Back in June, several evangelical leaders met to discuss a rising controversy over racial reconciliation in the American evangelical church. One of the results of the discussions that took place that day was this new Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. Alongside fellow Calvary Grace Church pastors Clint Humfrey and Gavin Peacock, I signed this a few weeks ago, and it has been slightly revised since and is now public:
I think it is a solid statement, even though it doesn’t (and probably couldn’t) say everything. The main reason I signed it is because it clearly and explicitly addresses what I think is a major threat to the church: the infiltration of postmodern “critical theory” into evangelical theology, and I hope it will be a basis for clarifying discussion. That, to me, is a far more serious issue than the question of “social justice,” since critical theory is an entirely foreign and unbiblical worldview that threatens the very foundations of the Christian faith—particularly the doctrines of sin, of man, of salvation, and of the church.
Here are a few highlights:
It clearly repudiates critical theory, denying that “postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching.”
It affirms Christians must pursue justice: “God requires those who bear his image to live justly in the world….showing appropriate respect to every person & giving to each one what he or she is due” & that “societies must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.”
It denies that secular theories of justice are able to bring about justice: “Relativism, socially-constructed standards of truth or morality, and notions of virtue and vice that are constantly in flux cannot result in authentic justice.”
It affirms universal sinfulness, both individual and corporate: “everyone is born under the curse of God’s law and all break his commandments through sin….All human relationships, systems, and institutions have been affected by sin.”
It denies the idea that skin colour transmits ancestral sin, or that one can be deemed guilty of the sins of others simply on the basis of shared membership in a visible ethnic group: “Although families, groups, and nations can sin collectively…subsequent generations share the collective guilt of their ancestors only if they approve & embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins.”
It warns against the danger of confusing good and proper Gospel applications with the Gospel itself: “implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not definitional components of the gospel” and denies that “anything else, whether works to be performed or opinions to be held, can be added to the gospel without perverting it into another gospel.”
It clarifies the mission of the local church: “the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost. We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified.” Note how the local church’s focus on its proper mission is described as having a positive social effect on the society around it.
It puts Christian social activism in proper context, denying that “political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church” but also clarifying that individual “believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society.” In other words, simply because something is not part of the core mission of the local church does not mean it is not a legitimate Christian concern or that individual Christians or groups of Christians cannot strive for it. The mission of the local church is more focused and narrow than that of individual believers.
It helpfully distinguishes between heresy on the one hand and incomplete sanctification/failure to fully apply sound doctrine on the other: “We deny the charge of heresy can be legitimately brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel.” In other words, unless one believes (wrongly) that perfect sanctification is possible in this life, it is unfair to label another Christian a heretic or apostate because of their failure to perfectly and fully apply the Gospel in every area of life. To give an example, I am forced to conclude that Martin Luther King Jr. was a heretic because of his views on the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, and the Virgin Birth of Christ, even though God used him to accomplish great good in the fight against racism in the United States. On the other hand, I cannot call Jonathan Edwards or J. Gresham Machen heretics because they held to the biblical Gospel, but I can acknowledge and lament that they failed in various ways to apply and fully live it out in their attitudes toward slavery (in the former case) or segregation (in the latter).
It explicitly identifies and repudiates recent modern departures from Christian teaching on sexuality, such as the Revoice conference: “We deny that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one’s sex can be fluid. We reject ‘gay Christian’ as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that people should be identified as ‘sexual minorities.’” My brother pastor Clint Humfrey has called this a push for “sacred gayness” in the church.
It points out that complementarianism cannot be confined to marriage and the pastoral office alone: “These differences are most clearly defined in marriage and the church, but are not irrelevant in other spheres of life.”
It properly defines, and clearly denounces, racism: “We affirm that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people.…Such sinful prejudice or partiality falls short of God’s revealed will and violates the royal law of love. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.”
Finally and crucially, it repudiates the idea—rooted in critical theory—that “only those in positions of power are capable of racism, or that individuals of any particular ethnic groups are incapable of racism.” Whether the drafters saw my feedback or not, this was one improvement was concerned to see added when I saw the first draft.