29 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 14: Racism

Here is what the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel has to say about racism:

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.

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. 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.

Because I wholeheartedly agree with most of the affirmations and denials, I will focus on those near the end that I believe are wanting, beginning with this statement: "We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another." Because movements are generally rather nebulous phenomena, it is difficult to ascribe a "deliberate agenda" to them. Are there racists among professed evangelicals? Undoubtedly, yes. Do some subordinate their evangelical allegiances to their racism? It is certainly possible. Many Greek Orthodox Christians maintain their ecclesiastical affiliations because they are Greek rather than serious followers of Jesus Christ.

25 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 13: Culture

Section 13 of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel is titled, Culture.

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. Those elements of a given culture that reflect divine revelation should be celebrated and promoted. But the various cultures out of which we have been called all have features that are worldly and sinful—and therefore those sinful features should be repudiated for the honor of Christ. We affirm that whatever evil influences to which we have been subjected via our culture can be—and must be—overcome through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth.

We deny that individuals and sub-groups in any culture are unable, by God’s grace, to rise above whatever moral defects or spiritual deficiencies have been engendered or encouraged by their respective cultures.

I see the authors addressing two issues here. First, the popular notion that all cultures are equally good and that differences among them are a matter of legitimate diversity rather than better or worse. Second, that human beings are simply products of their respective cultures.

22 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 12: Race/Ethnicity

We are now in the final sections of The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel. Here is number 12 on Race/Ethnicity:

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. All sinful actions and their results (including evils perpetrated between and upon ethnic groups by others) are to be confessed as sinful, repented of, and repudiated.

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.

There is no doubt that people are different from each other and that some of these differences run along group lines. Yes, individuals differ in a variety of ways, but some individuals share characteristics that place them together in a particular group. That group may be a concrete communal structure such as marriage, family, state and church institution. Or it may be a very loose society based on common patterns of interaction, customs and mores. Greeks, Italians, Iranians and Kashubians would fall into this category.

18 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 10 & 11: Sexuality and Marriage, Complementarianism

Now we come to the sections of the Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel that will likely elicit the most discussion between supporters and opponents:

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. The curse of sin results in sinful, disordered affections that manifest in some people as same-sex attraction. Salvation grants sanctifying power to renounce such dishonorable affections as sinful and to mortify them by the Spirit. We further affirm that God’s design for marriage is that one woman and one man live in a one-flesh, covenantal, sexual relationship until separated by death. Those who lack the desire or opportunity for marriage are called to serve God in singleness and chastity. This is as noble a calling as marriage.

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.
A generation ago, I doubt that the above affirmations would have caused controversy, but developments over the past half century in the larger culture have had their influence even on the church. The most momentous of these is the Sexual Revolution, which originated more than a century ago but accelerated its influence in two waves separated by depression and war: the 1920s and the 1960s. The latter of these decades proved to be the most enduring in its long-term impact and corresponds to the beginning of what I have termed the choice-enhancement state in Political Visions and Illusions. In this stage of the liberal project, human beings are increasingly defined, not by an intrinsic nature, but by their capacity to choose, full stop. What began centuries ago with an effort to reduce political community to a mere voluntary association (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, &c.) has now found its way into our social institutions as well, including marriage and family.

15 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 9: Heresy

We are just over half-way through our journey through the recently published Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, which now addresses heresy:

We affirm that heresy is a denial of or departure from a doctrine that is essential to the Christian faith. We further affirm that heresy often involves the replacement of key, essential truths with variant concepts, or the elevation of non-essentials to the status of essentials. To embrace heresy is to depart from the faith once delivered to the saints and thus to be on a path toward spiritual destruction. We affirm that the accusation of heresy should be reserved for those departures from Christian truth that destroy the weight-bearing doctrines of the redemptive core of Scripture. We affirm that accusations of heresy should be accompanied with clear evidence of such destructive beliefs.

We deny that the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.

The very notion of heresy is not a popular one these days, because it implies that someone or some community knows the truth and is willing to penalize those who persist in denying it. In a society that claims to value free expression of unpopular ideas, the image of a group of straight-laced men gathering together in a synodical body to test the orthodoxy of one of its members elicits scorn. Not long ago a mainline protestant denomination here in Canada found itself looking into the beliefs of one of its ministers who denies outright the existence of God. Harbouring an atheist in its midst was apparently too much for even this extremely nonconfessional denomination. Nevertheless, many of her fellow ministers came to her defence.

Heresy trials are not pleasant, to be sure. But where a church eliminates even the possibility of disciplining one of its officeholders for heresy, it will likely drift away from the gospel over the long term. Examples of this phenomenon are not hard to find.

12 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 8: The Church

Although I am by profession an academic political scientist, in recent years I have become more interested in ecclesiological issues, as reflected in the forthcoming second edition of Political Visions and Illusions, which will contain "A Concluding Ecclesiological Postscript." The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel also treats the church:

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.

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.

Prior to drafting this section, the statement's authors would have done well to read Abraham Kuyper on the church, especially his sermons contained in Rooted and Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution. Kuyper's ecclesiology is exceedingly helpful in enabling us to sort our way through the issue of the church's ongoing mission in the world. On the one hand, we see denominational assemblies pronouncing on such political issues as the $15 an hour minimum wage and a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and many of us, rightly to my mind, conclude that this is inappropriate for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, we also confess that our whole lives belong to God in Christ and that this includes our life together in political community. We definitely should be concerned about the poor and international justice. Is this a paradox with which we must simply live and move ahead by trial and error, valiantly attempting to avoid the opposite perils of politicizing the gospel and walling it off from the rest of life?

11 October 2018

Statement of Social Justice, 6 & 7: the Gospel and Salvation

As we make our way through the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, we come to the heart of the biblical story, the gospel and salvation. Here is the sixth set of affirmations and denials:

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.

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.

And now the seventh:

We affirm  that salvation is granted by God’s grace alone received through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Every believer is united to Christ, justified before God, and adopted into his family. Thus, in God’s eyes there is no difference in spiritual value or worth among those who are in Christ. Further, all who are united to Christ are also united to one another regardless of age, ethnicity, or sex. All believers are being conformed to the image of Christ. By God’s regenerating and sanctifying grace all believers will be brought to a final glorified, sinless state of perfection in the day of Jesus Christ.

We deny that salvation can be received in any other way. We also deny that salvation renders any Christian free from all remaining sin or immune from even grievous sin in this life. We further deny that ethnicity excludes anyone from understanding the gospel, nor does anyone’s ethnic or cultural heritage mitigate or remove the duty to repent and believe.

At the risk of disappointing readers who waited three days to see what I might have to say, I can only indicate that I agree with both of these sections and have nothing of substance to add here. Salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. The gospel is open to everyone everywhere. The call to do justice is by no means optional for the believer, but efforts to fulfil this call cannot save us. The authors are correct.

Next: The Church, on which I will have more to say. This will be posted at 9 am tomorrow.

08 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 4 & 5: God's Law and Sin

In treating the recently released Statement of Social Justice & the Gospel, I have concluded that it is sometimes appropriate to treat two sets of affirmations and denials together in a single post, which I did last Thursday and am doing again today. Here is the section on God's Law:

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.

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.

I can only applaud the authors for affirming the continuing legitimacy of God's law at a time when many Christians misunderstand the relationship between the old and new covenants. The allure of Marcion's heresy has not gone away, as exemplified in this recent post. Of course, many misconstrue St. Paul the Apostle's writings on the Law, despite his affirmation that the Law is holy and good (Romans 7:12). In Reformed liturgies in particular, the reading of the Decalogue often follows the general confession of sin and the assurance of pardon. Here the Law functions as a guide to the new life in Christ for those who are truly repentant. I will not here get into the distinction often drawn amongst the moral, ceremonial and civil laws, but suffice it here to indicate that the church has always understood that the moral law is still binding on the Christian community, thereby recognizing the so-called third use of the law.

04 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 2 & 3: Imago Dei and Justice

Here are the second and third series of affirmations and denials:

We affirm that God created every person equally in his own image. As divine image-bearers, all people have inestimable value and dignity before God and deserve honor, respect and protection. Everyone has been created by God and for God.

We deny that God-given roles, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, sex or physical condition or any other property of a person either negates or contributes to that individual’s worth as an image-bearer of God.

This is wholly correct, as I see it. The only thing I would add is that the image of God entails a grant of authority—an authority that is dispersed over a variety of settings and manifests itself in the different offices to which we are called. God has called us to be fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, teachers, students, employers, employees, citizens, political leaders, members of a gathered church institution, elders, deacons, ministers, sellers, buyers, and so forth. None of these exhausts who we are as persons created in God's image. Therefore we might better speak of our callings, in the plural, as we seek to fulfil these simultaneously.in the many spheres of life, including family, marriage, state, school and church.

01 October 2018

Statement on Social Justice, 1: Scripture

Welcome to the first instalment of a series dedicated to the recently released Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. As we make our way through this, I will first post the affirmations and denials and then proceed to my own analysis below. Here is the first, titled "Scripture":

We affirm that the Bible is God’s Word, breathed out by him. It is inerrant, infallible, and the final authority for determining what is true (what we must believe) and what is right (how we must live). All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone.

We deny that Christian belief, character, or conduct can be dictated by any other authority, and we deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching. We further deny that competency to teach on any biblical issue comes from any qualification for spiritual people other than clear understanding and simple communication of what is revealed in Scripture.

All confessional protestants can resonate with the affirmation of the Bible as God's Word. Moreover one needn't be a protestant, as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians also recognize the Bible to be verbum Dei, the Word of God. Although some might question on epistemological grounds the use of inerrant to describe Scripture, the mainstream of the Christian tradition confesses that it is inspired by God and does not err in what it teaches. Scripture is trustworthy and can be believed because it is God-breathed.

What is missing from the affirmations is the recognition that the Bible is more than a set of true propositions but a grand story in which all of humanity is caught up. It begins with God's creation, of which man stands at the pinnacle, followed by man's fall into sin, followed by God's ages-long plan to redeem humanity by calling out a peculiar people to embody his righteousness and mercy, culminating in the person of Jesus Christ, whose second coming will bring all things to fruition. This redemptive narrative is not an insignificant omission from the affirmations, although something of this can be seen in section 6 on the Gospel, which we will examine later.


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