A recent statement on social justice & the gospel has resulted in another online brouhaha.
One piece of criticism can be found in this article in the Washington Post. The writer, Michael Gerson, compares a statement that came out from MacArthur and a number of evangelicals to decisions made at the Council of Nicaea. He states strongly: “Since the Council of Nicaea, Christians have been prone to issue joint statements designed to draw the boundaries of orthodoxy — and cast their rivals beyond them.” He states later: “MacArthur clearly wants to paint the participants — including prominent pastors Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile and John Piper — as liberals at risk of heresy.”
Of course, while it arose out of MacArthur’s circles, a number of prominent evangelical leaders have signed onto it, including: Voddie Baucham, Douglas Wilson, Joseph Pipa, Tony Costa, etc. There is no objective indication that this is painting certain men of heresy, in fact, men like Douglas Wilson and John Piper have long been friends.
The individual statements are up for debate and I appreciate Alastair Roberts for taking some substantial time to pick through the affirmations and denials, looking for better ways to say things. You can find his YouTube video here. Kevin DeYoung entered the ring with a few challenges on the definition of social justice and the lack of clarity in defining important terms. I have had a couple discussions about the need to show more sensitivity in these matters than simply issuing a series of challenges to complex cultural issues. I think there is something to say for all of these approaches. Of course, there is much to say about the journalism, or lack therof, in the Washington Post.
I found Alastair Roberts challenge on the topic of tribalism of particular interest. In North America, we tend to gather in tribes, around certain theologians, and in the end, we can easily be cast about on the winds of doctrine. In particular it is interesting that the lines are falling largely (but not completely) on the sides of those inside and outside the Gospel Coalition.
So how do we deal with tribalism? Well, by taking an article like the one by Michael Gerson and committing it to the flames.
Let’s begin by taking the writers of the Statement at their word, at face value. In the conclusion they say: “The statement makes no claim of any ecclesiastical authority. It is issued for the purpose of calling attention to and clarifying concerns. We have spoken on these issues with no disrespect or loss of love for our brothers and sisters who disagree with what we have written. Rather, our hope is that this statement might actually provoke the kind of brotherly dialogue that can promote unity in the gospel of our Lord Jesus whom we all love and trust.” Well, as we can see, the aim of this statement was to voice their concerns, and to encourage brotherly dialogue. So in the spirit of “social justice” we should hear their concerns and engage in brotherly dialogue.
One concern that immediately jumps out at me is the concern over the rise of “cultural Marxism.” Well, in the spirit of Kevin DeYoung’s exhortation, I will define my terms. The way I understand this, is that within North American culture, Marxist philosophy is at play. Marxist philosophy tends to focus on the oppressor and the oppressed, the rich and the poor, and it tends to make this into an identity. Marxist history has made some interesting points about history in its observations of class struggle. But Marxist philosophy takes certain observations, and imposes those observations on all men and women. A cultural Marxist tends to see oppression everywhere, and assumes that those who are shouting the loudest are in the right. Ultimately it is a matter of weaponizing our victims as Derek Rishmawy aptly put it long before this particular debate. For a more academic analysis of “cultural Marxism” you can read up on it here from the Mises Institute.
Of course, this is by no means a defense of any racist mentality. And I agree with Alastair Roberts that a more serious reprimand of actual racism, as well as other social injustices, in North America could be included with greater clarity in such a statement.
Although I know there have been one or two inflammatory statements by the signers thereof, I would encourage those observing to stand back, rather than join in on the tribalism. This is not the Council of Nicaea. The drafters and signers make some good points. The push-back is making some good points. I am actually thankful that this statement entered into the discussion, because until recently about 6 or 7 men from the Gospel Coalition held the evangelical monopoly on this discussion, and now some more arguments have entered the ring.
I don’t see how there is any comparison between this and the Council of Nicaea. At this point in time, I find myself able to read with appreciation Mac Arthur and the other signers, as I find myself able to read with appreciation the leaders of the Gospel Coalition. Of course, I am a student in the United Reformed Churches which puts me at an arms length between the two major sides of this debate, but I still don’t feel like I have to pick a side. This is an important debate for our times, and I hope to see a lot more conversation in the coming years, without the label of heresy floating around, either from the signers or from those who believe that they have been labeled heretics. And again. This isn’t the Council of Nicaea.