Thursday, September 06, 2018

Why I'm not signing the Statement on Social Justice

I'm going to comment on this statement:

Let's begin with some things I agree with:

In view of questionable sociological, psychological, and political theories presently permeating our culture and making inroads into Christ's church, we wish to clarify certain key Christian doctrines and ethical principles prescribed in God’s Word. Clarity on these issues will fortify believers and churches to withstand 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.

Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.”  

WE AFFIRM that since he is holy, righteous, and just, God requires those who bear his image to live justly in the world. This includes showing appropriate respect to every person and giving to each one what he or she is due. We affirm that societies must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

WE DENY that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture. 

WE DENY that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living. We further deny the legitimacy of any charge of sin or call to repentance that does not arise from a violation of God’s commandments.

WE DENY that, other than the previously stated connection to Adam, any person is morally culpable for another person’s sin. 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.

WE DENY that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one’s sex can be fluid. We reject “gay Christian” as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as “sexual minorities”—which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.

WE AFFIRM that some cultures operate on assumptions that are inherently better than those of other cultures because of the biblical truths that inform those worldviews that have produced these distinct assumptions. 

WE DENY that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity. We deny that only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism. We deny that systemic racism is in any way compatible with the core principles of historic evangelical convictions. We deny that the Bible can be legitimately used to foster or justify partiality, prejudice, or contempt toward other ethnicities. We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another. 

[The Bible is] the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live).

Moving along:

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind male and female and that this divinely determined distinction is good, proper, and to be celebrated. Maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception and are not subject to change.

That's true as far as it goes. But are maleness and femaleness merely biological? Are we genderless souls in gendered bodies? Could you have a body-swap situation where a man transfers his consciousness to a female body (or vice verse) and instantly becomes female? Or is maleness and femaleness psychological as well as biological? 

WE AFFIRM that God’s law, as summarized in the ten commandments, more succinctly summarized in the two great commandments, and manifested in Jesus Christ, is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin.

So OT prophets don't make the cut. Proverbs doesn't make the cut. The Sermon on the Mount doesn't make the cut. The parables of Jesus don't make the cut. The NT household codes don't make the cut. The economic critique in Revelation doesn't make the cut.

WE AFFIRM that the gospel is the divinely-revealed message concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ—especially his virgin birth, righteous life, substitutionary sacrifice, atoning death, and bodily resurrection—revealing who he is and what he has done with the promise that he will save anyone and everyone who turns from sin by trusting him as Lord.

Why do they mention the virgin birth but not the Incarnation? 

WE DENY that anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel. This also means 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.

If, by their own admission, something is an "implication" of the gospel, how is that not a "definitional component of the gospel"? Isn't what the gospel logically entails inseparable from the gospel? 

WE AFFIRM that the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost. We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified. We affirm that, under the lordship of Christ, we are to obey the governing authorities established by God and pray for civil leaders.

i) How do they define "the church"? Where do churchly roles end and Christian obligations outside the church begin? 

ii) A pastor has more than one role. The average pastor is a husband, father, neighbor, private citizen. Some pastors are in the army/air force reserve. Some ministers are military chaplains. That's their pastorate.   

iii) Does "the church" not have a mandate to teach Christian ethics? To teach personal and social ethics? That's a part of God's word, too. That's integral to discipleship. 

iv) The NT church had an outreach ministry to Christian widows. Does that principle have implications for whether the church should oppose euthanizing the elderly? 

v) What gives in case of conflict between Christian personal/social obligations and obedience to the governing authorities? And should Christians just wait for that to happen, or take preemptive measures to forestall such conflicts? 

vi) What about the role of women as professors and administrators in Christian colleges and seminaries. Is that "the church" or non-church?

vii) What about the Statement on Social Justice itself? The framers are pastors or churchmen. Are they issuing this statement in their capacity as representatives of "the church", or as private citizens? 

WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.

Why should we classify issues in terms of churchly and non-churchly or gospel and non-gospel rather than what's true and false, right and wrong? This shifts the focus from duties and priorities based on what's right and true to debates over how to categorize something as churchly or non-churchly, gospel or non-gospel. What makes that a superior frame of reference? 

And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture. Historically, such things tend to become distractions that inevitably lead to departures from the gospel.

i) Is opposition to abortion and euthanasia a distraction? Is protecting babies, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, the elderly and senile a distraction? Is opposition to indoctrinating school children in the LGBT agenda a distraction? Is opposition to homosexual adoption a distraction? 

ii) The Statement says "societies must establish laws to correct injustices". Who in society is responsible for enacting corrective laws? Believers or unbelievers? Surely we can't count on unbelievers to enact just laws. So isn't that a Christian responsibility? 

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind both male and female with inherent biological and personal distinctions between them and that these created differences are good, proper, and beautiful. Though there is no difference between men and women before God’s law or as recipients of his saving grace, we affirm that God has designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles. These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life. In marriage the husband is to lead, love, and safeguard his wife and the wife is to respect and be submissive to her husband in all things lawful. In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation. We further affirm that the image of God is expressed most fully and beautifully in human society when men and women walk in obedience to their God-ordained roles and serve according to their God-given gifts.

What about the coed military? What about female judges? What about women in positions of leadership and authority as social policymakers?  

WE AFFIRM God made all people from one man. Though people often can be distinguished by different ethnicities and nationalities, they are ontological equals before God in both creation and redemption. “Race” is not a biblical category, but rather a social construct that often has been used to classify groups of people in terms of inferiority and superiority. All that is good, honest, just, and beautiful in various ethnic backgrounds and experiences can be celebrated as the fruit of God’s grace.

WE AFFIRM that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. Such racial sin can subtly or overtly manifest itself as racial animosity or racial vainglory. Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God’s revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

So race is a social construct, yet racism is a sin. But if race is a social construct, doesn't that mean racism is a social construct? By that logic, the sin of racism is a social construct. 

WE DENY that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ. We deny that any divisions between people groups (from an unstated attitude of superiority to an overt spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed. 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.

Are black, Latino, and Asian churches sinful? 

The Statement on Social Justice makes some good points, but rather than bringing moral and theological clarity to key issues, the document is confused and contradictory. A half-baked reactionary piece. Well-intentioned but slipshod. Punting when it needs to take a stand.  


  1. An interesting and informative dissection.

    I suppose if one approaches this Statement as a confessional document, not a few of the criticisms above may apply. Obviously a terse statement is no full treatise of the underlying understandings behind the words that were crafted.

    Further, some of the quibbles above seem to ignore the context and the target, social justice and its commonly associated groups, not actually "doing church", as in the query about black, Latino, and Asian churches. Corporate assembly is just that, incorporation of the like-minded to worship, receive instruction, and be subject to discipline. Absent some factual evidences of Scriptural misbehavior, I struggle to see how racial groups assembling together for church is somehow violating the Scriptural mandate to assemble.

    Then there is the startling proffer that the OT saints, Proverbs (?), and even our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, etc., are apparently excluded from the standard of righteousness, summarized by the Decalogue, further encapsulated by the two great commandments. I think a careful review of the Westminster Larger Catechism concerning the commandments is in order here.

    When we aim a laser-like focus upon any statement, or even a Confession, I have no doubt that many questions may arise. Some questions have actual warrant for consideration. Others are but our reasoning run amok.

    1. i) The document fails to hit the target it aims for. It resorts to abstract labels. That doesn't clarify key issues. Labels are ciphers unless specific definitions and specific examples are provided. The document glosses over practical applications. The document is an ink blot in many important respects.

      ii) The statement says that's "the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin." It's highly restrictive.

      iii) The WLC isn't JMac's frame of reference. To my knowledge, he has a fairly Anabaptist/classical Dispensational view of the law. You're filtering the document through an lens that's not the interpretive grid for framers like JMac and his faction.

    2. The document draws invisible lines in the sand. It labels the lines, but fails to show where they are drawn. So it's a largely vacuous, feel-good gesture.

      Take the statement that "God has designed men and women with distinct traits and to fulfill distinct roles. These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life."

      Notice how that chickens out when the going gets tough.

    3. i) I'm not keen on compartmentalized morality. Instead of just doing the right thing, when it's staring you in the face, you have to sort it into the correct pigeon-hole. Is this gospel or non-gospel? Churchly or non-churchly?

      ii) Let's play along with the Decalogue rubric. Presumably the framers think a pastor ought to expound the Decalogue.
      So in their classification scheme, that's a churchly, but non-gospel activity. The mission of the church includes expounding and practicing the Decalogue, even though law and gospel are distinct, right?

      If so, is teaching the Decalogue a distraction that inevitably leads to departures from the gospel? If not, doesn't their dichotomy come apart at the seams?

      iii) Doesn't the second table of the Decalogue cover a number of social issues? So how do they justify their dichotomy?

      iii) Why not just distinguish between good social issues and bad social issues? Legitimate social issues Christians should work on in contrast to bogus social issues.

    4. Interesting that AMR brings up the Westminster Confession and the Larger Catechism. Both were documents that took years to construct and included the input of a large number of divines. That's hardly true of this Statement. Constructing statements in virtual ecclesuological isolation and then having others become signatories after the fact is not the wisest way to construct a response, yes? Much less hastily signing on rather than scrutinizing the Statement with diligence to ensure it is, indeed, the best statement we can produce.

    5. Interesting observation. It's striking that the Westminster Assembly and Synod of Dordt had an international composition, representing the best minds in Protestant theology at the time.

    6. That's been the historical model of the church, has it not? A coming together of the best minds to construct a thorough, Biblical, enduring response to issues facing it? And the results speak for themselves. The Synod of Dordt and the Westminster Assembly produced statements of orthodoxy that still stand as faithful representations of Biblical truth some 350+ later. Why not continue to follow this model?

  2. I was surprised that under church and worship, they left out prayers and singing of praises, hymns, psalms, spiritual songs.

  3. I wondered why they couldn't it much more focused on the problems they are trying to address. It almost turned into a tome on all theology. Surely that is going to make it harder to get signers. Right?