This a long and serious look at Bethel, Redding, CA. I have years long Christian friends who, for whatever reasons, really like Bethel. I can only pray that they (and many other Bethel followers) would be open minded enough to read it and examine their Scriptures.
Here is the fifth in a series of blog posts by Dr. John MacArthur concerning the social justice movement and its relationship to the the Gospel, posted at GTY. Here are the links to the first four posts.
On to The Article:
The Injustice of Social Justice
by John MacArthur
Friday, September 7, 2018
The besetting sin of pragmatic, style-conscious evangelicals has always been that they shamelessly borrow fads and talking points from the unbelieving world. Today’s evangelicals evidently don’t believe the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God (1 Corinthians 3:19). Virtually any theory, ideology, or amusement that captures the fancy of secular pop culture will be adopted, slightly adapted, perhaps cloaked in spiritual-sounding language, propped up with specious proof texts, and peddled as an issue that is vital for evangelicals to embrace if we don’t want to become totally irrelevant.
That’s precisely how evangelicals in the mid-twentieth century became obsessed for several decades with positive thinking, self-esteem, and “Christian psychology.” After that, it was marketing savvy and promotional strategies. By the beginning of the twenty-first century it was postmodernism, repackaged and aggressively promoting itself as the Emerging Church movement.
Today, critical race theory, feminism, intersectional theory, LGBT advocacy, progressive immigration policies, animal rights, and other left-wing political causes are all actively vying for evangelical acceptance under the rubric of “social justice.”
Not every evangelical leader currently talking about social justice supports the full spectrum of radical causes, of course. Most (for the moment, at least) do not. But they are using the same rhetoric and rationale of victimhood and oppression that is relentlessly employed by secularists who are aggressively advocating for all kinds of deviant lifestyles and ideologies. Anyone who claims victim status can easily and effectually harness the emotional appeal of a plea for “social justice” both to gain support and to silence opposition.
Indeed, as social justice rhetoric has gained currency among evangelicals, just about every cause that is deemed politically correct in the secular world is steadily gaining momentum among evangelicals. It would be folly to pretend the social justice movement poses no threat whatsoever to evangelical conviction.
Evangelicals seldom explicitly define what they mean by “social justice”—possibly because if they gave an accurate definition of where that term came from and what it means in the secular academy, they might lose a lot of evangelical support. Countless critics have pointed out that the rhetoric of “social justice” is deeply rooted in Gramscian Marxism. For many decades, “social justice” has been employed as political shorthand by radical leftists as a way of calling for equal distribution of wealth, advantages, privileges, and benefits—up to and including pure Marxist socialism.
The rhetoric has been effective, and nowadays the typical social justice warrior is convinced that equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law are not sufficiently just; we haven’t achieved true social justice until we have equality of outcome, status, and wealth. That’s why we hear so much about income comparisons, racial quotas, and other statistics suggesting, for example, that systemic oppression by a male oligarchy is conclusively proved by the dearth of women who pursue careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).
Marxists, socialists, anarchists, and other radicals purposely use such arguments to foment resentment, class warfare, ethnic strife, tension between the genders, and other conflicts between various people groups, because in order to restructure society to fit their ideologies, they must first break down existing societal norms.
All of that is true, and the connection between Marxism and postmodern social justice rhetoric is surely a valid and important point. But it is even more vital that we as Christians employ the light of Scripture to scrutinize and evaluate the ideas currently being promoted in the name of social justice.
No Justice but God’s Justice
The Bible has much to say about justice. In the English Standard Version of the Bible, the word is used more than 130 times. It is never preceded by an adjective, except in Ezekiel 18:8, which speaks of “true justice.” It is occasionally paired with possessive pronouns. God Himself speaks of “my justice” twice in Scripture. Twice in prayers addressed to God, we read the expression “your justice.”
The point? There are not different flavors of justice. There is only true justice, defined by God Himself and always in accord with His character.
It is a fact that the Bible puts enormous stress on the charitable aspects of justice—goodwill toward all; compassion for the underprivileged; assistance for the fatherless and the widow; love for foreigners; and care for the poor, especially providing needy people with the necessities of life (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 140:12; Ezekiel 22:29).
But biblical justice is not a one-sided affair, showing partiality to the poor or disenfranchised in an effort to even the scales of privilege. In fact, Scripture expressly condemns that mentality as unjust (Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15).
Justice in Scripture is often paired with the words equity and righteousness. Equity means equal treatment for everyone under the law. Righteousness signifies that which is consistent with the demands of God’s law—including punishment for evildoers (Jeremiah 5:26-29); obedience to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7); penalties that fit the crime and are applied without partiality (Leviticus 24:17-22); and a strong work ethic, enforced by the principle that able-bodied people who refuse to work shouldn’t benefit from public charity (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Those aspects of true justice are conspicuously missing from the recent evangelical dialogue touting “social justice.” Instead, what we hear is an echo of the same accusatory rhetoric and political slogans being shouted by secular social justice warriors. That fact ought to awaken the Berean urge in every Christian.
Widening the Gospel
Even more troubling are statements that have been made by certain evangelical thought leaders who claim that anyone who doesn’t advocate for social justice is preaching a truncated gospel. Some say that those who reject their social justice ideology don’t have any gospel at all. Anthony Bradley, Chair of Religious and Theological Studies at The King’s College, recently posted this remark online:
“Here’s the problem (and this will be hard): from a black church perspective, evangelicals have never had the gospel. Ever. Read the book Doctrine A[nd] Race. Here then is the actual Q: When will evangelicals embrace the gospel for the first time ever?”
Those who say such things typically bristle when critics compare their views to Walter Rauschenbusch and the social gospel. But the argument and most of the rhetoric are identical. Rauschenbusch was an early twentieth-century liberal theologian and author of a book titled A Theology for the Social Gospel. He taught that Christians need to repent not only for their personal transgressions but also for “social sins.” Like most of today’s evangelical social justice advocates, Rauschenbusch insisted (at first) that he had no agenda to do away with any vital gospel truth; he just wanted to widen the focus of the gospel so that it would encompass social evils as well as the issue of individual sin and redemption. But soon Rauschenbusch was saying things like this:
“Public evils so pervade the social life of humanity in all times and all places that no one can share the common life of our race without coming under the effect of these collective sins. He will either sin by consenting in them, or he will suffer by resisting them. Jesus did not in any real sense bear the sin of some ancient Briton who beat up his wife in B.C. 56, or of some mountaineer in Tennessee who got drunk in A.D. 1917. But he did in a very real sense bear the weight of the public sins of organized society, and they in turn are causally connected with all private sins.  Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York: MacMillan, 1917), 247 (italics added).”
Several of America’s largest mainstream Protestant denominations eagerly imbibed Rauschenbusch’s ideas. All that did quickly drifted even further into liberalism until they had abandoned any commitment they might have had to the authority of Scripture. By then they had long since lost the gospel completely.
Why? Because those who let the culture, a political ideology, popular opinion, or any other extrabiblical source define “justice” for them will soon find that Scripture opposes them. If they are determined to retain their perverted idea of justice, they will therefore have to oppose Scripture.
Furthermore, every attempt to widen the scope of the gospel will ultimately put the gospel so far out of focus that its actual message will be lost.
The message of social justice diverts attention from Christ and the cross. It turns our hearts and minds from things above to things on this earth. It obscures the promise of forgiveness for hopeless sinners by telling people they are hapless victims of other people’s misdeeds.
It therefore fosters the works of the flesh instead of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit.
Let Us Not Provoke One Another or Envy One Another
Christians are the last people who should ever become offended, resentful, envious, or unforgiving. Love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The mark of a Christian is turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, praying for those who mistreat us. Christ is the example whose steps we are to follow: “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
Hatred, envy, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, hostility, divisiveness, bitterness, pride, selfishness, hard feelings, vindictiveness—and all similar attitudes of resentment—are the self-destructive works of the flesh. The beneficial fruit the Spirit produces are the exact opposite attitudes: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” The NIV translates 1 Corinthians 13:5 this way: “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs.”
Such qualities, frankly, are in short supply in the rhetoric of those advocating for social justice.
Doing justice (i.e., biblical justice, not the secular substitute) together with loving mercy and walking humbly with God are all essential virtues. Those are the chief practical duties incumbent on every believer (Micah 6:8). Constantly complaining that we are victims of injustice while judging other people guilty of sins we cannot even see is antithetical to the Spirit of Christ.
As Christians, let’s cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, the qualities named in the Beatitudes, the virtues outlined in 2 Peter 1:5-7, and the characteristics of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13. Any notion of moral equity that omits or minimizes those righteous qualities has no right whatsoever to be called “justice.”
The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel | For The Sake of Christ & His Church
Interesting question, yes? It should be, since that seems to be the prevailing opinion of the vast majority of Christendom. Just Google “For whom did Christ die?” and start reading. But how many of us seriously address the question? Consider this post an old man’s attempt to think it through, Writing things down helps me organize my thoughts.
First of all, some will answer the question by telling me that since Christ died for everyone, everyone WILL eventually be saved. That’s called ‘universalism’. The reasoning behind that opinion is that God is too loving to condemn anyone, that since he wants all men to be saved, they eventually will. After all, God is God and always gets what he wants. Seems logical.
Others will confidently tell me that while Christ died for everyone, It’s up to the one for whom Christ died to exercise his/her ‘free will’ and accept the ‘gift’, similar to accepting a present for your birthday or Christmas. When a person accepts the gift, he/she will be saved, unless down the road somewhere down the road another conscious free will decision is made to return the gift for whatever reason. This also seems logical.
Then there those who will tell me that a person is saved because of a free will decision to accept Christ, and once he/she has made that decision has been made, heaven awaits their sure arrival. If that’s true, somewhere on the highway to heaven human free will disappeared. And that also seems like a logical conclusion.
So here have three seemingly logical, yet differing opinions. It might also be very logical to conclude that either only one of them is correct, or all three are incorrect. Let’s assume that one is correct. If you had to pick one, which would you choose, and why?
Most, if not all Bible reading Christians would immediately exclude ‘universalism’ as an option right off the bat. The Bible is clear that there are those whose eternal destiny is a place of everlasting torment and punishment. That leaves us with two other options, both of which include the concept of completely autonomous ‘free will’. Assuming once again that there is a correct answer among our three options, which one is it?
Well, one option defends ‘free will’ to the death. You can either accept the ‘free gift’ or reject it. Human free will is so powerful that it can thwart God’s desire to save everyone. If that’s the case, we have to seriously ask “Who saves whom?” Did Christ die only to make salvation ‘possible’?
The other surviving option tells us that human free will, once exercised for salvation, can somehow disappear in one’s life, or be partially lost, at least in the matter of salvation.
Questions, questions, and MORE questions! They never seem to end, do they?
One last question for this post – a hypothetical one. IF all three of the above answers to the ‘question in the title of this post (If Christ died for the sins of everyone who ever lived, why isn’t everyone saved?) are incorrect, what’s the alternative – for whom did Christ die?
So call this post a ‘thinking’ challenge. And since it is merely a thinking challenge, share your thoughts. Recommend this post to a friend or two and ask them to share their thoughts.
Sadly, it seems like no matter what you say about the current debate over social justice and racial reconciliation, you’re already wrong. Somehow it’s believed that unless you share the same perspective and a similar experience as the one you are speaking with, that’s proof enough of your ignorance, insensitivity or insanity. In so many words: “If you don’t agree, it’s only because you don’t understand.” Oddly, many of the same people who speak the loudest about prejudice have already sized you up, labeled you, and dismissed what you have to say before you’ve even had a chance to finish speaking (or writing)!
I understand why this is true in an unbelieving context, because unbelievers begin their discussions from so many diverse and contradictory points of origin. I have to confess that I struggle at times to understand why this confusion is true in the church. Aren’t we all reading from the same book?
Unfortunately, much of the debate around race and justice and reconciliation completely ignores biblical truth (which is objective) and rather centers its arguments around: experiences, feelings, assumptions, suspicions, perceptions, hurts and conjectures (which are all subjective). People are being encouraged to “share their story” rather than “proclaim God’s truth.” Instead of “understanding the biblical context,” they are celebrated for connecting with their “cultural context.”
Personally, I praise God that The Master’s Seminary and its president trained me to focus my attention on the central and eternal realities of Scripture and its theology, rather than attempting to offer some particular approach for reaching a certain ethnic group. I never expected my seminary training to focus on social reform, political activism or the civil rights movement. Why would I?
I recently came across a slanderous and unsubstantiated charge that somehow Dr. MacArthur is guilty of being “partial, inconsiderate and unbiblical” because he rejects the idea that social justice is an essential part of the gospel (https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180813). Surely this is evidence that he doesn’t consider the circumstances of anyone other than upper middle class, republican-leaning white men, isn’t it? But to impute those motives to him would be a violation of 1 Corinthians 4:5, which warns us against judging the motives of men’s hearts. It is also demonstrably false. MacArthur’s posts never mentioned anything about being white, upper middle class or Republican.
If I have gained nothing else from my time at The Master’s Seminary and from our President, I have gained an appreciation for the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God, which sits above ethnic, political and class distinctions. Frankly, that’s the reason I applied to Seminary in the first place. If my goal for attending seminary was to learn more about my cultural heritage, I had many other options for that. That’s not why I applied to seminary. My goal was to accurately handle “the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and the seminary training I received was committed to that. For some, that is perceived as a reason to criticize the training or even become sorrowful, frustrated, or angry about it.
I have personally experienced the pain of racial discrimination. I get it, and I am sincerely sorry for whatever your experience might have been. But I am saddened to learn that some of my brothers, who received the blessing of a curriculum that was designed to produce faithful expositors, would judge their books “by the color of their contributors, rather than the content of their pages.” There is the notion that unless you can find your ethnic group represented in the books you’ve been assigned to read, it is part of a conspiracy to convince people that your ethnic group made no significant contributions. Really?
Truth doesn’t have a color, or does it? Would I receive the truth of Scripture differently if it was written by Gentiles instead of Jews? Should my wife reject the writings of the New Testament because they were all written by male authors? Furthermore, can Paul or Peter or James really have anything relevant to share with me, if they didn’t share my personal experience as an African-American? Would I breathe a sigh of relief if my Greek-Grammar textbook was written by an Asian? Is the truth of Scripture universal for the entire church or does it have to be “shaded in” first to match my skin tone before I can receive it?
I have the privilege today of shepherding a multi-ethnic congregation in the city of Baltimore. Often people will ask me, “What did you do to a create such a diverse church?” I always tell them the same thing: “I didn’t do anything. God did the work, I simply preached the Word.” I didn’t come to the city of Baltimore with some kind of multi-ethnic strategy. My mandate as a pastor is clear, “Preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). I don’t have a “plan B.”
With that in mind, I would like to briefly remind all of us of “Biblical Truths that no Blog Post can Change”.
1) Believers in Jesus Christ are part of a spiritual family.
Once a person is adopted into the family of God they have been accepted into a new family. How many times does the Scripture refer to believers simply as, “Brothers”? That is not to say that the Bible does not recognize that we come from a physical family or a particular heritage. Even Paul acknowledged his personal desire to see his “kinsmen according to the flesh” brought into the family of God (Romans 9:3). I share a similar desire for my family and my particular heritage. However, I also understand that as a believer I have been born of the Spirit (John 3:8), I have a Father who is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9) and my bond with believers is more permanent than the one I enjoy with my physical family members who are not believers.
Jesus highlighted the priority of our spiritual family with these words in Matthew 12:50, after His physical family attempted to interrupt Him in the middle of ministry.
Matthew 12:50: “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
It would have been assumed that Jesus would immediately drop what He was doing at the beck and call of His natural family. After all, “blood is thicker than water” but Jesus surprised those around Him by making the point that “spirit is thicker than blood.” My truest “soul brothers” are those who do the will of God and obey Him.
2) Believers in Jesus Christ are citizens of a heavenly country.
National heritage is not ignored in Scripture. After the flood (Genesis 10:5) and particularly after Babel (Genesis 11:9), mankind began to be divided into nations. As we continue to follow the biblical narrative, we discover that God has a plan for these nations and that men would be “purchased for God…from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” That is a monumental statement! According to one site there are over 1,652 languages spoken in India alone and over 6,000 ethnicities in India. What will unite the nations of the world together will not be their language or culture or their allegiance to their flag but rather their allegiance to Christ. Believers are “fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19) and “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
Again, I’m not arguing that national or cultural heritage is unimportant but it certainly does not have the power to unite men from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” If I spend my time and energy intently looking for people of my particular heritage and their contributions, rather than intently looking for Christ and His accomplishment, I won’t be moving closer towards unity but away from it.
3) Believers in Jesus Christ have been given a new identity.
How do you identify yourself as a believer? If people really want to know who you are and how you think and what makes you the person you are, what would you say? What would summarize you as a person above everything else? Would you identify yourself by your occupation, your hobbies, your family, your nationality, or your skin color or would you identify yourself by your relationship with Christ?
As believers, we have been given a new identity. My primary identification is no longer my ethnicity, nationality or heritage. My primary identification is with Christ. Colossians 3:4 puts it this way “Christ…is our life.”
Paul makes a similar point in Galatians 2:20 where he says:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
My primary identification is with Jesus not with myself. Even though we might have differences in our physical features, our primary identification is not a physical one. Christians have been made new!
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
4) Believers in Jesus Christ are members of the same body.
Regardless of what evolutionary theory might try to teach us, we are all part of the same race. Even without checking ancestry.com I could tell you who your first grandparents were. We can all trace our family tree back to Adam and Eve, which means that we are all related. The story of all people intersects, which means that learning about any group of people in history is learning about my history. Sadly, many African-Americans have been robbed of much of our immediate family history because of the horrific sins of the American slave trade but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know where we came from.
Far beyond our physical connection as mankind, we are also connected to each other spiritually as believers. How close are we? We are members of the same body! First Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
God places each member where He wants and the Spirit distributes to each member what He wills but we are all members of the same body. The church is considered a “new man” where distinctions between Jew and Gentile have been abolished and peace has been established (Ephesians 2:15). Can you even imagine Paul attempting to split the church into black and white congregations? We are one body! This means that the accomplishment of any member in Christ is the accomplishment of all of us! I don’t have to search the pages of Church History to find “one of my own” because all believers belong to me!
Paul addresses the division in the Corinthian church by reminding them: “For all things belong to you,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you” (1 Corinthians 3:21-22).
Every significant figure in church history is one of my people, because we are all connected, whether they share my physical traits or not.
5) Believers in Jesus Christ are subjects of a heavenly kingdom.
There is one kingdom that will stand when all others have been crushed into powder. Daniel 2 describes a vision where the kingdoms of the earth are depicted as different materials like iron, clay and bronze but the kingdom of God is pictured as the stone that crushes them all. Listen to this awe-inspiring vision of the kingdom to come:
Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:35).
As believers we have become citizens of that kingdom. Our nation and its monuments will one day be crushed into powder. It won’t matter who the majority culture is or who the minority culture is. All that will matter is whether or not you have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
That’s why the preaching of the gospel has to remain central. The gospel may not change every issue in your life but for those who believe, it changes the most important issue. It places you into the Kingdom of Christ. These are the kinds of truths that I was taught during my time at The Master’s Seminary, for which I am extremely grateful. Those who advocate a different approach to ministry don’t represent me.
If you are faithful to preach the gospel, I rejoice! Paul rejoiced even over those who sought to cause him distress in his imprisonment (Philippians 1:17-18). I am grateful for the faithful proclamation of the gospel, even if we disagree.
Maybe I’ll be considered a “white sheep” because of this post but I’m most concerned that I’m considered one of “God’s sheep” and Christ tells us that there is only “one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16).
George Lawson is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and is the Pastor-Teacher of Baltimore Bible Church, a new church plant in Baltimore, MD (www.baltimorebiblechurch.org)
Here is the fourth in a series of blog posts by Dr. John MacArthur concerning the social justice movement and its relationship to the the Gospel, posted at GTY. Here are the links to the first three posts.
On to The Article:
Is the Controversy over “Social Justice” Really Necessary?
by John MacArthur
Monday, August 27, 2018
I do not relish controversy, and I particularly dislike engaging in polemical battles with other evangelical Christians. But as my previous posts in this series demonstrate, when the gospel is under attack from within the visible church, such controversy is necessary. And if it seems fierce disagreements within the church have been the rule rather than the exception, that’s because relentless attacks on the gospel from people professing fidelity to Christ have come in an unending parade since the very beginning of the church age. There has never been an extended period in church history when it has not been necessary for faithful voices to mount a vigorous defense of one or more cardinal biblical principles.
None of the controversies I’ve described in my previous posts sprang up suddenly. The lordship controversy, for example, was a conflict many of us saw coming more than a decade before I wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. The twisted gospel of the prosperity preachers has its roots in the Pentecostal movement going back to the early twentieth century. Normally we can see storm clouds brewing and anticipate where the next major assault is coming from.
But occasionally a new threat to the simplicity or clarity of the gospel seems to erupt with stunning force and suddenness. The current controversy over “social justice” and racism is an example of that. Four years ago, I would not have thought it possible for Bible-believing evangelicals to be divided over the issue of racism. As Christians we stand together in our affirmation of the second great commandment (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—Leviticus 19:18). We therefore stand together against every hint of racial animus.
Racism is a stain on American history that has left shame, injustice, and horrible violence in its wake. The institution of slavery and a costly civil war left a deep racial divide and bred bitter resentment on every side. No sensible person would suggest that all the vestiges of those evils were totally erased by the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century. Civil rights legislation now guards the legal principle of equal rights for all Americans, but no law can change the heart of someone who is filled with prejudice or bitterness.
Thankfully, however, much progress has been made. Racial relations in secular America are not what they were even fifty years ago. The American attitude has changed. White supremacy and all other expressions of purposeful, willful, or ideological racism are almost universally condemned.
As Christians we know that the human heart is evil, so undoubtedly there are still people who secretly harbor animosity against ethnicities other than their own. But any open expression of acrimony, ill will, or deliberate antagonism across ethnic lines will be scorned and emphatically rejected across the whole spectrum of mainstream American life today.
Of course, people everywhere still tend to be oblivious to or inconsiderate of customs, traditions, community values, and ethnic differences outside their own culture. Culture clash is a universal problem, not a uniquely American quandary—and it’s not necessarily an expression of ethnic hostility. But Americans’ contempt for racial bigotry is now so acute that even accidental cultural or ethnic insensitivity is regularly met with the same resentment as blind, angry racism—and even a simple social gaffe is likely to be treated the same as bigotry. There are people—increasing numbers of them—so obsessed with this issue that they seem able to find proof of racism in practically everything that is said or done by anyone who doesn’t share their worldview.
I understand when fallen, worldly people filled with resentment lash out at others that way. I don’t understand why Bible-believing Christians would take up that cause. I thought the evangelical church was living out true unity in Christ without regard for race. That has certainly been my experience in every church I’ve ever been part of, and it’s also what I have seen in the wider evangelical world. I don’t know of any authentically evangelical church where people would be excluded or even disrespected because of their ethnicity or skin color. Just last Sunday night—as we do every month—we received about a hundred new members into Grace Church. It was another testimony to God’s love crossing all ethnic lines, as the group was composed of Hispanics, Filipinos, Chinese, Ugandans, Nigerians, Mongolians, Koreans, Ukrainians, Armenians, Lithuanians, Russians, Austrians, people of Arabic descent, as well as black and white Americans.
As Christians we are reconciled with God and united with Christ. To understand that doctrine is to be reconciled with one another. This is a major emphasis in all the Bible’s teaching about forgiving one another as God has forgiven us. Christians should not be the ones dividing over race in a racially charged environment. We are the peacemakers and the lovers of all men. We don’t seek vengeance. We forgive seventy times seven.
And yet, as the issue of racial division has become more and more a focus in the secular academy and in the news media, evangelicals eager to engage the culture have taken up the issue. Unfortunately, many who have spoken on this issue have simply echoed the wisdom of this world rather than addressing the issue in a truly gospel-centered way. As a result, rancorous discourse over ethnic differences has eclipsed the gospel and divided the church—even among those evangelicals who might be most likely to self-describe as “gospel-centered Christians.”
It’s quite common these days for Christian leaders addressing this issue to call for people who have never harbored a racist thought to confess the guilt of racism because their ancestors may have been racists. Expressions of repentance have been demanded of white evangelicals for no actual transgression, but because they are perceived to have benefited from “white privilege.” Supposedly, their skin color automatically makes them culpable for the racism of the past. One influential evangelical leader, in an article titled “We Await Repentance for Assassinating Dr. King,” suggested that racial reconciliation in the church cannot even start until white Christians confess their parents’ and grandparents’ complicity in “murdering a man who only preached love and justice” (meaning Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.).
So by this view of “social justice,” a person’s skin color might automatically require a public expression of repentance—not merely for the evils of his ancestors’ culture, but also for specific crimes he cannot possibly have been guilty of.
There’s nothing remotely “just” about that idea, and certainly nothing related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The answer to every evil in every heart is not repentance for what someone else may have done, but repentance for our own sins, including hatred, anger, bitterness, or any other sinful attitude or behavior.
As Christians committed to the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel, we have better answers than the world could ever give to the problems of racism, injustice, human cruelty, and every other societal evil. We have the cross of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who grows and leads us in all love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
In the days to come, I want to discuss those answers, and specifically how Scripture says we should respond when we suffer wrongly at the hands of unrighteous people, corrupt governments, or hostile persecutors. The New Testament’s answer to that dilemma is not the least bit obscure or mysterious.
by Dorothy Greco, Christianity Today Guest Writer
I found this in the Women’s Section of an August 2013 issue of CT Magazine. I’m not sure exactly how I came across it, maybe one of those Facebook ‘Suggested Posts’. I’m also not sure why it ended up in the Women’s Section – maybe because a woman wrote it? While I’m not a great fan of Christianity Today (some call it ‘Christianity Astray’, and for good reason), but it’s a good read and as significant nowas it was five years ago. Enjoy.
How the Seeker-Sensitive, Consumer Church Is Failing a Generation
The millennial generation’s much-talked-about departure from church might lead those of us over 30 to conclude that they have little interest in Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Unfortunately, their spiritual coming of age has coincided with many Protestant pastors relying on a consumer business model to grow and sustain their churches. This template for doing church and the millennials’ hunger for authenticity has caused an ideological collision.
Seeker-sensitive services originally promised to woo post-moderns back into the fold. Out the stained glass window went the somewhat formal 45-minute exegetical sermon, replaced by a shorter, story-based talk to address the “felt needs” of the congregants while reinforcing the premise that following Jesus would dramatically improve their quality of life.
Contemporary worship had already found its way into the mainstream, but their new model nudged the church further toward a rock-concert feel. Finally, programs proliferated, with programs for nearly every demographic, from Mothers of Preschoolers to Red Glove Motorcycle Riders.
None of these changes were pernicious or even poorly intentioned. In the case of my previous church, choosing the seeker model began innocently. The staff endeavored to create a wide on-ramp for folks who might ordinarily bypass the sanctuary in favor of Starbucks. (As an incentive, we provided fair-trade coffee and bagels each week.) Trained not to assume that everyone was on the same page politically or spiritually, we sought to have friendly, nuanced conversations with visitors.
Being aware of those who come through the doors of any organization is a good thing. I have walked out of many services without a single person engaging with me. However, many churches gradually, and perhaps unwittingly, transitioned from being appropriately sensitive to the needs of their congregants to becoming–if you’ll permit some pop-psychologizing–co-dependent with them.
What does co-dependence look like within a church? Avoiding sections of Scripture out of fear that certain power pockets will be offended. Believing that repeat attendance depends primarily upon the staff’s seamless execution of Sunday morning–rather than the manifest presence of God. Eliminating doleful songs from the worship repertoire because they might contradict the through line that “following Jesus is all gain.”
Jesus was neither a co-dependent nor a businessman. He unashamedly loved those on the margins and revealed himself to all who were searching. He seemed quite indifferent about whether or not he disappointed the power brokers. Additionally, Jesus understood that the irreducible gospel message—that we are all sinners in need of being saved—was, and always will be, offensive. No brilliant marketing campaign could ever repackage it.
I have been following after Jesus for more than three decades and the gospel still makes me bristle. Love those who publicly maligned me? Confess my sins to a friend? You’re kidding Jesus, aren’t you? Only he’s not kidding. Both his words and his life clearly demonstrate that to align ourselves with him means that we must be willing to forsake everything so that we might become more like him.
Rather than helping congregants in this endeavor, churches that bend into their mercurial whims foster a me-first mentality. This actually plays into one of the potential root sins of this generation: self-absorption. While it’s all too easy for those of us over the age of 30 to poke fun at their selfie antics, I think young Christians actually want the church to help them reign in their narcissism. Writer Aleah Marsden told me, “We definitely want to see Jesus at the center because the rest of the world keeps shouting that we’re the center. We don’t need the church to echo the world.”
As they clamor for a communion supper with the best wine and freshly baked bread, the seeker-sensitive, consumer model has offered them treacly grape juice and dry cracker pieces, leaving them unsatisfied and frustrated. In an article about college students who turned from Christianity to atheism, Larry Alex Taunton wrote:
Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it… These students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable.
Based on the dissonance between Sunday morning and the other six and a half days of the week, it would seem that many of us have passively acclimated to a faith that demands very little of us. Perhaps millennials’ dissatisfaction with and departure from the church will motivate all of us to opt for more integrity and authenticity.
On a practical level, that will require them to remain faithful to the bride and to commit to love and forgive the church despite her many imperfections and failures. One 20-something, lifelong believer nailed this dilemma; “I believe our greatest desire and hunger is to find a cause worth committing to, yet we’re a commitment phobic generation.”
The body of Christ, though broken, is a cause worthy of our devotion and commitment. But that inherent worth does not exempt her from making much needed course adjustments.
Millennials’ intolerance of hypocrisy necessitates that those of us in leadership do more than preach about values that this demographic holds dear. According to Parkview Community Church pastor Ray Kollbocker, this demographic “wants Christianity to be more than information. They want to see how Christianity actually changes the world not just talk about the change.” A church which claims to value diversity and equality needs to do more than promote white males and refer to all humanity with a masculine pronoun. Because millennials have such an intense hunger for transparent relationships and truth, churches could foster intergenerational mentoring within their communities rather than depending upon the more impersonal leadership classes.
Finally, those who preach will serve everyone by exploring troubling sections of the Bible rather than pretending they don’t exist. Mercy Vineyard pastor Jeff Heidkamp explains his strategy: “If there is a part of a Bible passage I’m preaching that simply baffles me, such as why God allows the devil to torture Job, I will say what it is I don’t understand.” Such humility invites dialogue and exploration rather than dogmatically closing the door on any questions.
If the Barna Group statistics are accurate, more than 8 million 20-somethings have given up on church or Christianity. Do their actions indicate a need for us to, as David Kinnaman suggests, “change our church structure, guided by the unchanging truths of Scripture to nurture their unique gifts and calling?” Or is their departure an invitation for all of us who consider ourselves Christians to prioritize transformation into the image of Christ, rather than going about business as usual? Or, could it possibly be both?
Dorothy Littell Greco divides her time between writing, making photographs, pastoring, and keeping three teenage sons adequately fed. She lives and works in the Boston area and is a reluctant Patriots/Celtics/Bruins/Red Sox fan. You can check out more of her words and images at dorothygreco.com.
Image Credit: Acoustic Dimensions / Flickr