By Malcolm Foley and Justin Hawkins
(originally published on Justin’s blog)

We dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without them…Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces.
– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.16.1

A History of Errors

Jesus began his ministry by standing up in a synagogue one Saturday morning, and saying that he came to bring justice to bear on the earth, and particularly so on behalf of the poor, oppressed, weak, and vulnerable:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

John MacArthur and the other signers of the recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, insist that none of these stated ambitions of Jesus ought to be understood literally as having anything to do with social justice. They say instead that the social justice concerns that Jesus articulates here are not the Gospel, but are the Law, and that any attempt to weave social justice concerns into the heart of the Gospel diminishes and undermines the Christian gospel.

We, a theological ethicist in training and church historian in training, as evangelicals who are both committed to historic Christian orthodoxy and also convinced of the legitimacy of the concerns of much of the social justice movement, disagree. We believe that in so doing, we, and not the authors of the Statement on Social Justice, are the heirs of the best parts of the evangelical tradition in America.

At the end of the Statement, the authors say:

“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.” It is in this spirit of brotherly dialogue that we write this response.

The confusions about the intent and meaning of the social justice movement in the Statement reflect longstanding debates in American religious history. In the history of lynching in America, one of the more common arguments in its wake was this: when black men stop assaulting white women, lynching will stop. That is to say, the personal responsibility of blacks—and not any structures of systemic racism—is fundamentally to blame for the fact that Southern whites could arise on Sunday, attend church in the morning, and summarily execute a black man by hanging him from a tree in the afternoon. Racism, they said, had little to do with it.

Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights advocate, got most upset when she heard this argument coming from a Methodist minister because she wondered how someone purporting to be a Christian leader could say such a thing. She wrote in her autobiography: “American Christians are too busy saving the souls of White Christians from burning in hell-fire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by White Christians.”

Her outrage was founded in two fundamental realities: first, that this minister clearly did not know the facts on the ground and second, that the comment placed the blame for the barbarity of the crowd on the back of the accused, under the guise of attributing personal agency and responsibility to the lynched man. The reality was that many of those Black people were deemed criminal by the Jim Crow legal system, and had themselves done nothing wrong.

Under this regime, bumping a white person on the street made you a criminal. Not doffing your hat to a white man made you a criminal. It was factually untrue that most people were lynched for rape. In fact, fewer than 40% of the victims were even accused of rape. But it was a much better narrative that hit people in the gut and justified brutality. By thus suggesting that the weight of lynching rested on the backs of Black people alone, this pastor obscured the fact that lynching was much more often the brutal enforcement of Jim Crow rather than “vigilante justice.” Such a response rang hollow at best and vicious at worst.

We do not even wish to hint at the idea that the authors of this Statement might support lynching. But we see these same analytical and theological mistakes that prolonged that injustice continuing in modern conversation about race and justice among evangelical Christians in America. The errors of the past ought to induce us to be exceedingly careful in the ways that we discuss matters of social justice in the present and future, and we do not see that care being manifest in the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

That statement instead assumes that “social justice” is some kind of abstraction, ignoring the fact that the idea is rooted in seeking concrete ways to love our neighbors (the abstraction can be seen in the fact that while it vilifies the Social Justice movement, the statement never mentions a single author or practice against which they are arguing). A response like the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel comes across to many as hollow at best and vicious at worst. Both of us grew up in American Evangelicalism and we still desire to hold to historic evangelicalism. Indeed, it is precisely because of our fidelity to historic evangelicalism that we are responding to this statement.

The difficulty with online statements and summaries of any kind is that they obscure the reasoning that leads to such statements. We see this in Christian history, where creeds and confessions are abstracted from their context and so their worth and content are misinterpreted as a result.

Nevertheless, we think this document worth responding to for two reasons. First, because it is put forward by figures with a high profile in evangelicalism, who have behind them lifetimes of faithful ministry work, but whose signature attached to a document like this will dismay many who desire faithfulness to that same gospel that they have learned from MacArthur and others. Second, because we think this statement is grievously erroneous.

We think that the statement is theologically deficient in two important ways: First, it misunderstands the relationship between Law and Gospel, and second, it proceeds from an incorrect doctrine of sin. Both of these are, in the confusing but common phrase, “gospel issues,” because the first articulates how we are to embody the fruits by which our faith is known (Matt. 7:20), and the latter articulates what it is of which we must repent in order to be saved.

Theological Error #1: The Relation of Law and Gospel

What those who interact with the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel must realize is that the concerns articulated in much of the Social Justice movement do not need liberal theology to undergird them; almost all of those concerns can be articulated as flowing naturally out of the historic Christian orthodoxy which is articulated in American Evangelicalism.

The first theological error of the statement is too strong a division between Law and Gospel. One of the articles in the Resources section of the website is an article entitled A Gospel Issue?, and it recounts Phil Johnson’s conversation with a well-intentioned parishioner who insisted that social justice was a gospel issue. The pastor responds:

“Gospel and law aren’t the same thing. The law is a prelude to the gospel, not really part of the gospel. The law tells us what God requires of us. But then it condemns us, because it requires perfect obedience and curses anyone who doesn’t obey its every jot and tittle. But none of us obeys so thoroughly. And ‘whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.’ That’s James 2:10. Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 that the standard the law sets for us is God’s own absolute perfection. We can’t live up to that. The law therefore brings wrath (Romans 4:15), not salvation. The law can only condemn us, because we are guilty. All of us.”

This is not the position of historic Calvinism, to which John MacArthur is himself a subscriber. One of the dividing lines between Calvinists and Lutherans at the Reformation was about the proper use of the Law. Lutherans typically argued that there were two uses: (1) to act as a mirror to reflect our own sin back to us, and thereby show us our need for grace; and (2) to act as a restraint upon evildoers, which is why the Lutherans were not anarchists.

In addition to these two uses of the Law, the Calvinists added another one: the Law exists to guide the believer in holiness. This became known as the Third Use of the Law, which Calvin himself called “the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end” (Institutes 2.7.12). It is this Third Use of the Law that moves the Christian toward holiness, and in this way, the justification which is effected by grace alone is inextricable from the sanctification into which the Christian is guided by God’s moral precepts.

The reason justification and sanctification are so tied together for Calvin is that they both flow out of union with Christ. Union with Christ is that effect of grace and that real relationship by which, through the Spirit, believers receive not only justification, but also sanctification, breathing life into our love of neighbor. Thus, fighting for justice cannot be relegated to an “extra”, an implication, or an appendix to the Gospel.

It is, rather, integral to the salvation of the individual, otherwise when justification and sanctification are detached from each other, Christ is “divided into pieces” (Institutes 3.16.1). Calvin, therefore, would disagree vehemently with the Statement’s claim that “implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel” (Denial #4)

With this theological framework in mind, we can return to our consideration of Phil Johnson’s interaction with his parishioner. Seeing that this parishioner herself actually stands on the side of Calvin, Paul, and even MacArthur himself (on those days when he is fighting against the antinomians rather than against social justice, on which more in a moment), it is simply a caricature to describe her, as the author of this article does, as “a self-styled full-time evangelical social justice advocate who is incorrigibly convinced that the gospel of Jesus Christ alone doesn’t sufficiently address the problem of injustice.”

At best, such a description describes a simple failure to listen to this woman and a forgetfulness of the tradition in which the author, Phil Johnson, stands. At worst it is a failure of charity, perhaps birthed from the recognition that one’s own position is too weak to describe in straightforward terms, and therefore must be discussed in innuendo.

Given that MacArthur is so indebted to Calvin in his theology, it is no surprise that elsewhere, MacArthur himself rejects this strong dichotomy between Law and Gospel. In an interview on the website of Grace to You, John MacArthur’s ministry home, he and Phil Johnson, another of the original signers of the statement, are discussing their rejection of antinomianism — that is, those who deny that the Law has any governing effect on behavior in the life of the Christian, which is a misunderstanding which MacArthur has rightly spent much of his time attempting to refute:

PHIL:   Yeah. In fact, the sort of knee-jerk response you’ll get to that sort of thing these days is, “Well, that’s legalistic. You’re moving away from the gospel back into law. And it’s inherently legalistic then to preach the imperatives you find in Scripture; rather, you should just preach the indicatives.” And that’s the idea behind always going back to the cross; it’s about what Christ did for us rather than what we are to do. And there’s a germ of truth in that. The gospel is about what Christ did for us rather than what we are to do, but that’s not the road to sanctification is it?

JOHN:   Yeah, well, the New Testament, I agree, is full of indicatives: that is, statements of fact. But it’s also full of imperatives.

PHIL:   Yeah.

JOHN:   So, you always ask the question to these people, “Well, what are all the commands there for? What is he trying to tell us in the 3rd chapter of Colossians or the book of Ephesians with all the commands? What is all this about? I mean these are commands.” And Paul says to Timothy, “The things that you’ve heard you’re to teach others.” And then later in that same book he says “These things command and teach.” Command and teach. We live under mandates; we live under commands. The difference between legalism and freedom is (sic) Christ is that in Christ we love to obey, we long to obey, and our hearts are broken when we disobey. That’s not legalism.  That’s love working in obedience.

This interview as a whole is definitely worth reading, given that it seems designed almost step for step to refute the way that the current statement draws a sharp distinction between Law/Gospel, and that it was published online only a year and a half ago.

Almost as if to respond to their own insistence that Law and Gospel be kept hermetically apart, Johnson and MacArthur argue:

JOHN:   The grace of God teaches us to deny certain things and behave in certain ways.

PHIL:   Right. And that’s grace, not law, teaching us. So, that goes back to my earlier comment, grace and law are different, but they’re not in disagreement. They’re not hostile to one another; they agree.

JOHN:   Well, of course they agree. The same God who has given the law, has authored the law, is the source of grace. And God isn’t contradicting himself. You know, the law of grace – the faithful preachers, the Reformers, the Puritans, and even to this day faithful preachers understand how they go together. You would agree that in today’s sort of – I don’t know – public evangelical movement, there’s far too little preaching of the law. So, people who don’t understand the law and what the law demands and how far they fall short and the deadly and everlasting consequences of the law on the life of an impenitent, unbelieving person, people who don’t understand that don’t understand the gospel. They don’t understand the magnanimous grace of God: They don’t understand the love the God, the compassion, the mercy, the kindness of God if they don’t understand the law. The Reformers understood that; they were fierce preachers of the law to bring sinners under condemnation, and that’s exactly the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. Where’s that preaching today? There’s none of that.”

Of course, this earlier interview is likely correct: Bonhoeffer’s diagnosis that our Christianity without repentance is “the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” is undoubtedly an apt description of much of conservative evangelicalism today, which is itself in great need of repenting and reforming.

It is worth noting that even within historic Conservative Evangelicalism in America, there is a plurality of opinions about the need to preach the condemnation of the Law before the recourse of the Gospel; Jonathan Edwards, one of the grandfathers of American Evangelicalism, recounts some self-consciousness over the fact that his own conversation did not follow the order set down by the Puritan Divines—that is, it did not involve first a terror at the demands of the Law before a sense of the sweetness of the Gospel.

But the paragraphs that MacArthur and Johnson spoke in the quotations above simply do not accord with the theology of Law/Gospel laid down in their own Statement. If they believe their statement, they must retract their earlier assertions, and thereby take one step closer to Antinomianism. But if they are unwilling to do that, then they have at least to entertain the possibility that one way in which the repentance of modern evangelicalism must play out is in its complicity in the racism expressed in social structures and institutions today.

Theological Error #2 in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel: A Non-Evangelical Doctrine of Sin

The second theological error of the Statement is a non-evangelical doctrine of Sin. Here the Statement seems to us inconsistent. It claims

“Although families, groups, and nations can sin collectively, and cultures can be predisposed to particular sins, subsequent generations share the collective guilt of their ancestors only if they approve and embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins. Before God each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to receive forgiveness. We further deny that one’s ethnicity establishes any necessary connection to any particular sin” (Denial #5).

It is worth noting first here that the logic of this claim is that the collective cultural sin which plagued America is a past issue, and that we who are alive today are in the category of “subsequent generations” who stand ready either to condemn or approve the errors of our fathers, which are, nevertheless, a matter of history and not ongoing. If this is the case, we might ask, when did it become the case that structural and social  racism was abolished?

Here as before, this error can be articulated entirely using the resources of historic Christian orthodoxy. Protestants—especially Calvinists—famously believe in Total Depravity. This doctrine means not that human beings are incapable of doing anything other than evil, but rather that the effects of sin on us are total. Ostensibly the authors of the Statement believe the same thing when they assert that “All are depraved in all their faculties” (Affirmation #5) Sin affects every aspect of our humanity.

In Calvin’s original context, he meant this to entail that sin touches human rationality and thereby blinds us to the truths of God and to the fact of our own sin. On this account, the great secret weapon of sin is that it blinds us to itself; it encourages us to act as if we have the ‘God’s eye view’ of the world, as if we do not bring an interpretive lens to scripture or the world. But the category of Total Depravity can be expanded out to include the fallenness not only of human reason, but also of gender and sexuality.

We therefore need eyes to see the particular ways in which our sin plays itself out in all of our faculties. Often those eyes are the eyes of our brothers and sisters, and often those brothers and sisters have used the tools of critical theory in order to help us see. The Statement proceeds as if its authors are not themselves culturally-conditioned, as if they have no need of others to point out their sins—in short, as if Total Depravity is untrue. This is, as we have said, an un-evangelical and unbiblical doctrine of sin.

The second orthodox Christian resource for understanding sin is Luther’s famous claim from his Lectures on Romans that sin is “man turned in upon himself.” Luther means by this that the individual becomes self-obsessed. This again helps us to specify how sin operates in particular, rather than in general, categories. If I am a man, and my gender is ‘curved in upon itself,’ the result of this will be misogyny. If I am white, and my whiteness is ‘curved in upon itself,’ the result will be racism. And the doctrine of Total Depravity will blind us to every operation of sin like this.

To the humble and teachable, this body of literature represented by critical theory—which, it must be said, is certainly not a monolithic entity—need be no more an ‘attack on the sufficiency of scripture’ than are the rebukes of a friend or counselor who can see not just that we have sinned, but also the particular ways in which we have sinned. This literature might help us to see the way that Total Depravity plays itself out through hundreds of years of policies and their attendant ideologies that have caused these false ideas about neutrality to permeate our society from housing to schools to incarceration to hiring practices. (For those evangelicals who are suspicious of the idea that racism can show up in institutions and structures that disproportionately target one demographic over another, we commend the research discussed in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ long article The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.)

Here the usefulness of critical theory can be understood as an articulation of the principle embedded in Isaiah’s doctrine of sin. Isaiah claims: “all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him, the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6). The passage here demonstrates two things: (1) the universality of sinfulness (“all we like sheep have gone astray”), and (2) the way in which particular expressions of sin diverge from each other (“we have turned every one to his own way”).

The authors of the Statement see the universality of sin: “Because of original sin everyone is born under the curse of God’s law and all break his commandments through sin. There is no difference in the condition of sinners due to age, ethnicity, or sex” (Denial #5).

What the statement lacks is the account of the particular divergent expressions of sin—it can be the case that all are equally sinners, and that this sin finds different expression among different groups, but on this, the Statement is silent. It is precisely this task with which Critical Theory is most helpful. For example, Scripture informs us that the rich will be tempted to oppress the poor (James 2:6). Yet how in particular this will happen varies from society to society. If it is the job of the Christian thinker to take the principles of scripture and interpret the world through them, then the natural question to ask after reading a text like this from James is: “how does this play out not only in society generally, but in my society in particular?” Here critical theory is eye-opening, and it need not be a resource against the scriptures, but as a specification of the Scriptures. C.S. Lewis anticipated this use of scripture in Mere Christianity:

Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying “Do as you would be done by” to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences; it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

At other times, the authors and signers seem to argue as if yes, these structural issues are, in fact, sinful, but eradicating them should not be an emphasis of Christians because we can never be fully healed of sin. So one supporter of the statement argues in the Resources page:

“The fact that many Christians continue to exclaim that “Racism still exists!” – as if racism, a term I dogmatically disapprove of but will use for the sake of this article, should be treated as if it were the attitudinal equivalent of a carton of milk that has reached its expiration date – is testament to the level of naivety that exists in failing to realize that politics and, by association, politicians, is wholly inadequate in meliorating not only the effects of such a mindset, whether individually or systemically, but also the cause of it.”

This is a difficult argument for which to find evidence. For example, most in America consider human slavery, just to pick one example, to have been a grave evil—and it is quite obvious that it is a grave evil that has been ameliorated by some strange combination of the Holy Spirit brooding over history and outlawing a particular expression of a particular sin. Those evangelicals who signed this letter who also consider themselves to be compelled to abolish abortion in America operate under the same logic: it is, in fact, possible for human laws to restrain the sinfulness of evildoers.

This is, of course, the Second Use of the Law on which Protestants of almost every stripe have historically agreed: “by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law” (Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.7.10). Martin Luther King, Jr. was himself echoing this principle in a famous statement in support of legislating morality. He said, in a statement that Gospel Coalition blogger Justin Taylor quoted as an apt response to the claim that the law cannot legislate morality: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”

At other points the authors argue as if to say that critical theory is not diagnosing disunity among people, but causing it. Again on the Resources page, in an article entitled No Division in the Body, John MacArthur argues:

“The New Testament never speaks of our unity in Christ as a far-off goal to be pursued or a provisional experiment to be trifled with. Our union with Christ (and therefore with one another) is an eternal spiritual reality that must be embraced, carefully maintained, and guarded against any possible threat. That’s why I’m deeply troubled by the recent torrent of rhetoric about “social justice” in evangelical circles. The jargon is borrowed from secular culture, and it is being employed purposely, irresponsibly in order to segment the church into competing groups—the oppressed and disenfranchised vs. the powerful and privileged.”

But notice the logic of this claim: the Bible says that Christians are truly, now, at every moment since the writing of the Bible, united in Christ. Therefore, anyone who claims otherwise is sowing division. But if this argument holds for 2018, then it holds for 1918 as well—two years before women were allowed to vote in America, and it holds for 1818 just as equally—when white Americans bought, sold, and owned their Black brothers and sisters in Christ. Was there ever a moment when there were real failings to live up to the unity of the body?

The long history of slavery, colonialism, racism, misogyny in all there forms, demand that we answer yes. But if there was some historical moment where the real divisions within the body of Christ failed to approximate the unity demanded in scripture, then the arguments of the statement writers must be false.

The subsequent question becomes: have conditions changed so dramatically as to change that answer? To this we have ample reason to say no. It must also be added as a point of history that Black churches did not come to exist because Black people sought to separate themselves out of some conception of anti-Gospel ethnic solidarity.

Many Black Christians in the nineteenth century, of whom Richard Allen is an excellent representative, found their worship to be actively restricted and their well-being actively threatened in white churches and so they sought to build their own communities. White church leaders, instead of repenting of the ways that they restricted the worship of their members, took the easy way out, supporting the exodus of their Black brothers and sisters.

If the logic of MacArthur’s argument holds for one of those periods of time, then it holds for all of them. But if we see the argument in this light, then it is clearly mistaken. The unity of the body in Christ is a real spiritual reality, but it is only occasionally recognized socially and politically. It is, then, in the words of Paul to the Ephesians, incumbent upon Christians to “walk worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1), which is an imperative that suggests the opposite is possible: we might fail to walk worthy of our calling in various ways, and one of them is failing to recognize socially the unity that we have in Christ spiritually.

Again in the body of the Statement itself, the authors write:

“We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice” (Denial #12).

Presumably they make this argument because the categories of ‘privileged oppressors’ and ‘entitled victims’ impose yet more disunity on the body of Christ. But here again the historical argument from above applies: if it is true that there are no true victims or oppressors, it is either true necessarily—which is to say, it is true of all moments in history equally, or it is true by virtue of some historical development. If it is the former, then this statement has nothing to say to those people who were ever slaves or who are even now slaves, and it must beg to differ with the repeated Biblical claims that “the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed” (Ps. 9:9); “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed” (Ps. 103:6); The Lord is the one “who executes justice for the oppressed” (Ps. 146:7), and on and on.

To be oppressed is to have justice denied to one. Justice is being given one’s due. Therefore, to be oppressed is not to be given one’s due—in other words, not to be given that to which you are legitimately entitled. How this argument and these scripture passages above give us anything other than the endorsement that some are, in fact, “entitled victims of oppression” is difficult to see.

Conclusion: A Generational Moment in Evangelicalism

A generation of young evangelicals is arising who hold to historic Christian orthodoxy orthodoxy and do not see that orthodoxy as at all incompatible with the recognition that structural, systemic injustices exist. We, the authors, count ourselves as among their number. We have argued that many of the resources of critical theory are, in fact, powerful diagnostic tools for understanding how sin functions in social ways.

Many of us came of age in a generation that was rediscovering the historic theological roots of American Evangelicalism — the “young, restless, and reformed” generation. It is our love for that theology which inclines us away from the liberal Protestant Union Seminary’s response to the Statement. And we are likewise encouraged that many of the leading figures in American evangelicalism—particularly in the “young, restless, and reformed” movement did not place their signatures on this statement. We consider this a hopeful sign.

But we are have titled this ‘an evangelical response’ because we still intend to fight for the legacy of American evangelicalism, rather than surrendering it to those who would insist that the Christian gospel has nothing to say about improving the lives of those who are oppressed even in this temporal life. The authors of the Statement say: “We submit these affirmations and denials for public consideration, not with any pretense of ecclesiastical authority, but with an urgency that is mixed with deep joy and sincere sorrow.”

It is in this spirit of public consideration that we have written this response. Our own plea is that the authors of this statement might consider that those with whom they disagree are also attempting to discern the guiding of the Holy Spirit in these matters, and likely do not deserve such snarky epithets as ‘woker than thou evangelicals,’ and ‘our bright thinkboys,’

If the signers of this statement are truly fearful that their opponents—especially among the millennial generation of evangelicals—will slide down the slippery slope of theological liberalism, then it is our hope that they may have the grace to realize also that sometimes people fall down slopes not because they are slippery, but because they are pushed.

Would they be willing to entertain for a moment the possibility that they might be complicit in doing precisely this: At the moment when American evangelicalism is realizing the fact that we have failed to think through the social implications of our gospel, they are content to push millennial evangelicals down this slope by asserting that any recognition of the fact that Christ came to save bodies as well as souls (which the church has always believed) demands that we abandon our evangelicalism and embrace theological liberalism?

We refuse to acknowledge this false dichotomy. Evangelicalism has always, at its best, been both a movement of personal holiness (in the style of Jonathan Edwards) and of social transformation (in the style of William Wilberforce). We see no need now to demand that these two strands of our movement diverge. They are united in the gospel, and they can be united in the movement of American evangelicalism.

Malcolm Foley has the last word here:

It must be noted, also, that for many Black evangelicals like myself, who still take the name, to reach out and attempt this cross-conversation is difficult. It has been attempted for centuries. Black Christians spoke out against the evils of African slavery, including Lemuel Haynes, David Walker and others. Black evangelicals spoke out against lynching and Jim Crow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as outlined in part in Mary Beth Mathews’s Doctrine and Race.

But the most frustrating aspect of studying African American religious history is the deafness of the White pastors that are constantly cried out to. It is that deafness that inspires and encourages the continuation of nationalistic options and the shutting down of “conversation”.

If I ever choose to disengage from reaching out, it is not because I have acquiesced to some heresy of racial supremacy. It is because I, like many of my Black brothers and sisters, am tired of constantly trying to plead with deaf ears. I am tired of reading about my brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights Movement who were constantly told to wait because there were issues more pressing than their livelihoods. I am tired of reading about my brothers and sisters under the invisible terror regime of lynching who cried out to white pulpits to join them in denunciation of evil and who were met with accusation and diminution. I am tired of hearing my brothers and sisters now crying out about mass incarceration and police brutality and receiving the same responses. This is our national history. And it is tiring.

To demand that I engage with you is to demand something that I and many others have already done…and in many cases, you have not listened. We ask that you do. But even if you do not, we will continue to battle the growth of sin and sorrow, both individually and corporately, personally and systemically. Because we affirm with the songwriter that Christ has come to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found. And as those united to Him by the Holy Spirit, we will be messengers of His grace, ministers of His blessings, and servants of His people…as far as the curse is found.

Malcolm Foley is a fourth-year PhD student in Baylor’s Department of Religion studying the history of Christianity. His dissertation investigates African American Christian responses to lynching from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

Justin Hawkins is a fourth-year PhD student at Yale pursuing a combined PhD between the department of Religious Studies and the department of Political Science.

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  • Daniel Hindman

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Steven Searcy

    Thank you for writing this. I was shocked and deeply saddened when I first read the “Statement on Social Justice” and I am so glad that someone has provided such a deep and clear response with careful, biblical, theological arguments.

    • Mitch

      Your shock is your own fault for not being more aware of the unbiblical nature of social justice with its Marxist and neo-Marxist roots. Justice is fine. The bible talks about it a lot. Social justice is a fraud. It’s incompatible with biblical justice in terms of its ontology. Your sadness should be at the widespread lack of discernment about how completely the secular left is seducing the church with these various frauds.

      • Ian

        Can you expand on the ontology that renders “biblical” justice something utterly alien to “social” justice? Also, can you throttle back on the condescension in this comment? Examining beams in one’s eye is a dominical command, and I don’t see any self-suspicion whatsoever in your confidence that “social justice” stems only from Marxist thought (which is also something wholly without any merit whatsoever, judging by your tone) without remainder.

  • Scott MacDougall

    Excellent and well thought out piece!
    I especially appreciated your reminder that, “Evangelicalism has always, at its best, been both a movement of personal holiness (in the style of Jonathan Edwards) and of social transformation (in the style of William Wilberforce).”
    The false dichotomy- between social engagement and gospel proclamation- needs to be confronted just as much today as it did in James’s day when he wrote, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15–16).

  • hoosier_bob

    As Scott mentioned correctly, historic evangelicalism has been both a movement shaped by the commitment to personal holiness and corporate holiness.

    Even so, I wonder, at times, whether that can be said of neo-evangelicalism, the movement that grew out of fundamentalism in the years following WWII. Although we have dropped the “neo” prefix in recent decades, the line from Edwards and Wilberforce to modern-day evangelicalism is not a straight line. Consider that most historic evangelicalism was tied to abolitionism and supported Reconstruction, but modern-day evangelicalism was co-founded by Nelson Bell, a committed white supremacist.

    As Molly Worthen notes in her excellent book analyzing modern-day evangelicalism, it has always been a movement that admixed elements of historic evangelicalism with a belief in the cultural hegemony of straight, white, Christian men. And while the the movement has slowly moved away from Bell’s explicit white supremacy, tacit elements of that sad legacy remain, as evidenced by the document you critique.

    And what about women and non-heterosexuals? It’s good that many Calvinistic Christians have increasingly rejected social hierarchies based on race. Even so, they are often not so willing to let go of analogous social hierarchies concerning sex and gender role. Consider the critiques of the recent Revoice conference by mainstream YRR/CBMW types like Denny Burk, Tim Bayly, and Rosaria Butterfield. If the Gospel is intended to break down social systems that elevate whites over non-whites, why does the Gospel not also break down social systems that elevate men over women, and “masculine” men over “effeminate” men?

    I gladly embrace the evangelicalism of Edwards and Wilberforce, and for that reason I still find myself attending an evangelical church on Sundays, albeit one that has non-whites, females, and gays in leadership roles. Even so, I don’t see the progressive inbreaking of Christ’s kingdom as one that equates personal holiness with conformity to neo-Freudian notions of compulsory heterosexuality. I think it’s time to re-embrace Edwards and Wilberforce, and cast the legacy of fundamentalism aside.

    • Mitch

      “neo-Freudian”? What a crock. More Revoice propaganda. The Bible is heteronormative all the way through. Your apostasy is so obvious but highly selective. What next? Christian Pedophiles?

  • Darrell

    Thank you for this. It is nice to see this refuted within their own tradition and understanding. Also, if interested: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/divergence/2018/09/07/the-gospel-is-social-justice/

  • Mitch

    This entire article is disingenuous because you utterly fail to discuss the Marxist roots of social justice ideology which has been set up as a moral counterfeit to Christianity. Use a different term. How about biblical morality or moral justice or divine providential justice or something like that. I have dealt with advocates of the term “social justice” for a long time. The use of the word “social” tells us everything. “Social”means that which emanates from society, not from God. The godless atheistic Marxists use this term because they deny that God exists and that he is the source of all ultimate justice. Social Justice means social solutions which means government speech codes, companies firing people with socially unpopular beliefs (re: Brendan Eich of Mozilla), and shunning or shaming those who are not sufficiently “woke.”

    The godless secular Marxists who run this culture mean something by “social justice.” Christians who try to cleverly abscond with the term and baptize it with biblical meaning are simply engaged in trying to cross-dress Marxism with Christian clothing. Liberation theology, in this sense, was far more honest in what it sought. It was steeped in Marxist economics and social theory and cared nothing for the eternal souls of people who were lost to their sins. But they did succeed in overthrowing right wing dictatorships and replacing them with Communists. Spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ was the last thing on their minds. Talking about sin and redemption through Jesus Christ to non-Christian people groups is considered by social justice theory to be cultural imperialism and religious intolerance.

    Again I repeat. “Social” Justice is a lie. How about using the phrase “the law of nature and nature’s God”. That sounded really good when the founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence.

    • hoosier_bob

      Let me guess? You’re a straight, white, Christian male. I’m sorry that you lost your privilege pass, and now have to compete based on your merit.

      • Adam Reimert

        You sure get salty on these message boards alot “hoosier bob.” Your ad hominem attack does nothing to add to the conversation. It is a fine demonstration, however, of the gross collectivist mentality that Mitch is speaking against.

        • hoosier_bob

          As Cal noted aptly above, neither you nor Mitch seem even to know what Marxism is. So, I gave his comment the response it merited.

          • Adam Reimert

            Haha, well good luck banging your white privilege drum. You don’t sound bitter at all.

          • hoosier_bob

            For the record, I’m not a Marxist. My philosophical sympathies lie somewhere at the intersection of the classical liberalism of Bentham, the pragmatism of Pierce and Mead, and the ideas of the Vienna Circle. On economics, my views lie closest to those of Ronald Coase, Douglass North, and Oliver Williamson. If there’s any consistent theme in my thinking, it lies with a focus on empirical analysis and epistemological realism.

            Within evangelical circles, I’ve found that any kind of organizational, institutional, or sociological analysis is viewed as Marxism. Marxism does involve a particular method of conducting such analysis, but it is not a proxy for such analysis on the whole. And that seems to be how you and Mitch are using the term.

            In my experience within white evangelicalism, the term Marxism is often used in an effort to dismiss any kind of sociological analysis whatsoever. By that measure, George Herbert Mead would be a Marxist. As Tim Keller notes in his Saturday editorial in the NYT, silence on these sorts of political questions is never just silence. Those seeking to shut down discussion (for example, by making false allegations of Marxism) aren’t seeking to preserve the Gospel; rather, they are seeking to preserve the socio-political status quo. Your deployment of the phrase “standard dude” also this kind of effort. Never mind that notions of a “standard dude” vary widely from culture to culture, even in the West. Your tactic is simply to dismiss any male who disagrees with you as non-standard and therefore unworthy of an opinion.

            A number of years ago, I head James Davison Hunter talk about his work on the Culture Wars. The audience was largely Christian and evangelical. One person asked him what Christians could do to have more productive dialogue on these issues. His answer was something along the lines of, “Be more honest.” He went on to note that most white evangelicals have a socio-political preference for a more structured, hierarchical society, where people know their place, stay within their place, and don’t do things to challenge the status quo. He went on to note that cultural change is largely inevitable because of changes in technology and the economy. It’s always easier to navigate cultural change if you’re transparent about what you want. By disguising socio-political preferences as theological concerns, white evangelicals often lock themselves out of the negotiation process due to a lack of transparency. And that’s what’s happening here. MacArthur and his fellow travelers have developed a brand of “orthodoxy” that mistakes 1950s America for the eschaton, and brands as Marxist any effort to critique the socio-political commitments of that brand of “orthodoxy.”

          • Adam Reimert

            Sage advice from Bob: don’t “dismiss any male who disagrees with you as non-standard and therefore unworthy of an opinion.”

            Bob’s previous opening statement to Mitch: “Let me guess? You’re a straight, white, Christian male. I’m sorry that you lost your privilege pass, and now have to compete based on your merit.”

            Is the hypocrisy here totally lost on you?

          • Adam Reimert

            And by the way, I wasn’t dismissing Cal as a “standard dude.” I was in essence saying, “dude, you would be on the left side of any standard of the American political spectrum. Maybe putting a comma between “standard” and “dude” would have been more clear. I didn’t mean it as an insult, but a statement of clarifying fact. And, I’m right. Both of you, go ahead and take yourself a political compass test and tell me you don’t find yourself squarely in left quadrants. No matter if you view yourself outside of the common man’s political discourse, the country still operates in a fairly simple political paradigm. So, until you take charge of the political platforms, we are still going to have Republicans acting like basic Republicans and Democrats acting like basic Democrats. And, let me tell you, most calls for “social justice” coming from left-leaning Christians is just your basic redistributionary model that hearkens back to a very rudimentary understanding of Marxism.

            What seems to bother you gentlemen the most is any insinuation that you might be categorized, and you both seem to take great pride in being ‘non-standard.’ In turn, your greatest insult seems to be to ‘standardize’ your opponent…either as a “straight, white, male,” “moron,” stuck in a political binary, or someone who just isn’t as well informed on the merits of Marxism as you. Whatever “preserving the Gospel” you think you are doing certainly isn’t coming out in your speech.

          • hoosier_bob

            So, is this an implicit admission that you didn’t know what Marxism is, and that you were merely leveling it as an accusation to attack arguments against which you actually have no cogent counter-arguments? In other words, you’re saying that facts can be whatever you want them to be, so long as you can find a group of people who also want those facts to be that way.

            If something bothers me, it’s people whose chief focus in this life lies with ephemeral political and social concerns, but, who insist on contorting the Christian faith to claim divine aegis for their pet issues.

            I have reservations concerning certain means proposed by friends on the left to remedy this situation. But it’s relatively uncontrovertable that the US operates under a socio-political system that confers more rights, in the main, onto straight, white, Christian men than it does on others. Things have improved in recent decades for non-whites, non-heterosexuals, non-Christians, and women, but we have a long ways to go. To suggest that the church ignore this injustice is to suggest that somehow Christianity teaches that straight, white, Christian men have more value in the eyes of God than others.

          • Adam Reimert

            I’m not actually sure who you are arguing against Bob. But, your last comment exemplifies the problem here: “To suggest that the church ignore this injustice is to suggest that somehow Christianity teaches that straight, white, Christian men have more value in the eyes of God than others.” Opponents of “social justice” aren’t calling anyone to ignore injustice. We are saying that the call for “social justice” is politicized. We are saying that the call for “social justice” is being forwarded by a detrimental agenda. And, we are saying that Christ has called his church to be his hands of mercy and charity, not a hackneyed redistributionary economic system. In the details of these claims, we will disagree, But, the fact that you guys can’t see Christian charity through any other lens than the modern “social justice” political agenda is evidence to our claims. To claim that I must advocate for social justice is to claim that I must swallow a whole lot of political crap that comes with it…and because I don’t, doesn’t mean I’m a heartless racist.

          • hoosier_bob

            Nowhere have I set forth any particular method of implementing social justice, so I don’t know why you keep presuming that I would opt for certain policies traditionally championed by those on the political left. I, like the authors of this piece, am merely acknowledging the existence of systemic social injustice in our society and the need for Christians to grapple with how to improve that situation. By contrast, MacArthur et al. are suggesting that Christians should ignore such injustice, which, as the writers and I have noted, amounts to an implicit endorsement of the injustice in the name of Christ. Sure, there are some people who’ve proffered unwise economic measures as a remedy. But the proper response to such unwise proposals is to proffer wiser proposals, not to ignore the injustice and lend it implicit credence.

            This, of course, leaves one to wonder why someone would oppose the mere acknowledgement of injustice and the need for Christians to grapple with how to improve the situation for its victims. Racism, misogyny, and homophobia provide obvious explanations, especially in a country where such views are common. But there may be other cogent explanations. But neither you nor Mitch has proffered anything of the sort. Instead, you’ve leveled specious allegations of Marxism or sought to evade the question altogether by trying to change the topic to a discussion of redistributive economics. So, if someone concludes that you’re a racist, a misogynist, or a homophobe, then perhaps it’s because you’ve epeatedly failed to give any other cogent explanation for your views.

            This will be my last post here.

          • Adam Reimert

            You and Cal’s pontifications have been like a snowball rolling down-hill. I don’t have enough time to address all your mischaracterizations of what I’ve said.
            My point about Marxism has been clear: In our current political paradigm, redistributionary economics (which harkens back to Marxism) is the forefront answer to “social justice.” I don’t care what you think the solutions ‘should’ be, the current political reality is that we will get old-hat, Democrat schlock as the answer. Jesus has already given us the process to deal with injustice and charity: We are to engage in personal and collective acts of mercy as the Christ-instituted church. Now, if we are talking about government involvement in alleviating poverty, the discussion takes on a different shape about political solutions of which there is much discussion and debate. I tithe to my local church which goes to help inner cities, soup kitchens, battered women’s shelters, crisis pregnancies centers, and more. In addition, I give other monthly contributions to charities and sponsoring impoverished children overseas. So, I find your presumption that I’m a cold-hearted bigot just because I haven’t arrived at the same political conclusions as you to be disgraceful and un-Christian in character. Through the condescension, arrogance, and hypocrisy demonstrated here, I have a hard time believing that you actually give much a damn about human beings. And, if this is how social justice adherents ‘persuade’ brothers and sisters in Christ, expect to continue receiving much pushback.

          • Mitch

            “By contrast, MacArthur et al. are suggesting that Christians should ignore such injustice”

            No and no again. They are saying that the entire concept of SOCIAL justice is unbiblical. I would argue that it is a concoction of Marxism and is now re-packaged as Neo-Marxist in that it is no longer just focused on economic transformation in the original Marxist idea of dialectical materialism.

            Neo-Marxism is an artificial framework superimposed on reality that itself is not real. “Systemic” injustice is just such a concept. Who is the perpetrator of this injustice? Who is the victim? And what method of inquiry is used to identify who is who? Can the victims count the cost? Can the perpetrators measure the benefit? Are these people even consciously aware that what they do is even violating these unseen invisible standards of abstract justice? Of course not.

            You may say, “but what about poverty?” God says give to the poor and love others as he loves you. The motive is love and compassion and Christ-likeness. But social justice says, force the rich to become less rich and use the coercive power of the state to punish the haves in the name of the have-nots.

            What’s the difference? Love. Divine justice is about God loving us and us loving others as an act of worship to him. It is about the glory and majesty of the creator. Social justice is about retribution. It is about punishing and shaming the haves and using coercive government power to take from one and give to the other. It is not motivated by love but by hate.

          • hoosier_bob

            The question is whether we can take MacArthur’s denials at face value. After all, as Joel McDurmon, of all people, points out, white supremacists in the post-Reconstruction South rarely wore their white supremacy on their sleeves. Instead, they hid behind flowery principles, which, upon closer examination were little more than self-serving BS. The question, then, is whether MacArthur’s denials are BS.

            As Cal and I have noted above, the Marxist argument is wholly specious. And, as the authors note, Christianity is nowhere opposed to social justice generally. It may be opposed to certain means of achieving social justice, but it is not opposed to the concept as a whole. To the contrary, any reasonable reading of Scripture suggests that social justice indeed is something that should concern Christians.

            So, we find, upon closer examinations, that MacArthur’s proffered reasons for opposing social justice are total BS. And that leave one to wonder what his *real* reasons are for opposing it. And the reasons proffered by you and Adam are also equally specious, which leaves one to wonder what your *real* reasons are for opposing social justice. After all, people don’t generally come out and admit to being racists, misogynists, or homophobes. One has to infer it. When someone advocates for policies that lend a hand to racism, misogyny, or homophobia, and can’t proffer anything but BS reasons for doing so, people are bound to draw certain inferences.

          • Cal P

            I still don’t understand what it would mean if I was on the “left” quadrant. And I don’t know what being outside the standard is supposed to mean either. If you lived in the Soviet Union, communism was the conservative position, and advocating perestroika was outside of the standard thinking. So these field-position labels don’t really help clarify anything. These positions are constantly changing; 50 years ago it would be a political norm to argue for segregation, abolishing social security, financial regulation along Glass-Steagall terms,, etc. But not anymore. What’s “common” is relative, and unless you think we should just repeat, like a parrot, whatever lines get spit out by our favorite media source, or you think we live in paradise, then outside of the standard should be encouraged.

            And calls for “social justice” might be misguided or in error (I think a lot of it is just knee-jerk reaction and uninformed), but they’re not Marxists in any actual sense. If talking about social bodies as organizing powers that frame and determine individual action, then Burke is a Marxist. And every country has practiced redistribution. That’s what a tax return is. It’s also the fundamental concept of public services: we all pay in, even if not everyone uses them (e.g. a public school, a state-directed military, etc.). The question is what gets distributed, to whom, and how much.

            You should go to the local library, and read more books. And with that, I’ll bow out.

          • Adam Reimert

            Classical liberalism isn’t a theology, but I do try to love deists and marxists alike. I certainly fall far short of the love that Christ calls me to, but I am eternally thankful that he has paid for my sins, every one…including my theological inaccuracies, impatience, and hypocrisies. Best wishes dude.

    • Cal P

      There’s a kind of irony when you attack “Marxism” as a counterfeit Christianity, but then cite and praise Deists.

      • Adam Reimert

        Why is that ironic? The ideals of America’s founding are certainly much closer to a Christian ethic than that of Marxism. Never mind that there were professing Christians among the founding fathers; their ideals predated them. Among those ideals are natural law and individual rights, and they were indeed philosophized by Christians such as John Locke. These ideals are also based upon a theistic presumption, unlike Marxim, that justice should be afforded all men BECAUSE they are endued with value by their Creator. Marxism isn’t based on a theistic premise or the value of individuals. It is based on utility and an ethic that subjects individuals to the rights of the collective. So, even forgetting that fact that Marxism produces much suffering, it is certainly much further from a Christian ethic than that of founding.

        • BWF

          The problem is that Mitch’s rant blames it on liberation theologicans – who ARE Christians.

          • Adam Reimert

            My friend, liberation theology can scarcely be called Christian….no more than a deism can be. Neither are orthodox in Christian belief. But that’s besides the point. Who’s ideas work to alleviate poverty? And who’s ideas are under-girded by reality and the nature of man more closely related to orthodox Christian thought? Hands down, individual natural rights.

          • BWF

            I don’t think you understand what liberation theology is.

          • Adam Reimert

            Please, enlighten me. And, be specific, if you don’t mind.

        • Cal P

          The whole point of a counterfeit is that it is almost identical to the original. So the fact that the Deist and theologically liberal Founders were “much closer” means that they are far more of a counterfeit than Marxism. And John Locke was a Unitarian, who made Christianity fit his modified Hobbesian concept of nature.

          You don’t know what Marxism is. You could probably be served by reading the wikipedia page, and click on various figures associated with the broad constellation of ideas.

          • Adam Reimert

            O cute… condescension. I know quite well what Marxism is. So philosophical ideas of human nature and individual thriving are void if come from a Unitarian, but meshing the philosophical ideas of an atheist with Christianity somehow isn’t a counterfeit? Please, explain. And, please explain how advocating for a utilitarian economic system as the primary means of charity is not a counterfeit gospel.

          • Cal P

            Not only do you not know what Marxism is (you’ve failed to define or describe it with any accuracy), but you don’t quite grasp what a counterfeit is either. But imagining that you’re right, that Marxism is a counterfeit: the reason Mitch is a moron is because he can’t understand that he is attacking one counterfeit with a counterfeit of his own.

          • Adam Reimert

            Haha, wow you left-leaners sure do get salty about this stuff. I hope you are more charitable in your personal life than your words are, but I digress. Some left-leaning Christians do absolutely use Marxism as a counterfeit gospel. The liberation theology mention below is a prime example. I’ll ask again for you to explain how marrying an authoritarian economic system with Christian charity isn’t a counterfeit?

            Your flimsy criticism of founding principles (I guess that’s your point in all this?) also misses the mark. The classical liberalism of the founding fathers doesn’t purport to be Christianity, and therefor, by your own correct definition, cannot be a counterfeit. However, many Marxist Christians strongly make the case that a large welfare state is the ONLY means of charitable Christianity outworking in the economy. That is the counterfeit, and I believe that is Mitch’s point. As for me, I don’t feel the need to prove my economic competency, nor was it my point to exposit Marxism. I speak in broad terms, because most “Marxists” don’t even know what Marxism is. In America, Marxism primarily takes shape in the advocacy of a redistributionary welfare system as justified by “income inequality.” This, of course, is all related back to the Marxist idea of class struggle and stolen value of labor from the proletariat. Not. Rocket. Science. My earlier categorization of Marxism as utilitarian when compared against classical liberalism is 100% correct. Marxism doesn’t consist of an ethic of individual rights… for example, property rights. Marx would say that property is the right of all, and what he means, is the collective. But, again, this idea hasn’t worked out so well in practice. Good day to you sir.

          • Cal P

            I’m a “left-leaner” because I don’t like Deism? You sure sound like a theological liberal, telling me that while it’s ok to embrace a non-,even sometimes anti-,Christian ideology about human persons, governments, and laws.

            If you knew what Marxism is, you would know there are anti-authoritarian, libertarian/anarchist, Marxists who reject the idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat or any coercive use of the state. Anyway, Marx didn’t invent class struggle, but he did believe it was the ultimate engine of a historical process that would result in freedom. Also, the problem is not the theft of one’s labor, but the process of alienation of a person from one’s labor, which, when commodified, can be taken. Marx was more sanguine about the individual than some later Marxists would be. Classical liberalism can be equally as utilitarian as Marxism (see Bentham and Mill). And Marxism doesn’t take issue with property rights (as we colloquially understand it) but with ownership of the means of production. In Marxist scheme, a piece of land is property whereas my car, my toothbrush, my bed, my house (with qualifications), is not.

            You’re right that Marxism is a counterfeit gospel, in that Marx proffered an eschatological hope about history and time. In contrast to Liberal Individualism, Marxism should make Christians embarrassed, because we’ve generally abandoned eschatology to the loony-bin dispensationalists.

            The problem is that while the Social-gospel crowd make some false equivocations, making everything a “gospel issue”, the reactionaries go about preaching some equally false gospel of self-help, Pelagian, Reaganomics that has been nothing but smoke and mirrors, a way for the rich to abuse the poor in the way St. James understood all too well.

          • Adam Reimert

            I didn’t call you a “left-leaner” because you criticize Deism. I called you and Bob “left-leaners” because you are sympathetic to a Marxist ideology and highly critical of the founding. I’m pretty sure that’s put’s you squarely on the left by anyone’s standard dude. But, you knew that, didn’t you? You clearly know more about Marx than me…alot about Marx. I think I’m ok with that. But c’mon man, it is splitting hairs to say “commodified labor can be taken” as opposed to “the theft of labor.” Am I not precisely correct in saying that a redistributionary economic system is based on that principle? And yes, Benthan and Mill are technically “classically liberal,” but we were talking about the founders and natural rights…a polar opposite of utilitarianism. So, it’s kind of disingenuous to muddy the waters there.

            It is apt to say the liberal individualism doesn’t provide eschatoalogical answers. That’s precisely the point. It leaves that to religion. Marxism, on the other hand, deposes God from the means and the ends. It feels a bit like you’ve proved my point. Free market capitalism can certainly be an ideological idol, but is it merely a means for the rich to “abuse the poor?” This beg’s for me to say, ‘you don’t know what free market capitalism is.’ But that’s not it. You’ve simply interpreted free markets in the most cynical way possible while giving Marx the most generous benefit of the doubt. And you guys try to shame Mitch for ideological bias? smh

          • Cal P

            Sympathetic to Marxism means criticizing the Founders? Does that make George III a Marxist? How do you know I’m not some kind of monarchist?

            And if you want to posit the idea of free-market capitalism as the idea that has never been tried, then give the benefit of the doubt to the Marxists too. If you look at American history, it’s pretty clear its a pretty straight line of rich abusing the poor (and then the poor fleeing, usually west). Whether it was slavery, sharecropping (for both white and black), wage slavery (with blacklisting, strike-breaking, and the like), and then global exportation of cheap manufacturing once American labor became too expensive, it’s the same old song.

            Your problem is that you can’t think outside of false binaries between “left” and “right”. I don’t care about Marx or Marxism, but the fact that accusations of Marxism are shovel-ready nonsense that obscure the real problems. And I don’t care to attack the “Founders” either, but you should really brush up on them; go check out what most of them said about “stock jobbers” and “speculators” (the near equivalent of our modern finance capitalism).

          • Mitch

            All laws are ultimately patterned after the nature and character of God. Deism is not a complete counterfeit to Christianity because it lacks a coherent moral philosophy. It is a heresy because it denies the trinity and, while recognizing God’s creative power, it denies his sustaining power.

            As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

            He was recognizing that good government alone could create and sustain positive conditions and rights for the people (a deist conceit). He implicitly acknowledged the ongoing work of God as a necessary condition of the success of the American experiment. This is completely contrary to the presuppositions of deism.

            The late Charles Krauthammer was man I deeply respected but was totally wrong when he said, “For all the sublimity of art, physics, music, mathematics, and other manifestations of human genius, everything depends on the mundane, frustrating, often debased vocation known as politics (and its most exacting subspecialty — statecraft). Because if we don’t get politics right, everything else risks extinction.”

            This is the same conceit of the deist, who thinks that getting the politics right is the key to everything. It is the same fallacy as Marxism, which is to believe that we are ultimately in control of our own destiny as humans and we can make ultimate justice occur in our lifetimes if we just get the right political system.

            “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

            Only God knows the future and we are ignorant. All we can do is remain humble and obedient. We pursue justice but only as God leads us, not as social trends dictate. “Wokeness” or being a member of a victim class is not righteousness. Members of the proletariat are every bit as sinful as members of the bourgeoisie or aristocracy. Members of so-called “victim classes” are still sinners. They violate God’s laws every bit as much as so-called “oppressors”. They are just as responsible for Jesus being nailed to the cross as the people they condemn as “privileged.”

          • Cal P

            Marxism’s moral philosophy is rooted in a trans-historical process (which can be more or less grounded in romantic humanism or positive scientism), and Deism’s is rooted in an account of natural law accessible to naked reason. Both are self-referential and coherent within their own system, but are incoherent from critiques on the system they set up. I see them equally fraudulent in this regard.

            The quotation from Blackstone’s is not really relevant for assessing its merits. We have to assess the use of the quotation in a broader context; St. Paul quotes pagans, but obviously the context is important for what Paul is saying in quoting them. The use among the Founding Father’s is a development of the natural law tradition, which Blackstone himself developed in the rationalist Anglicanism of his day.

            Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin make much more explicit claims about the importance of God for the founding morality of the republic. They’re both clear cut deists (whereas Adam is somewhere between unitarian and deist). I don’t think it’s contrary to Deism to call on Nature’s god to form the moral compass, even if what they mean is very different than Christian references to God’s creative regeneration.

            St. James has, also, a lot more to say about the rich. Why? Because the poor can’t terrorize people the way people with power can. I don’t think James is denying that the poor are sinners when he tells the rich to weep and howl, for their wealth will become their misery. To equivocate across the board is to deny the exercise of power in a given social context. Obviously someone with means can do a lot more damage than someone lacking means.

      • Mitch

        I praised natural law theory which is based on a creator God who endows human nature with inalienable rights. Several of the founding fathers may have been influenced by deism in their own writings, but the wording in the Declaration of Independence comes from William Blackstone’s commentaries on natural law. If you are trying to say that natural law theory is incompatible with biblical Christianity, then you would have a point. But you would be wrong.

    • BWF

      I think you meant to say that the article is “disingenuous” (your word, not mine) because it doesn’t discuss your own pet topic. In other words, it wasn’t the article that you would have written.

      Why do you assume that most of us readers have a problem with the authors writing their own article (you are free to write yours too)?

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