Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

Why Social ‘Justice’ Isn’t Enough; or In Reluctant Pseudodefense of Glenn Beck

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

I watched Glenn Beck’s foolish statement about “social justice” and the ensuing outcry with mixed reaction.   I agree with what motivates the outcry, mostly.  And I agree that Beck said something foolish. On the other hand, he didn’t say the foolish thing that most people seem to think he did.  (Some people came back with “He doesn’t understand the gospel,” “He doesn’t think we need to care for the poor,” etc.)

That puts me in the reluctant position of sort-of defending someone whose wild, dramatic antics & outrageous rhetoric generally bug me.

Three basic points:

  1. The Christian call. If your Christianity doesn’t move you to action–caring for people and working to fix injustices around you, then you’re not following Christ well.
  2. The term “Social Justice”. It’s strange to use “social justice” as the overarching term for social action. Sometimes, we mean ”compassion” or “love”–not “justice”.  If you only seek justice, you’re not all that you should.
  3. What Beck said. That strangeness of terminology was partly behind Beck’s statement.  He still said a couple foolish things, but he didn’t say anything like “Social action isn’t for Christians.”

The Christian call

Of course the Bible calls us to act, both Old and New Testament.

The prophets called us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Jesus fleshed out the Golden Rule in multiple ways–the Good Samaritan, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me“, etc.  James pointed out the hypocrisy & vileness of religion that doesn’t care for the poor.  In Proverbs, the king is told:

Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The term “Social Justice”

On the other hand, it’s strange to call it “justice” when you feed & clothe someone in need.

“Compassion” and “love” and “mercy”, yes.  But “justice” seems to assume that I’m acting to correct a wrong done against them.  When the Old Testament prophets cried out against injustice for the poor, in all the passages I’ve seen, the poor were being cheated.  (The prophets weren’t, as this pastor reads Amos, talking about our responsibility to care for the poor–not when they called for justice.)

Yes, sometimes, people are in need because they were abused & cheated of their rights.  Then it’s a justice issue.  But that’s hardly the case all the time.  And if we see a starving man or freezing homeless person who got there by their own choices, we should hardly turn them away with, “Sorry, you’re just getting what you deserve–and my mission is justice.  I’m going to go help that other guy who was cheated.”

Justice prevents people from being cheated, and it rights wrongs.  Compassion gives wherever there’s need.

And maybe you think I’m wrong. Maybe you want to argue that compassion for the needy is always a matter of justice, in biblical terms. (Like Scott McKnight did here–not persuasively, in my opinion.)  Just realize that we’re not disagreeing about the call to love & serve–but about how to describe it.

What Beck said.

I want to defend Beck this far:  He did not say to leave a church that teaches people to care for the poor and to work for justice in society.  On the contrary, he said the gospel does require us to care for people.  As I read it, Beck mostly said:

  1. The terms “social justice” and “economic justice” always mean socialist governmental policy, versus personal action.
  2. You should leave a church that advocates governmental redistribution of wealth.

I have some agreement and some objections on both ideas.

What about the past association of the phrase? In my past experience, most people who used the phrase were also advocating left-wing economic policy:  Government-based distribution of aid.  Conservatives who cared about the issue didn’t use the phrase, and pursued different solutions:  More focus on private & grass-roots charity & relief efforts.

So the term did tend to imply government-enforced redistribution of wealth.  A more “socialist” solution.

But I’ve seen it change.  The phrase is used more broadly these days.  You can’t make the automatic association.  (On the other hand, I’m not sure about the term “economic justice”. It’s not used as much.)

What about leaving a church?

It’s foolish to suggest leaving a church because they use a phrase.  What about leaving it because of political advocacy?

I don’t have a cohesive conclusion on this, but here are a few thoughts:

  • A church should be teaching biblical principles, including our responsibility to pursue justice & compassion.
  • That calls for personal action.  Sometimes it implies political action.
  • But advocating particular government policies?  That gets more dicey.  More questionable.
  • You shouldn’t assume “We need to care for people” implies that it’s good to do it through taxes.  Maybe it is, but maybe not.  Someone can oppose government programs without being a selfish nasty rich person who doesn’t want to help people.
  • Politics shouldn’t be the driving focus for a church, whether it’s left-wing or right-wing politics. (Members of the church might be focused on it, but politics isn’t what a church gathers for.)
  • There needs to be room for political disagreement in a church. As a friend of mine put it, “Christians should still respect one another and worship God together if they have a differing opinion on, say, universal health care.”

Wrap-up

Christ does call us to act.  Social action isn’t limited to “justice”, but also “compassion”.  I wish people wouldn’t say “social justice” when that means “care for those in need”.  Beck went too far and said something foolish, but he didn’t say everything that people are criticizing him for.

Study guide — Deep Church, Deep Truth

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

We’re writing a study/discussion guide at my church, for Jim Belcher’s book Deep Church–an examination of the “emerging church” controversy.  I was writing my contribution, and since my blog has been lying fallow for a couple weeks, I thought I’d post it.

The author is trying to present both sides fairly on each area of the controversy, and lay out a balanced, faithful approach to each issue.  Someone summarized the book as:

  1. There are problems in the English-speaking church.
  2. There are fair criticisms of the church.
  3. There are faithful solutions to those questions.

If you’re interested in some reviews, check out: (1) A thorough summary & review by Kevin DeYoung (notice the comments left by Jim Belcher).  (2) A review from a hard-nosed conservative, Frank Turk, explaining what’s so good about this book, even though it’s too nice sometimes.  (This one includes an mp3 of a interview featuring both Turk and Belcher on a radio show.)  (3) A negative review from 9Marks.  (4) A response from Belcher, and a response from Frank.

I was assigned to make the summary & discussion questions for the chapter on epistemology–”Deep Truth”.  Here goes!

By the way, if you have any suggestions for more discussion questions, I’d love to hear ‘em.

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Says What Now? “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Here we go with the first entry in the Says What Now? series!  I’m starting with a verse whose misuse is obvious, and whose real meaning is meaty–challenging, encouraging, and spurring us to live passionately.

The Verse

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The Common Interpretation

People read this in the context of evangelism & the gospel.  Jesus is standing at the door with the gospel invitation–just open the door, and he’ll come into your heart.

The Context

14 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

The Meaning

Jesus isn’t talking to people outside the church–this is one of the messages to seven churches in Asia!  (There’s a question about what exactly “the angel of the church” means in these seven messages, which I’m going to ignore.)  So looking at the context immediately tells you that verse 20 isn’t about general evangelism.  What does it mean?

The first thing that strikes me is this: Christ is inviting people inside the church to let him “come in and eat with” us.  Is this some kind of higher level of intimacy or blessing?  If so, that should thrill us, and make each of us consider carefully.  How is he inviting us? How do we partake?  What’s actually going on?  Are we already there?  If so, who isn’t? (And how do we help our brothers & sisters enter into it?)

Laodicea the Lukewarm Church

Specifically, Jesus is speaking to the lukewarm–churchgoers who do not pursue God with passion & zeal.  Perhaps it’s people who “prayed a prayer” or “joined the group”–but they’re personally apathetic.  Jesus calls them to repent–not from active rebellion & hostility to God, but from lives of comfortable presumption that it doesn’t matter how they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a standard passage in evangelicalism; we love it for the simple statement that we do not earn salvation–we’re saved by God’s grace, through faith, not as a result of our works.  I imagine the Lukewarm are those who bank on those verses, but who want to ignore verse 10–that we are created in Christ for good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to do.  We’re not saved by our works, but we’re saved for them.  The grace of God is not intended to give tickets to heaven to the lazy & comfortable–Christ “gave himself for us … to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

Christ died to save us, and to change us, to live lives of reckless abandon for him.  This is what he is calling us toward–opening our eyes to see true riches.  (Not that we do this by our own strength–it’s part of God’s grace in our lives, Phil 2:12-18.)

The Carrot and the Stick

And this is not simply a pleading invitation–there is carrot and there is stick.  There’s reproof here–discipline coming from his love for us, but discipline nonetheless.  Namely: Because they are lukewarm, uncaring, Christ is ready to “spit you out of my mouth”.

It would be inconsistent with the Gospel to say that this means, “Meet a certain standard to earn your continued salvation, or you’ll be kicked out.”  But it is easy to see the connection with the common theme in Scripture of “fruit”.

  • That “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
  • That real faith shows itself in works. (James 2:14-26)
  • That who we are & our relationship to God is revealed by our fruit (Matt 12:33, Luke 6:43-44, 8:9-15, John 15:2, Gal. 5:21-24, 1 John 3:9-10), and every tree that bears no fruit is cut down, because it reveals they do not know Christ (Matt 7:15-23).

So, it is possible that the Lukewarm in Laodicea did not yet truly know Christ.  It’s possible that they know Christ, and this is what God used to transform them.  (Or, if those who think you can lose salvation are right, these could be true Christians in danger of falling from grace.  But I take Rom 8:26-30 to mean that God bends every event in the lives of his children to prevent that from happening.)  I assume that the church would include a mix.

In any case, we’re being called toward what we were created for–the life of joy & passion & love we’re meant to live.

P.S. “Crazy Love”

I haven’t read it myself, but my parents tell me their church is studying Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.  It discusses these issues from Revelation 3, describing both the Lukewarm Church, and a life of “crazy love”.

My Call to STR on “Gospel of the Kingdom”

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

I called in to the show Stand to Reason recently, to ask a question about the meaning of “the gospel of the kingdom” in Matthew 4:23, 9:35, and 24:14.  It was prompted by some comments made by a guest speaker at the Monday-night class at my church.  He said that the gospel is more than justification & sin management, and pointed to the phrase “the gospel of the kingdom”.  As he expanded on that, I agreed with what he was meant, but I was hesitant about the phrasing.  I was hesitant about actually saying, “The gospel is about more than justification.”  I know there’s something right about that, but something seemed wrong, too.  I had to think it through… What can we say is the focus of the gospel?

Note:  I was sensitized to this question by Mark Dever’s message the Together for the Gospel 2008 conference, “Improving the Gospel: Exercises in Unbiblical Theology“.  It’s a great mp3.

I really appreciated Greg Koukl’s response to my question.  He did a great job of giving a balanced answer.  If you’re interested, you can listen to the mp3.  (Go to ~25:00.  It lasts about 20 minutes.)

Listen to the call.

I’ll just add one comment:  I am amazed at how often I said “uh” or “um” during that call.  My parents have told me that I do this, after some of my phone conversations with them.  Now I’ve heard a recording.  Yikes!  I’ll have to keep working on that.

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Pt 1:  Slogans & the Gospel

Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Paul said in Romans 2, “you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.“  He’s talking about hypocrisy–doing what you criticize in other people.

Recently I’ve become increasingly aware of how often and how easily we fall into that.  With the best of intentions, we can wind up being hypocritical in practically everything.  It just slips in under our radar.

Examples

1.) Charity Police

In a post from October, I said:

If you read many blogs on the internet, you will find people who speak very uncharitably–they’re constantly unnecessarily harsh in tone and unreasonable in how they interpret others.  You will also find people who are obsessed with accusing others of being uncharitable.  You can call them charity police.  And those guys can be some of the least charitable people around–accusing others of uncharity at the drop of a hat or the slightest hint of language that isn’t excessively polite.  Majorly unreasonable & oversensitive.

We should be gracious with each other in addressing their mistakes–including mistakes of style.  And we shouldn’t be too quick to assume the worst.

Charity police can be the least charitable people on the internet.

2.) Liberals & stereotyping.

(Note: Everyone does this kind of thing, but there’s an extra element of hypocrisy when self-professed liberal people do it.)

As a general simplification:  The Liberal Ideal includes being open-minded & tolerant.

So it’s particularly unfortunate when a self-described liberal broadbrushes conservatives–as narrow-minded, as selfish, as hateful, or as smug, Pharisaical, self-righteous  judgmental jerks.  When a liberal thinks in stereotypes, seeing us through the filter of their preconceived ideas about us–without engaging & exploring & knowing us.

It’s frustrating being pigeonholed by someone who tells you how open-minded they are.

(I think the Prop 8 Musical is a good example of this.  More about that in…Uh, I think it’ll be Pt 5.  And I think my next entry will discuss what our response should be to this kind of stereotyping.)

Underlying Problems & Solutions

In a general sense, this happens because we’re messed-up, sinful people.  Even in our attempts to be good or identify good, we get twisted around.  And the solution will involve prayer, and humility, and being graceful toward each other when we screw up like this.  But I want to try to be a little more specific.

Problem #1: A comfortable lack of introspection

We start to rest on our laurels.  To be comfortable.  We form an image of ourselves, and live in the image, unaware of whether we’re living up to it.  We stop examining ourselves for consistency.  We begin to live without integrity.

If you haven’t yet, listen to the mp3 of Carson talking about integrity–our struggle when we see that who we are on in the inside isn’t the same as who we try to be on the outside.  Here’s the mp3.  Go to 1:05:20, and listen for about 4.5 minutes.

So, accept that you’re going to be a hypocrite sometimes.  Commit to finding out where it’s happening.  Commit to the struggle.  Keep examining yourself against the principles you claim to follow.  Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and commit to the humility of Christ.

Problem #2:  Keeping score vs. the Gospel

The more we compete & try to keep score—winning arguments, or proving our worth—the more likely we are to form lying images in our minds.  The more we think that our salvation depends on keeping the rules & being “good people”, the more likely we are to cling to a positive image of ourselves.  And the less likely we are to probe our own life & heart, to find the inconsistencies.

If we live in a place of freedom—knowing that our hope is based on what Christ did—then it becomes easier to admit the problems, to look for more failures, and ask for grace from God to help us change.

And our lives proceed from our hearts.  So when we pray for change, we have to pray for a change of heart.  It means looking more to the life of Jesus, and falling in love with what we see.  The change grows from the longing that God gives us to see his goodness, and taste it in our own lives.  The change grows from the belief that it will be worth it to change, even when it’s hard & involves sacrifice.  “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

And the change will come from God’s strength & goodness, not ours.  “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)  I started this series from Romans 1-2; when we get to Romans 7, we find Paul talking about this kind of struggle with inconsistency.  And in Romans 8, we find the words of blessed assurance that if we are in Christ, we will be made more like him–that he will be the firstborn of many brothers.  He searches our hearts, and knows what is there, which should be scary–but he is bending all of history, everything in our lives, to change us.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  (Rom. 8:26-30)

————-
Update:
Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

In the previous entry, I talked about how the Gospel should be at the center of anything we say about homosexuality–and this includes stressing the point that we are all sinners, and no one has the right to feel self-righteous. It’s interesting that Paul makes precisely that point when he talked about it.

Romans 1

Paul talks about homosexuality in Rom. 1:26-27, and then lists other sins in Rom. 1:28-32–like gossip and disobedience to parents.  So, I started pointing that out, when I wanted to show that–biblically–homosexuality is a sin among other sins. To show that everyone–including me–stands condemned in the same way. No one can be self-righteous.

It’s odd. For some reason, I didn’t notice that Paul seems to be making exactly that point. Then recently, it clicked.  When he lists “big” sins with “small” sins, he almost seems to bait a trap for the smugly self-righteous–letting the readers feel comfortable for a moment, before cutting them low.  (Though… See the P.S. at the end of the entry.)

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Law vs. Gospel

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

There’s an interesting discussion at the Internet Monk’s blog, based on a recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn. (Links further below.) It’s very meaty and edifying, and is related to some of what I said in my last entry. (OK, so practically everything in theology is connected. But the connection here seemed particularly strong.)

Note: The following intro is sprinkled with links to Scripture references. They’ll pop up in a new window, and I tried to keep them concise (just a couple or a few verses each), so I hope you’ll take the time to open them up as you read–and get the richness of God’s word from the source, rather than just from this faulty conduit.

In the last entry, I mentioned how the Spirit works in God’s children, teaching us that we are sinners, showing us our need, and pointing us to Christ and to what he did for us. When Paul taught about the way that God convicts us of our sin, he emphasized the role that the written Law plays. All of us (even we Gentiles) do have God’s Law written on our hearts, so that we have an instinctive understanding of morality–against which we sin. But Paul says that a function of the written Law is to increase our sin–when we see the written Law, it confronts us with our sin. And not only that, but our rebellious nature is such that when we hear a command, “Don’t do this,” we may be more likely to commit that very sin!

The Law points us to our need, and to our utter inability to satisfy its righteous requirements that are based in the very nature and character of God. So when Christ comes, we fall at his feet, and know that we can only be justified by faith. Apart from our working.

That’s part of the reason that Christians struggle with the awareness of our own sin. The Law teaches us sin more clearly. Sin abounds, so that grace may abound to those who believe. And those who believe are exhorted to present ourselves as slaves to righteousness. But…As his children whom he disciplines, with the Spirit in us moving us to delight in God and his law, we struggle with our sin even more. Realizing the need to assure us in our struggle, Paul wrote Romans 8. In this life, in this unredeemed flesh, the struggle makes us look ahead in hope to the promised renewal of our bodies and all creation. God is our adopted Poppa, he has given us the Spirit to guarantee our inheritance, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, God uses everything that happens to our good, and nothing will separate us from his love. (And notice: In our struggles–both against persecution & suffering and against our own weakness–God promises that he will bring us through. God is moving heaven and earth so that those whom he calls and justifies, he will also sanctify and glorify. And nothing can stop his determined effort! Our security and our perseverance stands in the strength of the Creator God.)

OK, so, that was the introduction. :)

On to the links, with a (much briefer) description of the broadcast and discussion. (more…)