NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 4th day of October, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
First up on The World and Everything in It: the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.
Since the beginning of church history, eccumenical statements of faith, creeds and confessions have helped clarify Scripture and Christian theology. You probably recognize some of the earliest statements like the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ creed. More recent statements of faith include the Danvers Statement from 1979, and last year’s Nashville Statement on human sexuality.
EICHER: Last month, a group of 13 Christian men—most of them pastors—issued what they called the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. So far more than 9,000 have signed on to it.
Supporters say the statement helps to clarify key Christian doctrines and ethical principles in light of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories making inroads in the church.
REICHARD: But others say it wrongly distances the Christian faith from the quest for justice and the equal treatment of all people.
We wanted to bring some context to this conversation, so WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg interviewed Christians on both sides of this debate. She brings us this report.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Josh Buice is the pastor of Prays Mill Baptist Church near Atlanta. He organized the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. Buice says it came out of years-long concern that the secular social justice movement is influencing the evangelical church.
Buice says it reached a tipping point last April. That’s when evangelical leaders gathered in Memphis for a conference on racial reconciliation. They called it MLK50. Buice says moments of the conference concerned him.
BUICE: I mean it just seemed like there was a lot of, I don’t know, anger you might say, and it didn’t seem to be very profitable if you’re looking to gain unity over these matters in the gospel. So I just picked up the phone, and I called a few friends.
That call led to a meeting at a Dallas coffee shop on June 19th. Buice and a dozen pastors—including John MacArthur—met to discuss their concerns.
BUICE: We decided that we would write a theological statement, we would publish it on a website, and we would ask people if they would be willing to sign it and stand with us.
The final statement came out six weeks later. It’s composed of 14 articles. Each one affirms a Christian doctrine and then denies “an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
The statement never actually defines social justice, but the authors focus on three broad categories. Buice says the authors see Christians adopting a cultural Marxist approach to the areas of race, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.
BUICE: It’s almost as if people are taking political strategies and taking them to the culture rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
Darrell Harrison was one of the original 13 men who helped craft the statement. He’s an African-American lay minister who says the problem with social justice is that it holds white people today culpable for the sins of the past.
He says it’s also caused the church to focus on aesthetics rather than spiritual flourishing.
HARRISON: Well, how many minority women do we have? How many minority males that we have? Oh, do we have any Hispanics? What do I do when I’m counting faces? I’m counting skin color.
While those points have resonated in some evangelical circles, the statement has drawn a wide range of criticism. Critics point to the statement’s fast development, the absence of dialogue with those who might disagree, and the way it lumps together race and LGBT issues under the “social justice” label.
Critics also point to the number of major Christian leaders who did not sign the statement. Names like John Piper, Tony Evans, J.D. Greear, Charlie Dates, Beth Moore, Russell Moore, Albert Mohler, and Tim Keller are all missing—even though most signed the Nashville statement last year.
In a short video clip posted online, Keller explained his position.
KELLER: Just about anyone could take about 80 percent of it and go yep, yep, yep, but in the end what concerns me the most about it is not so much what it’s saying, but what it’s trying to do. It’s trying to marginalize people who are talking about race and justice. It’s trying to say you’re really not biblical, and it’s not fair in that sense.
Al Mohler addressed the statement on his podcast. He agrees that Christians need to reject the culture’s understanding of social justice, but believes the authors erred on racism.
MOHLER: The statement itself makes it very difficult to acknowledge the reality of the sin of race in American society and even in American Christianity. That’s not a theory, that’s a reality.
Jonathan Tremain is a black pastor and the founder of Civil Righteousness, a group working for racial reconciliation in Ferguson, Missouri. Tremain moved there after the Michael Brown killing in 2014.
Tremain also agrees that some Christians are mistakenly more concerned about “causes” than the gospel. But he says the church can’t simply dismiss these social justice movements.
TREMAIN: What I think we have to do is be able to examine them and separate the wheat from the tare, and say, okay, if my issue for example is with Black Lives Matter, what is true of what’s being said? What could God be speaking through this movement?
Tremain says that it’s impossible to separate the gospel from justice because Jesus taught they go a hand-in-hand. He says Christians need to be willing to do the messy work of being involved in these cultural conversations—because without Jesus, they’ll never go anywhere.
TREMAIN: We have to respond in humility and let him examine us, let him challenge us, let him transform us and come out in a healthier place than perhaps we’ve ever been.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.