I saw that the other night Al Mohler and Jim Wallis debated whether or not proclamation of the Gospel includes social justice. I admit that I didn’t watch it. I am sure these two men had nuances to their position that I am oversimplifying, but I don’t understand why this is debated. If we believe that in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ everything is being recreated by God, and he is choosing a people to conform into the image of his Son, so that his Kingdom can be on earth as it is in heaven, why would there be a disconnection between that affirmation and seeking the justice sought by the prophets, by Christ, and by the actions of the Apostles?
If I believe God’s Kingdom will destroy the walls between race, gender, socio-economic class, and the like then won’t I live now in anticipation of that Kingdom because I believe it is the best thing because it is what God wants for the world? If in Jesus the Kingdom was previewed through healing and exorcism, why would I think the Gospel is divorced from the well-being of others? If our King told stories of Samaritans risking their own health for the Jewish other as the prime example of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self what excuse do I have for saying that the Gospel doesn’t impact everything from my view of war and warfare to whether or not people in my city go to bed hungry.
Listen, I say this as a person who doesn’t give money to buy Tom’s shoes. Sometimes I purchase from companies that I have heard have questionable ethics (I am typing on a Mac and I have a pair of Nikes). I don’t give much to charities at home or abroad and my greatest contribution to the poor and down trodden are to those who are in my local church whom I try to teach and for whom I pray. Even in this I stand on the shoulders of men and women who do much, much more than me for the poor, the sick, the addicted, and the homeless. I am no Mother Theresa looking for the next wound to cover.
But as I continually wrestle with what it means for me to say that I believe God has vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead as an act of enthronement that previews the day when God’s Kingdom is fully established then I can’t help but think that this means I have a responsibility as a citizen of God’s Kingdom to be light and salt to the world around me, as the Spirit works through me, and this includes seeking justice in society. Sure, we may debate how this unfolds practically (e.g. I know some bloggers have participated in the Occupy Movement while I have no idea what it is intending to accomplish practically and therefore am a bit befuddled by its existence), but do we debate that it is something we must ponder in seriousness and that our meditation must lead to action as people of God’s Kingdom? I don’t think so, but maybe I am missing something?
We debate it because we don’t really want to love our neighbor. It’s nothing new. It’s why a certain expert in religious law asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
There only one justice: justice justice. Whether its social or not is irrelevant. Justice is justice.
I thought Jim Wallis was a Democratic Socialist. I don’t understand how his theo-political posture conforms to the ethics of the kingdom of Christ (at the same token I don’t understand how Mohler’s [what I know of him] does either). From what I know of Wallis, he follows a horizontal Liberation Theology; and not the apocalyptic kind of theology that shaped[s] Jesus’ Priestly (Heb. 7.25) ministry. We certainly need to be about making the crooked straight, I just can’t imagine, though, that political activism (for the Christian) is the best way to do that. Although, I am not saying in every instance this is not the case; I guess I am just saying that the theology and ethics that shape Christian political and social activism need to be very intentional and careful (i.e. not appealing to what I would call an “over-realized-eschatology”). It seems to me that the way a Christian could engage the political-socio activist scene is by going down to Occupy Wall Street (or to wherever this movement is springing up throughout the Nation), and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that once someone’s heart is changed, that this will achieve the greatest kind of socio-political transformation one could ever hope for (and I don’t mean by fulfilling the political “Right’s” so called conservative agenda either!).
Are we going to instigate heaven on earth, or does Christ do that (physically at his coming)? I think we need to be about His business, and do the works He did (in his resurrection power); I just don’t see the aim of what he was about to be the transformation of the kingdoms of the world (and I mean politically). Instead, I see his transformation to be one where he puts down all of the kingdoms of the World with the Stone of his kingdom (in fulfillment of the Danielic vision [chapter 2], as this has been appropriated by John the Revelator).
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about this too, Brian. Especially as I have been studying the book of Revelation with Richard Bauckham (his: “The Theology of the Book of Revelation” and “Climax of Prophecy”).
@Caedom: Sadly, I think you strike at the heart of the matter. Often we seek reasons for why we are not responsible for others. Hardly ever do we ask ourselves if those reasons are legitimate.
If you watch the debate Mohler is not claiming that justice is not part of the salvation offered in the Christ or even an absolute requirement for the life of the Christian. He is claiming that the mission of the church as an institution is not essentially to work for societal aspects of justice, but to worship and make disciples. This is the classical Reformed description of the Church as institution and the Church as organism. Mohler agrees that all Christians are required to seek justice for all people; the disagreement is whether that is the mission of the Church as an institution. While they did not talk about this too much, I am also pretty sure Mohler and Wallis disagree exactly what justice is and even how it should be accomplished.
@Bobby: I am like you in many ways. I am skeptical of politicians as agents of change. Of course, I caution myself against going too far toward an apolitical agenda because as Anthony Bradley said of J.D. Hunter’s ‘To Change the World’, it is easy for us whites to be apolitical, but not so much for our other brothers and sisters who are oppressed by sociological factors that must be changed through political action. I think Bradley has a point.
So at the end of the day, yes, changing structures alone doesn’t finish the job. I don’t buy into Wallis’ program and as I said in this post I don’t understand the Occupy Movement (even when I am sympathetic to their critique). Merely adopting liberal or conservative political agendas doesn’t satisfy the need.
But (!) I don’t think we must divorce the inaugurated Kingdom from the eschatological Kingdom. We know that the project was started by Jesus, he gave us his Spirit, and only he can complete the project (him alone). As Wright as noted, we don’t sit around waiting for the Kingdom in an escapists mindset (since Christ has inaugurated it), we can’t build the Kingdom like social-Gospel Liberal Protestantism argued (since all timing is in the hands of the Father), but we can build for the Kingdom. As Paul shows in 1 Corinthians when he discusses the judgment of our works, some of our works are building blocks that God sovereignly uses. I think this functions as a very truthful analogy.
@Daniel: I imagine there is a particular nuance that makes sense of Mohler’s position, but how is seeking justice divorced from worship of God and discipleship toward Christ. I can’t imagine the prophets making that distinction or the apostles who felt that to ignore orphans and widows would be a great offense. Is Mohler’s main concern (against Wallis) that the church avoid aligning with a particular political approach so that as an institution every Christian is forced to support issues wherein there may be disagreement among individual Christians?
Sheesh…couldn’t they have got two different folks to “debate” this…?
I am sure they could have found two people with more substance, but unfortunately it is hard to find two people who are more polarizing, so I’m sure that is why they were chosen. Extremes make a debate more interesting for many.
yeah, I’m not about a two-kingdom mode; or divorcing the inaugurated from the eschatological; in fact I think we constantly participate in the eschatological kingdom as Christ breaks in ever anew and everyday. But I am not so confident about presuming an ‘eschatological ethics;’ other than what we seen Jesus doing and teaching in his public ministry. I’ve seen eschatological ethics abused way too much.
I think part of the problem is this unfortunate distinction between the church and the institutional church. The debate finds traction here because, it is argued, it becomes a question of resources for the institutional church. In other words, we only have so much money to invest, so what’s primary? Answer: worship and discipleship.
But the distinction is forced. The church is the people of God, followers of Christ, empowered by the Spirit. And the church is called to embody and continue the agenda of Jesus. Discipleship, therefore, like you said Brian, includes issues of social justice.
@Wesman: It does seem that we may make a false distinction which leads to false excuses!
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