“One of the things I loved about my church is it felt like the sermons that were most central and foundational were the sermons the people loved the most. I took that to be a sign of a good church. You don’t want a church that says, ‘Man, sin and salvation again, the cross . . . when are you gonna get back to the millennium? When are you gonna talk about homeschooling? When are you gonna talk about all the issues that are out there?” There is a time to talk about all those things as they connect, but you want people to say, ‘Yes, I want to hear about the Trinity and the gospel and Christ.'” — Kevin DeYoung
Date: October 17, 2018
Event: TGC West Coast Conference, Los Angeles, California
- Guard the Good Deposit
- 3 Beliefs Some Progressive Christians and Atheists Share
- Heresy Does Not Happen Overnight
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Kevin DeYoung: Last night was “Keep a Close Watch on Your Life.” And tonight is the other half of that verse from 1 Timothy 4. Keep a close Watch on your doctrine. Keep a close watch on your life and on your doctrine. Obviously, the two are related. So I have a number of questions for this esteemed panel, and for some of them, men we’ll have you go down and each respond. But for others, I may just call on one or may move us on to the next one. So we can get through a number of these questions and not feel like we have to always go down the line.
But I do want on this first one, and we will just go down starting with Ligon, Stephen, to Bobby. We’re talking about keeping a close watch on your doctrine. So I wanna know, have you been tempted by a particular doctrinal deviation at some point in your life? Either you were mistaken on a doctrine, and I don’t mean you went from baptism to paedobaptism or paedobaptism to baptism if any of you did. But a very serious heretical heterodox sort of air, or have you been tempted, you’ve wrestled with such a deviation at some point in your life?
Ligon Duncan: While I was at the University of Edinburgh doing my doctoral work, I read all of the works of James Barr. James Barr was a professor at the University of Edinburgh for a number of years. He wrote a very important book Stephen will be familiar with because of these New Testament studies called, “The Semantics of Biblical Language,” which is actually a very helpful book in many ways. But Barr was an ex-evangelical, and ex-evangelicals are notoriously antagonistic towards the gospel, towards a high view of Scripture, etc. He was a helpful critic of Scottish bardism, but a relentless critic of Bible-believing Christianity.
He wrote up a large book called “Fundamentalism,” which was just a broadside assault on a high view of Scripture. And I read that book. I probably had more notes in the margin than he wrote in the book. But reading all, and I felt like I needed to read his book for apologetic reasons because I knew there would be evangelical pastors that would be disturbed by some of the things that he was saying about the Bible.
But it was a soul-killing time for me. It was a very dry season. Interestingly, at the same time, I was reading Ned Stonehouse’s Biography of J. Gresham Machen, and I was at the point in that biography where Stonehouse is describing Machen going to study in Germany with Herrmann, who was the major liberal scholar in Europe at that time. And Machen went through a real crisis of faith.
Well, I didn’t quite go through what Machen went through, but it was a very, very hard time for me. I was never tempted to deviate from orthodox Christian doctrine, but I was very much tempted to doubt. And very frankly, it was the faithful preaching of my pastor in the local church, the wonderful witness of godly Christian men and women in the congregation who had no idea what spiritual struggles that I was going through, but I saw a reality in their lives.
I often thought to myself, “There is no way you could be like you are if there is no Holy Spirit.” You know, just the witness of their lives, the sweet witness of their lives, I saw the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. And then a professor who had gone through some of the same kind of questions that I’ve gone through, and so he was able to help me through those things. That’s probably the closest thing in my experience, Kevin.
Kevin: That’s good. That’s good. Stephen?
Stephen Um: Yeah. I remember before going to do doctoral work, I think it was John Piper or somebody told me, he said, “You’re gonna go through a moment where you will experience doctoral blues.” So what do you mean by that? “There will be a moment when you’re doing your work, you’re gonna get so caught up in the details. And you’re gonna feel the pressure from the academy. Not that you’re going to abandon your faith, but you’re going to wonder why you’re there.”
I certainly went through that. I had a great supervisor, Richard Bacon [SP], and he was helpful. But I remember when I had to present a few papers, one at the British New Testament Conference, which is the British version of SPL. And I was there presenting some kind of water-spirit motif in John’s gospel, in John 4, and I had these scholars that I had revere for so many years sitting there.
I felt the weight and I’m like, “Should I go ahead and present it?” Whether you’re clearly going to know that I am believing in Jesus as God crucified and that I have an eschatological Christological perspective on this passage, or am I going to kind of walk myself back on the paper that I have presented together. I felt the weight of that. Not that I wanted to abandon my faith, but I wanted to please the people, the scholars that I revered. And so that’s there. That’s for real. That’s people pleasing. That’s trying to get the approval from man because you’re in scholarship.
It’s actually the pressure is more intense as you know it. And I just said, “Lord, I’m just gonna…” and this you’re allowed to do this in Britain, just read off your notes. So I just kind of read off the notes, and I said I don’t care what they think. I’m just gonna read what I’ve presented. Yeah, then they start bombarding you and challenging what you have stated. “Are you serious that you actually believe this about this particular place?” And so that’s one place.
And another place would be in New Testament scholarship. People look at you funny if you have an orthodox view of Paul and the law. And they’re like, “Really? Like you don’t understand that we’re supposed to have this new perspective on Paul?” “Yeah, I don’t. I actually I don’t. And I’ll tell you why your position is wrong.” But the pressure is intense, and so I think we all go through that at times and we…It’s not that we want to stop believing in what we wanna believe, but we’re tempted to not say everything we wanna say because we’re afraid we’re gonna get rejected.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s good. And it’s not always just, you know, these stories are with academia, but it’s not always that. It can be people to the left of us, people to the right of us, people in our local ministerial fraternal, people in our family. It’s those circles often of people we respect and want to please that then our commitment to Christ becomes difficult. Bobby?
Bobby Scott: There was a season when I was a young believer doing ministry at UCLA when my pastor, and I was at Grace Community Church for seven years. John wrote this groundbreaking book, “The Gospel According to Jesus,” and it was dealing with particularly kind of a dispensational heresy that was coming out of easy believism. There was so much dichotomy between just sanctification and justification that some were saying that once you prayed the prayer you can completely apostatize and reject Jesus, and still you will lose your inheritance, but you’ll go to heaven as we’re of the kingdom of God.
And we were on campus, and we all get labeled as attenders of Grace Community Church as heretics. So we kind of all went to our Bibles and they wouldn’t let us just to study through a biblical theology of trying to wrestle through how to answer those objections. Not wanting to front-load the gospel that you’ve gotta do all these things, and we do all this works first, and then you’ll have real faith. And so we were, like, really struggling trying to balance grace and the additives that following sanctification that will come in. So it was a season where things weren’t clear and how I’d articulate grace in the Gospel. And I think the Lord led us to a safe place. Instead of front-loading the gospel, just to recognize who Jesus really is, that he is Lord.
You’re trusting by God’s grace the one who is Lord and he once he has saved us, progressively transforms our lives, and brings our lives incrementally in submission to his Lordship. He does all that. So it was a struggle for a season trying to work through that and it was hard, especially as we were being labeled as heretics on campus.
Kevin: Yeah. It’s hard. It’s hard. Let me ask a couple of generalizing questions knowing that you’re not expected to be experts for an entire region of the country. But just as I looked down here, I think we have someone who spent a lot of his life in the southeast, and we have Stephen who has been pastoring for more than a decade in New England in Boston. And we have Bobby who’s here in Southern California. Just real quickly, what might be a doctrinal danger for your kind of region? Because we’re humans, and there’s similarities more than differences. But sometimes, in these different pockets, there’s different idols, and there’s different potential doctrinal errors. So, Stephen, start with you.
Stephen: Sure. I mean, what you would expect of Boston is what you would expect. I think it doesn’t require a whole lot of courage for a Christian to accommodate the baseline cultural narrative in a place like Boston. So, if the baseline cultural narrative has a certain view of justice, of sexuality, it’s very easy for a Christian not to be counter-intuitive, but to simply accommodate what the culture has to say about that. Now, don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that there aren’t appropriate points of contact or a place of identification.
But I think it requires courage to say something that’s countercultural. And I would say the same thing if you are down in the South, it requires greater courage to speak into whatever the baseline cultural narrative is in your setting, which will be very different than mine. And that’s why, as I was saying earlier if you are understanding…if you have an understanding of the gospel, then whatever your social context is going to be, you’re always gonna seem a little right to the left, and a little left to the right on the ideological spectrum. And I think that’s a healthy thing. And so for me, it would be on sexuality and it would be on the issue of social justice. That would be the challenge.
Kevin: And in any context, and you’ve mentioned this, and Tim Keller has brought this up before too, there’s going to be elements in a culture where there may be some overlap. And so you can say true things, you could say a whole lot of true things in Boston that Bostonians would think, “You know, that’s wicked awesome. You know, we like that in the Gospel, but not us.” I know, I didn’t wanna, you know, overdo it. And the same thing with other parts of the country. Lig, different set of circumstances, what might you say for the South East?
Ligon: You still have a lot of nominal Christianity in the Southeastern United States. Whereas, in the Northeast, in the Northwest, that is almost dead as a doornail. You know, there’s no cultural capital in nominal Christianity and by large in those parts of the country anymore. We’re 20 years behind the culture typically in the Southeast, and so there’s still some cache in nominal Christianity that manifests itself in a variety of ways. One is it’s very squishy doctrinally. It’s kind of like they don’t care.
The other thing is it tends to be very experiential. So it’s about a cathartic experience every Sunday, you know, and so you have people sort of running in herds from one cathartic experience to another. So from one big mega-church in the area to the other. And then faithful pastors in that context are just so discouraged because they’re preaching their hearts out, they’re preaching the Bible, and the herd is running from one superficial glib, I mean, you’ve got this in Charlotte, my brother. You know, all the bells and whistles are in this zero intelligent, zero doctrinal, zero biblical kind of zone.
Kevin: I think that’s really good.
Ligon: Other than that, it’s really good. Yeah. So, you know, that’s a reality. If you’re a Bible-believing pastor in the Southeastern United States, you’ve got that reality surrounding you everywhere. And you’ve gotta…you know, you don’t wanna become cranky in that setting. I’m gonna gather the 13 faithful people in this city and we’re gonna have a pure church, you know. So you wanna reach out to your culture, but you don’t wanna cave in because what often happens is you start accommodating the culture there for the sake of growing your church, and then suddenly you’re in the same soup that you’re concerned about. So that definitely is one of the things you have to think about in the Southeast.
Kevin: Yeah, that is right on.
Bobby: Well, I’m limited in talking about just the church experience on the West Coast in general. I spent so much time in the black church context and for us in the black church context that the…Pentecostalism was born here. Azusa Street Revival in 1906, and that along with just the aftermath of the civil rights movement there was just so much power that the church experienced politically that the black church had to be everything for the entire community.
So if it’s a one stop and you’re represented in every single way because there was so much political clout that the church gained through the civil rights movement. It was a marriage almost and we need a divorce right now. So power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and so the legacy of some of that are the Reverend Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons, and the social gospel and when you tether that together with almost kind of our theological context that there are real limits to the Pentecostalism, so it embraces TD Jakes the same way it would a sound expositor.
So a few months ago, I was at…I live in Englewood. It’s near LAX. I was at the Englewood ministerial prayer breakfast and it must have been a couple of hundred pastors there. But also every politician was there, and the speaker was an unbeliever, a celebrity unbeliever, and he brought the word that day. And I liked the guy. I like Tavis Smiley. It was Tavis Smiley. He’s a part of the me-too thing, too.
And so there’s a part of the church that, culturally, I think is conservative when it comes to the biblical truth, but because it’s not really grounded in sound doctrine, it really can be tossed here and there by every wind and doctrines. So that’s the climate that we have to fight against.
Kevin: You know, that’s really helpful and it leads into the next question which I was gonna ask, you already answered it, was just to speak a little bit knowing, again, not monolith, I’m not asking you to speak for everyone that fits a certain ethnicity. But Bobby has already spoken very poignantly about challenges in the African American community. Particular idols or doctrinal dangers in the Asian American community, the Scottish American community, we’ll let you speak for, or speak more broadly. But there are sometimes particular dangers, and this gives us an opportunity to speak into them.
Stephen: I probably have more Caledonian cultural tendencies than Lig does. But, yeah, I would say…that’s right, that’s right. There are some McKims.
Stephen: I would say for Asian Americans, especially for far Eastern Asian Americans, education is idolatry. Okay. Education is idolatry. Now, I don’t want to question the good intentions that parents have in wanting their children to thrive. Every parent has that instinct. But Asian parents, it’s uberized, all right? I mean, when it comes to education because they heard somewhere at some point that if you receive the kind of educational training here in this country, then you can make it. But along with that comes a great amount of commitment, and devotion, and pressure.
And I think that there isn’t a whole lot of room and space for grace in Asian American parenting. And I struggled with this over the years, and by God’s grace, I’ve gotten better. So my eldest daughter struggled the most because of the pressure that I put on her, and my youngest one, she’s reaping the benefits that I got out of my system with the first one. So I just expect less from my youngest daughter.
Kevin: I found after seven children that is the secret to successful parenting, low expectations.
Stephen: Well, I mean, this is not only an Eastern or Asian thought. Margaret Mead, the mother of anthropology out of Columbia, she said, “That the following generation…the preceding generation always wants the following generation to surpass what they’ve accomplished.” And there’s, I mean, there’s nothing necessarily intrinsically morally wrong with that, but the idolatrous aspect is when we want to make that too important, right? Idolatry is taking something…taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing. So oftentimes, most of our idols are good things. So I think that’s probably the biggest issue in the Asian American Christian community.
Kevin: Yeah. Lig, one of the issues sometimes in white culture, just majority culture, is the thinking, “We don’t have a culture, we’re just sort of neutral and, you know, other people have interesting things. We’re just sort of doing it all vanilla when there is…” no pun intended, “but there’s a culture.” Speak into some of the experience of the majority culture and some blind spots doctrinal dangers we have.
Ligon: Well, I mean, you’ve touched on it. I think that first of all, by the way, I think historically probably the idea of whiteness is a 19th-century idea. I couldn’t prove that historically to you right now, but I’ve been working on this a little bit and I’m pretty sure that idea is a 19th-century idea that needs to ring some bells for us. And that means that in our current discussion today that can be both a helpful in a very unhelpful category depending on how it’s being deployed.
It was, of course, in the 19th century developed as a category to protect cultural superiority. Now, it’s being used as a category to critique cultural superiority. And in both ways, it’s actually unhelpful. So that’s another story for another day. But I do think people in my socio-economic setting in the church. I mean, let’s not try and figure out all the world’s problems. Let’s just talk about believers for now. People, believers in my cultural, socio-economic setting and with my skin color, very often assume that everybody else in the world inhabits the space that they’ve inhabited. Because we have a certain cultural capital and cache, which we simply assume is the way it is.
So we tend to be very, very comfortable with folks that don’t look like us who are happy to assimilate to how we do things. And we tend to think that folks who don’t look like us, who don’t assimilate the way we do, they’re weird. And in all of that, we are assuming that the way that we are doing things is normal, and the way that everybody else is doing things is not. But we are often unaware of how pervasively we assume that, and hence we really need to work to be self-aware about our own assumptions. We really need to work. And honestly, this is something…this is only been dawning on me in the last 10 years. I’m almost 58 years old.
I was so much the frog in the kettle that I was oblivious to this and would have been resistant to it if somebody had tried to help me see it. And a lot of this…a lot of the Lord’s work on me in this area is through wonderful gospel friendships with Bible-believing brothers and sisters, with whom I share all of the great convictions of my life, but who don’t look like me, and whose backgrounds are totally different from me.
And suddenly, in making friends and beginning to love somebody different from you, who shares all your theological convictions, and being able to see the world through their eyes, and being able to appreciate their concerns and their perspectives, and letting them help me see me. That has been incredibly important in my life. And the Lord just has just kindly been slowly, you know, putting me into that setting where I could have some self-awareness that I’ve just not had because I’ve lived in a cultural situation that allowed me to be with people like me, and from my background most of the time.
I mean, this is one of the real problems in America. We talk about America being a melting pot, we are not. We’ve got a lot of different racial, and social, and economic groups and categories. We don’t mix very much at all. And that means that we live segregated lives, and when you live a segregated life it’s really hard to enter into the experience of a person who’s not from the same background that you are. And I just think we need to be super aware of that.
It’s not about compromising convictions, it’s not about, you know, seeking some secular framework to manage reality, it’s about as a Bible-believing Christian committed to historic Christian doctrine, how can we as believers relate to one another in a better more healthy, God-honoring brother and sister-honoring way? And if you’re not even aware of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.
Kevin: Bobby, did you have a verse
Bobby: No, no.
Kevin: Well, save it. You’ll have a verse for later. It’s for later.
Stephen: Can I just follow up on that? Can I follow up on that? So for those of you who are bicultural, it’s actually, spiritually speaking, advantageous that you are bicultural in this regard, right? If the Bible says we are sojourners, that we are resident aliens, right? We belong to a commonwealth, which is citizens of the Commonwealth of the kingdom of God, but we’re also temporary residents here on earth. Because psychologists call this frame switching, okay? Frame switching is you’re able to look into a situation through the lens of one particular frame.
So if you are bicultural, you can look at it from one perspective and it can be helpful, but in another perspective, you’re looking at it through a different frame. And so if you are always looking at reality from your home culture, whatever that might be, then the way you look at the host culture will be framed by the influence that you’ve received, which means we have cultural preferences and customs. We all do. And when we absolutize that, then it becomes a cultural prejudice. So we all have different preferences when it comes to time.
I’m from the East Coast, so I’m a lot more uptight about time than I would imagine those of you who are from the West coast. But that’s not even a cultural…that’s not a racial-cultural difference, that’s just…
Ligon: A regional.
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah.
Kevin: Some of them just woke up.
Bobby: I guess…
Stephen: Yeah, that’s right, right? You know the biases that Easterners have. North Easterners, you know, we assume that we work harder and we’re more punctual, and so we’re going to be uptight, we’re going to look at somebody. So if I’m officiating a wedding and there is…I’m officiating a biracial marriage. And so on one side represents a dominant racial culture, and the other one is let’s say a non-Western culture. So if the wedding starts at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, everyone on this side will be there at 2:40, 2:45.
But there’s no one here on this side. So right around 2:55, everyone is getting nervous. They’re saying what happened? Did this person abandon the wedding? And then they start coming at 3:10, 3:15, and they’re happy because it’s a wedding, and all the people over here are uptight and they look angry or very subdued like they’re at a funeral. Because what they’re saying is this is very rude of you to come here. It’s irresponsible for you to come here late. Whereas the people over here are saying, “Look, it’s a wedding relax.” People have different sensibilities when it comes to time.
Now, I mean, I like to be prompt wherever I go. However, what I’m saying is if you take a cultural preference such as time and you absolutize it, it becomes cultural prejudice. And what Lig was saying is so true? We do it this way, why can’t you do it this way? And then we start demonizing people who are from a different tribe.
Kevin: Yeah. Let’s segue into an important question. We’re talking about keeping a close watch on your doctrine. One of the doctrinal controversies, one of the doctrinal elephants in the evangelical room at the moment, is how we should think about social justice. And many of us have read discussions online. Some of us have been a part of those, all of us read the statement that came from Pastor John and from others. And all count him a friend and a mentor, and with a great appreciation. So we’re not speaking to that statement in particular, but grateful for the opportunity to speak to the issues because they matter.
So let me put the question to any of you who can jump in this way. I wanna ask you two fold. First, give me a definition of social justice that you don’t like. If social justice means X, I’m not for it. And then we’ll go on. But if social justice means Y, then I think Christians ought to be engaged in it. We’ll set aside whether you should use the category or has too much baggage, we’ll save that. But just start, give me if it means X, I don’t want any part of it.
Ligon: Well, to give an example the sort of the humanist approach to social justice would be something like this. Any social, economic, gender, or racial inequality or disparity is the result of injustice, okay? And that’s crazy. You know, and so I think some of the friends that were involved in the social justice statement are really afraid that that kind of thinking, which is pervasive in the university culture, the academic culture of our country, part of the political left, they’re afraid of that influence in evangelicalism. That’s a bad definition. And then…by the way, it’s a definition that establishes an impossible goal to ever achieve as well.
And therefore, it becomes one of those don’t waste a crisis kind of things. It can be used to hammer any nail into any, you know, piece of wood that you wanna…
Kevin: And no one really thinks that when it comes to it because no one then goes to the disparities in the number of men in prison versus women that that automatically equals. And just now what you what you haven’t said is that the disparities may be the result of injustice. You’re simply saying, “The equation there’s a disparity,” that means injustice is not a big category?
Ligon: And I think most reasonable people, believers or not, would look at it and say, “Well, some of those disparities probably are and others are not, and how you go about figuring that out it takes some hard work.
Kevin: So that’s one component. Other components…?
Stephen: If I could just add to that, there are a couple of thoughts. First is, if we talk about justice and there is no forgiveness, then there’s no point of reference with the justice that the Bible speaks about. Now, again, I’m not saying that we should not address injustices, absolutely so. But if there’s a form of a position on social justice that is devoid of any forgiveness, it doesn’t align with the justice that is emphasized in scripture.
Secondly, when you look at the book of Micah, right? So I wrote a little book on the book of Micah. It’s 80% judgment. And after a while you’re, like, is there any hope or, you know, is there any way that we kind of get…we see glimpses of it and then at the very end, right, the great part, “Who is a God like you,” right? Micah, that’s what the word means.
But what you find is there was exploitation, there was oppression, there was the manipulation of power, there was lack of concern for the poor, but all of that, in the book of Micah, is connected to idolatry. So to talk about social injustice as separated from idolatry is not a perspective that the Bible supports. As if that there’s some sort of a framework of social injustice that’s separate. So I wrote in the book I said, “We love the idea that God is a just God, we just don’t want it to be just towards us.” So that is, “Oh, bring judgment to that tribe over there.” But we don’t want that to fall on us. And that’s working with the assumption that we’re far more self-righteous than others on the other side.
Kevin: That’s good. That’s really good. Bobby, what goes into a bad definition?
Bobby: Yeah, I think when it turns into just class warfare that, and I get it that our brothers could be sensitive to that, but there’s a particular victimized class and they all morally superior, there’s an oppressive class and if you’re part of the class, you are the villain. And so you could have women now are the superior class and all men are evil, you know. Blacks are the victims. All white people are evil. So when it just turns into class warfare, then I think that’s just problematic, obviously, for believers.
Kevin: So just summarizing that the social justice Christians ought not to be forced to kind of just in a…just a totalizing way says every disparity is justice. You know, I like what you said, Stephen, you talk about injustice, and we never talk about the gospel of forgiveness for those who commit injustice. There’s no connection to the vertical dimension, the spiritual idolatries, all that sort of class warfare, or just making people the product of their class or position in some sort of hierarchy, you’re nothing but a white person, you’re nothing but an Asian, you’re nothing but…that sort of social justice. So we could go on, but for the sake of time, then transition, what would we mean by social justice in a way that we would want to commend it to Christians? What would go in that definition? Any of you?
Ligon: Loving your neighbor. So every gospel preacher wants men and women, and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as he’s offered in the Gospel. And people who are so converted, we want them to live as Christians. And the most quoted Old Testament command, in the New Testament, is love your neighbor.
And if you look at Leviticus 19, it’s very clear that that command entails responsibilities in the family, in the congregation, and in the community. Even with strangers to the community. And that means that any good pastor wants his people to live as Christians in relation to the people that they engage with in the society, treating them in the way that they would want to be treated, and that means treating them justly, treating them fairly.
Dick Halverson, who was the chaplain in the Senate pastored Fourth Pres in Bethesda, Maryland tells the story of a man who owned a lot of car dealerships in the DC area, who came to faith in Christ, started attending his church and came to him one day and said, “Dr. Halverson, I’m gonna start giving out tracks, gospel tracks to the people that come to my car dealerships.” Well, Dr. Halverson had heard that this man service departments were notoriously unfair. They ripped people off.
And Dr. Halverson as a pastor said, “You know what, brother, it might be better if your service departments didn’t rip people off. That might be the best Christian witness that you could give.” Or what was he asking him to do? He was asking him to be socially just. He was asking him to act with righteousness in the way that he related to the society. Every pastor wants that. We want our people to conduct themselves with righteousness, and with love, and with concern for the well-being of others in the way that we relate to them. Every pastor wants that. So that’s one way to define it.
Kevin: Yeah, any catechism on the 10 commandments, from the Presbyterian Reformed tradition is going to give significant social entanglements of how we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Stephen: Right. I think it’s important for us to distinguish between, so I can appreciate the sentiment of those people who are concerned about the mainline cultural narrative about social justice. I can absolutely empathize with that. And I wanna follow up on what Lig said, and sorry I’m just reading a definition that I have in my book here, okay? So let me just read it. “When we think of doing justice, we typically think of something like performing retribution. Most people equate justice with punishing wrongs. That’s certainly part of what justice entails, but it’s actually much broader than that. It is certainly giving the perpetrators their due, but doing justice is also giving those who cannot stand up for themselves, the victims, the poor, the vulnerable, the voiceless their due as well. It is more than only punishing wrong, it is creating a situation in a society where everything is right. A society where every last person in it, including the most vulnerable and the weakest, can flourish and thrive.” That’s what doing justice according to the Bible really means.
And so that’s essentially what it means is you need to love your neighbor, right? What does it mean to love your neighbor regardless of where that person has come from, whatever the background is that…and especially for those who have been marginalized, and who are vulnerable, and who don’t have a voice. And so when we think about justice, we can’t just talk about purely about retribution and punishing the perpetrator.
Ligon: That’s really good.
Kevin: Bobby, what would you add to this working good definition?
Bobby: Yeah, I would just add a couple of Bible verses, and we’ve already alluded to them without directly stating them. But in Leviticus 19, “You shall do no injustice and judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” My co-pastor always says that…I hear him saying from time to time that, “Lady Justice has a blindfold on for a reason.”
There’s, “God is not a respecter of persons,” and so justice looks equitable. The punishment is gonna match the crime. With that, Stephen I think just…as he was talking I was thinking about, you know, Deuteronomy 10. But it also is concerned about the reality in the broken, fallen world. You know, you’re gonna have people who will abuse their power. You will have therefore real victims.
When we talk about sex trafficking they’re real victims, and I got a call a couple of months ago that there was a lady who bumped into one of our church members. She wasn’t a Christian. Didn’t attend our church. She just reached out to our member and says, “Please, have your church members pray. My 15-year-old daughter, you know, has disappeared.” And I think coming home from school someone grabbed her, forced her into prostitution. Her older sister is driving a bus and sees her on a street corner, jumps off the bus to go and a pimp beats her up. They go to the police and a couple days later, her daughter’s rescued. She’s a real victim.
And so what Deuteronomy says in chapter 10, he executes justice for the orphan. I’m reading Deuteronomy 10:18, “He executes justice for the orphan and the widow and shows his love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” And so God had the laws of gleaning, that it’s right just to be mindful of your neighbor, and love your neighbor, your poor neighbor so that he can eat. And Jesus says in the New Testament there are weightier matters of the law and he talks about justice so that we can love our neighbors and do what’s right.
And I think in a historical context, I think the elephant in the room is like, Wow, if you have slavery for 250 years, and you have Jim Crow for another hundred years, there might be some aftermath to that where there are certain disparities that systematically worked its way into our culture. And as Christians, we would be…why would I not want to, if I can, to show…yeah to deal with that. So I think the fruit of our preaching if we’re gonna do good deeds, and I think we looked at that at the end of 2 Timothy 3, that we want to go out and do good. In part doing good is doing justice.
Kevin: And Stephen?
Stephen: Kevin and I really appreciate this one writer, Jonathan Haidt, who is a ethics Professor at Stern, a business school at NYU. I really think that his work is the late modern-day version of Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind and Bellah’s Habits of the Heart. He is brilliant. He’s a moral psychologist, world class.
Kevin: So his most well-known book is “The Righteous Mind.”
Stephen: “The Righteous Mind,” but a book just came out three weeks ago and it’s brilliant. It’s called, Coddling of the American Mind, and he talks about the over fragility that you find in the most selective and elite schools. And he’s not Christian, he’s probably a bipartisan a little left of center, a nominal Jew. But what he talks about is this. He says that when we think about people who are in the other tribe, we no longer have rights to be able to disagree in the public square.
Because once you start using language or start thinking about things, using critical thinking, and using provocative language and disagreeing with someone in the public square, you don’t have permission to do that because it’s a trigger warning. And they have medicalized our language and saying, “This is not a safe place,” the harm principle and the like. And so when we talk about the issue of justice, what we need to do is people say, “Do you have difficulty talking about judgment, and wrath, and hell in a city such as Boston? I said, “No, there hasn’t been a time it’s easier for me to be able to talk about these doctrines from the pulpit than now, in Boston.”
Because I can say, you know, all of you, it doesn’t matter where you come from, there are certain injustices that we can all agree on. Pederasty, we know evil, is wrong. Racism, oppression, rape. So it doesn’t matter what your political or ideological perspective is, we can all be in agreement about that. So when the Bible teaches about justice, and about hell, and about judgment, you have a natural point of reference. You say, “God hates injustice.” God is agreeing with you that these are evil things.
Now, what you need to do is you need to let them know that the biblical narrative about this is far more exhaustive, which now includes every single one of us, as Solzhenitsyn has said, right? Evil goes through every single human heart, so no one is gonna be spared. If you’re crying out for judgment, for the other person on the other side, the other tribe, well, guess what? You’re gonna get consumed too. And then you have to bring people to a point where they are longing for a just and holy God who is going to bring justice in the midst of injustice, but being able to spare us in the process. And then they’ll start hungering for the grace of God.
Kevin: Which is Paul’s movement from Romans 1 to Romans 2. I mean, precisely what he’s doing. Oh, you want God to be against those things? He is and he’s against you for a good reason. Let’s finish this way. Okay, we are down to our last seconds, so this will be very brief. But thinking for church leaders, there’s some pastors here and then there’s a lot of almost everyone probably involved in some kind of ministry.
Just think real quickly in 30 seconds. What are some habits you’ve developed to keep a close watch on your doctrine, and maybe one way to get at that are just some books? Could be a book like that. That’s not a Christian book or a classic. So habits/books that you found helpful to keep you doctrinally lined up. Lig?
Ligon: Well, I mean, obviously, just stay in God’s word, and have a plan for how you’re staying in God’s word. You know, my plan changes all the time. I was asked just a couple of days ago, “What are you in right now?” I’m in the Psalms. I’m working through the Psalms constantly. There have been times when I’ve been working systematically through the Bible, or sometimes it’s working through the ESV Bible study notes for 1 and 2 Chronicles. It changes all the time, but you’ve gotta, you know, you’ve gotta be in the word for yourself. It doesn’t matter how much other ministry you’re doing, you gotta be in the word for yourself.
It’s said if you don’t plan for it, you won’t be. So be in the word. And then I love to read historic Christian creeds and confessions because as much as I love to read Augustine, and Calvin, and, you know, some of the great heroes of the faith, they’re just one man, and the creeds and confessions are the confessions of whole bodies of believers. And they are rich for, you know, so our friend Pete Lillback and company produced a whole volume of reformation creeds and confessions regarding the doctrine of Scripture. And then there’s a wonderful four-volume set of reformed creeds and confessions from the 16th century that Denison did. And so I just love to read those kinds of things because they summarize basic Christian doctrine as believers have held them for the last 2000 years.
Stephen: It’s great. I’m a fellow Presbyterian, so love catechisms. But I would say and somebody, a friend of mine share this in our pre-conference. And it was a quote from CS Lewis in First Things. He says, “If we try to make the second thing, the first thing, then it fails to obviously be the first thing, but it also feels to be the second thing.” And so I think that when we don’t make the gospel, Apostle Paul says 1 Corinthians 15:3, it says, “I delivered to you that which is a first importance, which is the gospel, and we start making other things central even though they’re important justice, sex trafficking, piety, whatever these issues are all important concerns that a Christian should have.
But if the center is not the gospel, which shapes everything that we look at, all of the second things are secondary things. I think that’s when we’re going to lose our way. So we need to have our eyes on scripture, on sound doctrine as we’re seeing here in 2 Timothy, and to be able to say, “I’m gonna stand firmly on this foundation, which has a seal. This is the word of God, which reveals to us what Christ has accomplished in history, and what the promises are of God’s Word.” And we keep standing on that. And then we won’t swerve from the truth. And we’ll make that the first thing. The first thing is the first thing and let everything else flow out from that, to be the second, and the third, and the fourth.
Kevin: Great. So keeping our doctrinal commitments in some sort of proportion. I always said one of the things I loved about my church is I felt, like, the sermons that were most central, most foundational and fundamental, were the sermons that the people love the most. I took that to be a sign of a good church.
You don’t want a church that says, and that was sin and salvation again, that was those cross and then we can all do in a clumsy way. But people that say, “When are you gonna get back to the millennium? When are you gonna talk about homeschooling? When are you gonna talk about the issues that are out there?” Well, there is a time to talk about all those things as they connect, but you want people to say, “Yes, I want to hear about the Trinity and the gospel and Christ.” Bobby, give us the last word.
Bobby: Yeah, I would say, in addition to what has been said, reading biblical theologies, Paul House has a really friendly Old Testament survey. It’s out of print. I think the name of it is, “Old Testament Survey.” So we can keep learning how to think and biblical categories. I just think in this information days that we are in right now, we’re just bombarded with talking points from the conservative left and right, Fox News, CNN, and I think that’s dominating our minds more than we think, so when we enter conversations, more than coming out with a biblical worldview perspective, we’re coming out with a tribal worldviews and it’s causing us to clash.
And the last thing I would say is in Deuteronomy 8, it’s just that we really don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. That we really have to have a spiritual hunger. Keep fighting to keep ourselves in front of the Word of God, and reading, and reading, and reading, and learning, and learning, and not be passive learners coming, you know, coming to conferences, and church. And hearing is a little different than learning. You have to really learn it. And so taking that personal responsibility really to chew and digest and swallow and eat the Word of God.
Kevin: Amen. Amen. Thank you, brothers. Let me pray for us. Father, we pray that our time together has not been in vain, and we pray again for the word going forth with power from Alistair and from Ligon tomorrow. Thank you for Bobby’s word to us tonight from your word. We pray, as we have been thinking about these last two nights, that we would keep a close watch on our life and our doctrine.
Many people depend upon us, and if we take a few steps in the wrong direction, and travel just a few degrees off of center for a long time, we can lead many people astray. And so, Lord, please help us. Keep us faithful. Always coming back to your Word. And may we keep as of first importance, as Stephen so ably reminded us, that Jesus died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and was raised again on the third day. What good news you give us to proclaim to the nations. We thank you. In Jesus, we pray. Amen. See you tomorrow morning at 9:00.