The Sweet Spot of Reformedish Kingdom Theology (or why 2k looks R)

At World Magazine, Scott Allen knows that the Social Gospel and contemporary Social Justice Gospel are problems:

Advocates of the social gospel believed the church should be engaged in the culture, fighting against injustice and working to uplift the impoverished and downtrodden—all admirable goals. The problem was they unwittingly allowed secular assumptions to inform their theology of cultural engagement. Their profoundly un-Biblical mindset is nicely captured in this quote from social gospel advocate, journalist Horace Greeley:

“The heart of man is not depraved … his passions do not prompt to wrong doing, and do not therefore by their actions, produce evil. Evil flows only from social [inequality]. Give [people] full scope, free play, a perfect and complete development, and universal happiness must be the result. … Create a new form of Society in which this shall be possible … then you will have the perfect Society; then you will have the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Similar problems bedevil today’s social justice warriors.

Today, evangelical advocates of social justice similarly want to fight against injustice and engage in the culture. But like the earlier social gospel advocates, they too have unwittingly allowed their theology of justice to be contaminated, this time by un-Biblical postmodern and neo-Marxist ideas, leading a group of evangelicals to come together in opposition to this view.

The conflict has been simmering for some time but is now out in the open with the release of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel supported by John MacArthur, Douglas Wilson, Voddie Baucham, and others.

The statement’s authors are concerned that the social justice movement in the broader culture has crept into the church. Social justice is the preferred descriptor of a movement on the far left that even left-leaning culture watchers such as Jonathan Haidt, Camille Paglia, and Jordan Peterson now identify as a pseudo-religion. This false religion now dominates the humanities departments of universities in the United States, as well as the entertainment and media industries, and increasingly the board rooms of major corporations like Google and Nike. It works hand in glove with the sexual revolution, as it shares the same ideological roots in Romanticism, postmodernism, and Marxism. It has no place for such essential Biblical virtues as grace, mercy, and forgiveness, replacing these with grievance, offense, incivility, and retribution. Its branches are political correctness, identity politics, multiculturalism, and intersectionality. It is incompatible with the United States’ constitutional, republican form of government, and such fundamental goods as due process. Its bitter fruit is the breakdown of civil society.

So what about letting the church be the church or looking to the spirituality of the church as an alternative? Not gonna happen.

Rather than calling the church back to an orthodox Biblical approach to justice and cultural engagement, Johnson and others like him appear to be making the same mistakes as the earlier fundamentalists. They are calling into question the importance of cultural engagement and justice ministry as a distraction and a second-tier activity. The problem with social justice is not its passion to engage the culture and fight for justice. The problem is all the un-Biblical ideology that comes packed in the social justice Trojan horse.

We should not repeat this tragic mistake again. The crying need today, as it was in the early 20th century, is to recover a Biblical, orthodox approach to justice and cultural engagement championed by Wilberforce, Carey, and Carmichael. Un-Biblical ideas have to be exposed and rejected, replaced by a uniquely Christian and Biblical approach to social and cultural transformation that is gospel-centered, and known for its grace, forgiveness, and civility. One that treats all people as unique individuals, not mouthpieces of identity groups. One that understands that evil is rooted in fallen human hearts, and not in capitalism, white supremacy, or the patriarchy. One that sees people as free, responsible, accountable moral agents and not as victims or oppressors.

Nowhere does Allen actually make a biblical case for cultural engagement, apparently the key notion for maintaining the church’s influence. Of course, the best way to read and study the Bible is not by going to a Bible-on-line website and doing a word search. But this is our world. And a quick search for “engage” at the ESV website (I know, awfully close to Gospel Allies’ bunkers) yields only three results, one of which includes the end of Philippians 1:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For cit has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

What if being culturally engaged was not about being on the right side of social and political reforms, with the banner of Christ held high, but about suffering through and enduring an evil age (Gal 1:4). I understand that when Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19), he sounded a tad fundamentalist. But if Jesus can sound that way, why can’t those who profess to follow him?

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Whatever Happened to Mortal Sin?

Austen Ivereigh is another of those papal interpreters who explain to the rest of the world what the bishops and pope really mean. His advance copy for the upcoming synod of bishops on sexual abuse is the sort of piece Harry Emerson Fosdick could have composed:

The church’s task is not to lament and condemn, but rather to discern and reform.

We’re so used to hearing that Francis is “behind the curve” on the abuse issue. In truth, he is well ahead of it. While most Catholics, not least bishops and religious orders, remain fixated on cleaning up the institution, demonstrating that it is now transparent and accountable and regulated by new measures, the pope has grasped that keeping the focus on the institution in this way is precisely the problem. This is apparent in the texts he addressed to the Chilean bishops and the people of God last year, which in turn draw on his meditations on institutional desolation as a Jesuit back in the 1980s. Both those texts of three decades ago and last year’s letters have been collected and commented on by his Jesuit collaborators in Rome, Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Fr. Diego Fares, in a new book published in Italian and Spanish, Las Cartas de la Tribulación (“The Tribulation Letters”). If the book had come out later, it would doubtless have included Francis’s letter to the U.S. bishops at the start of their retreat at Mundelein seminary.

The heart of the pope’s message is a pithy little sentence that occurs back in his 1980s writings and again in his letters to the bishops of Chile and the United States: “Ideas you discuss, but situations have to be discerned.” Whenever the church faces a time of tribulation, there are various temptations it can succumb to: to recoil into itself, to put up defenses, to blame others, and essentially to argue—with others, and within itself. The church is prone to “ruminating” on its own desolation, lamenting and blaming, and at its worst falls into “victimism,” which, says Francis in his preface to the book, “conceals in its breast the resort to vengeance, which only feeds the evil it pretends to eliminate.”

All these are means of evading the real task, which is to seek the grace that is always on offer in desolation and tribulation: the grace of conversion. By accusing ourselves, not others—in humility, repentance, and self-correction—we open ourselves to that grace. We change. We are converted. We see where we went wrong. And with that new sight comes the chance to change course. The church’s task is not to lament and condemn, but rather to discern and reform.

What is so hard to discern about the sin of sex outside of marriage? Or how tough is it for bishops to tell the truth and be responsible with those under their oversight? It may require a little extra discernment to ponder the sort of sin that proceeds from victims for resenting their abusers or the bishops who covered up the tawdry activity. But do you really need to look to systems and cultures to figure out sinfulness or that the wages of sin is death?

It is breathtaking to see how much Rome has changed since Benedict XVI and John Paul II. It is even more staggering to see people like Ivereigh whitewash popes and bishops’ actions and responsibilities in the current climate. It makes you think the gates of hades are winning.

Machen Did Not Own Slaves

But Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Hodge and Ben Franklin did.

Philip Jenkins helps us cope:

we need to recall that prior to quite modern times – the mid-eighteenth century, say, mainly after 1770 – campaigns against slavery as an institution are sporadic, scarce, and deeply ambiguous. In the Roman world, for instance, anyone who could afford to own slaves did so without qualms. That included the holders of vast landed estates, but also quite small time people whom we might think of as lower middle class. The overwhelming majority of people who left writings that survive into later times were of the class that owned slaves, even if we can’t point to individuals and definitely assert that they did so. Among other people, that statement includes most of the prominent Christians that we know before (say) the sixth century, and most of the Fathers. If we can’t clearly show that a particular individual in that era did not own slaves, then we should assume that they did. . . .

If that statement sounds controversial, let me elaborate. Delving into Patristic literature produces quite a few sentiments that appear hostile to slave holding or the slave trade. But before reading these through the lens of Victorian-era abolitionism, we need to consider other possible interpretations. Generally, such ancient comments demand a humane and decent approach to slavery, rather than its abolition, or the construction of a slave-free society.

Early Christians advocated plenty of things that would, if implemented, have vastly improved the conditions of slaves. Very, very, few advocated the ending of slavery, or even conceived of such a world, except in an apocalyptic or messianic context. Nor do we have much idea of how widely, if at all, such specific recommendations were out into effect.

Now, we can point out here that slavery in the ancient Mediterranean world was a very different animal from what existed in the Early Modern Atlantic, and that boundaries between slave and free were much more permeable. Ancient slaves were likely to gain freedom in various ways, and had a great deal of latitude to operate on a fairly independent level. But slaves they were. Should we avoid commemorating or celebrating any ancient thinkers or writers who lived in slave societies, and who presumably participated in that slavery system? Which as I say, was basically all advanced societies in that era.

The same comment about the pervasive impact of slavery would also apply to (for instance) all Islamic societies up to very modern times, and many advanced African communities. The Prophet Muhammad often praised the virtue of liberating slaves, which he cited as an act that gave special pleasure to Allah. We should not read that as a warrant for abolitionism. If we are ever attempted to sidestep Euro-American heroes and heroines and replace them with figures from other civilizations, we would be hard put to avoid slave owners, or people who never thought to confront the slavery they saw all around them.

Either the outrage over the past just started or the outraged need to get out of the history business.

New Rome

If you were thinking Constantinople you would be wrong. The New Rome is Roman Catholicism after Vatican II.

Here are a couple of data sets. One from Lawrence King and Robert Miller:

When Vatican II promulgated its Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae), few expected that fifty years later the view that people do not have a right to religious liberty would become popular again. Yet this doctrine—commonly known as integralism—is experiencing a resurgence among some conservative Catholic intellectuals.

Integralism is the doctrine that (ideally, if not always in practice) the state should endorse the Catholic faith and act as the secular arm of the Church, punishing heresy among the baptized and suppressing false religious practices if they threaten Catholicism. This doctrine was taught by several nineteenth-century popes. Then, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council taught that all human beings have a right to religious freedom and that it is wrong for the state or anyone else to use force in matters of religion. . . .

From 1978 to 2013, the conservative position was dominant. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI insisted that Vatican II was an incremental development of the Church’s ongoing tradition, not a radical break with the past. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) was an authoritative statement of this position, weaving pre-1962 and post-1962 Catholic teachings into a seamless whole. Conservative theologians deployed two powerful arguments: Against the liberals, they argued that rejecting the Church’s traditional teachings is profoundly un-Catholic. Against the traditionalists, they argued that rejecting the Church’s recent teachings, both of the Council and of the post-conciliar popes, was equally un-Catholic.

Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, however, this conservative synthesis has been put in serious question. While not formally rejecting any of John Paul II or Benedict XVI’s teachings, Francis has scuttled many of their initiatives, removed their most ardent supporters from office while promoting several of their critics, and has taken positions on certain matters (such as gradualism in moral theology) that appear to be at odds with the views of his predecessors. As a result, some conservative theologians have concluded that Francis may be teaching serious errors.

However, once a Catholic theologian concludes that the current pope is in error, he or she opens the lid of a very deep box. If the pope has been teaching false doctrine regarding moral gradualism since 2013, then isn’t it possible that all the popes since 1965 have been teaching false doctrine regarding religious liberty? The conservatives’ strongest argument against traditionalism—“How can you call yourself Catholic if you reject the authority of the pope?”—is no longer available. As a result, some conservative Catholic thinkers have recently been reevaluating traditionalist claims on a variety of matters, including integralism.

There is a certain irony in this. Integralism extends the religious authority of the pope and bishops into the sphere of civil law, and yet the people who most adamantly defend integralism today are rarely fans of the current pope.

Or this from James Chappel, Catholic Modern:

Whatever we might think of the Church’s activism on these fronts, one thing at least is clear: it has embraced modernity. With few exceptions, Catholic thinkers and leaders take for granted that they are living in a religious plural world, and that their task is to collaborate with others in the name of the common good. They no longer call for church-state fusion or the revocation of religious freedom. They invoke, instead, human rights. They are more likely, too, to agitate for civil rights and pursue Christian-Jewish dialogue than they are to revive the Church’s long history of anti-Semitism.

Catholics have their own idea of what a just modernity should look like, of course. . . . They do not, in other words, call for an overturning of the secular order and a reinstatement of the Church as the sole guardian of public and private morality. These aspects of Catholic engagement are so familiar to us that we can sometimes forget how recent they are. A devout Catholic in 1900, anywhere in the world, would have been shocked to learn that the Church would one day support values like these. Sometime between 1900 and the present, the Church became modern. (1-2)

This is a much more serious problem than Protestants with 33,000 denominations or EIGHTY-ONE PERCENT of evangelicals voting for Trump. It means that the church, the hierarchy, the infallible magisterium, was wrong about the world, sin, and the devil for much of medieval and modern history. Roman Catholicism was not simply about grace and spiritual matters. It claimed to be the source of order in society and truth about the way humans should order their earthly affairs.

It’s like saying the Bible teaches a judgment day when the saved and lost will be separated and then realizing that Scripture teaches universal salvation. Protestants may disagree about what the Bible means, but they still regard it (the ones who believe it) to be true. Modern Roman Catholics, even before the revelations of sexual scandals for the past two decades, do not believe that popes before John XXIII were telling the truth about the church and its function in the world. And once you question the church’s function in the world, you question implicitly its teaching about salvation.

Mainline Protestantism’s Elder Brother

Boniface takes the temperature of Roman Catholicism in the light of Governor Cuomo and Archbishop Dolan:

the purpose of excommunication is not merely for the good of the sinner’s soul; it is also for the edification and protection of the community. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.” St. Paul teaches that excommunication helps purge the body of “leaven”, and that without this purging such leaven will cause a rot throughout the body. When the offender is singled out and has judgment pronounced upon him, the faithful at least see that such behavior is proscripted. St. Paul is not only worried about the sinner, but about the boasting of the congregation, that is, their attitude about the sinner. By excommunicating him, St. Paul judges not only the sinner, but the broader attitude that allows sin to flourish unchecked.

To bring this back to Governor Cuomo: from the biblical perspective, whether Cuomo will repent or not, whether he respects the authority of the Church or not, whether the Church can claim any socio-political leverage in these matters, is not ultimately the main concern. The fact is, the good of the Catholic Church in America demands that this man be thrown out. At least make an attempt to purify the lump of its leaven. If we don’t, we are celebrating with the old leaven. It’s about the integrity of the community as much as it is about the sinner.

* * * * * *

There have often been times in Church history where discipline has been lost or seriously eroded. We can think of various monastic reforms throughout the centuries. Or the era of the Counter Reform and the Council of Trent when the Church had to fight an uphill battle to transform the episcopacy from a class of political courtiers into something more in line with what Christ intended. Countless regional synods from the first millennium and the era of the barbarian invasions attest to the Church’s commitment to maintaining or restoring discipline in an age of chaos when order seemed to be falling apart everywhere.

…And that’s the sad truth here. Cardinal Tobin, Dolan and the like don’t care what the optics are here. They don’t care whether the House of the Lord is an eye sore, an abomination to the people. “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24); but they don’t care. If discipline has been lost, then the common sense approach is to restore it. You restore it by making examples of people and actually asserting your will to enforce discipline. If you can’t do that or refuse to, it simply means you don’t even want discipline restored. You’re happy with the status quo. This is the inescapable conclusion: Cuomo will not face excommunication because the princes of the Church are content with the current situation.

So why convert? Protestants are supposed to think this is the church founded no matter how much it resembles mainline Protestantism? When the successors to the apostles are so far from following the apostles, we’re supposed to see nothing and come back to mother church?

Will Kevin DeYoung be Reduced to One Cheer?

I cannot give a thumb up the way Scott Clark did to Kevin DeYoung’s post about the spirituality of the church. As Scott implies, DeYoung’s point is useful for showing that the doctrine was part of the Reformed churches’ toolkit well before the sectional crisis in antebellum America. It was not the product of Presbyterians defending slavery. DeYoung is also helpful on showing that the doctrine protects the jurisdiction of the church from that of the magistrate or king.

the magistrate and the minister exercise jurisdiction over different spheres. The magistrate can only deal with external things. That is, he cannot make laws that demand certain affections or compel the conscience to believe certain things. The minister, on the other hand, has the right to judge inner dispositions and outward obedience, though the minister mainly deals with spiritual things (as his sphere) and only “handles external things for conscience cause.”

The problem comes when, and I’m not happy to put it this way, he quotes Charles Hodge:

Hodge strongly disagreed with Thornwell’s contention that since the church was only to preach the gospel that the church had no right to open her lips against the slave trade (p. 289). “Yes,” says Hodge (who was mostly a moderate when it came to slavery itself), “the Bible gives us no rule for deciding the litigated questions about public improvements, a national bank, or a protective tariff or state rights. But it does give us rules pronouncing about slave-laws, the slave-trade, obedience to magistrates, treason, rebellion, and revolution” (pp. 289-90).

This understanding of the spirituality of the church, then, keeps church and state distinct but allows ministers to pontificate when they read the Bible a certain way. Here is where the matter of the sufficiency of Scripture is crucial to the spirituality doctrine. The point of keeping pastors out of politics wasn’t simply to maintain checks and balances or some kind of differentiation of spheres. It was mainly to limit ministers to expounding the word of God. If the Bible speaks to a particular matter, ministers should speak to it. But where the Bible is silent, ministers should also keep quiet.

Okay, then, clever readers may be wondering, doesn’t the Bible speak to slavery? Well, it does but maybe not in the ways that Hodge or DeYoung or Frederick Douglass would find encouraging. Does anyone want to open the Bible to Exodus 21 and instruct southern slave owners about slave policy and tell the abolitionists to back down?

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them. 2 When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever.

Or how about reparations (as Jemar Tisby advocates)? Should 2 Samuel 21 be the church’s standard?

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. 3 And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” 4 The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “What do you say that I shall do for you?” 5 They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, 6 let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” And the king said, “I will give them.”

That sort of puts a point on it.

And how about the John-the-Baptist 30-year diet?

John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)

Don’t even start on the John-the-Baptist line of men’s ware for those offended by the Gillette commercial.

So the spirituality of the church is not simply about distinctions between church power (spiritual) and state power (civil). It is also about the sufficiency of Scripture regarding the way of salvation.

Sometimes Scripture does speak to social and political matters. But because the biblical authors were so distant from ours, following their counsel about monarchy or about executing adulterers may not be what God wants his church circa 2020 to do. In other words, the Bible comes packaged in all sorts of historical circumstances that good interpreters generally know how to render so that women who don’t wear hats to church do not have to meet frequently with session or consistory.

If the Bible is a guide to life, then I guess you can consult it for political hot button issues like abolition and reparations. And if humans have no recourse to wisdom about daily living, including social and economic policies, then some Christians may think the Bible is the only source of answers. But if the Bible is an account of how God reconciled sinners to himself and how the church ministers that plan of salvation to God’s people, then Christians need to use the best insights from the unregenerate and the redeemed to achieve a modicum of peace and order this side of glory.

Changes on the Left and the Right

Not even development of doctrine can keep up with the flips and flops, the yings and yangs, of English-speaking Roman Catholics. Massimo Faggioli provides a bird-watchers guide:

There is, for example, a new wave of ultramontanism that looks to an idealized conception of Rome for its points of reference. There is also a related resurgence of “integralism,” inspiring conferences at the University of Notre Dame and Harvard. The new integralism takes a step beyond the more tentative Catholic post-liberalism, or the simple proclamation of the crisis of liberal Catholicism. Integralism is the attempt to imagine for the Catholic Church—but also for the world in which the church lives—a future that rejects the “liberal” separation between temporal and spiritual power, and subordinates the former to the latter.

According to Sacramentum Mundi (first published between 1968 and 1970, and now available online—its general editor was Karl Rahner, SJ) integralism is

the tendency, more or less explicit, to apply standards and directives drawn from the faith to all the activity of the Church and its members in the world. It springs from the conviction that the basic and exclusive authority to direct the relationship between the world and the Church, between immanence and transcendence, is the doctrinal and pastoral authority of the Church.

Here one can detect a subtle difference between the classic definition of integralism and its twenty-first-century variety. This new strain is focused almost exclusively on the political realm. In fact, what it resembles most is another phenomenon of nineteenth-century Catholic culture: intransigentism—the belief that any concession to, or accommodation with, the modern world endangers the faith. Unlike mere conservatism, which values elements of the past and seeks to preserve them, intransigentism rejects the modern outright and preemptively. This has consequences for the theological thinking of Catholics who today call themselves integralists, traditionalists, and ultramontanists. For these Catholics, the past sixty years—and especially Vatican II—either do not matter at all or matter only if they can be interpreted as a confirmation of the church’s past teaching.

Roman Catholic liberals also are hardly steady:

It is interesting how different the liberal Catholicism of the nineteenth century is from the liberal Catholicism of today, and how similar the Catholic intransigentism of the nineteenth century is to the intransigentism of today. Liberal Catholicism today is much more accepting of individualistic, bourgeois society than it was in the nineteenth century, when it had a more prophetic edge. But intransigentism hasn’t really changed much in the past 150 years, especially when it comes to the question of the confessional state—a question on which the church’s official teaching has changed during this period. It would be interesting to ask the proponents of this kind of Catholicism what they make of the plight of Catholics who have to live as minorities under integralistic non-Christian confessional regimes, and why those Catholics do not seem to be so afraid of liberalism.

Faggioli may regard himself as closer to the mainstream of Roman Catholic thought thanks to his regard for Pope Francis and his Italian background. But when you ponder all the changes in Roman Catholic teaching about various aspects of modern society since Vatican II, you hardly see the sort of continuity to which the Villanova University professor aspires. Roman Catholics in the U.S. certainly have their moments. But it is not as if the bishops, the Vatican, or the papacy has stayed on track. Roman Catholics can pick their favorite pope after World War II — John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, or Francis — according to their reading of the tradition, the modern world, and personal preference.

It’s almost as chaotic as Protestants reading the Bible.

Social Justice circa 2009

If you read some people, you might get the impression that the gospel and social justice are synonymous. But words change meanings, even if some people have trouble understanding that a reference to “race” in the 1930s is not the same as one in the 1880s or the 1980s.

Consider how only a decade ago, the Gospel Allies were talking about social justice in ways that no one could use after Michael Brown, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter. For instance, Kevin DeYoung wrote a series on social justice in Scripture that found almost no reference to race. Here is how he summarized it last year (even!):

Several years ago, I worked my way through the major justice passages in the Bible: Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4. My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice. On the one hand, there is a lot in the Bible about God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. There are also plenty of warnings against treating the helpless with cruelty and disrespect. On the other hand, justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. Doing justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing, not swindling, not taking bribes, and not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you.

So for simplicity sake, let’s take biblical “social justice” to mean something like “treating people equitably, working for systems and structures that are fair, and looking out for the weak and the vulnerable.” If that’s what we mean, is social justice a gospel issue?

Even Thabiti Anyabwile seemed to be persuaded:

We seem to put social justice at odds with gospel proclamation. Many today don’t think these can easily coexist. They think that to fight for justice as the Christian church inevitably means the abandonment of the gospel. They may be correct. For since the Civil Rights Movement, the gospel has been thoroughly confused by too many in the African American church with liberation and justice itself.

To be sure, Anyabwile went on to question those who make too strong a contrast between the gospel and social justice:

to preach the gospel and have no concern and take no action in the cause of justice is as much an abandonment of the gospel as mistaken the gospel. How can a faithful gospel preacher preach the gospel before slaves and never wince at the gross barbarity of that peculiar institution? How can a man claim to live the gospel with fellow brothers in Christ and yet uphold laws that disenfranchise, marginalize, and oppress those same brothers?

Well, what exactly counts as taking action? Is it tweeting? Writing a post for a parachurch website? Calling a legislature? Standing outside an office with a placard?

What also is “upholding” laws that disenfranchise? If someone says nothing are they guilty of upholding existing laws? Or is it a case of speaking out or “taking action” against some laws but not others?

Abandonment of the gospel is a tad strong for a condition — “taking no action” — that is so arbitrary and inexact.

At the same time, once upon a time Anyabwile fully endorsed DeYoung’s point that Christians should stop using the phrase social justice:

Stop Using the Term “Social Justice”!

Not even John MacArthur and fellow signers went that far.

Something changed between 2009 and 2019. It could be that history clarified all the ambiguity (even if it did not change what the Bible — a fixed set of texts — says. Or it could be people have changed their minds. If Ferguson is the turning point, it sure would help to hear some reflection on ways in which a country that has persistently practiced racism only in 2014 became so egregious that now some people had to build up word counts and twitter followers.

W-w Giveth, W-w Taketh Away, Short Live W-w

Tim Carney’s piece on Trump-voting evangelicals is getting a lot of play and for good reason. He looks at churches outside the urban, suburban bubble, the ones that Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition try to own. And he finds that evangelicalism is not nearly as monolithic as scholars and evangelical leaders have said. He may even give reasons for abandoning evangelicalism altogether.

But Carney also opens a window on those Protestants where neo-Calvinist influence has had the longest shelf-life. In some cases, the results should hearten the redeemers of every square inch:

Trump’s single worst county in all of Iowa—far worse than Polk County (where Des Moines is) or Story County (home to Iowa State), or Johnson County (University of Iowa)—was Sioux County. Trump finished fourth place there, behind Ben Carson. Ted Cruz won every precinct of Sioux County.

Sioux is home to Orange City and Sioux Center, and it is the Dutchest county in America. Dutch ancestry is probably one of the best proxies the Census has for religious attendance.

Jordan Helming, a transplant whom I met at a Jeb Bush rally in Sioux Center, was astounded by the religiosity of the place, including the sheer number of churches. “There are 19 of them in this town—a town of 7,000 has 19 churches.”

Different strains of Reformed Christianity dominate in this overwhelmingly Dutch county, from austere old-world Calvinism (“the frozen chosen” they call themselves) to more evangelical flavors. Attendance (often twice on Sundays) is high, and the churches build strong community bonds.

“You care about your neighbors,” Helming explained, “you care about your environment, but you also take care of it yourself—don’t rely on the government.”

Carney does not mention that these Iowans also selected Steve King to represent them in the House of Representatives.

Reinforcing that uncomfortable detail are Carney’s tabulations of Michigan’s voting habits:

Back in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries, analysts saw the GOP electorate in two categories: (a) establishment Republicans or (b) Evangelicals. The Establishment types voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in 2008, and the “evangelical vote” went for Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.

It turns out we were all oversimplifying things. That supposedly “evangelical vote” was a combination of two electorates: (1) the evangelical vote and (2) the rural populist vote. The 2016 primaries illuminated this distinction.

In Michigan, for instance, 2012 saw Romney carry the stretch of the state from Ann Arbor to Detroit, while Santorum won most of the rest of the state. Four years later, it was much more complex: Kasich won Ann Arbor, Trump won Detroit and most of the rural counties, while Cruz dominated in the handful of counties around Holland and Grand Rapids, where the Dutch Reformed church dominates.

Cruz would likely be better than Trump. But why don’t Christian Reformed institutions own up to being oh so Republican? You’d never know from reading the Banner, Reformed Journal, Pro Rege, or In All Things. If the leaders of Evangelicalism, Inc. could be so out of touch with non-urban Protestants, are the professors and pastors in the Christian Reformed and Reformed Church of America world all that connected?

People Are Silent about A Lot of Things

If you are woke, apparently you think you see it all. And anyone who doesn’t see what is in your sights is guilty of cover-up or worse.

Sometimes though the system is worse than even the ones who see and speak loudly of their insight. For instance, you won’t see many Christian social justice warriors discussing this problem of needing medical treatment and being under warrant:

Say your Uncle Pedro has chest pains. Or is ODing. Should you call 911? Of course! Right? But what if you don’t know if he’s wanted? What if you don’t know if you’re wanted? Should you still call 911? You know cops might also respond because, well, why not? Maybe cops can do some good before the ambulance arrives. (Though generally, as a former cop, when it comes to medical care, are you serious?) Or keep the peace. But should you be debating all this before deciding to call 911? While you’re discussing the pros and cons, Uncle Pedro just stopped breathing.

For some reason, blogging about the dangers of the spirituality of the church won’t fix this:

What problem is this solution supposed to fix? “We want the cops to put an aided card into the phone on the scene and it to automatically query the warrant system.” It is bad policy to routinely run warrant checks on people seeking medical care.

I know it’s not in the public’s interest to have wanted people running around. It’s one thing for police to run somebody because they have suspicion. It’s another to do so because they called for help. It’s not in the public’s interest to have people afraid to seek medical care or see EMTs and paramedics and the FDNY as part of law enforcement. Let’s base a policy decision based on evidence rather than, “hey, cops now have smart phones linked to the warrant system!”

On the other hand, while white Protestants in the past were guilty of white supremacy (science has yet to conclude you receive this condition genetically), African-American men are doing better than the social justice warriors have you believe, according to a recent study:

1. A substantial share of black men in the United States are realizing the American Dream—at least financially—and a majority are not poor. Per a new analysis of Census data outlined in the report, more than one-in-two black men (57%) have made it into the middle class or higher as adults today, up from 38% in 1960.

2. Education, work, and marriage are central to the economic success of black men in the United States. Black men who work full time, earned at least some college education, and married are significantly more likely to be members of the middle or upper class in their fifties. For example, about 70% of married black men are in the middle class, compared to only 20% of never-married black men and 44% of divorced black men.

3. Military service is also linked to higher odds of making it into the middle class or higher for black men. The report finds that black men who served in the military are more likely than those who did not to be in the middle class when they reach mid-life (54% vs. 45%).

4. Additionally, regular church attendance and a strong sense of personal agency are linked to upward mobility for black men. Black men who frequently attended church services at a young age are more likely to reach the middle class or higher in their fifties. For example, 53% of those who attended church as young men made it, compared to 43% who did not.

Moreover, black men who scored above average in their sense of agency as young men or teenagers in the late 1970s are more likely to be prosperous later in life, compared to their peers who did not have the same sense of agency (52% vs. 44%). “Agency” was measured by reports that they are directing the course of their lives versus feeling like they are not in control.

Something not included in this study: the percentage of African-American pastors with big-screen televisions and cable subscriptions for viewing the NFL playoffs.