A Passion to Right the World, Part 3
As I mentioned last week, one of the books I read while away on my sabbatical was an older publication of Carl Henry’s, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Someone who listened to the sermon last Sunday was kind enough to mention that they had difficulty following what Henry was saying in the quote. Specifically, I think they meant his observation-
“The apostolic Gospel stands divorced from a passion to right the world. The Christian social imperative is today in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms.”
I understand Henry in this quote to be lamenting the abandonment of social effort and engagement by Evangelicals in his era. He was concerned that if Evangelicals remained disinterested in the well- being of larger society, then those who did not understand the Christian message would continue to fill the vacuum. I hope that makes sense and seems as relevant to you as it did to me when I read it.
In discussing God’s justice and the importance of Christian involvement in society, I want to make a brief comment on the phrase “social justice” that has become controversial recently. One video brought to my attention by a friend featured a gifted and well-known Evangelical pastor who offered a definition of “social justice” which sounded politically socialistic but which he insisted was the only proper way it could be defined. The pastor references an article by Kevin DeYoung with which I’m familiar and uses DeYoung to support his argument. Read DeYoung for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I’ve included a link to it below. DeYoung seems willing to acknowledge the legitimacy and use of the phrase “social justice” by evangelicals with some qualifications.
I was recently paging through the New International Version of the Bible (1974) which many of us use, and it employs the phrase “social justice” to explain the theme of Amos in its introduction. I can think of a number of places where I have seen the phrase similarly used to describe the emphasis of other Old Testament prophets. John Stott in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount uses the phrase “social righteousness” which amounts to the same thing. I don’t doubt that people could mean different things by their use of the phrase but I do not think the church should shun the phrase simply because someone else uses the term to describe their vision of a textbook socialistic society. I think the phrase “social justice” remains an accurate way to describe the prophetic emphasis of the Old Testament which called upon the people of God to verify their covenantal relationship to Him by their concern for the well-being of the less fortunate and under privileged in their society. Along with DeYoung’s article,I have a link to another article on the same topic by Joe Carter who is on the pastoral staff of McLean Bible Church in Arlington, Virginia.
In closing out the focus of the last few blogs on the topic of justice, I would like to comment on Black Lives Matter and will repeat as I’ve said to some of you that BLM originated because the church did not continue its work in civil rights. And because the church retreated from civil rights after the 60s, BLM is probably best understood as an example of the very thing Henry feared: “the Christian social imperative … in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms.” BLM is a loosely organized patchwork of groups, decentralized, and each with different leadership and distinctives. I do believe that a Christian, called, as he or she is, to be salt and light in the world, can participate in BLM if they believe this is where their Lord is calling them to serve Him in seeking after His justice for Black Americans. I could change my mind about this were I confronted with BLM organizational goals contrary to the teaching of Scripture so maybe someone reading this has something they would like for me to consider. The third link below is for an article on BLM by Pastor Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you are interested in these matters and have not read Pastor Edmondson’s article that we posted last year, you should consider his perspective. The fourth and final link is a response to Edmondson’s article by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary and one of our nation’s important evangelical voices. I hope all this is helpful in evaluating the different opinions you have heard (including mine!) on these important topics.