Stream or download the audio recording from this breakout panel titled Jesus and Justice: Why We Must Love Our Neighbors in Word and Deed with Jason Cook, Kevin DeYoung, Phillip Holmes, and Darryl Williamson that was delivered at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Though the broader secular culture often talks about justice in terms of politics and social policy, Jesus talks about addressing the hurts of victims and the marginalized as an expression of love. In this conversation we explored the biblical and gospel roots of how loving our culturally, economically, and ethnically marginalized neighbors is basic to what it means to love like Jesus. We also emphasized what churches and individual Christians can do to pursue restorative justice in a way that flows from the gospel. The discussion also considered objections made against Christians who perceive that concerns about social injustice distract from our calling to proclaim the gospel, fleshing out the relationship between the gospel and justice.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Williamson: Amen. We are excited to be here. And it’s been a lot of talk about justice . . . recently, really over the past… It’s always been a conversation in the church, let’s be clear, going back to the 19th century. This is not a nouveau conversation, even in the American church, but it has certainly has taken on some new flavors. And so, if you think about, for example, the very compelling, provocative presentation given by our dear brother, David Platt, who will be speaking tomorrow. Praise God for that. But he gave a wonderful presentation at T4G that was not without its controversy. There’s a lot of reaction from God’s people, “What does this mean? Is this right?” Amen. We think about our brother, Benjamin Watson who’s also here, who was recently interviewed on Fox News, a tremendous interview about the Abortion Bill in Georgia and how that really is a justice issue, it is not a political issue. It is a justice issue, an injustice to the unborn, and also, I would say, an injustice to certain communities as well.
We think about the immigration issue that we’re confronted with every day on the news. We see it all the time. How do we respond to this? Is this a concern for law? Is it a law issue, or is it a love issue? Or, is it both? And so, there’s a lot of energy around these kinds of issues in the church today. And so, but our concern today is not to share our thoughts, to wax about what these issues are, and what we feel. And so, our concern today, as best we can, is to sit at the feet of Jesus.
And so, we want to sit at his feet and learn from him, and to quite literally, to look at his words today because we believe that we’ll see his heart for justice. And I think, hopefully, what that justice then should look like for us. And so, we’ll know how to live that out in our churches and also in our lives.
And so, we have a very distinguished panel with us here today. So, very excited about a group of men of God and so, I just go on the left and come back this way. So, we’ve got our dear brother Jason Cook. Jason Cook used to be an editor at the Gospel Coalition and so, he is now the Associate Pastor of Preaching at Fellowship Church in Memphis, Tennessee. And if Jason looks big and intimidating to you, it’s because he used to be an SEC fullback at the University of Mississippi. And so… Praise God . . . some Ole Miss fans. Amen.
Jason Cook: Hotty toddy.
Williamson: Amen. And so, brother, thank you for being here, Jason. Also, we have our dear brother Kevin DeYoung. Kevin is the Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He’s also the assistant professor of Systematic Theology of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. And he’s also a council member of The Gospel Coalition. Would you give it up for our dear brother, Kevin DeYoung?
Kevin DeYoung: And if I look intimidating, you’re too skinny.
Williamson: Amen. It’s all right. And then we have, to my left, brother Phillip Holmes, good friend who is the VP of Institutional Communications at Reformed Theological Seminary. And, he’s also a consultant on business strategy and communications and writes a lot and speaks a lot on different things, including personal finances. And so brothers, it’s really excited to be here with all of you. And so, we want to start our conversation with Jesus.
And then, potentially, the definitive gospel text on how we should love our neighbor is found in Luke 10:25–37. So, Jesus… This is the story of the so-called Good Samaritan. So, where Jesus gives this profile of what it means to love your neighbor in response to the question that was given to him, “Who is my neighbor?” So, we want to kind of understand is this kind of love optional for the Christian? It’s kind of our concern. So, Kevin, if we could, brother, let’s begin with you.
DeYoung: Well, I have a simple answer and then I’m going to complexify it. So, is it optional for the Christian? No. Jesus says at the end, “Which one of these three…” You know the story…. “…do you think proved to be a neighbor to the one who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed Him mercy,” and Jesus said to him, “You go and do likewise.” So, clearly, the story was given to the lawyer to stand him up short a little bit. His pretensions, wanting to justify himself, but it’s also an example for us. So, that’s the simple answer. We know that, we get that. Here’s the complexification, which, I don’t know if we’ll figure out or these brothers. I’m excited to learn from all of them. But how does this then… How does the ought land on us? Because what is the obligation?
So, here’s another way to ask the question. Jesus is talking about your neighbor, which one is the neighbor? Well, clearly, he was the neighbor because he cared for the needs that were right in front of him. To ask in a different way, when is the same obligation laid upon us? And we’re talking about justice, and that’s good. This can fall in that category, broadly conceived. Although here it says, “The one who showed him mercy. The one who gave to him care in his time of need.” The reason why I say it’s complicated is, because we all love the Good Samaritan, and we all know that there’s something here pushing against our natural tendency to only love and help people like us. That’s why we’re so scandalous, we get that. It’s a Samaritan who did it. But we also know instinctively that the obligations that fall on us to help people are not always equal. When I run this morning down the trail across the river, and if I came across somebody who was panting on the ground, grabbing their neck and choking, I would have a moral obligation to help that person. Whatever they looked like, whoever they were, I would have an obligation to help them.
Now, notice here that these men who didn’t help, they didn’t have to go find the help, they had to decide not to help because, it says clearly, they saw him. He was right there. They had to cross the road. So, what is our obligation then? I don’t fully have the answer. What’s our obligation where we’re not just talking about going down the Jericho road and there’s a man, he’s dying, right now. You have to go across the road, and he dies. Do you help? Well, obviously, you have a moral obligation to help. What about when the obligation is a tsunami in the Philippines, and we can see it come through on our Twitter feed? Or what if it’s something in another city or another part of this city? If one of you came up to me and said, “I just got a phone call that my…” your, “wife just had a terrible heart attack and is in the hospital?” We’d probably stop and pray for you. And if I told Don Carson, “I just met this person for the first time and I feel like I need to fly to Dallas to go be with he and his wife,” he might say, “Well, that’s kind of nice, but you sort of have an obligation here.”
Well, if I got a phone call and it was the chairman of my elder board, his wife, then you might say, “Hmm. What do you think, Kevin? Are you going to stay or go?” If it’s my wife, now you feel like if you don’t get on a plane and go home, whatever you have, you’ve not done the right thing. Well, then what if someone comes up and says, “I feel like people all throughout our city are dying of heart attacks and I think you ought to do something to help prevent it.” Well, then what’s the obligation? So, yes, the Good Samaritan is certainly a text that we ignore at our peril.
Jesus is meaning to confront us with our own human tendency to say, “That person is not like me. I don’t have to help them.” And yet, when you come to the specifics, because here it’s a human person in front of you, you must go the other way and they die. The moral obligation is strong and immediate. A lot of our disagreements, and we just have to be honest that sometimes we disagree because it’s just not clear, is when that same level of obligation falls upon us for the needs of others.
Williamson: I think that’s very helpful. And if I can complexify it as well and throw it back out to you and others who want to respond to this, before we push on to the next statement from Jesus. I think it’s very helpful. I think if I could throw this out to just very quickly to your brothers. I think the challenge that we often have as a church is not so much our proximity to the situation, or our capability for the situation, but the more obligation in the situation. And so, I think like… so with our brother to have kind of fell two thieves on this on the road, I think, is Jesus not saying to us that this circumstance morally stipulates a response? Now, maybe I can or cannot respond to it, but inherently. And so, I guess if I can rephrase the question, setting aside, kind of, my own locale and my ability either through resources or through proximity to do something about it. As Christians, ought we to always look either literally ourselves or through heart conviction, those who victimize him? So, let me just throw it out for you guys to consider.
Cook: One of the interesting things about the phrase, both in Leviticus 19 and there, in Luke 10, and what does it mean to love your neighbor. Other places, what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? And it doesn’t mean love your neighbor, as much as you love yourself, that would be quite literally impossible for most of us, love ourselves more than we love anyone else. But it means to love your neighbor in the way in which you would love yourself. I think the contemporary application is incredibly difficult when you consider, those crying for justice have never been considered a neighbor, and have never been loved, and the manner in which those in power have used their power in grotesque ways. Not to answer your question because it is very complex, but…. And, I understand your illustration about heart attacks, but my problem is what do you do when the government is the one causing people heart attacks? Right?
And so, from an individual standpoint, yes, those we come into contact with. I think the harder thing is the heart level motivation, Daryl, that you point to, and what drives us to action. And the difficulty is the goalpost for justice continues to get moved. The postmodern idea of truth now necessitates that I’m right and everyone else is out there wrong. And it’s a contest to see who’s been offended the most, instead of Christians having the obligation to the point that you make in loving those around us, like you mentioned. I think the more difficult question is, what is a Christian’s responsibility to remedy the systemic injustices, where you’ve got an entire group of people who’ve never seen the other as their neighbor? And the Samaritan there, it’s not…
Williamson: It’s good.
Cook: …an accident that he’s the hero of the story. The one who worships on a different mountain, the one who comes from a different cultural heritage, a different cultural background, the one who looks different. And it’s the power-seeking Jews there, who are the ones who are the “villains,” are those who have done that.
But I’d still like to say, and the thing that I love… And I’m about to be done. I love Jesus’s response to that when he says, “Go and do likewise.” So, there’s no condemnation. He wants the lawyer to recognize the humanity in his neighbor, and then treat that man in the same manner that he wants to be treated. So, from an individualized level, I think that is the way forward. And, I think the harder question is the church’s role from a systemic level to enter into the Samaritan conversation at a much higher and broader level.
Williamson: That’s good. That’s good. Go ahead.
Phillip Holmes: Removing even the conversation about proximity because, as soon as we go there, I felt like it’s a very, I guess, intelligent way of saying, “Who is my neighbor?” all over again. Right? Because we’re always looking for a way to do what? To justify ourselves. And I think that we do need to have intelligent conversations so that we aren’t guilting, or burdening Christians with things that are out of their control, or not their responsibility. We definitely need to have deep, careful conversations about those things. But at the same time, our instinct, too quickly, is to do exactly what this guy did in the passage, which is, “Who is my neighbor?”
We know what the Bible says, but our instinct is to protect ourselves. Right? And I think this ties in with what Jesus is talking about, love your neighbor as you love yourself because, guess what? If I pick up, you know, my phone and I toss it at Jason. He’s… I mean, he’s…
Cook: Don’t do that.
Holmes: Yeah. But if I…
Williamson: For your sake.
Holmes: I know, right? For my sake. Jason and I right now our beefing but…. Ask it during Q&A and I’ll tell you all about it. But if I throw something and a person flinches, right? What is their instinct? Their instinct is to protect themselves. And I think when it comes to issues of justice, I think we have to ask ourselves, “What is our instinct when we see people being marginalized, when we see people being abused, when we see people being taken advantage of?” Is it to first justify ourselves and say, “Hey, that’s not my problem. That’s over there. That’s completely disconnected from me. That’s not what the Bible was actually calling me to.” Or, is our response to say, “How can I help?” Even if helping simply looks like, “I’m going to pray, and I’m going to pray without ceasing for that situation because, I am not in proximity to it, I can’t go over there right now, I don’t have the resources to help, but I can pray because, I believe in the power of prayer. Or when it comes to something that is in our town, that is in our proximity, to people who are our neighbors and we have the means and the resources. Are we looking for reasons and excuses to turn our back and look in the opposite direction? What is your instinct?
DeYoung: Yeah, I think that’s all really helpful, and I like how you said there, Phillip, what’s our instinct, and the analogy of flinching? So, there’s a matter of posture and heart posture, just, you know, the teenage couple, how far is too far? You know, well that’s not the question to ask in your relationship. It’s, “How can I maximally glorify God?” So, we don’t want to justify ourselves and ask the same question the lawyer does. Full stop.
New thought that is related. There is a pastoral concern and it can be self-justifying, and I need to warn myself and my people against that, but I think there is a legitimate pastoral concern. You know, you got a guy who’s working hard, 60 hours a week, he tithes to the church. He is there Sunday morning and Sunday evening. He is a part of a small group. He’s got, on his prayer list, abortion, and he’s got on his prayer list, racial reconciliation, and he’s trying to get his kids to their soccer game. And, there are people in our churches, when you talk about this, yes, who quickly put a stiff arm. “You’re talking about justice, you’re all going to be, you know, leftist Marxists and…” No, we don’t have to go off of that cliff. But we also have to realize there are people who quickly feel a weight of, “I don’t know how I’m getting the laundry done this week, and now I don’t know how I’m going to solve systemic racism. I don’t know how I’m going to overturn Roe v. Wade. I don’t know how I’m going to do these things.”
And so, that’s my caution in wanting to make sure that we don’t put inviting…turn inviting “can’s”, and “may’s”, and “prayers” into hard “ought’s” and obligations so that then people feel like, “I’m not doing anything to solve the most intractable problems in our country, therefore, I’m on the wrong side of the Good Samaritan.”
Williamson: I think that’s very helpful. And let me just push this forward here, if I could because, I think we want as much as we can here today, is to sit at Jesus’ feet. And really kind of like get a weighty saturation of his words. And so, I want us to take, kind of, a moment to reflect on his words in Matthew 25. And this is, kind of, the classic, you know, separation of the sheep and goats. We’re all familiar with this story. And, I just want to emphasize that, as we think about justice, one of the passages that jumps out at me comes from Deuteronomy 10 where, the Lord says to Israel that they should not pervert the justice that is due the sojourner, the widow… And so, this kind of ministry in the Lord’s eye, ministering to the vulnerable, is an act of justice. At least how we, kind of, see that biblically.
So, I think this passage, I think it kind of relates to that. So, Matthew 25:31–46, here’s this passage. What’s interesting about it is that it has what we could call salvific tension. Sheep and goats. Sheep come in, goats do not. And so, if I could, Jason, if I could just turn to you, brother. Just, kind of, summarize what’s going on here for us and help us understand what this means.
Cook: Yeah. The setting is the parousia or the eschatalogical reality of Christ’s coming in triumph, alongside a myriad of angels. And there he is on the final judgment when sheep and goats are there present. Now, the interesting thing, historically, commentators will tell you that in the ancient near east, and even in some places today, sheep and goats look very similar. And yet, Jesus knows the difference between sheep and goats. And those who are sheep, he places at his right hand, a side of power, a position of power and relationship. And upon his left, he places the goats.
To his right, he speaks these words of righteous affirmation, these words of entrance. And I love the word that Matthew uses, this entrance into an inheritance, the inheritance of the kingdom, which is God and His glory, Christ in his exaltation, and the fellowship of the brothers and the saints for all time. Those at his right.
And then, you know, he’s… They’re kind of confused though. Right? Because Jesus then tells them that. “When you saw me naked, when you saw me hungry, when you visited me in prison.” And they’re confused because they say, “Lord…” Well, let me just read it to you. Let me not paraphrase. He says, “Lord…and when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them,” Christ presumably says, “‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did to me.’” And then he turns and he looks at the goats and he says, “Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty…you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not receive me, clothe me.” And, I’m going to answer you. Get out of here. And they’re going to say to the Lord, “Lord, when did we see you naked? When did we not clothe you? When did we not visit you in prison?” And he will answer, “Truly, I say unto you, what you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.”
I love the tension there, this eschatological tension between those on the right and the left and those on the right having the same question as those on the left. “Lord, when did we do X amount of things?” Those on the right have done so out of a natural love for their king. Right? Doing these things naturally, instinctively because of the love they have for the king. And those on the left not doing these things for reasons that we don’t exactly know from the text. We could infer the audience he’s speaking to are those who look like sheep, in the same place as sheep, that may have sheep tendencies, or sheep behavior, but don’t have the heart of sheep. And so, the salvific tendency is this kind of melding of faith and works, those who allow their faith to translate into direct action for those in need around them as opposed to those who lack that same activity, resulting from faith toward the king.
Williamson: Excellent. Does anybody want to follow up with that at all or anyone want to respond? It was really helpful.
Williamson: Well, Phillip, I’ll come your way, brother, if you’re okay with that. Very similar thought. That was very helpful, Jason. Thank you. We’ve seen James 2. And so, James 2, again, I think the key thing for… that we’re trying to get here is salvific tension. I think we’re trying to deal with what Kevin talked about, this “ought.” Is this required? Is something necessary. And so, this passage then seems to suggest that faith and deeds kind of walk together when there’s genuineness. Right? Genuine faith brings true deeds.
Can you kind of summarize what James is saying for us in verses 14 through 26 of Chapter 2 and just kind of tell us what you think he’s saying to us?
Holmes: Yeah. So, you know, this passage is extremely controversial for a lot of people and a lot of young believers tend to even… Maybe even some more mature believers kind of struggle with this text, especially in reformed circles. Most of you guys know that the great reformer, Martin Luther, had problems with the book of James because, he felt like it contradicted what Paul was saying in Romans, Galatians, and throughout the New Testament. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a fair treatment of what James is actually doing here. And, there are plenty of scholars who would take this side as well. It seems to me, and I think one of the reasons that we get caught up on it is because we’ve fallen in love with mantras more than we’ve fallen in love with Scripture.
And so, you know, we see James used that, you’re not saved by faith but also about works. And we’re like, “But faith alone.” You know, sola scriptura, you probably got it tattooed on your arm or something and you’re like, “That’s not…” But when you look at the context of James and you look at the context of Paul, there’s no way in the world that James is pushing back against Paul because, he knows that Paul has actually done a very good job for anybody who read the entire book of Romans, or the entire book of Galatians. James is fully aware that Paul has done an excellent job of communicating what he means by faith, and what he means by work and that the two are not disconnected. Paul labors, he anticipates questions. He anticipates pushback. He anticipates so that the antinomianism of his day, by saying, “Hey, can I just go on sinning that grace may abound?” Paul says, “No, God forbid.” His responses are strong.
So, anybody that says that James and Paul are beefing in Scripture, they don’t have a firm grasp on the full context of what’s taking place in this passage. Now, as it relates to our topic for the day when it comes to justice, I think James’s words are very difficult for us to swallow because, he gets us out of our comfort zone and he challenges us to say, “You can’t just be okay with giving Christianity lip service.” Right? It’s not enough for you to just go to church and sing the songs, but Monday through Saturday, your life does not change. Something is wrong. That’s what he’s talking about. Faith without works is dead. Matthew Henry even questions, kind of, how James is even defining justified because, Matthew Henry would say, “Well, Paul is talking about justification before God.” And he’s saying, “Paul is, rightly so, saying that before God, we are justified by faith alone.”
But what James is doing, he’s actually talking about the horizontal relationship when it comes to holding people accountable in our lives. And the justification that he’s referring to is sort of similar to what we see in even Jesus’s passage here, that he was trying to justify himself before men. He asked the question out loud, “Well, who is my neighbor?’ in order to justify himself before men.
I think James could be actually talking about justification before men when it comes to this passage. So, he saying, “Sure. By faith alone, you are justified before God, but before men, if I got a brother who I’m close with, and I see his life and he makes a profession of faith, and he says he believes one thing but his life looks completely different than what he professes, guess what? I got questions. And rightly so, and I would be justified in asking those hard questions.”
So, when it comes to the issue of justice, I think that we have to ask ourselves hard questions, and we have to ask those around us hard questions because it is not okay for us to say, “Hey, it is wrong for those individuals to be starving?” It is not okay for us to say, “What we see in the criminal justice system is absolutely wrong. But, we’re somehow okay with wiping our hands of it and saying that it has absolutely nothing to do with us. That we don’t have a dog in that fight.”
Now, I want to make sure that nobody don’t confuse what Kevin and I are saying because, I think we’re saying the same thing. And I think that he’s right in his caution because there is a true pastoral concern, when you’re pastoring real people. Right? I can get on social media and Twitter all day and talk about this and that, and this is what we need to do, and this is what we need to do, and blah, blah, blah and blah, blah, blah. But when you’re actually dealing with real people like these three brothers, and they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to get through the week. Right? That’s a legitimate concern, not to necessarily be bombarding those individuals. They still need to be challenged, but maybe in this particular season of life, the Lord is not calling them to the same thing that he’s calling you.
One of the biggest problems in this whole social-justice war that we’re having right now is that everybody wants to make their concerns a top priority for other people as well. So, if I’m all about 100% on abortion, that means you need to be too. Or if I’m all about 100% in on criminal justice, that means you need to be too, and if you’re not doing it, then that means that you’re not right before God. Something’s wrong with your heart. You don’t really believe the gospel because, you’re not as passionate about this particular issue as I am. And there are whole host of issues that need to be addressed. And there’s room for everybody.
Cook: Yeah. And I think to… I just realized I didn’t ever answer your question earlier. I apologize for that. I think, Phil, what you’re saying is good. I think there’s two things. So, I’ve just, in the last four weeks, finished teaching, kind of, an 18-week course, at our church, where I’m walking people through 2,000 years of history, including church history, language vocabulary, cultural training and, kind of, next steps or how-to’s when it comes to being engaged in this conversation. And there’s two things that I’ve found why we can’t answer these questions. One, we’ve lost the realness of the priesthood of all believers. And with that, we’ve lost, kind of, this physiological reality of the body of Christ. And I mean that to say, not everyone is good at everything, and not everyone is called to the same things.
So, with the body of Christ, an eye can’t be an arm, an arm can’t be a toe, a toe can’t be a leg. In the same way, there are going to be people in our body that feel certain visceral reactions concerning different things in our body. And, instead of expecting everyone to care about everything in the same ways, there’s a conversation that needs to be had about a complete idea of care focused on the local expression of God’s people in the church. So, I think the first thing is recovery of the priesthood of all believers.
I think the second thing is, man, folks in our church have got to stop taking cues from the culture and be led by the Spirit. And here’s what I mean by that. It’s like the culture continues to move the end zone, continue to move the goalposts, continue to dictate and care, and so many people derive their identity and their goodness, based on how much they care about particular issue. When, in fact, our identity is hidden in the person and work of Christ and what he’s done on our behalf, and our activism flows from that.
If our activism is issue-driven, then we’ll fall into the same camp, where we will only chase the issues that we’re not chasing after the hearts of people who have been enslaved in captive by these systems, right? So, I think those two things are really necessary in this conversation. One, the priesthood of all believers to free the mother . . . I’m saying . . . . So, we’ve got a lot of teachers that work in inner city schools and they’re wracking their brains trying to figure out how do I get engaged in this fight against racial oppression? I’m like, “Sis, you’re doing it every single day in class.” It’s the whole Martin Luther milkmaid argument. Every single day in class, when you’re teaching these students value, and worth, and dignity, and you’re affirming them. That is your hand in this. And if you’re not familiar with the “Leaf by Niggle,” then you should be familiar with it, a short story about J. R. R. Tolkien. But I think if we all adopted, kind of, that mentality when it comes to our role in this conversation, then instead of all of us trying to paint this great tree, we would just be focused on a leaf, and let the tree be painted itself by the entire body of Christ.
Williamson: That’s good.
DeYoung: And I think, you know, I really appreciate what all you guys are saying about calling, and gifting, and your thing may not be someone else’s thing. And we have to be honest that we… You know, I’m a conservative guy on most things and yet… I guess, some of my conservative folks who they want to, you know, they’re going to do something for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and they’re going to pray about abortion, and they’re going to advertise the right to life, and then if you talk about something else though, that’s political. Well, okay, we need to be honest about what we’re doing there.
At the same time, and I think we would agree on this, sometimes we think we’re talking about this issue from the Bible, and we’re talking about these biblical principles and we’re actually talking about some stuff down here, which is really important down here, but we’re not talking about the same thing.
So, criminal justice reform. Hopefully, everybody who’s a Christian and has the spirit wants a criminal justice system to treat people fairly and equitably. And then we say, “Well, is that happening?” And I think you’d have a whole lot of people say, “You got to ask the question? Of course, that’s not happening.” And I think you’d have other people say, “Well, I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I think for the most part, in a fallen world, it works okay.” So, then, we may not be disagreeing about justice. We may not be disagreeing about the Bible getting us involved. What we need to talk about then is helping each other see what maybe we’re not seeing. And then we’re having a discussion about, “Okay, what’s going on?” And then you’re moving down from the Bible, which doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. It’s important, but it means then you’re looking at… Oh, I’m sorry. Then you’re looking at studies and then you’re figuring out, “Well, is this the war on drugs from the ’80s that is locking up people for lesser crimes and is it doing it, you know, locking up minorities at a higher rate than it is for whites?”
And then you got to look at a lot of criminal justice studies and sociological studies. And then you start talking about, “Well, what’s the answer to that?” And then you have even more deviation in what the proper answer might be to it. Now, none of that means unimportant, don’t talk about it. Who cares? Christians shouldn’t be involved. Read something about, you know, John Calvin and put it to bed. No, but it does mean that we need to have some sense of caution as Christians and as the Church, that before we start doing this, we’re understanding, we may agree on the things that the Bible is saying. And we haven’t begun to look at the issue here in the same way. Which doesn’t mean there’s not a better, or worse, or a right, or wrong way to look at the issue, but it means we need to have the forbearance with one another to say…. And you could do that with abortion or any number of issues. I have people in my church sometimes who are upset that I’m not doing enough with abortion. Like, look, I believe abortion is murder. I pray about it in my pastoral prayer. But if that means that I have to come out on record for a particular Supreme Court justice, I’m not going to do that. I may have my opinions about what sort of justices we ought to have on the Supreme Court, but as a pastor, I’m saying, “That’s not within, you know, my purview to determine whether or not.”
So, I sometimes am equal opportunity offender and I’ve refused to sign statements. I got statements, would you come out in support of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh? I said, “Well, wherever I think about them as nominees, that’s not a straight-line issue. You can’t go, ‘Bible verse, application in my sermon, Gorsuch is a good nominee.’” Some do and you shouldn’t. I mean, we shouldn’t do that. And, and on the other hand, if I had people say, “You’re a public person, Kevin, would you sign this thing about immigration and DACA?” And you, “Well, I don’t think you can do a straight line from the Bible verse this week to say that.” Now, you may have, you know, biblical principles for both of those things. So, that’s where I’m cautious. And I do think Christians, as you’re salt and light in your community, probably can be less cautious. Because I can’t ever take off my pastor hat. And I don’t want somebody to say, “Well, if I go to Christ Covenant, okay, I got to be a Christian. I know they’re Presbyterian, I’m okay with that. But I also have to be for Gorsuch.” That’s not a wall I want to put up in my church. And I’m sure there’s all sorts of invisible walls in my 99.9% white church that I don’t even see, but I just want to be aware of not putting them up unnecessarily.
Williamson: That’s very helpful Kevin. Thank you. And I think everyone has been very helpful. Before opening up to questions from everyone else… And, Kevin, you kind of cracked the door in this a little bit. I just want to kind of push out in deep waters, or controversial waters, or rough waters. My wife and I have a 19-year-old young lady that lives with us. And so, she was born in Columbia and came to the U.S. at nine months and today she’s 19 years old. So, she would be a DACA person or a Dreamer. We spend a lot of time talking with her, obviously, about how she feels. There’s several identity issues there. Now she’s trying to move her life forward. There is, in our culture, in our lives, a lot of conversation around immigration, whether it be should we close the southern border? Whether it be, should we be a church that’s, kind of, a refuge for immigrants?
So, these things are here in as much as they show up in the political landscape, I think at some level we have to concede that they are ethical issues, at some level. Now, whether the policy prescription is clear or not ethically is another conversation. But, this is an ethical concern at some level, people are involved, hearts and souls are being affected here. And so, my question to you guys is, I think it’s really twofold. The particular question is, as you think about the young lady in our home who lives with us, what more should we do, to love her as our neighbor than just having her in our home?
The second thing is let’s pastorally, take on this issue. And the question is not so much, “Pastor, what do I do?” But maybe the first question is, “Pastor, how should I think about this issue? How do I think about all the things that are going on? Pastor, are you saying that this is something that’s outside of the domain of what Christians should even be thinking about?” Or, “Pastor, how should I process this? Through what grid or framework to understand what all this stuff means?” So, let me just kind of throw those two things out for you guys and we’ll open up to the audience.
Cook: Yeah. I think Luke 10, Matthew 25, kind of, give us some direction there. “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” I think, I immediately think about the book of Ruth and Ruth’s time. I immediately, I think about, kind of, the idea and the concept of the 1st-century church that was the family of God, and became the family of so many others, that were exiled. So, I do think there’s biblical precedent and a scriptural reality where the family of God becomes a place where we welcome, warmly, those who are either in fear of bodily danger, those who] have been exiled from their own country. I think the Bible’s pretty clear on that. I think the part, honestly, where I feel hopeless is for that young woman having entered into the United States at 9 months and now being 19, there’s no pathway to citizenship for her that does not include her going back to Columbia first, before coming back to the United States, unless she were to be married legitimately to an American citizen. So, do you tell a 19-year-old, “You need to go get married.” Right? A girl that you love in order to be able to stay.
It’s really quite heartbreaking. I think the pastoral admonition is not just for immigrants and DACA recipients, but even those in our own church. What does it mean to be in exile and a sojourner in the United States of America? And what are the missional implications of seeing your life as an exile, as opposed to being at home in the states. So that, when we’re discipling our undocumented friends and if the unfortunate event of deportation happens, have we discipled our friends to take a missional witness back to the country where they’re mandated to go, where they don’t know, where they don’t belong. There’s no family there. There’s no systems there, they’re familiar with. They’re simply a believer living in a hostile land, at a hostile time, armed with the most powerful weapon of all time, in the Word of God. And that’s not just the immigrants, that’s to our own people as well. I think pastorally, that’s one of the ways that we can engage in that conversation.
DeYoung: I mean, a few theoretical thoughts and then more pastorally because I have had to wrestle with this firsthand as a pastor. I mean, just the whole topic is difficult. In broad terms, it’s not as difficult. I think most Christians could agree, if a law is not an unjust law, it shouldn’t be broken. Romans 13, “governing authorities.” We see in the Old Testament. James Hoffmeier has a very good book. It’s now five, six years old on the language of strangers, and aliens, and sojourners, and the different nuances of meaning, there in the Old Testament. It was not seen as somehow unbiblical that a nation would have borders, and that the nation would welcome in certain persons and certain numbers. I don’t think that’s unchristian, that you have borders and you have immigration policies.
Also clear in the Bible is the sort of rhetoric that treats all immigrants as would be drug czars and rapists waiting to happen, is wrong, and horribly unfair, and does nothing to open up doors to love and to share the gospel with people. So, I don’t have a lot of confidence that either party, on either side, has a genuine interest in solving this as much as they do with scoring points with whatever their base might be. I hope that somebody does. Probably good people that that really do because the difficulty is not so much in the abstract, okay? Follow the laws. You can have immigration, love people. It becomes, “Okay, now what do we do?” The situation you said, Jason, that the laws have been allowed. I mean, it’d be like, you know, “We know the speed limit is 70 miles per hour on the interstate, and everybody goes 70. Well, probably John Piper doesn’t. But, other people, 75, or 77 and then all of a sudden, in 20 years, the government says, “We were videotaping all of that from helicopters and now, you went 77, here’s your punishment.”
“Okay, well, yes. Yes, I did speed. But there’s some responsibility that you didn’t seem interested in that I was speeding for all of these years. So, now, what do we do?”
We had, in my last church a wonderful family, dear family, from Latin America and they were in the country, I guess, technically, illegally though it was a mistake really on the government’s part that had let them in. They had come to do some study, and were here on a graduate, and they were supposed to go back after this graduate study and go two years back to Guatemala, but the government never insisted on that. And they got married, and they had kids and they lived their whole adult life, 30 years. And that was a mistake that the government made in allowing them to stay all those years ago. And now what?
Well, we prayed with them, we provided for them. We helped them get lawyers and pay for lawyers. And it’s a never-ending system. And probably, someone’s not going to knock on their door and drag them out. And yet, probably, there’ll be no resolution that really allows them, like you said, to have a pathway to actually make this right.
So, I don’t know the final answer, other than what we do in those situations. We didn’t encourage them to break any more laws, we encouraged them to try to make the case why they should be here, and sort of in an infinite appeal, regress. But we cared for them and loved them. And our hearts went out to them because, as you said, this was that their home and there’s no doubt that the system was horribly broken to put them in the situation that they’re in.
Williamson: That’s good. Hey Jason, we’ve got about 15 minutes. Let me just see… Let’s see if we can get some folks that’s… I don’t want to absorb all our time. We could go another hour easily. I mean, we can always go get some Mountain Dews and, kind of, inside joke. So, let’s take some questions. My brother here is quick on his feet.
Man 1: Is it true the laws of government and my reaction to those people in front of me is two different things. The immigration is one issue. But when that immigrant is standing in front of me, no matter who I lock eyeballs with, I am to share the love of Christ with that person. And that’s how the average church member should act. Am I right?
DeYoung: Oh, I think, there’s some… It’s a helpful way of putting it, whatever the policy arrangement we might think is helpful. You have that person in front of you that needs love, and care, and compassion and the word of God.
Williamson: Amen. Thank you. Other questions?
DeYoung: Or there, maybe?
Man 2: So, generally, Christians will say they want unity. That’s a high priority. And we see in Scripture, like, God values unity and diversity, but when working with other ministries or local churches, what is the point of breaking for fellowship or partnership if there isn’t a desire for diversity in the unity that there wouldn’t work?
Cook: So I’m trying to understand the question. I think I know what you’re saying. But I think when we talk about unity, black people and white people in particular, generally minorities and majority culture mean two different things by unity. One side often means unity is occupying the same space. The other side often sees unity as a reversal of power dynamics. But I think the Bible calls for unity in both a spiritual and a physical way. So, here’s what I mean.
One of the reasons why especially, black people and white people can’t get along is because we see the world in two completely different ways. Minorities tend to be a high-context culture locating themselves across and along a spectrum of people. Most white Americans see themselves as a low-context culture, see themselves primarily as an individual, separate from power structures, where they exist completely differently from those. Right? Outside of their family.
So, when you’ve got a person who’s carrying along with them 400 years of injustice and you’ve got a person who’s carrying along with them 40 days of their past life, they’re going to disagree on terms, and they’re going to disagree on how they see the world. So, unity, while it may be a joint-worship service where, “Hey, isn’t this so great? We had the black choir singing at our church?” That’s not unity, y’all just existed in the same space.
But, if we’re really talking about unity and we’re talking about being unified, yes, the core tenets of the gospel, the kerygma, the sufficiency of Scripture, the supremacy of God and of Christ, the necessity for salvation by faith, by grace through faith. Like, those are core tenets. They’re going to be secondary and tertiary issues that, traditionally, minorities and even other white churches are going to disagree on. But it depends on if you want a unity by lowest common denominator or if you want a full unity. I find a lot of reform folks aren’t willing to partner because the limits of their unity are, “We’ve got to agree on all of these things including, like, everything concerning even an issue like women in ministry.” Right? So, I’m not quite sure what is meant by unity, but I think that breaking point’s going to be different depending on who’s in that conversation.
Williamson: That’s good. Amen.
Man 3: Yeah. There is a lot of talk about proximity, especially with who our neighbor is. [inaudible] in, moved to America where there’s been a lot of forces that have really ghettoized the disadvantaged. How much of a responsibility do you guys feel there’s a need to step up and say, “You know what? I lack proximity because of the sins of my forefathers.” And that’s something that needs to be addressed.
Cook: Hmm-mm. That’s a great question.
Williamson: It’s a great question, several different responses but…
Holmes: Yeah, I don’t feel like proximity necessarily has to be the person that is next door to you. Right? People who are in the same city, but maybe there’s a community that has been marginalized, that’s been placed. You know, I grew up in a small town in Mississippi, and the tracks became the divider for the two sides of town. And then slowly, it was Highway 51 that became the divider. So, I’m well familiar with how communities can be marginalized, and pushed aside, and forgotten about, in a lot of ways. But at the same time, you’ll still find that those individuals end up crossing paths. Whether that means that somebody is driving through a neighborhood just to get to a certain part of town, or whether it means that those individuals are sharing the same local marketplace, which was the case in my hometown. These individuals are still considered your neighbors, whether you want to define it that way or not.
I think that that would be a situation because, I think you have the same thing in this passage, right? I’m pretty sure that the Levites, the priests, and the Samaritans weren’t living side-by-side with each other, locked arms. But, Jesus is still saying, “Hey, that individual is still your neighbor because you’re crossing paths, you’re interacting, you see the pain, you see the hurt, and you have the means and the resources to address it.
Williamson: Wish we had more time to talk about this. And that’s a very provocative question. Any hands over here? Let’s go in the back. I’ve been just choosing the front row all along here. Let’s show some nondiscrimination.
Man 4: In the midst of wide access to the news, the media, and whatnot. How do you keep yourself from becoming consciously or subconsciously apathetic towards the [inaudible] and trying to actually assign yourself proximity toward certain [inaudible], without also lacking care and [inaudible].
Cook: Yeah. I don’t think humans, were ever supposed to consume 24-hour news. And also news as entertainment has become, I think, a blight on society because, it’s desensitized us from the world around us. So, I think we spend so much time or many… Let me say that. Many spend so much time in this internet voyeurism with all of these maladies around the world but don’t spend a ton of time looking at the world around them. Just, basically, I think, like, consume many different news outlets, and then, like, don’t consume them and just go talk to people. That’s what I would say. But also, man, praying that the Holy Spirit and these days where human hearts are more desensitized than ever, that the Spirit keeps a warm heart and a soft heart within us, to not turn a blind eye to the hurts around us.
DeYoung: And some of it as, you know, Phillip talked about posture and inclination. Galatians 6:10, “Do good to all people as you have opportunity and especially to those of the household of faith.” So, there are some priorities set for us there, but there’s an, as you have opportunity and, yeah, Twitter, Facebook, all that, I mean, the world’s at our fingertip. It is so overwhelming. It either gives you a crushing sense of moral guilt. You just walk around. “I’m not doing anything about that, that, that. I didn’t express my sympathy, my outrage for that, that, that.” Or, then you become so desensitized that, you know, “Screw it, the world’s, you know, terrible, and I don’t care about it anymore.” This sounds really pietistic, but I think it’s true. I think if we genuinely said, “Lord, I want opportunities to do good to others, would you give me opportunities to do so? I don’t know how to solve the criminal justice system. Some somebody can, maybe, or they can do some… But, Lord, I want to do something, would you give me an opportunity?” And I trust that the Lord is going to honor that brother or sister’s heart in a tangible way, in your church, in your community, with your neighbor, something to pray about. He’s going to meet that.
Holmes: Real quick. Just when it comes to priorities, this is something that’s very important to me. My wife and I, we’ve been having conversations about adopting for a long time. And I, kind of, had a moment of pause because I was like, you know, “Babe, I would love to adopt and I really do want to adopt, but I have young cousins who are six, seven, eight, nine, and you know, who are growing up without fathers, who are looking for some type of guidance and advice.” I think a lot of the times we ignore family ,and we immediately go out there. And I think the family unit cannot be ignored, whether you’re white, whether you’re black, it doesn’t matter. We need to take… I think there’s a certain level of priority when it comes to… Going to Kevin’s point. I think first, you look at family to see if there’s a need, if there’s some way that you can be an advocate there. And then you look into the church and then we go outside of the church to look at all these other issues. I think that’s one helpful way not to be overwhelmed.
So, one just small step that my wife and I are taking is that our cousin who’s being raised by a single mother in this city right now is going to come and spend two months with us over the summer. Just to, kind of, get to know him and provide resources, and love, and training. And I think there’s a lot of opportunities, even in your own family, that you can take steps in that direction in order to love those who are inside of your own household.
–Williamson: Very helpful. One more question, just to kill.
Man 5: Thank you, brothers. This has been great. So, my line, it seems a little easier to know what it means to go out and do Good Samaritan justice, and mercy, as individual Christians where God has given us influence. How should we think about the corporate responsibility as a church in regards to time, energy, resources? Like, what’s the biblical responsibility for a church in a community, corporately, to do justice, and how do we decipher [inaudible]?
Williamson: And we got two minutes for this. That’s an excellent question.
Holmes: Oh, yeah, Kevin.
Williamson: Yeah. I really wish we had more time to take that on because that is a very interesting question.
DeYoung: Yeah. I don’t know if they agree with this answer or not. I wrote with Greg Gilbert, what is…
DeYoung: …Yeah, time’s up. What is the mission of the church? And you saw hints of it in my message from this morning. I do think that the mission of the church, what the church is sent into the world to accomplish, is the proclamation of the gospel and to train them up to be obedient to Christ. So, the ramifications are, in discipleship, equipping our people to be salt and light, to be obedient to Christ. Now, what is my congregation under the jurisdiction of my elder board going to attempt to lower unemployment, to overturn Roe v. Wade, to plant trees in the park? Very little? Nothing on some of those fronts? Which is not to say that they’re unimportant, and I think that it’s one of the hardest things as a pastor to try to help your people know, “I’m really excited about what you’re excited about, and it may not come under the jurisdiction of what our church is doing and giving money toward.” One of the verses that’s helpful in Titus, “Adorn the Gospel.” So, I want to leave a category open for what might we do here to Adorn the Gospel in our community. So, I was… In my last church, we were literally right next door to a middle school, a public middle school. I said, “It would make perfect sense for us to go in there and say, ‘Hey, can we do some tutoring?’ It would be a good thing for its students. It would be good for our people. It might open the door for the Gospel, and it would adorn the Gospel in our community.” All those things are good.
But my response generally is a sort of reticence because the mission creep happens very, very quickly and the one thing that the church, uniquely, is called to do and no one else will do except for the church is to preach Christ and to plant healthy churches. Pushback.
Holmes: I don’t necessarily have any pushback, and the reason why is because I think, biblically, I did think you have a point. But even practically, I think pastors are terrible CEOs and executive directors. Like, to want the church to be able to do and manage all these things only means, in my opinion, that it’s going to be done poorly. And I think there’s many of you out there who have the gifts, who have the means, who have the resources, who can do these things alongside the church. But you don’t have to always report to the elder board. Like go in and start a ministry at a school. You don’t need the elder board’s permission to do that. Go and start something about criminal justice reform, or go and advocate for the unborn. You don’t need to do those things because all they’re going to do is hold you up. Elders…
DeYoung: Especially if they’re Presbyterians.
Holmes: Especially if they’re Presbyterians.
Williamson: Because nothing’s going to get done. That’s right.
Holmes: Nothing. Committee, after committee, after committee, you go and do it. You don’t need their… You want their blessing, and you want their encouragement, and you want their support, but you don’t need their oversight.
Williamson: And your Presbyterian brothers will say that that is a good thing, that they’re so much slower in connection.
DeYoung: Oh, there’s a saying about Presbyterians. We may be slow, but we are small.
Williamson: Amen. Praise God. Well, saints, we’re done. That’s a great question. I wish we had more time for that, as to what does it really mean to be a Christian in our society and culture. There’s so much that we do as Christ’s followers that is not when we’re gathered together as the church. There is so much that we do. I wish we have more time to talk about how I live out the fact that Jesus is Lord, what is God concerned with, what are His priorities. But let’s just give it up for our panel.
Cook: Yeah, brother.