Why The Middle Of The Road Is Sometimes The Worst Place To Be

Those who know me are aware that I listen to quite a few different podcasts; some are for entertainment, while others are purely informational. In trying to achieve a well-balanced Christian worldview, I require myself to listen to and read a host of different perspectives on various issues. Enter “The Holy Post,” formerly called “The Phil Vischer Podcast,” hosted by Phil Vischer (yes, the VeggieTales guy) and Skye Jethani (and sometimes Christian Taylor). The Holy Post offers a round-table discussion format on a variety of issues impacting evangelicalism. In its present form, it begins with Phil and Skye (and sometimes Christian) discussing current events through various articles, shifting in the middle to a one-on-one interview between Skye and a special guest.

In case you haven’t heard, John MacArthur and several other Christian leaders drafted and published a statement on social justice and the gospel. It’s created quite the firestorm. Today, Skye, who is an evangelical pastor, author, blogger, and podcaster, released an article through his mailing list* called “Why Both Sides in the ‘Social Justice and the Gospel’ Debate Are Wrong.” In it he outlines why he thinks that both The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (hereafter “the statement”) and those who vehemently oppose it are mistaken in their thought.

I want to offer what is hopefully a constructive and clarifying critique. I appreciate a lot of what Skye says; he is mild-mannered, temperate, and is not prone to falling into ditches on either sides of a given issue. But sometimes his centrism gets him into trouble.

He writes:

As I’ve surveyed the responses to the Statement over the last week, what has surprised me is the lack of historical or global thought that is admitted into the discussion. We assume the relationship between justice and the gospel is a modern, American dilemma. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

He then goes on to describe his particular view of the matter, which he owes largely to John Stott, an influential Reformed theologian in the 20th century. He writes:

Stott came to recognize that forcing every facet of the Christian life to fit into a mission/evangelism framework was untenable, and asking whether evangelism or justice is most important was to miss the point entirely. Instead he concluded that social justice and evangelism “belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think Skye understands what the authors of the SJ&G statement were getting at. In his attempt at striking up a middle of the road position, he misrepresents both sides and dramatically over-simplifies the issues. On the one side, the statement is a reaction against cultural Marxism and intersectionality and critical race theory worming its way into the church; it has almost nothing to do with whether “social action” (which, I might add, is not the same as “social justice”) is a biblical concept.

Consider these words from Article 3 of the statement:

We affirm that since he is holy, righteous, and just, God requires those who bear his image to live justly in the world. This includes showing appropriate respect to every person and giving to each one what he or she is due. We affirm that societies must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

However, in Article 8, we read:

We deny that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.

Notice the emphasis: “political or social activism” are not “integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.” This is not to say that political or social activism should not by any means be pursued, but rather that we ought not place an undue burden upon Christians to seek such.

Much of the statement is dedicated to addressing issues to do with race, gender and sexuality, and feminism. Yet this isn’t what Skye apparently sees in the statement. Consider his words:

For me, this is where the current debate about social justice and the gospel gets off track. Atonement-only advocates demand justice advocates justify their emphasis on social engagement at the expense of evangelism. And justice advocates demand atonement-only advocates justify their emphasis on gospel proclamation rather than social engagement. But, using Stott’s logic, if evangelism or social activism is flowing from a heart of love and compassion, than neither must be justified. Love is it’s own justification.

Nowhere in his article does Skye address the issues of intersectionality and critical race theory, instead trying to make it into some sort of “evangelism vs. social activism” game. But that’s not at all what this is about. Both sides believe in some form of legitimate social activism; we take seriously the call to “help orphans and widows in their distress” (James 5:27). Please, read the statement, and if you need to know more, read the articles under the “Resources” tab on the website (link above).

Conversely, the critics of the statement are most often focused on issues of race and gender/sexuality. Several months ago, before the statement was released, Thabiti Anyabwile posted an article at The Gospel Coalition called, “We Await Repentance For Assassinating Dr. King.” In it he claims that white society as a whole is to blame for Dr. King’s assassination, and expects that all white people “repent” for this complicity.

This is the kind of thing that the statement is addressing: those who would seek to divide the body of Christ on racial and ethnic lines, demanding repentance from those who have nothing to repent for. I as a white male did not kill Dr. King. I do not need to repent for an action I did not commit. I am not party to a deed that occurred 30 years before my birth. To ask that I repent is not a Christian attitude. God holds men accountable for their own sins, not the sins of others.

But what is the motivation here? Mr. Anyabwile appears to have bought into the lies of critical race theory, cultural Marxism, etc. It’s the whole class struggle, Proletariat vs. Bourgeoisie thing that led to Marxist Communism in the 20th century, only this time it isn’t between the working class and the elites; no, this time it’s between races, the blacks and the whites (don’t ask me where Native Americans or Hispanics or Asians, etc. come into this). Whites have reigned supreme for centuries, you see, and even now, in our modern era when black men and women everywhere have the same rights and privileges under the law that I as a white man have, black people are “oppressed” and “under-privileged,” and for that reason white society must repent and make social reparations.

Friends, especially believers, this is not a Christian attitude. All believers, whether white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, whatever, have been made one in Christ Jesus! We are united by our common faith in the God who condescended and died on a cross to remove our sins from us, giving us his righteousness. There is no room for separation along ethnic lines, or for demanding that reparations be made! We are reconciled to each other because we are reconciled to God! That is the biblical testimony laid out by the statement that many people seem to have missed.

This issue is dividing the church, and unfortunately, the ones dividing the church are not those who authored the statement; those who drafted and signed it are crying out for unity in the church, unity over the gospel, which reconciles us to God and to each other. And Skye’s middle of the road solution only buries the issues; it doesn’t bring any clarity. Be wary whenever you see someone espousing a middle-road position, because more often than not, the other positions end up getting redefined or misrepresented. Skye offers little to no exegesis of any passages in Scripture, whereas those who authored the statement, especially James White, have spent hours on end going through passages in the New Testament that define our unity in Christ and our expected attitudes toward one another. (Watch the most recent episodes of The Dividing Line here.)

That’s really where the heart of the matter is: do we hold Scripture as the final authority on these matters? Or do we need extra-biblical information from critical race theory and intersectionality to fill in the gaps? I think the answer should be self-evident for any Christian.

*I’m not sure Skye’s article is available anywhere on the web, so I can’t link to it. I took the liberty of making a PDF version, however, which you can download and read here: social-justice-skye.

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