If Gospel Coalitions Can’t Unite, What about Social Gospels?

Paul Carter is worried about factionalism dividing the unity of young Calvinists (largely identified with the Gospel Coalition). He’s also worried that the young Calvinists are in over the heads on politics:

The YRR movement has been fueled by some very admirable concerns: the desire to trust in Scripture, the desire to worship God as he is and not as culture dictates, the desire to reach the nations with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ – these are noble and appropriate motivations. But mixed in with these there were no doubt some motivations of lesser quality.

There was a desire, for example, to be different than the generation that went before.

The Baby Boomers were indifferent to doctrine – by and large – and in bed with the Republican Party – metaphorically speaking. The YRR crowd wanted to make it clear that they were different. For the first 10 years or so of the movement this meant largely avoiding the political implications of the Gospel.

At T4G 18 that all began to change.

Politics was back on the table.

To a certain extent this was inevitable – the Gospel has social and political consequences. But the YRR movement does not appear prepared to facilitate that conversation. The movement appears poised to fracture under the pressure posed by long neglected issues and implications.

If Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, what need has a Christian to own a handgun?

If the Gospel has broken down the wall of hostility and made of us one new people – then why are we still talking about black and white?

If the mission of the church is to take the Gospel to the nations, then why are so many Christians opposed to immigration?

I’m not telling you what the answers are I’m just telling you what the questions are. Questions are being asked that for over a decade were not being asked and the weight of those questions threatens to derail the movement.

Here’s why the young Calvinists can’t avoid talking about race, immigration, and guns. Not only does The Gospel Coalition feed a steady diet of gospelly reflections about the latest headlines at Fox or MSNBC, but these people actually believe that the Bible speaks to government policies on race, immigration, and guns. They have a comprehensive w-w that requires the Bible to speak – period – totally – period – to all of life – period (thanks Aaron Sorkin). The spirituality of the church is not an option.

As much as critics might want to accuse defenders of the spirituality of the church of racism, they should actually consider that a reduced scope for Scripture and the church is much like classical liberalism. Government is supposed to be limited in its operations; in the case of the United States the Constitution was supposed to inform that limitation. But for Fascists, Communists, and some aspects of Progressivism, a limited government won’t get done all you want government to do. Plus, a government that provides mere basic services won’t generate the aspirations that people need to make a nation great or exceptional.

The same goes for the transformationalizationalists. A reduced footprint for Christianity is not good enough. The church needs to do more than proclaim the gospel, conduct faithful worship, provide discipline, and care for widows and orphans (with 1 Tim. 5 scrutiny). How could Christianity ever make people go “wow” if the church restricted what it did to word, sacrament, and discipline (and let all the other agencies of a civil society pitch in on the aspirational stuff)?

In the heart of most people beats the pulse of a Yankee fan, which helps to explain Kuyperianism, Youthful Calvinism, and Roman Catholicism. Comprehensivalists all.

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32 thoughts on “If Gospel Coalitions Can’t Unite, What about Social Gospels?

  1. DGH – if the Yankees are the transformationalists, which team is the 2K/spirituality of the church folks? An NL team for sure as they adhere to the regulative principle and haven’t given in to the man-made invention of the designated hitter

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  2. Who says the following:


    Government is supposed to be limited in its operations; in the case of the United States the Constitution was supposed to inform that limitation.

    Those who benefit from fewer and fewer regulations and social safety net programs. That is who says it. Those who favor a government that represents the rich because they hope to ride in on their coattails. Those who are in denial of how interdependent our economic system want a very limited government.

    The reason for the writing of The Constitution was to expand government power in hopes of maintaining the status quo for the domestic elites at the time. Look at the demographics of the people involved in debating what should be in The Constitution. Look at how The Constitution enabled the federal gov’t to militarily respond to insurrections–it was widespread dissent and Shays Rebellion that caused the writing of that document. And then follow the debate for defining the duties and term length of a Senator. Madison argued for a term that would make a Senator less vulnerable to popular opinion. In fact, Madison feared the opening of elections to all classes of people in England because such could lead to agrarian reform. And look at the voting requirements back then and the percentage of people who could vote at the time immediately following the writing of The Constitution. The limitations placed on gov’t limited the gov’t’s ability to govern the rich.

    Opposed to that would be stronger democracies that allowed people from other economic classes to write and support legislation that would govern the wealthy as well–that is what Marx called the abolition of private property. And why should we have that? Doesn’t the need for more democracy come from how interdependent our economic system makes us?

    Is it odd that some religious conservative Christians should favor a limited government in terms of controlling the rich when the pre-revolutionary times of France, Russia, and Spain saw the then dominant branches of the Church side with wealth and power and how those respective revolutions saw Christians being unnecessarily persecuted and the reputation of the Gospel harmed?

    BTW, you might want to check on whether those transformationalists address economic classism. And you also might want to note that a key difference between fascism and Marxism is found in identity of those who support and even direct government decisions. In fascism, it is the wealthy whether they are industrialists or part of the landed interests. In Marxism, it is the workers. That leaves Lenin et. al. in their own category seeing that Lenin was a member of the petite bourgeoisie class.

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  3. Curt, and the founders believed that the American people should be self-reliant and capable of governing themselves. Who doesn’t believe that? Socialists.

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  4. Young Life saved kids and ruined the Church. “It’s a sin to bore a kid.” Bullshit anyone who has ever taught should laugh at, an terrible advice. Meanwhile we now hang on every word of Kelletand Norman biographer Thornbury. Good times!

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  5. Young Life saved kids and ruined the Church. “It’s a sin to bore a kid.” Bullshit anyone who has ever taught should laugh at, an terrible advice. Meanwhile we now hang on every word of Kelletand Norman biographer Thornbury. Good times!

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  6. Curt: Opposed to that would be stronger democracies that allowed people from other economic classes to write and support legislation that would govern the wealthy as well–that is what Marx called the abolition of private property. And why should we have that? Doesn’t the need for more democracy come from how interdependent our economic system makes us?

    I though the Bible taught “do not steal”?

    Marx is teaching us to steal everything from everyone.

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  7. Curt,

    Opposed to that would be stronger democracies that allowed people from other economic classes to write and support legislation that would govern the wealthy as well–that is what Marx called the abolition of private property.

    What are you talking about here? Marx believed people could have private property as long as people who owned it were subject to the law? That sounds wrong.

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  8. Robert,
    How much of you opinion of Marx comes from reading him? From Marx’s response to Bruno Bauer in On The Jewish Question(see https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/jewish-question/ ):


    The political elevation of man above religion shares all the defects and all the advantages of political elevation in general. The state as a state annuls, for instance, private property, man declares by political means that private property is abolished as soon as the property qualification for the right to elect or be elected is abolished, as has occurred in many states of North America. Hamilton quite correctly interprets this fact from a political point of view as meaning:

    the masses have won a victory over the property owners and financial wealth.” [Thomas Hamilton, Men and Manners in America, 2 vols, Edinburgh, 1833, p. 146]

    Is not private property abolished in idea if the non-property owner has become the legislator for the property owner? The property qualification for the suffrage is the last political form of giving recognition to private property.

    Nevertheless, the political annulment of private property not only fails to abolish private property but even presupposes it. The state abolishes, in its own way, distinctions of birth, social rank, education, occupation, when it declares that birth, social rank, education, occupation, are non-political distinctions, when it proclaims, without regard to these distinction, that every member of the nation is an equal participant in national sovereignty, when it treats all elements of the real life of the nation from the standpoint of the state. Nevertheless, the state allows private property, education, occupation, to act in their way – i.e., as private property, as education, as occupation, and to exert the influence of their special nature.

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  9. Jeff,
    That is the conservative assessment of Marx. But let me ask this: Was James Madison’s ownership of property theft from the slaves who actually much of the wealth that came from his property? Here we should consult James:


    Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

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  10. Young Life didn’t ruin the Church. Though not perfect, it arose out of the needs of kids which the Church was not addressing.

    Yes, Young life has faults, I know that from personal experience. But it has made important contributions that the Church was not making.

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  11. D.G.,
    The founders believed that America’s elite should be in charge and free from the demands of the populace. Many Socialists believe that those who do not belong to the elite class should be in charge and that, as stakeholders, we are collectively self-reliant. BTW, here we should the traditional business definition of the word ‘stakeholder,’ not the current working definition of the term that equates stakeholder with shareholder.

    However, it is Ayn Rand who believed that the individual, in an interdependent society and economic system, should be completely self-reliant and have no social responsibilities for others. If memory serves, Ayn Rand was not born early enough nor in the right location to become one of the founders of the nation.

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  12. “If memory serves, Ayn Rand was not born early enough nor in the right location to become one of the founders of the nation.”

    Every capitalist is an Ayn Rand acolyte, but socialists come in a thousand shades of grey. Convenient.

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  13. Curt – “The founders believed that America’s elite should be in charge and free from the demands of the populace. Many Socialists believe that those who do not belong to the elite class should be in charge and that, as stakeholders, we are collectively self-reliant.”

    Partly true, and on a certain level I agree with the Founders. There should be a balance between “elite” rule and “common” rule, though it largely boils down to those who have the highest stake in the system. And name a society where “those who do not belong to the elite class” have been in charge and done well. I can provide plenty of examples where “common” rule has been disastrous. See Revolution, French.

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  14. Curt,

    Was James Madison’s ownership of property theft from the slaves who actually much of the wealth that came from his property?

    One could make an argument that yes it was. But modern employees in our mixed capitalistic-socialistic economy aren’t slaves.

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  15. Curt: But let me ask this: Was James Madison’s ownership of property theft from the slaves who actually made much of the wealth that came from his property?

    Hamilton via Miranda:
    Thomas. That was a real nice declaration
    Welcome to the present, we’re running a real nation
    Would you like to join us, or stay mellow
    Doin’ whatever the H*** it is you do in Monticello?
    If we assume the debts, the union gets
    A new line of credit, a financial diuretic
    How do you not get it? If we’re aggressive and competitive
    The union gets a boost. You’d rather give it a sedative?
    A civics lesson from a slaver. Hey neighbor
    Your debts are paid cuz you don’t pay for labor
    “We plant seeds in the South. We create.”
    Yeah, keep ranting
    We know who’s really doing the planting

    Funny thing that the “rights of man” supporter Jefferson was the slave-holder (and slave-abuser), while Hamilton the “champion of capital” was the abolitionist.

    Your citation of Marx is a misreading. In part 1 of On the Jewish Question, Marx cites and paraphrases Bauer in order to show that Bauer does not go far enough. For Marx, having only political equality is insufficient; there must also be social equality. That happens through the abolition of religion and of private property.

    Marx does not want the state to allow “private property, education, occupation, to act in their way – i.e., as private property, as education, as occupation, and to exert the influence of their special nature.”. He sees that as Bauer’s contradiction, and insists that we go beyond such half-measures.

    You got confused because Marx is combining his own criticisms of Bauer together with Bauer’s ideas and Marx’s own. He’s not a clear writer, and when he launches into an argument-by-contradiction (as here), it can appear that he is supporting what he is actually attacking.

    When he actually expresses his ideas about property, he speaks thus:

    Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it – when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., – in short, when it is used by us. Although private property itself again conceives all these direct realisations of possession only as means of life, and the life which they serve as means is the life of private property – labour and conversion into capital.

    In the place of all physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, the sense of having. The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order that he might yield his inner wealth to the outer world.

    The abolition of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities, but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become, subjectively and objectively, human. The eye has become a human eye, just as its object has become a social, human object – an object made by man for man. The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theoreticians. They relate themselves to the thing for the sake of the thing, but the thing itself is an objective human relation to itself and to man, and vice versa. Need or enjoyment have consequently lost its egotistical nature, and nature has lost its mere utility by use becoming human use.

    — Karl Marx, Private Property and Communism

    Marx absolutely wants mankind to transcend the notion of property altogether, and for all of us to share in the theoretically and practically sensuous consciousness of man and of nature as the essence.

    The materialism inherent in his theory is not marginal, and it cannot be converted to Christian use. For Marx, man is never free so long as he is religious; and he is at the lowest rung so long as he holds on to private property.

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  16. Jeff,
    My reading of Marx is correct, you have confused Marx and Bauer. Marx made clear that the abolition of religion included its existence. He criticized Bauer for maintaining the opposite: that the abolition of religion means its elimination. That is why he states that the abolition of religion refers to freeing the state from the control of religion. And quoting from another work doesn’t prove your point. For Marx said the following after referring to states in North America:


    The political emancipation of the Jew, the Christian, and, in general, of religious man, is the emancipation of the state from Judaism, from Christianity, from religion in general. In its own form, in the manner characteristic of its nature, the state as a state emancipates itself from religion by emancipating itself from the state religion – that is to say, by the state as a state not professing any religion, but, on the contrary, asserting itself as a state. The political emancipation from religion is not a religious emancipation that has been carried through to completion and is free from contradiction, because political emancipation is not a form of human emancipation which has been carried through to completion and is free from contradiction.

    The limits of political emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the state can free itself from a restriction without man being really free from this restriction, that the state can be a free state [pun on word Freistaat, which also means republic] without man being a free man. Bauer himself tacitly admits this when he lays down the following condition for political emancipation:

    Every religious privilege, and therefore also the monopoly of a privileged church, would have been abolished altogether, and if some or many persons, or even the overwhelming majority, still believed themselves bound to fulfil religious duties, this fulfilment ought to be left to them as a purely private matter.” [The Jewish Question, p. 65]

    It is possible, therefore, for the state to have emancipated itself from religion even if the overwhelming majority is still religious. And the overwhelming majority does not cease to be religious through being religious in private.

    Remember that Marx mentioned the abolition of religion in the context of discussing the Jewish question and debating Bruno Bauer’s position on the Jewish Question:


    How, then, does Bauer solve the Jewish question? What is the result? The formulation of a question is its solution. The critique of the Jewish question is the answer to the Jewish question. The summary, therefore, is as follows:

    We must emancipate ourselves before we can emancipate others.

    The most rigid form of the opposition between the Jew and the Christian is the religious opposition. How is an opposition resolved? By making it impossible. How is religious opposition made impossible? By abolishing religion. As soon as Jew and Christian recognize that their respective religions are no more than different stages in the development of the human mind, different snake skins cast off by history, and that man is the snake who sloughed them, the relation of Jew and Christian is no longer religious but is only a critical, scientific, and human relation. Science, then, constitutes their unity. But, contradictions in science are resolved by science itself.

    The abolition of private property for Marx is similar to his freeing the state from religion. That is why he said that what was happening in some of the states in North America fits the idea of abolishing private property. The context for Marx’s abolition of private property is his opposition to the control that those who owned such property have over others,. What Marx protested the most was the control of the bourgeoisie. This why the conservative mantra of big government = socialism is factually wrong from a Marxist position. For when big government is run by the bourgeoisie, it is protested by Marx because of the control private property has over the state. Marx saw the state as offering refuge from those who were oppressed by private property and those oppressed by religion such as the Jews and the Jewish Question.

    Also realize that Marx talks about a state of transition that occurs with the proletariat dictatorship and his utopian state. We can easily misunderstand Marx by conflating those two states.

    I fully agree with what you wrote in your last paragraph. Marx’s materialism, like his utopia and proletariat dictatorship must be rejected by the Christian because of what the Scriptures say. But one can some variation of Marxist government and workplace structures while not just not opposing what the Scriptures say, but also by following what the Scriptures say about our sinfulness and corporate concern for our neighbor. And one can embrace the idea of the abolition of private property and religion when the idea of that kind of abolition is fulfilled by freeing the state from the control of private property and any particular sets of religion so that we can all live and participate in society as equals. Of course, none of that produces a utopia. But it can serve to improve what we have now.

    BTW, I also fully agree that Marx is not a clear writer.

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  17. Robert,
    Modern employees don’t have to be slaves for the answer to the question about who owns Madison’s wealth to apply. That is why I quoted from James (not Madison) 5.

    And, btw, we don’t have a mixed capitalist-socialist economy–at least not one from the Marxist tradition. The first concern of Socialism from the Marxist position is the redistribution of power from private property and the bourgeoisie and the workers. For whether we are referring to government or the workplace, private property rules, which is to say that those with the most wealth control everyone else.

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  18. Vae,

    You wrote the following:


    Partly true, and on a certain level I agree with the Founders. There should be a balance between “elite” rule and “common” rule, though it largely boils down to those who have the highest stake in the system. And name a society where “those who do not belong to the elite class” have been in charge and done well.

    Name a society where the elite class has allowed rule by those who aren’t elites. In some cases what you really have is opposing elites. In other places, you have outside interference by foreign elites.

    In addition, wealth disparity contradicts the idea that the economy of a given nation is doing well. For the economy of a nation is often spoken about in terms of specific classes of people as if the economy of the nation is a monolith. We don’t include the lower economic classes when describing how well the economy of a given nation is doing. And one of the reasons for that is because we reduce a nation’s economy to its commerce.

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  19. Curt,

    Name a society where the elite class has allowed rule by those who aren’t elites. In some cases what you really have is opposing elites. In other places, you have outside interference by foreign elites.

    Elites always end up ruling. By definition, the ruling class is the elite class. Some people always rise to the top, legitimately or illegitimately. There’s no way to avoid hierarchy. Every socialist revolution immediately put in a place a new hierarchy.

    In addition, wealth disparity contradicts the idea that the economy of a given nation is doing well.

    Why? You are always going to have poor people. That’s what Jesus said, and it is self-evidently true. Sometimes they will be poor by oppression. Sometimes by bad personal choices. Sometimes by natural disasters or illness. The fact that some people have less than others does not prove that economy as a whole is doing poorly.

    For the economy of a nation is often spoken about in terms of specific classes of people as if the economy of the nation is a monolith. We don’t include the lower economic classes when describing how well the economy of a given nation is doing. And one of the reasons for that is because we reduce a nation’s economy to its commerce.

    There are lots of measures of economic health. The most common popular one in our nation is probably the employment rate, which takes into account the lower economic classes as well.

    There is a certain amount of truth to the fact that modern America tends to reduce its economy to its commerce, but I’m not sure how that’s relative to asserting that the mere fact of wealth disparity means we’re bad off and oppression is happening.

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  20. Curt, “The founders believed that America’s elite should be in charge and free from the demands of the populace.”

    Wrong. They put a system of elections in place.

    Ayn Rand?

    Stalin.

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  21. Curt, “Name a society where the elite class has allowed rule by those who aren’t elites.”

    The U.S. under Trump. Why the hades do you think the press, Hollywood, universities, and federal agencies are opposed to POTUS? Because he’s not from their tribe.

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  22. DG,

    I’m not following the Yankee reference at the end, so missing your conclusion. Are you saying that the church should embark on social change, or simply be the church, with the means of grace God has given us.

    I think one statement made was that of the footprint of the church. It seems to me that the church’s footprint is dependent upon Christ, not the church. Am I in the ballpark, or playing another game all together?

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  23. D.G.,
    The OPC seems to have no problems with supporting economic elites despite the injustices their practices cause. And I don’t see the OPC being willing to challenge those economic elites as they are willing to challenge society for its sexual sins.

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  24. Curt, what in particular is Christian about your understanding of justice, elites, and sexual sins? I can read them all in the pages of the Post? What value does your faith add?

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  25. D.G.,
    Are you asking what is biblical about believing that people should be treated equally without favoritism? Doesn’t Romans 2 describe God as showing no favoritism? Are you asking about what is biblical about opposing the exploitation of people? Doesn’t James warn the rich about not treating their workers fairly?

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