Monthly Archives: October 2010
Therefore be it known unto you, O Death, you king of terrors, that though we cannot now resist your power nor escape your arrest—yet we do not surrender ourselves to you as helpless, irredeemable prisoners. We shall yet burst your bonds, and obtain the victory over you.
– Samuel Davies, “Life and Immortality Revealed in the Gospel”
I hadn’t planned on saying any more any time soon on the gospel and social justice. After 3 posts explaining why I don’t believe anything we do, whether we call that social justice or not, is part of the gospel’s content — the most substantial of which is here — and 1 post nevertheless explaining why I believe social justice is a necessary implication of the gospel, I was sort of done. But commenter Daneil is suggesting today that I am advocating the social gospel, which should be a surprise to those of you who in my previous posts suggested I’m advocating a truncated gospel which leads to ignoring care for the poor, etc. Guess I can’t win.
But today Kevin DeYoung shares an interview with Tim Keller on Keller’s upcoming book Generous Justice. I found this exchange on the definition of justice quite helpful. We must reject the social gospel; but the concept of justice in society is thoroughly biblical. Keller explains why:
I’ll start with the million dollar question, what is justice and what does it mean to do justice?
Doing justice means giving people their due. On the one hand that means restraining and punishing wrongdoers. On the other hand it means giving people what we owe them as beings in the image of God. Nick Wolterstorff says that, as a creature in the image of God, each human being comes into your presence with ‘claim-rights.’ That is, they have the right to not be …
Accidentally left my ESV journaling Bible at home this morning and ended up doing my morning reading in the office in my childhood Bible, a bonded leather NASB reference edition full of my adolescent scribblings and highlighting. Was reminded by its well-worn pages that 1990 was the year I heard God’s call to ministry. Since I’m decent at elementary math, I then realized this year marks the 20th anniversary of that call.
I’ve been a miserable failure and a grievous sinner since then. But as I sit in the pastor’s study of a 200+ year old New England church, staring down my 35th birthday next week, I am amazed, pleased, and grateful that God is faithful to be finishing the work he began in my 8th grade heart. If he is willing, by his grace I hope to be here decades more.
Worship of God is enjoyment of God. We have no problem laughing at something funny, smiling at something pretty, “mmmm”-ing something delicious, humming something catchy, or cheering something exciting in the stadium, but when we get into church on Sunday mornings, we have trouble worshiping because we don’t know and enjoy God the same way we know and enjoy jokes, pictures, food, songs, or sports.
In Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis writes:
But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses [Romeo praising Juliet and vice versa], readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God …
There are recurring themes in the way the bride and the groom speak to each other in the Song of Solomon. I wonder if this repetition tells us something about God’s design for romance between man and wife.
Solomon repeatedly tells his bride how beautiful she is to him. Does not this speak to a woman’s deep desire to hear and know approval, to know she is found beautiful?
His bride repeatedly asks Solomon to touch her, to take her away, to sweep her off her feet, to be “active.” Does not this speak to a husband’s desire for sexual eagerness in his wife?
In both of their refrains is constant verbalized approval of each other, something so important for a marriage that wants to be gospel-centered. But in the nature of each of their refrains is something particular to the heart of their beloved.
Married folks, let’s learn something from this.
Well, necessary to what? To gospel mission.
I don’t want to confuse anyone about my stance on this, but just as I’m concerned about any good works (whether it’s feeding the poor or my having a quiet time) muddling the free grace in the finished work of the gospel, I’m also concerned about those of the brethren who somehow extrapolate that the cause of other-care is expendable.
These are just bullet points, but here’s why I think social justice is a necessary component of mission.
1. God doesn’t suggest we care for widows and orphans; he commands we do so. And not just a few times.
2. In the miracles of Christ we see signs of God’s inbreaking kingdom, which is to say not just that they signify God’s power in Christ’s Lordship but that they signify that God’s kingdom is restoring righteous order to the world. Acts of social justice, in much the same way, are these signs. The gospel changes the world.
3. In the letter to the Galatians, when Paul was confirming that “his” gospel was on the same page as the gospel of Peter, James, and John, those pillars reminded him to care for the poor, which Paul says is the thing he is eager to do (2:10). So even within the contextualized mission of the same gospel message to different cultures/tribes, care for the poor is a constant.
4. God is redeeming people, but he is also redeeming creation, which is outright groaning for its restoration. When the Christian enacts social …
Via Al Mohler, I learn this:
In his 1986 book, Your Church Has a Fantastic Future, [Robert] Schuller provided what he called “A Possibility Thinker’s Guide to a Successful Church.” The book is a manual for a ministry built on pure pragmatism, sensationalistic promotion, a therapeutic message, and a constant and incessant focus on thinking positively.
His message about money was simple: “No church has a money problem; churches only have idea problems,” he asserted.
As most of those who keep up with the headlines know, Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral has declared bankruptcy.
I guess he ran out of ideas.
Any church founded on a pastor’s good ideas will ultimately fail; but it is spiritually bankrupt from the start.
During the Q&A session after my guest sermon at Valley Bible Church in White River Junction, Vermont last Sunday, one fellow asked if gospel wakefulness might be experienced as one is impressed with the immensity of the holiness of God. Seems that Sproul’s The Holiness of God was instrumental in his own awakening to the wonders of Christ. I immediately thought of Isaiah in the temple, being “undone!” by his vision of God’s glory. And then yesterday I encountered an historical example of a fellow named Isaac Backus who found joy and freedom in his comparative smallness.
Isaac Backus was an 18th century New England preacher. Greatly influenced by the Great Awakening, he was a prominent Christian voice during the American Revolution. A Connecticut native, he pastored Middleborough Baptist Church in Middleborough, Massachusetts.
Though raised in a Christian family, Backus was converted in his moment of gospel wakefulness at 17 years of age, as the holiness of God gripped his soul. We find his own account of this moment reprinted in the memoir portion of Backus’s own Church History of New England from 1620 to 1804:
In May, 1741, my eyes were opened to see that time was not at my command, and that eternity was directly before me, into which I might justly be called the next moment. Then I knew what it was to work for my life for three months: until on August 24, as I was alone in the field, it was demonstrated to my mind and conscience, that …
. . . our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power . . .– 1 Thessalonians 1:5
The “but also” is an and, not an or.
The gospel is a word, a message, an item of news about something that happened. It comes in word. It comes as more than word, but certainly not less.
The gospel comes in word and takes hold of some in power, by the grace of God through the power of the Spirit.
The Church historically has fallen for equal and opposite errors in regard to the gospel and its power.
Some know the gospel is word but don’t think it’s power, so we try hard to manipulate people to make decisions. Thus additional verses of “Just As I Am,” emotional pleas for raised hands, impulse-tugging scare tactics. We believe someone’s decision for Christ hinges on our effectiveness in the invitation.
Some know the gospel is power and so become stingy with the gospel as word, so they abdicate responsibility to share the word. They figure since election is true, God will take care of saving people apart from mission.
Both overreactions are wrong; both ignore Scripture and even disobey it. The gospel comes in word and power. Let’s be faithful in our role and trust God to be faithful in his.
Not to beat a dead horse with the gospel and social justice conversation, but when it comes to social justice as implication of the gospel rather than content, related to my objection to piggybacking something we do into the good news of what Christ has done is the salvific neutrality of morality.
Here’s what I mean by that: In my current ministry context it has become important to rehabilitate the perception of the Church’s message because most lost people (and plenty Christians) in my area believe the message of Christianity is “do this” or “don’t do that.” The message of the gospel is thought to be “Behave!” Most have rightly rejected this message, reasoning quite logically that they can be “good” apart from Christ and his Church, and in fact many are.
Heck, Angelina Jolie has adopted, what?, 300 orphans? Isn’t George Clooney saving the world? Matt Damon fights for social justice, and he does it without a splinter’s notion of the gospel.
Are we supposed to be doing these things too? Yes. It is the command of God to love our neighbor. But social justice is not unique to Christianity, and in fact if social justice is the good news, we bear the same message as lots of people who are going to hell. Social justice, then, is salvifically neutral. And therefore, while it accompanies and may testify to the good news, it cannot be the good news itself.
The charge against the “riches of Christ” gospel is that it is too simplistic. …