The Gospel and Social Justice

Here is a very interesting video series where Mark Dever and Jim Wallis discuss the relationship between the gospel and social justice. The staff at my church has been wrestling through ways to practically live out the reconciling message of the gospel in our neighborhood.

Part One deals with racial reconciliation in the local church.

HT: Timmy Brister.

  1. Thanks for posting this, Michael. Definitely an interesting conversation. I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with both guys.

    I think it’s great that these guys had this conversation. Something to remember here, is that Dever represents evangelicals whereas Wallis tends to represent mainline churches (Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc). As Wallis said, a lot of the mainline churches are trending back to an understanding of personal faith, whereas in the past it was something that was not as important. Evangelicals are also becoming more aware of the connection between faith and practice and are becoming concerned with social problems that are not stereotypically evangelical (racism, poverty, stewardship of creation etc.) That to say that, a lot of these guys disagreement is because they are coming from two different perspectives, but are trending toward a middle ground- evangelicals are becoming more socially attuned and mainlines are becoming more attuned toward faith. I find keeping that in mind helpful to view these disagreements as somewhat positive, because the dialogue and the sharpening of one another is happening now whereas in the past the likeliness of this conversation was less.

    Dever’s initial discussion about what would he do about someone concerned with racism bothered me. I got the perception that he was saying that racism, though awful, is not something that the church is commanded to fight outside of the church, but that individuals should do if its their passion. I thought it was too individualistic an approach in understanding the churches calling in the world and ultimately leads to uniracial churches and segregated societies. That is not to say that Christians should necessarily be using political means to fight racism, but that Christians of different political beliefs can be socially active in the same way for the cause of Christ. Dever may not have fully formed his thoughts on this (Wallis talked a ton), so I’m not sure if I’m giving his argument justice. Either way, I had the same concerns about Dever’s statement that Wallis had toward the apathy that it may give toward racism in society.

    I think where Dever may have been taking this is to say that a loving community of Christians will take care of each other and impress the world with their love and thereby affect injustice outside of the church. However, it seemed that he didn’t connect the dots in saying that we can best attack racism outside of the church by being Gospel focused communities that are multiracial and reconciled with one another.

    I have a lot of the same concerns with Wallis’ discernment as Dever. Dever saying that it can lead to Pharisaism is true (which I have seen in myself). Sojourners makes me uncomfortable at times because of it’s partisanship. I’m often frustrated by them as I find them as the liberal answer to the “Religious Right.” Rather than getting Christians of liberal and conservative political convictions together working toward the cause of Christ, I often feel that they keep both sides arguing, rather than working together.

    Either way, I think Wallis makes some good points about the connection between personal faith and action. I thought his quote, “If our Gospel is not Good News to the poor then it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” was intriguing and worth consideration. I think he had some thoughts are good things to hear, especially for evangelicals, since evangelicals often have a false bifurcation between faith and practice. Because of our desire to keep doctrinal purity we often end up with great doctrine, but don’t know how to express that doctrine in a practical way. I think we can learn how to live out our faith from Wallis and others who come from different perspectives.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Ryan.

    I think it is true that someone needs to know what they’re aiming at in order to get there.

    I wonder if Dever would take the same position on a more traditionally conservative cause such as abortion? Would he say, “we need to work to end abortions in our congregation,” or would he say, “fighting to end abortion should be something that all Christians should be concerned about?”

    But I do agree that the preaching of Christ crucified is the central mandate of the church, and how that applies in various situations should be drawn out. It should affect all injustices. Should the gospel be good news to the unborn, the poorest and most vulnerable of us all? Yes, it should be.

    In other words, conservatives have their favorite justice causes, such as abortion and the biblical family. Liberals have their favorite justice causes such as poverty and racism. Churches of Jesus Christ can have an impact on all of these issues in various ways, while maintaining the fact that our central mission is to preach Christ.

    1. Thanks for posting these, Mike. I would say the man on the left was advocating for the only true gospel. The man on the right, pn the other hand, was continuously adding to the gospel in a way that brought to mind the admonition of Paul in Galatians 1. It IS NOT the work of Christ PLUS justice that saves us. Very dangerous.

      Also, the first guy is not saying not to be involved in promoting racial harmony and feeding hungry people, just that it is not a function of the corporate church. It IS a function of individual persons of the church, though. I think balancing your checkbook is good and right, but we do not need a church organization to promote checkbook balancing. Neither of these items are prescribed for the corporate chuch in Scripture, in spite of the fact that a big chunk of the NT deals with church orthopraxy.

      As we live out the love we receive in Christ, and teach the very truth of God in our churches, caring for people will be a natural part of the life of the believer.

      Also, I think we need to understand that the “poor” referrenced in this conversation is not necessarily the “poor” Jesus came to bring good news to. In the USA, we are virtually all rich monitarily. However, those whom God forknew have an evidence of spiritual poverty…an understanding that their personal account of righteousness is woefully inadequate to save them.

      I realoze there is more to it than that, but those are some basic observations.

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