. Magoo. If you're under 30, there's a good chance that you've probably never heard of Mr. Magoo. I just so happened to have watched enough classic cartoons over the years to have seen a few episodes. Mr. Magoo is a cartoon about a legally blind man who blundered around the city, never knowing where he was going or what he was doing. And yet he always seemed to end up in the right place. By the end of the episode, Mr. Magoo had tripped off of girders only to land on another girder exactly in the right place. It made no sense, but he always seemed to survive by the end of an episode. He accidentally made it every time. He had always gone the wrong way and ended up at the right place.

I wonder how many of us have good theology and solid moral positions, but we have no idea how we got to them. Many in the Church have "Magooed" themselves into moral and theological positions that happen to be biblically sound, but we have no idea how we got there. If someone asked us why we believe or do what we do, we couldn't give an answer for it beyond our own cultural norms.

Christians, of all people, need to understand that the why of our moral and theological positions is just as crucial as the what of our moral and theological positions. Here is one example of that about which I am thinking: 

In the south, when I read Scripture that relates to human sexuality, there is very little pushback. When I read Paul's words regarding homosexual behavior in the south, I am preaching to the choir. I still never have anyone come up to me after the service and say that they need to talk about what I said - maybe people are thinking it, but there isn't any obvious pushback. For most, I hope, this is because they're been exposed to the teachings of Scripture and submit themselves willingly and joyfully to God's own revealed will about biblical morality.

However, I suspect that many have simply inherited a proclivity toward the normativity of heterosexual even though they really have never been persuaded from Scripture that this is God's revealed will. Perhaps they personally find the idea repulsive, or they've never had friends with same-sex attraction, and maybe they've spent their whole lives just never even thinking much about the struggle that some people may have. "Of course it's sinful! I find it gross!" But if you asked them why, their answer would be thin and cultural, not thick and biblical. At this point we start to see that there is a very thin line (in fact, one might argue there's no difference at all) between bigotry and culturally inherited bias against homosexuality. It's a moral position that they are correct about, but only by accident.

Another example of this "magooing" of theology has to do with the issue of complementarianism. If our view that only men should be in leadership roles in the church is culturally inherited, but we really couldn't tell you how we got there from Scripture, then that is sexism. Apart from the command and teaching of Scripture, what we end up having is a culturally inherited belief that men are superior to women and therefore that men ought to lead the church, not women.

In both of these examples, what the church needs is a theologically robust understanding of what the Scripture says about human sexuality and about human sexual behavior. We need to encourage our churches to dig down deep into the text and ask ourselves, "What has God said?"

There is a practical reason why we must do this: if our moral and theological positions are only culturally informed, then they can be devastated by a more persuasive cultural norm when it shows its face. In fact, we see this happening quite a lot right now. It seems like the last two or three years have shown that many in the evangelical community had magooed themselves into their views of human sexuality and have been just as easily moved out of them.

Their views were thin and cultural, not thick and biblical. And so when they met someone who shattered their preconceptions about homosexuality, or when they had a son or daughter that revealed they were same-sex-attracted, then of course their culturally-informed (rather than biblically-informed) views folded in the face of overwhelming pressure. I've yet to meet anyone who identified as an evangelical, who subsequently folded on this issue and said, "You know, I look at the word 'arsenakoitai' in Scripture and what it means and had my whole mind changed." The Scriptural twisting ultimately must come after the cultural pressure has been applied and yielded to.

And here is the point: if our morality is culturally conditioned, then it cannot hold up in a day and age when the cultural pressure is so acute, so painful, and so obviously intended to make evangelicals adopt the new morality. Our understanding of God, and our understanding of what it is he requires of us has to be thick, biblical, and rooted in God's self-revelation. Anything less will be blowing in the wind.

A Just Silence

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We've all felt the pressure to speak out about things that we know little to nothing about. The increasingly prevalent sentiment is that if Christians-and especially Christian leaders-don't speak up on the hot button issues of the day, then they are complicit in fueling social injustice. 

The insistence of many that all of us need to continually speak out about almost every social issue and make official statements of sympathy or refutation in the court of public opinion--when, in fact, the courts that God has established have not had a chance to run their due course--is, quite frankly, wearing me out. I suspect I'm not alone.

The strong insistence of those who press Christian leaders to speak out on any given social issue is fundamentally flawed by virtue of the fact that many of us simply don't know enough about most issues in order to make educated, timely and necessary statements. It is a very dangerous thing for finite creatures of limited intelligence to behave as though we are infinite beings of unlimited intelligence.

This past summer, a number of individuals insisted that I was complicit in a police shooting when I did not speak out about the evil of such an injustice. I can understand someone leveling that charge against an eyewitness or against someone who was withholding pertinent information. But to tell someone sitting in a living room 800 miles from the incident--who knows virtually nothing about the situation or those involved--that he isn't loving his brethren unless he speaks out against an injustice is itself an injustice. It is the injustice of placing a biblically unlawful burden on the conscience of another. 

Many feel compelled to watch more news, read more pertinent books, research related cases and further educate themselves so that they can knowledgeably speak out and finally absolve themselves of the charge of functional complicity. But is this the right response? 

Years ago, John Piper was speaking on the subject of sleep. In that talk, he emphasized that when we attempt to live without sleep we are ultimately trying to become like God. Sleep is the great equalizer. Ultimately, all of us need sleep. We can't live without it. Sleep is one of God's ways of reminding us that He is the Creator and we are the creatures. As Psalm 121:4 reminds us: "He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." The very thing we often want to claim for ourselves is only true of God.

I can't help but wonder if this urge to watch 24 hour news and to read article after article on a particular social issue is not only an attempt to become a more informed individual--it is a way in which we seek to have such comprehensive knowledge as to render a judgment on everything. It may be that we are simply seeking to do that which belongs to God alone. In the face of a particular human injustice, it may be incumbent on us to speak out. But it can also be just as right to say, "I don't know. I hope justice is done, but I eagerly await the verdict of the courts and ultimately the verdict of God." It's liberating to admit our limits.

Jesus did not speak out against every single social injustice with which He was confronted. On one occasion, a man came to him to dispute a matter about his brother and an inheritance that their Father had left behind. Instead of speaking to that particular social injustice, Jesus said, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you" (Luke 12:14)? He then went on to warn the man about the dangers of harboring covetousness in his heart. Was Jesus wrong for not pronouncing judgment on the social injustice of one man withholding a portion of a father's inheritance from his brother? Was Jesus complicit in that injustice? None of us would ever dare say such a thing.

As I have been preaching through the book of Revelation, I have been struck by the fact that all of the evils that men think they can sneak past the courts of men will be finally and fully called up at the great judgment seat of God. Those wicked schemes that we pressured one another into speaking about (even in ignorance) will be dealt with by the one who knows all, and who will in no way acquit the guilty.

This doesn't mean that we are to be indifferent to issues of social or moral injustice. This doesn't mean that we are to be complacent or fatalistic about evil. But, it should help foster in us a bit of humility and a sense of our human limitations.

Brothers and sisters, let's make sure that in our zeal for the execution of justice, we don't fasten burdens around the necks of others that we and they were never meant to carry. There comes a point where the destruction, death, and evil of the world around us can begin to take a very tangible toll on our hearts and lives. In light of our limits, and in light of God's very own place as the ruler and righteous judge of the universe, we have to be willing to place the injustices and evils of this world into the hands of Him. Let's make sure that our attempts to be guardians of justice is not an attempt to claim for ourselves what ultimately belongs to God alone.

If you're burdened by the evils of the world, I want to encourage you not to respond with either conscience binding expectations or with frustrated indifference or fatalism. Rather, I want to encourage you to learn when to sleep and when to let the world rest in the hands of our Father who always knows what is happening, and who always knows exactly what He will do about it. After all, "the Judge of all the earth" will do what is right. 

Adam Parker is the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church (www.pearlpres.com). He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Assistant Editor of Reformation 21.

Scripture, Slavery, and Social Activism

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Last year I finished a short sermon series on the book of Ephesians. One of the sections of Ephesians which I approached with a sense of fear and trepidation was that which deals with the relationship between masters and slaves (Eph. 6:5-9). After all, in our racially super-charged culture, how does one even mention the subject of slavery without immediately losing his hearing? Nevertheless, we still have to face the thorny question of how the Apostle Paul seemed to accept slavery as an institution in his day--rather than insist that it is the responsibility of the church to overthrow it. While many related subjects on the issue of slavery in the Old Testament and in Paul's day deserve careful treatment (i.e. the Exodus, the deliverance built into the law concerning slavery in Ex. 21, indentured servitude vs man-stealing and the Apostolic teaching on abolition in 1 Cor. 7), I found Martyn Lloyd-Jones's sermons on Ephesians 6:5-9 to be among the richest and most carefully developed treatments of this subject that I came across. Of particular interest is the way in which he sought to balance the role of the church and the role of individual believers in regard to social activism. 

At the outset, Lloyd-Jones sought to explain the purport of Ephesians 6:5-9: 

"Christianity is not concerned to condone such practices as slavery, it is not here as a defense of the status quo....The Bible's concern, Christianity's concern, is as to how the Christian should react to these things, and how he is to live in such a world as this. That is the essence of the teaching, and we have it here. Paul, when he comes to 'servants and masters', does not begin to give his views as a Christian on the question of slavery. 'Servants', he says, 'be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service...' In other words his one interest is as to how they are to conduct themselves as Christians in that situation. Likewise with the masters. 'You masters, do the same unto them, forbearing threatening.' He does not tell them to give up their slaves; instead, he says, 'Do not threaten them, do not be unkind, do not be cruel to them, "knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with Him".'1 

Anticipating the immediate reactions, Lloyd-Jones continued:

"Someone may ask, 'Well then, what about improving conditions? Are you not in reality simply taking up, after all, a defense of that status quo? You say you are not doing that, but in effect you are doing so. You are saying that the Christian is not be concerned about the conditions, but that he should concentrate on Christ-like behavior in the conditions'. The answer to this question is quite plain. It is not the business of the church to be concerned about improving conditions; her business always is to be laying down the biblical principles I have been expounding. She should never attack the circumstances and the conditions directly. But, at the same time, that does not mean that the individual Christian as a citizen of a country should not be concerned about improving conditions. There, it seems to me, is the dividing line. The individual Christian is never to take the law into his own hands, he is never to act as an individual. But that does not mean that as a citizen of the country to which he belongs he is not entitled to take part in improving the circumstances and conditions in which he and others live.2 

Of course, this still leaves the question opened as to whether or not Christians have a responsibility to work against the evils and injustices of a given society. Lloyd-Jones proceeded to answer this question when he said: 

"It works in the following way. The Christian message is primarily concerned to produce Christians. It preaches its Gospel, it convicts men of sin, it calls them to Jesus' blood, it brings them to this Word by which they can be born again by the power of the Spirit, it changes men. Then, having changed them in that way, it goes on to teach them these great principles. That is the direct task and business of the church. But as the church does that, she is indirectly doing something else; she is obviously influencing the whole personality of such people--their mind, their thinking, their understanding. And the moment that begins to happen to men they begin to see things in a different way and they begin to apply their thinking to daily living."3

Finally, Lloyd-Jones set forth William Wilberforce, the great 19th Century Brittish Philanthropists and abolitionist, as an example of this principle. He noted: 

"There is not a word in the Bible which tells men to abolish slavery; and yet we know that it was Christian men who eventually brought that to pass. And that is exactly in accordance with biblical teaching. There is no command to do it; the Bible does not deal with these things directly, and yet when men become Christians they begin to think, and they think on both sides of the question. I have given an example of how working men began to think. But on the other side look at William Wilberforce. He was a wealthy man, born in the lap of luxury. Why did he become concerned about the question of slavery? There is only one answer to the question. It was his conversion. William Wilberforce underwent a conversion as radical as that of the drunken miners outside Bristol. He was entirely changed, and from being a society fop he became a great reformer, and as his mind became more and more Christian, he began to look at the question of slavery and saw that slavery was wrong. Not because he found a specific command in the Bible but because of his general thinking and his general Christian outlook!...And so it has always happened! It is not the task of the church to deal directly with these problems. The tragedy today is that while the church is talking about these particular problems and dealing directly with politics and economics and social conditions, no Christians are being produced, and the conditions are worsening and the problems mounting. It is as the church produces Christians that she changes the conditions; but always indirectly."4

In these sermons, we find MLJ adopting what has sometimes been called a "spirituality doctrine of the church." In his thinking, the best way to reconcile the totality of the biblical data on this subject was to insist that the mission of God for the church as the church is more narrow in scope than the mission of God for the Christian as an individual believer and citizen. The principles that MLJ applied to the issue of slavery in the 1st and 19th Centuries can be equally applied to the role of the church and the individual Christian regarding social injustices of our day. Whether or not one is fully convinced of the precise application of the worldview espoused by the Doctor, it's important to acknowledge that, if anything, he sought to deal honestly and faithfully with the biblical exegesis of one of the most difficult of biblical subjects. 

1. Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1974). Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9 (pp. 323-324). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust.
2. Ibid., pp. 325-326.
3. Ibid., pp. pp. 327-328.
4.  Ibid.