Lillback on Machen on Beck


(Or, why isn’t Christianity and Liberalism outselling Sacred Fire at Amazon?)

PCA pastor, Peter Lillback, invoked J. Gresham Machen the other night on the Glenn Beck show to clear up the host’s confusion about social justice and the churches. Beck, of course, thinks “social justice” is code for liberalism, big government, and Obamanian tyranny. But Lillback, who belongs to a communion where social justice in the form of “word and deed” ministry are prevalent, thinks a better, kinder, gentler, orthodoxer version of such justice exists. And on the show he did so by turning to, Machen, the most articulate defender of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church.  Unfriggingbelievable!

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

BECK: OK. I wanted — let’s start at the beginning.

And, Peter, maybe you can help me. Just on — first of all, never happened — this is not in any founding document, social justice or any of that stuff, right?

LILLBACK: The phrase “social justice” cannot be found in Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.

BECK: OK. It also isn’t — it’s not found in the Bible.

LILLBACK: No.

Mr. Snerdling, stop the tape. God is not found in the Constitution, nor is Jesus Christ mentioned in George Washington’s deistical piety, but does that prevent folks from attributing Christianity to America’s founding documents and fathers?

BECK: OK. Give me the origins of social justice.

LILLBACK: Well, let’s start in the context of Westminster Seminary. The man who started the school where I’m the president, J. Gresham Machen, wrote a book that revolutionized the 20th century. It was called “Christianity and Liberalism.”

And basically what he said is, is that liberals claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and liberalism are two different religions.

And that is the core of what you deal with now, really, a century after Dr. Machen started Westminster Seminary. The words are Christian, but they have been redefined. . . .

LILLBACK: Well, let’s put it this way: Going back into the late 1800s, there were others that were wrestling with social problems.

BECK: Right.

LILLBACK: And we think of the name Washington Gladden or Walter Rauschenbusch. These were great theologians that were trying to address problems of orphanages and lack of education.

Stop the tape again! Gladden and Rauschenbusch, the leaders and theorists of the Social Gospel were “great” theologians? If so, in what class does that put Warfield and Hodge?

BECK: Right.

LILLBACK: And there have always been social problems that need to be addressed and they were calling the church to do it.

But what had happened is that they begin to lose focus in the truth of the Bible. They stopped believing — as you called it — the individual character of salvation. Instead of one coming to the cross to find Jesus Christ as a crucified, buried and risen savior, the one who saved sinners, they started to turn to society. And they said salvation is when the society feeds you, when it gives you clothes, when it gives a better hospital.

BECK: Right.

LILLBACK: When it keeps your house from burning.

Now, all of those things were good, but that’s not the gospel. Those are implications of the gospel.

And what liberalism did is that it said, we no longer can believe in Jesus as God or Jesus crucified and risen and coming again. We can’t believe that. So, what we’ve done is we kept all the language and we’ve changed its meaning.

And that is social justice thinking: It’s liberalism in the cloak of Christianity. That was Dr. Machen’s fundamental insight.

This is a very confused reading of Machen, Christianity, and liberalism, and we shouldn’t fault the Mormon Beck for not being able to raise the right questions. Lillback seems to be saying that liberals abandoned the notion of salvation in Jesus Christ for a salvation by society (whatever that means – “nation” or “state” or “government” would be more precise since there is no Department of Society Office where I obtain my food stamps). By implication, Lillback also suggests that Machen is in line with his own and the PCA’s (unofficial) understanding of word and deed Christianity. On this view, word (gospel) and deed (social activism or justice) must go together and as long as they do the church is being faithful to its calling. The error is when you abandon the word and only retain the deed.

It should go without saying that bad things always happen when you abandon the word. But Lillback doesn’t seem to consider that word and deed ministry may also be the start of a process of abandoning the word that allows deed ministry to color the reading of the word. This certainly seems to be Machen’s point in articulating and defending the doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church, a teaching that reflect’s Calvin’s own view about the spiritual nature of the kingdom of redemption, reaffirmed in chapters 25 and 31 of the Confession of Faith, developed by subsequent theologians and stated succinctly by Machen. When asked to give a talk to the American Academy of Social and Political Scientists in 1933, a time when lots of deeds were needed in the United States, Machen refused to take the social justice bait:

There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life — nay, all the length of human history — is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and offered us communion with Himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whosoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — nay, all the wonders of the starry heavens — are as the dust of the street. (“The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age,” Selected Shorter Writings, pp. 375-76)

What Lillback needed to educate Beck about was the reality that evangelicals, like Charles Erdman and Robert Speer (who were effectively New School Presbyterians), and who like Lillback regarded humanitarian good deeds as an implication of the gospel, were opposed to Machen and what he was doing at Westminster. One reason is what Machen was telling graduates of Westminster about the source of the only real justice and satisfying righteousness, namely, the kind that comes through the work of Christ and the church’s ministry of reconciling sinners to God, like when in 1931 he told WTS graduates:

Remember this, at least – the things in which the world is now interested are the things that are seen; but the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal. You, as ministers of Christ, are called to deal with the unseen things. You are stewards of the mysteris of God. You alone can lead men, by the proclamation of God’s word, out of the chrash and jazz and noise and rattle and smoke of this weary age into the green pastures and beside the still waters; you alone, as ministers of reconciliation, can give what the world with all its boasting and pride can never give – the infinite sweetness of the communion of the redeemed soul with the living God. (“Consolations in the Midst of Battle,” Selected Shorter Writings, p. 205)

Perhaps Westminster Philadelphia needs a refresher course on its founder? I know. Beck can include Machen in his Founders Friday segments. Watch the sales of Christianity and Liberalism soar.

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48 thoughts on “Lillback on Machen on Beck

  1. Ugh! That’s pretty disgusting. Lillback knows better. He has to.

    I’m not sure the “Mr. Snerdling” comment served to undo the confusion about the spirituality of the Church, 2K or the gospel, but I’ll forgive you for that.

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  2. Someone should mention this to Jim Packer, Timothy George, Gerald Bray, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan and all those other “ecumenicalists” who think unity is more important than the Gospel. After all, these “reformed” signed documents like Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the Manhattan Declaration.

    If “co-belligerence” trumps separation from the the non-Christian religions like Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism, then we might as well become universalists like those damned liberals.

    Charlie

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  3. When we read or hear something that touches on something we have a particularly deep knowledge of (or at least long-term interest in) we have to stand back and get perspective.

    Neither Beck nor Lillback were debating or discoursing on intricate matters of two kingdom whatever. (I saw the show in question in full, by the way.) Beck is simply pointing out the truth that when the left says ‘social justice’ they mean ‘government tyranny.’ Period. Lillback was concurring.

    As for politics and ‘church’, when a person is born again (regenerated by the Word and the Spirit) their politics tend to change. That alone puts politics and Christianity together. Socialism, communism, fascism, all collectivist states and theories are the great *idol* of our era. Christianity promotes individual freedom over government tyranny. And if one is looking for biblical warrant for that: it is *simply because the Gospel is spread better in an environment of freedom.* There is your biblical warrant for the Bill of Rights over Mein Kampf or any Marxist document that has defiled this planet in the last 150 years or so.

    That this has to be explained over and over to Reformed academics is rather depressing. But a born again Christian rarely looks to church leaders or Christian academics for understanding of the faith these days.

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  4. Christian, your “biblical warrant” for the idea that “Christianity promotes individual freedom over government tyranny” is a consequentialist/utilitarian rationale? Is this your superior alternative for “understanding faith” !?

    Blech

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  5. Seeing the G.W. Hope t-shirt above makes me think about how much I want an “Old Life” t-shirt. This could be a cash cow for the website!

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  6. As for politics and ‘church’, when a person is born again (regenerated by the Word and the Spirit) their politics tend to change. That alone puts politics and Christianity together, etc.

    Actually, Christian, as a person begins to see the foibles of Constantinianism, and that politics and Christianity go together like fish and bicycles, his theology tends to become 2K. I’d love to claim that there is a one-to-one correspondance between regeneration and holding 2K theology, just like you marry certain politics and the faith, but the resident Calvinism won’t allow it. (I’d also like to suggest that regeneration causes one to become more states’ rights than fetus rights, but that’s just a difference of political opinion.)

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  7. Dr. Hart, are you aware of the meaning of the word “frigging”? I wouldn’t have thought that a respected scholar, elder and leader in the OPC would use language like this.

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  8. What a bizarre use of Machen. Lillback’s reading renders Beck’s church, with its welfare and hospital and perhaps even malls as more Christian than the PCA will ever be.

    Except LDS hospital has since been somewhat secularized. I’m not sure whether this makes Mormons seem less faithful (to transformationalist presbyterians) or ahead of the curve (to 2k presbyterians), but it’s a bewildering state of affairs in either case.

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  9. I’ve always understood “social justice” to be code word for socialism, not for humanitarianism. Socialists hate humanitarianism, seeing it as a capitalist rival to collectivist planning and economic egalitarianism..

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  10. Now, now, ladies, just calm down. To “Disgusted”, you need to understand that whining like an adolescent, with the associated “mature” vocabulary, is Dr H’s stock in trade (don’t be fooled by the PhD). If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

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  11. Dave Crump,

    I have to know: Are you the Dave Crump who is part of the faculty of religion at Calvin College?

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  12. What an excellent post. Excellent. So glad you took the time to watch, analyze, and sit at your computer and write some thoughts on it. Your Machen knowledge is the envy of all, and your ideas are cogent, clear and well thought out. Little did he know when he was on TV for five minutes that his comments would be decimated by such an able mind – a mind completely recognized as such in your smallest theological orbits. Right? This really is scholarship at its best.

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  13. NORM! (Nor-MAN), LOL.

    But I think you’re engaging in category confusion. You don’t look for scholarship on blogs and you don’t look for great theology in the Social Gospel. Anyone who knows how to pronounce Machen understands that.

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  14. On pronouncing names correctly… I’ll gladly not know to pronounce Barth ‘bart’ if I can have the discernment to know where his neo-orthodoxy is neo.

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  15. The above comment has nothing to do with Machen, for the record. Neither is there any implied notion that DGH is favorable to Barth.

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  16. While of course this doesn’t support the programs of many churches and their conflation of the kingdoms, the notion of justice for the oppressed is absolutely biblical, and thus ought to be the concern of every Christian.

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  17. I just looked up “frigging” on wikipedia and all my school-boy-humour Christmases arrived at once.

    Darryl, a reason I find your blog so compelling is your informed discussion delivered with no heirs or graces. Finally a Christian leader who sounds like a normal bloke. Don’t change.

    Nick Mackison

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  18. Chris, would you care to discuss what constitutes oppressed? Are widows and orphans oppressed? Do they need mercy or justice? To state that poor people deserve justice implies that poverty is unjust (which is as much an economic as a moral claim). And to alleviate poverty means that a poor person no longer qualified as blessed. I mean, Christ didn’t say the middle class will inherit the earth.

    Amused, isn’t bloke a dirty word? Like bugger?

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  19. Darryl, in short, it depends on the situation. Sure, for example, povery in itself isn’t an injustice. But surely the poor, in different ways in these United States (as opposed to, say, Kenya), need “justice”—freedom from the oppression of unjust legislation, legal representation, demagoguery, bigotry, usury, coporate slavery, etc.

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  20. …the notion of justice for the oppressed is absolutely biblical, and thus ought to be the concern of every Christian.

    Chris,

    The notion of justice is biblical and ought to be the concern of every Christian (as in how are we right with God), but I’m not sure the notion of (what some might term) social justice is. Isn’t it a few short hops from the notion of social justice to social gospel?

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  21. I’ve never been a fan of short hops or slippery slopes. In no way does the former necessarily lead to the latter.

    Also, we have to be careful here with respect to the words involved. There are a lot of meanings of the word justice as it’s used throughout Scripture (interpreted in light of context), just as there are a few Hebrew words we render as “justice.”

    Biblically, notions of “social justice” can be found in the following (mostly when the Heb. word mishpat is used): Ex 23:6; Deut 10:18; 16:19; 24:17; 27:19; Ps 140:12; 146:7; Eccl. 5:8; Isa. 1:17; 10:2; Ezek 22:9; and, of course, a large portion of the prophet Amos). This is just a smattering. No, these texts really don’t inform the details of policy, but they do provide ample ought-ness.

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  22. Chris:

    You’re right. Those versus do guide our behavior as Christians, but I think they relate more to prophetic witness than to cultural endeavor. For instance the verses that you cite from the Psalms explicitly describe God and the coming kingdom, the heavenly Jerusalem. The church should maintain that witness at all costs. God is perfectly holy, just, righteous, and faithful, and he is coming to establish a kingdom where the righteous shall dwell in his presence. The inauguration of that kingdom necessarily entails the destruction and judgment of the existing kingdoms of the world. We should witness to that. In fact, this is the necessary context of the gospel, which offers the only means of salvation through the coming judgment.

    Besides being prophetic, most of the other versus that you cited are directed to people in positions of authority. When it comes to the cultural sphere, most of us are not in positions of authority. We are more likely to be judged by a civil magistrate than to exercise the office of a judge. We should submit to that authority.

    Westminster Larger Catechism #127 spells out the duty that we owe our superiors: “The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.” There’s some biblical ought-ness.

    WLC Q&A #128 describes some of the common sins committed by inferiors against superiors: “The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.”

    I know that the language of superiors and inferiors is grating to the ears of modern Americans, but it’s an institutional fact established by God. God has appointed magistrates to rule and judge over us. He has not appointed us to rule and judge over them.

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  23. Chris,

    Rhett beats me to the prophetic punch. I’ll just add that if, as Jesus says, all of Scripture is about him (John 5:39), it sure seems that the verses you cite might have a more counter-intutitve meaning than “social justice ought to be the concern of every Christian.”

    But I’m still wondering how exhorting believers to social justice isn’t the leading edge of social gospel. Exhorting them to law (third use) seems to be another way and could very well translate into held social policies that vary between individual believers. That seems much more preferable to the way you are suggesting. Not only does it steer quite away from social gospel, it protects liberty. I mean, have you ever noticed how homogeneous social gospelers (who traffic heavily in notions of “social justice”) are? They only ones they differ from are those who have the wrong social gospel, which is to say, not theirs.

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  24. I’ll put on my Tony Campolo hat for a moment. It itches.

    Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

    Is James on the leading edge of the social gospel?

    Maybe Amos is?

    This is what the LORD says:
    “For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not turn back {my wrath}.
    They sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.

    They trample on the heads of the poor
    as upon the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
    Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.

    They lie down beside every altar
    on garments taken in pledge.
    In the house of their god
    they drink wine taken as fines.

    Zrim, let’s take as a point of agreement that “gospel” and “social” don’t belong together. Still and all — is it possible that being concerned with justice is a necessary part of our behavior as Christians?

    Or to put it provocatively: could an utter denial of social justice be the leading edge of Anabaptism? If the text concerns itself with social justice, doesn’t the exegete have to preach social justice?

    Put another way: Given that James 5 and Amos 2 are indeed about Christ — in what way would you see Jesus in the passages above?

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  25. >is it possible that being concerned with justice is a necessary part of our behavior as Christians?
    >doesn’t the exegete have to preach social justice?

    The problem here is the very term itself – social justice – coming out of the mouth of anybody is *foundationally naive.*

    The world preaches resentment and entitlement; ‘social justice’ is about resentment and entitlement, and resentment is always directed at other humans. The Word of God, on the other hand, preaches gratitude and the fact that we are in this world, not of this world.

    ‘Social justice’ presupposes in the person mouthing it a very worldly unself-aware self-estimate of holiness and righteousness. “We want social justice for these poor people!!!” So who are you shouting at? Yeah, that’s right, resentment always needs a human target (if indeed the target isn’t God Himself). So you, as the mouther of ‘social justice’ are now judging other humans in the *unbiblical way* which is from an inherent sense of your own holiness and righteousness.

    The best government is one that puts checks and balances on all the features of fallen man. The best system of economics is one that recognizes self-interest and allows it to work freely for the benefit of all. You want ‘social justice’? Take the government shackles off the 10 percent of society who are energetic and creative and make the jobs for everybody else. The people who shout ‘social justice’ are the same people putting those government shackles on our job creators.

    The devil’s kingdom wants tyranny. Become more self-aware, Christian, and learn to discern these things. See that your call for ‘social justice’ is your fallen nature wanting to indulge resentment towards others (whovever is a good target) and God Himself and to cloak it in biblical terms. Wake up.

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  26. Chris, fine, so the poor need protection from unjust legislation. Care to identify some? From what Jeff quotes, it sound like having any wealth around the poor is unjust.

    But Jeff, while you’re playing Tony Campolo, do you think it’s okay for Solomon to have his Temple and riches? Put another way, aren’t Anabaptists doing a better job than the middle-class?

    Either way, I don’t see all cases of poverty as forms of injustice. I lost a job and make less than the average undergraduate. Is that a form of injustice?

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  27. My call for social justice? Wow, you seem to know a lot about me, Christian. A “word of knowledge”, I suppose.

    Your post makes a good point: the term “social justice” has a history, and is associated with racial and class resentment. So let’s not use the term.

    Instead, let’s focus on the Scriptural term “justice.”

    Could it be that justice, doing justly, is a part of Christian living?

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  28. DGH: From what Jeff quotes, it sound like having any wealth around the poor is unjust.

    I’m just quoting the Scripture. If James really is decrying any wealth around the poor, then we best listen up. If he’s not, then tell us what he means.

    DGH: But Jeff, while you’re playing Tony Campolo, do you think it’s okay for Solomon to have his Temple and riches?

    Certainly not his wives and concubines. And the two were linked.

    From Proverbs, I would say that we learn that

    * Riches are from the Lord, but
    * Riches are perilous.

    Solomon illustrates that as well as anyone.

    Tony C, BTW, is interesting because his method of fighting poverty is to lift the standard of living of the 3rd world — thus increasing their wealth. The location on the scale is different (rich v poor) but the analysis of the problem is the same: What these people need is money. For my part, I think he’s perhaps fallen into a funky version of the peril of riches.

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  29. Spoken like a true Republican, Christian. Thanks for perpetuating the stereotype.

    @ RL (Rhett?), I agree with what you wrote, yet I don’t find that it contradicts what I’ve written. No doubt the verses in question say more about the church’s prophetic witness than cultural endeavor (what Christians do in their vocations, endeavoring culturally or otherwise, is, in a sense, their business). That’s why I was careful to write, “No, these texts really don’t inform the details of policy, but they do provide ample ought-ness [for the church to embody prophetic witness (to put it in those terms)].”

    Regarding the point about authority, we could go further and write them off completely by suggesting (rightly) that those verses were uttered in a theocratic context, and thus don’t apply today. But that’d be going too far. The church is now the locus, as you know, and not the holy nation-state. Thus she is the heir of these words. How does she enact them? She does so when her members embody them, when her members actively seek the opportunities around them to embody, for example, what James is speaking of in the quote above (offered by J. Cagle). We all find ourselves in spheres of influence and authority, and the ought-ness that I think the Bible pushes here has to do with each of us in those smaller spheres as much as it does with those in authority over us.

    @Zrim, yes, I think something like that is what I’d hope to see—promoting the didactic use of the law “could very well translate into held social policies that vary between individual believers.”

    @Darryl, I don’t see all forms of poverty as injustice. Poverty, in developed countries at least, is a relative thing anyway. Bloating babies in Africa, well, that probably nudges up against injustice, maybe not because it in itself is unjust, but because, say, the ravages of colonialism helped in a big way get those bloated babies where they are today.

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  30. Jeff, maybe you disagree that calls for social justice don’t necessarily slip into social gospel, but if you agree that social gospel is bad then maybe you could explain why, as well as how you think social gospel begins (it doesn’t just fall out the clear blue, does it)? I mean, if social gospelers use those same texts to push a social gospel, what makes you and Tony any different? It doesn’t seem fair to use Amos and James to suggest something positive about social justice, and then turn around and say “social” and “gospel” don’t go together.

    What I see James exhorting is law: don’t cheat your workers. It’s the same as Paul charging slaves to be submissive to masters. But I think those that read such texts with an eye towards social policy end up pressing James into the service of the AFL-CIO or Paul to endorse slavery. Again, I agree that believers should be concerned with law, but I think that’s different from social justice.

    Anabaptism isn’t about the denial of social justice. Quite the contrary, it’s all about social justice, to the point of rebellion, as in the Munster Rebellion (contra biblical calls to submission to authority, I might add). It’s also about confusing law and gospel, you know, like Amish asking judges to suspend justice against men who mow down classrooms “because Jesus said to forgive our enemies and turn the other cheek.”

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  31. Jeff, you say we need to listen to James. But we need to listen to Proverbs. So what are you advocating in the light of Scripture. Quoting the Bible doesn’t solve much. We need interpretation. And since you came on to quote Scripture and take issue with someone who was posting against social justice, then it sure looked like you were in favor of it, even to the point of seeing Jesus in the work of Tony C.

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  32. Zrim: Good questions.

    …if you agree that social gospel is bad then maybe you could explain why, as well as how you think social gospel begins (it doesn’t just fall out the clear blue, does it)? I mean, if social gospelers use those same texts to push a social gospel, what makes you and Tony any different?

    More hair. Different attitude towards the Scriptures. Different definition of the gospel. Different ZIP code and birthday. Other than that, we’re just alike. 🙂

    It might well be the case, though, that the difference between sliding down the slippery slope and not comes down to two of those things:

    (1) A sola scriptura approach to doctrine, and
    (2) A sola fide approach to the gospel.

    (That’s a positive value of justification-o-centrism, BTW: keeping an eye on the gospel ball).

    What I see James exhorting is law: don’t cheat your workers. It’s the same as Paul charging slaves to be submissive to masters.

    Agreed.

    But I think those that read such texts with an eye towards social policy end up pressing James into the service of the AFL-CIO or Paul to endorse slavery.

    OK. But take a different approach: consider someone who reads such texts with an eye towards proper exegesis. Won’t such a person still come to some conclusions about how the law (e.g. James 5) is to be used in its three uses?

    In other words, just because the texts are abused by “illegitimate foreclosure” (that is: deriving an absolute moral imperative from a sloppy reading of the text), does that argue that the texts have no moral applications at all? Surely not.

    Put another way: Amos’ criticisms of Israel are that they had

    * Exploited the poor (cf. 5.11)
    * Denied justice (in fact, suppressing justice in the courts, cf. 5.10)
    * Sexually exploited or debased women
    * Engaged in idolatry

    The last, of course, is cultic in nature. But the first three are criticisms of a nation on the basis of its cultural — not cultic — behavior. To forestall one objection: this is not limited to the nation of Israel. Pagan nations are criticized in ch. 1-2 on similar bases, though not for idolatry.

    I have to conclude that certain cultural practices are sins on the part of nations, and that refraining as a nation from these practices is morally obligatory.

    We might undermine this conclusion by arguing that only individuals, not nations, sin. But God in Amos treats nations as corporate entities, both in terms of guilt and also in terms of punishment.

    Or we might undermine this conclusion by playing the “that was the OT” card. But mere presence in the OT does not automatically indicate irrelevance. Jesus also speaks of the corporate guilt of cities and nations, first and foremost of Israel.

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  33. DGH: Jeff, you say we need to listen to James. But we need to listen to Proverbs.

    True. Where are we going here?

    DGH: Quoting the Bible doesn’t solve much.

    The purpose was to ask, How do you read James and Amos? How do their criticisms fit with a denial of “social justice”? I’m asking for nuance.

    DGH: it sure looked like you were in favor of it [social justice]

    I’m in favor of just laws. I would not say that I’m in favor of the current concept behind the term social justice.

    DGH: …even to the point of seeing Jesus in the work of Tony C.

    It was a joke. I forgot the appropriate emoticon.

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  34. “…if you agree that social gospel is bad then maybe you could explain why, as well as how you think social gospel begins (it doesn’t just fall out the clear blue, does it)? I mean, if social gospelers use those same texts to push a social gospel, what makes you and Tony any different?”

    It might well be the case, though, that the difference between sliding down the slippery slope and not comes down to two of those things:

    (1) A sola scriptura approach to doctrine, and
    (2) A sola fide approach to the gospel.

    Jeff,

    With all due respect, to my mind, using magic words and phrases like sola scriptura and sola fide doesn’t make the seeds of social gospel disappear. This is the same error someone like Lillback seems to make: “His social gospel is bad because he doesn’t have sola fide in his theological history; but mine is good because I do.”

    First, Protestant liberals most assuredly do have the formal and material principles of the Reformation in their history. Second, like them, you’re working in spite of the theological tradition, not in concert with it. (If SS leads to social justice at least as much as it does justification then maybe the Reformation got it only half right? And it seems to me that if the principles that lead soteriologically to sola fide are applied ecclesiologically then, just as the individual is called to faith alone, the church is only called to the gospel alone—otherwise, saying that the church is called to preach the gospel plus social justice sounds a lot like saying the individual is called to faith plus works.)

    Sorry, this sort of reasoning doesn’t add up to much beyond, “You can’t because you’re you, but I can because I’m me. The problem with your social gospel is that it isn’t mine.” But doctrine is supposed to inform praxis, not be a convenient cover for heteropraxy.

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  35. Zrim, the concerns are noted, but the argument doesn’t hold together.

    Far from “I can because I’m me”, the argument is “I can because I have a couple of stopping points that prevent me from falling down the slippery slope.”

    As you are probably aware, a slippery-slope argument requires showing a mechanism by which we fall down, and eliminating any potential stopping points along the way. Unless you have successfully done both of these things, you don’t have a reliable slippery slope.

    Here, the appeals to sola fide and sola scriptura are not magic words, but rather get to the heart of what I view as the real cause of 20th century liberalism. BEFORE there was “social justice”, there was “higher criticism” and “New Haven theology.”

    If SS leads to social justice at least as much as it does justification then maybe the Reformation got it only half right?

    The devil is in the words “at least as much.” Neither you nor I affirms this, so it’s a non-issue. I would affirm only that the Scripture makes clear that we have an ethical obligation not to exploit the poor.

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  36. Here, the appeals to sola fide and sola scriptura are not magic words, but rather get to the heart of what I view as the real cause of 20th century liberalism. BEFORE there was “social justice”, there was “higher criticism” and “New Haven theology.”

    If the end result of that legacy was social justice, how would it make any sense for those who claim to reject “higher criticism and New Haven theology” to speak in social justice tones? Isn’t that sort of like a Presbyterian saying that his not baptizing his children is ok because the Baptist withholds based on a legacy of anabaptism, while he descends from Westminster? So what? The practice (or non-practice, whichever the case) is what matters here. And practice is the result of belief. And one’s bad practice isn’t explained away by pointing to the other guy’s bad practice based on bad belief. At least he’s consistent, along with Word and sacrament SOTC Presbyterians. Word and deed Presbyterians aren’t even that. (They’re sort of like the 3-4 point Calvinists [2-1 point Arminians?] who don’t realize that 5-point Arminians and 5-point Calvinists are each internally consistent and that cafeteriaism makes no sense.)

    “If SS leads to social justice at least as much as it does justification then maybe the Reformation got it only half right?”

    The devil is in the words “at least as much.” Neither you nor I affirms this, so it’s a non-issue. I would affirm only that the Scripture makes clear that we have an ethical obligation not to exploit the poor.

    It seemed to me that you were justifying social justice by way of SS, which I don’t see at all, I see sola fide (i.e. justification) flowing from sola scriptura.

    But I agree that Scripture makes clear that we have an ethical obligation not to exploit the poor. But that seems altogether different from “…the notion of justice for the oppressed is absolutely biblical, and thus ought to be the concern of every Christian.” The former is a moral category, the latter seems much closer to a socio-economic or socio-political category.

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  37. Zrim: If the end result of that legacy was social justice, how would it make any sense for those who claim to reject “higher criticism and New Haven theology” to speak in social justice tones?

    Two words: multiple causation.

    Legalists speak in terms of obedience to the Law. The Confession speaks in terms of obedience to the Law. The Confession is not thereby legalistic.

    “the notion of justice for the oppressed is absolutely biblical, and thus ought to be the concern of every Christian.” The former is a moral category, the latter seems much closer to a socio-economic or socio-political category.

    Chris should speak to that. I don’t know what he meant.

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  38. But I agree that Scripture makes clear that we have an ethical obligation not to exploit the poor. But that seems altogether different from “…the notion of justice for the oppressed is absolutely biblical, and thus ought to be the concern of every Christian.” The former is a moral category, the latter seems much closer to a socio-economic or socio-political category.

    Well, I meant it to be taken in the way you meant your “ethical obligation.” That is, not exploiting the poor means also (in our American context) promoting “justice for the oppressed,” in ways I wrote above. Christians will no doubt differ on what this looks like on the street, so to speak. But the principle is not adiaphora.

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  39. Chris,

    It may also be that “justice for the oppressed” is what was potentially misleading if what you meant was “mercy for the suffering,” since justice isn’t mercy and the cause of suffering isn’t always oppression. That, plus “justice for the oppressed” just seems like standard-issue rhetoric of the social gospelers of whatever stripe. Which is why it surprised me a bit to hear a known non-social gospeler use it (he said with a wink).

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  40. >It may also be that “justice for the oppressed” is what was potentially misleading if what you meant was “mercy for the suffering,” since justice isn’t mercy and the cause of suffering isn’t always oppression.

    Amen. God delivers justice. Even *regenerated* Christians are doing very good if they can know their own smell.

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  41. But here we go treating the word justice as a monlith. It is not, in every case, synonymous with “judgment” or “wrath.” I encourage a word study through Scripture to see what I mean. Indeed, the majority of uses of the word do not fit in those latter categories.

    So, then, Zrim (and thanks for that trust, wink-wink), “mercy” for the suffering could indeed be “justice” for them as well. I think that’s obvious enough. If, for example, a suffering group is shown “mercy” by some person or group that has the influence to affect the “just-ness” of the situation—in the favor of the suffering—then both are present. The two terms are not, as is popularly understood, always and forever antithetical.

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  42. Why not just help someone without determining who is good and who is bad in the situation. This desire to mete out justice is an old feature of our Old Man; our fallen nature. A regenerated Christian has gratitude for everything and sees in themselves what they dislike in others. That is a feature of the New Man. The New Man is not looking for ‘justifications’ to indulge resentments towards particular targets (inevitably some human or group of humans).

    Most people I’ve met in situations you’d most likely consider to be situations where they need ‘justice’ done for them are people who don’t give a rat’s you-know-what for anybody or anything. Children are different. So are women who have been out of the world to keep a home then find themselves helpless. Interesting that the Bible focuses in on these two groups. Obviously the sick and injured as well. Actually everybody, with common-sense and no sense that anybody is more holy or righteous than anybody else.

    I’m pretty jaded from seeing deep-end drug addicts *up close*, and seeing how satanically self-absorbed and *return evil for good* they are. I.e. you help them and they do evil to you in return.

    Remember the ‘surprising’ finding by sociologists that criminals in fact not only aren’t suffering from low self-esteem, but from too high a self-esteem.

    Back to ‘justice’. The fact is our fallen nature loves the word because with it we put ourselves in God’s place. To greater or lesser degree in each case, yet to some degree.

    Try this: like what your fallen nature *doesn’t like.* That is the act of a Christian.

    Fallen man doesn’t like to have gratitude in the face of perceived ‘injustice.’ It’s much more pleasurable to indulge resentment and get ‘righteously’ angry (at the currently politically-correct targets, of course).

    I don’t like thinking everything that happens to me *I deserve* (and much more). My fallen nature won’t put up with that kind of thought…

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  43. “I’m pretty jaded from seeing deep-end drug addicts *up close*, and seeing how satanically self-absorbed and *return evil for good* they are. I.e. you help them and they do evil to you in return.”

    I too know this all too well. But let’s not forget that you’re describing precisely how Jesus was treated. And what did he do in return? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

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  44. “What Lillback needed to educate Beck about was”
    maybe the gospel of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ?!
    Shame on the opportunistic sem prez to simply sell Geo. W. to the lost, mad Mormon.

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