Why I Cannot and Will Not Sign the “Social Justice and the Gospel Statement” (by Ryan Burton King)

This article originally appeared at Ryan Burton King’s website and is crossposted here with permission. We’re thankful for Ryan’s thorough and strong response to the statement released yesterday. 

Throughout history, Christians have banded together to examine and respond to various crises, real or perceived. Creeds from the days of the Church Fathers, and confessions from the time of the Reformation are joined by petitions and tracts from the Puritan era into our own, local church confessions, associational, conventional, and denominational resolutions, and parachurch statements from a variety of pastors, scholars, and concerned parties: the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood(1987), and the Nashville Statement among the main ones representing conservative evangelical Christian belief derived from the pages of Scripture. Now a new statement is live and being circulated for signatures, but this is one that I would rather history forgot.

Purporting to address an alleged shift in evangelical circles away from the biblical gospel towards a false social gospel, the new Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel is driven by people I would like to believe are well-meaning but frankly not at all “getting” what those whom it primarily addresses are saying. That is at best. At worst, it represents a toxic agenda to discredit and undermine godly men and women crying out for biblical social justice, national and ecclesiastical repentance, and meaningful reconciliation. I certainly hope that this statement will not become a litmus test for orthodoxy, as if those who don’t sign it should be written off as “not sound”. If so the people implicated would include (barring the unlikely event one of them were to sign): Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, H. B. Charles, Charlie Dates, Ligon Duncan, Mika Edmondson, Carl and Karen Ellis, Steve Gaines, Philip and Jasmine Holmes, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Trillia Newbell, Preston and Jackie Hill Perry, John Piper, David Platt, Kevin Smith, Robert Smith, Walter Strickland, Ralph Douglas West, and so on and so forth. These are names of people off the top of my head listed alphabetically, all of whom have spoken out on abiding racial sin in America and its churches this year and many previous years. In their number are the very people the statement erroneously has in view as in some way abandoning the gospel for a social gospel. An examination of their ministries, their sermons, writings, music, and so forth should decisively demonstrate their Christo-centric, gospel ministries and serve as the context within which, the backdrop against which, the lens through which their (in my estimation very helpful and necessary) contributions should be understood.

Others will doubtless speak out on various part of the statement that concern them – and I may be inclined to later add their contributions as a post-script at the bottom of this post. For now though, here are some by no means exhaustive points on my behalf. I wrote and sent these by email several weeks ago, after receiving a draft of the statement with the request that I sign. I could not in good conscience sign then, and despite areas where the statement has been tweaked and in one instance substantially revised (revisions that I have taken into account to amend my response), I will not now. The statement remains in my view a cynical, misguided document that has been pitched by the wrong people, at the wrong time, in the wrong way, and with wrong ideas and understandings in the background.

A response to points in the Social Justice and Gospel statement

1. We deny that the postmodern ideologies derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching.

True enough, but these terms have been weaponised against godly men and women who are simply seeking justice and reconciliation. The godly men that the preamble says “we have long regarded as faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides.”

3. We affirm that societies at times must establish laws that correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

I am glad to hear it, but… establishing laws is not enough. Implementing those laws and their implications across the states of the nation and its structures and systems is very important. Unfortunately some of the people involved in this statement have indicated their belief that America’s systemic racism problem ended in 1968 as though the mere introduction of a law is enough to undo centuries of white against black racial prejudice. Also, when people discuss ways in which existing laws ought to be implemented and the damage of the past undone, some of the people involved in this statement have leapt to exclaim “Cultural Marxism!”, “Critical Race Theory!”, “All Lives Matter!” and similar.

We deny that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture. We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standards of righteousness.

I agree. The problem again is how in practice some people who are here saying we should not impose or operate on merely socially constructed standards of justice have spoken against biblically derived efforts to reform justice at a social level. If their fire were reserved for mainstream theologically liberal churches in America I would have less of an issue, but the context of this statement is, as made clear in the preamble, faithful and trustworthy spiritual guides who are and been for some time standing up and speaking out. They are finally being noticed, leading especially months of unfair critique of the MLK50 conference and a couple of messages at T4G. At these conferences, theologically conservative brothers from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds prophetically and practically addressed one of the most abiding sins of the nation and how for centuries it has infected churches across the USA. They did not present “merely socially constructed standards of justice”, but stood on the basis of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. They were written off and decried, again by some of the very people involved in this statement.

4. We affirm that God’s law, as summarized in the ten commandments, more succinctly summarized in the two great commandments, and manifested in Jesus Christ, is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. Violation of that law is what constitutes sin.

Yes, but the problem with reducing God’s law to its summaries is it misses the sermons. The prophets expounded the Law, particularly concerned with addressing the injustices that permeated their and other societies. Jesus expounded the Law, exposing the injustice run riot in the power structures and people of the Jewish nation. Historically, and doubtless still in the present, racists (especially of the white supremacist or nationalist variety) have taken comfort that there is no “Thou shalt not enslave/segregate/hate/mistreat/needlessly offend black people” in the Ten Commandments. They have also distorted Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbour” : as one Southern Sunday School teacher was recently quoted in the press as saying, he meant “Love your American neighbour.” If the summaries were sufficient, we wouldn’t have all of the writings around them, and we wouldn’t need to preach expositions of them.

We deny that any obligation that does not arise from God’s commandments can be legitimately imposed on Christians as a prescription for righteous living. We further deny the legitimacy of any charge of sin or necessity of repentance that does not arise from a violation of God’s commandments.

I fear slave-holders, segregationists, white supremacists and white nationalists of today could say exactly the same, again because they reduced/reduce the law to its summaries and think “I’m not a murderer” all while hating their brothers and treating them angrily for the colour of their skin. The last sentence sounds good but is a sentiment that has been weaponised against brothers biblically seeking justice and reconciliation in our society. The Calvinists among the signatories will have no problem affirming that people are totally/radically depraved, with every aspect of their being somehow tainted by sin and that from birth we have a nature inclined to sin. They would say that we are sinners not because we sin but we sin because we are sinners, and have been since birth, no commandment needing to have been clearly broken on our part. And yet here is a phrase that has been and doubtless will still be used to shelter people from the charges that their sinful nature is shown in prejudiced, xenophobic, and racist perceptions, attitudes, and actions. A black man says “I’m offended by the Confederate flag, and what it represents” and the response is “There’s nothing sinful about flying a flag”, ignoring a host of heart, congregational, pastoral, personal, and missional issues derived from Scripture. The furore at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in 2016 is a case in point. A resolution against the Confederate flag was finally (after embarrassing and prolonged deliberations) passed, to be met with online hot takes from professing Christian people defending the flag as though it were the gospel. Why? They heard charges made and didn’t believe they arised from a violation of God’s commandments so felt justified in their foolishness.

5. All human relationships, systems, and institutions have been affected by sin.

I am pleased to hear they believe this. The language of many of the critics of the racial reconciliation movement and social justice has sometimes denied this. Indeed, I have heard people say “Individuals are sinful/racist, not systems”. They make such assertions based on sound bites from the ministries of some of the signatories of this document.

We deny that, other than the previously stated connection to Adam, any person is morally culpable for another person’s sin.

Agreed, people are not morally culpable for another person’s sin but due to the federal relationship of all humans with one another in Adam, and the resulting collective, societal, structural link we have one with another what one person is morally culpable for may have meaningful consequences for others. For example, when the British government abolished slavery in 1833, they used £20 million pounds, 40% of the national budget, to buy the freedom of slaves throughout the empire (of course, this money went to the slave-holders not to the slaves which exhibits sinful mankind’s unflagging ability to include injustice in the exercise of justice). British tax-payers only stopped paying off the debts incurred by this transaction in 2015.

Although families, groups, and nations can collectively sin, and cultures can be predisposed to particular sins

I am pleased they admit this. I have been told by devotees of James White that there is no collective sin, only individual sin. It beggars belief, as it is so contrary to Scripture!

subsequent generations share the collective guilt of their ancestors only if they approve and embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins. Before God each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to receive forgiveness. We further deny that one’s ethnicity establishes any necessary connection to any particular sin.

Yes, so long as such a thing as collective guilt is granted (again, it has been denied quite forcefully to me) and the insidious, subtle ways in which people approve, embrace, and attempt to justify those sins is recognised, owned, and repented of (without the disrespect, disingenuity, deflection, and at times out right dishonesty of some of social justice’s critics represented here). I would rather people veer away from “that’s not my sin problem” toward more invasive self-examination and radical repentance.

6. This also means that 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.

I get what is being said here, but Jesus is the good news, and in Jesus is righteousness, purity, faithfulness, love and so forth. A critical part of the gospel missing from their brief explanation is union with Christ and the work of the Spirit to make us like Christ – if these things are not present then we are not saved and we do not possess good news. While the word “saved” is used, the justification, sanctification, and glorification aspects of this crucial gospel word are not at all unpacked and it would seem that as with the law earlier, the understanding of gospel is unhelpfully reductionist – focussed simply on salvation “from” the bad works of sin and their consequences but no reference regarding salvation “to” the good works of Christ as per Ephesians 2:10. Good works are not definitional of the gospel, but they are demonstrable of the gospel, and this is the last thing we need to be watering down now.

8. 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.

Yes and no. Read any history book. The primacy of the gospel was maintained in theory by the Reformers, but not in practice: the at times violent and murderous persecution of peaceful baptistic believers they commonly but falsely called Anabaptists is a case in point. The primacy of the gospel was maintained in theory by the Puritans, many of whom were led astray into wickedly enslaving black men and women. The primacy of the gospel was in theory maintained across Bible-belt Southern USA where people died fighting to keep their slaves, and spent a century oppressing and segregating them once freed. I believe the gospel, I am a follower of Jesus Christ, not an atheist sceptic but what on Earth was that all about? And please do not with the Southern gentleman of the 1850s argue that slavery was a more positive life for the slaves than what they would have had otherwise. Tragically today, people who do believe in the primacy of the gospel and are applying its implications to real everyday life are being maligned as embracing a false social gospel, while the real enemies (including real adherents to the social gospel) go ignored.

We deny that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.

Agreed, but it may very well be an integral component of the ministry of love and compassion given to the church. My Bible does not only tell me of a “Great Commission”, but a “Great Commandment”, and acting like our focus on the former can excuse our horrific inattention to the latter would doubtless raise Christ’s righteous indignation. The scribes and Pharisees preached the Law, but they didn’t have love for their fellow man. “Woe to you”, Jesus cried.

The draft I first received continued:

Believers can and should utilize the means, such as voting, that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, but we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute part of the church’s mission given to her by Jesus Christ.

My response to this:

Nor is not voting, or voting differently evidence of lack of saving faith, as has been insinuated and even stated by some in the circles represented by this statement. Also, voting is not the only means to have some effect on the laws of a democratic society. Marching, picketing, sit-ins, and so forth are all valid as well in the fight against injustice in an allegedly free society (a far cry from imperial Rome) and not sinfully angry, counter-gospel behaviours as claimed by people particularly in MacArthur’s circle in recent days. The statement has been amended to say:

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.

I suppose the addition of the important word “central” toward the end leaves room for scenarios like when MacArthur used his platform to talk about why he was not voting for Trump when in fact, equivocal semantics aside, he was.
We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts. 
No one that I have read or listened to is saying that they do. But they are saying laws and regulations need to be made and enforced anyway, because that is how God has designed things.

9. We deny that the charge of heresy can legitimately be brought against every failure to achieve perfect conformity to all that is implied in sincere faith in the gospel is heresy.

Heresy is an overused word in some circles. But it is not overused with reference to racism and its underpinnings. This really is where the mask of this statement well and truly falls off, and once again we see the ugly monster of self-righteous, unconfessional, nonrepentant deflection. Racism is not only hateful – it is heretical. It is not only bigotry – it is blasphemy. Ligon Duncan has said it well: “Anti-racism is not the Gospel, but the Gospel is anti-racism, and racism is anti-Gospel, hence heresy of the deepest dye” (Defending the Faith; Denying the Image – 19th Century AmericanConfessional Calvinism in Faithfulness and Failure). Perhaps read literature that further demonstrates this – I would also recommend “The Heresy of Racial Superiority: Confronting the Past and Confronting the Truth” by Dr. Albert Mohler and “Frederick Douglass: America’s Prophet”, a spiritual/theological biography by D. H. Dilbeck as introductions to this quite biblical idea. Really I cannot fathom why anyone would deny the heresy of this wickedness, which is precisely the subtext going on here.

10-11 are on Sexuality and Marriage, and Complementarianism

I agree with the points made but this is a bizarre conflation of racial reconciliation and biblical pursuit of social justice being promoted in Christian circles with a wholly separate and quite dangerous cultural shift on matters of human sexuality. Matters of skin and sin are totally separate and the insertion of an important but bit of a pet theme for conservative evangelicals into a document critiquing the social justice and racial reconciliation movement in the church shows that the point has been completely missed. What hath MLK50 to do with Revoice? My black brothers and sisters would look at them and for the most part probably say “Nothing.”

12. We deny that Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity with Christ.

Indeed, but there are as stated different ethnic groups and nationalities. In the US context where everyone’s heritage – except First Nations’ – involve people who either left their nation or were stolen from it, colour has historically till today been more important than national origin. Unfortunately, at least some of those involved in this statement have used the idea stated to support the privileged false narrative of people who may suffer but not for the colour of their skin: the idea of “colour-blindness”. Furthermore, they have unhelpfully critiqued the messages of faithful brothers who insist that Sunday morning still hosts “the most segregated hour in America”, and have been quite vocal in arguing against the importance and pursuit of biblically multi-ethnic churches.

We deny that any divisions between people groups (including everything from an attitude of superiority to a spirit of resentment) have any legitimate place in the fellowship of the redeemed.

Indeed, but sadly the focus in white majority circles is on criticising the perceived resentment of black brothers and sisters, instead of rooting out the causes of that resentment – attitudes of white superiority in church and state.

The original draft went on to read:

We further reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as entitled victims of oppression. We further deny that one person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

To which I replied:

But what if they have been oppressed? What if they are victims? What if there is a wealth of statistical, anecdotal, experiential, photographic, and recorded evidence to prove it? When white men like Matt Chandler and David Platt tried to sprinkle such evidence into recent sermons, they were lambasted as more like Marx than Moses, followers of James Cone not Jesus Christ. I wonder if this is the first confessional example of gaslighting (look it up)? May God have mercy!

Whether in response to my protestations or not, this section has been reworked to appear much more even handed:

We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.

Better, perhaps, but based on the writings and clear agenda of some of the initial signatories, I fear the draft version more accurately represents the spirit of the document, and certainly the way it will be used. Also, better is not best. Red scare paranoia seems to have blinded people to the brutal oppressor/oppressed reality of America’s racial history and its ripple waves – the aftershocks of a mere few decades ago that continue to have serious implications for the present.

14. We affirm that virtually all cultures, including our own, at times contain laws and systems that foster racist attitudes and policies.

True enough, working with the broad definition of racism that encapsulates all ethnically-oriented prejudice. Problem is, the authors here don’t live in “all cultures”, making such a statement far too easy to use as a deflective device against honest evaluation of racism’s foremost expression in their culture. This is the equivalent of an “Everyone’s a sinner, we all fall short” response when the pastor calls out a particular sin on Sunday morning. Sadly in their own number are people who deny or at best sit on the fence with regard to the real racial shift in the nation – not as many paranoidly fear towards black nationalism but white nationalism and indeed supremacy.

This leads into a series of denials that have mercifully been reworked. To provide context for my misgivings with the document as it is, I must include the original.

We deny that today’s evangelicals as a group have failed to condemn partiality and prejudice toward various ethnicities; much less have they callously and collectively practiced those sins. We deny that systemic racism is endemic in evangelical churches.

For people who normally have tended away from collectivism to individualism, how convenient that they can now look at evangelicals “as a group”, as though they can take in the height, width, and depth of professed evangelicals and accurately make an informed statement. It’s also interesting from people who have made highlighting unregenerate church membership and unrepentant but tolerated sin in churches a major theme in ministry. That may be beside the point though… Is it enough to condemn once, or should we not ever be condemning partiality and prejudice as people drift, as new generations are born, as blowing cultural winds threaten to reverse or accelerate for the worse? And if endemic, systemic racism is not a problem, why is Sunday morning still scene to the most segregated hour in America? Why are pastoral staffs, seminary professors, conference speakers, committees, and so forth disproportionately white in environments that are far more diverse? Why, when a black man is invited to preach in “white spaces”, has it often tended to be one of two people – leaving some of the black brothers and sisters I serve with the impression that there aren’t many sound black preachers? Why has Africa been scrubbed from our ecclesiastical historical memory? As though there were no Simon of Cyrene and his sons, no Ethiopian eunuch, no Simon the black man in leadership at Antioch – where the disciples were first called Christians! Why does nobody know pre-Arab invasion North Africa was a stronghold of Christianity, that Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, and plenty others were African men? That Luther was drawn to the Ethiopian church, and inspired by a black man – Michael the Deacon? I could go on, but I wonder if anyone is listening, because godlier, better-known men than me have said these things and so much more only to be railed against. Those who want to learn more can watch the MLK50 conference for a start.

This has wisely been scrapped. In its place is

We deny that the contemporary evangelical movement has any deliberate agenda to elevate one ethnic group and subjugate another.

It should, though, be noted that I saw who signed the statement with the initial, highly problematic remarks intact. They know who they are, and my response stands as testimony against any lingering heart-agreement with the draft.

And we emphatically deny that lectures on social issues (or activism aimed at reshaping the wider culture) are as vital to the life and health of the church as the preaching of the gospel and the exposition of Scripture; historically such an inversion of priorities has tended to lead to departures from the gospel.

It has been common to describe any sermon or biblical address with practical application to America’s racial ills as a “lecture”, a word most often said charged with negative meaning. In any case, none of the people who have been most targeted by some of those involved in this statement are replacing preaching with lectures or evangelism with activism. They are, in light of so much biblical teaching, seeking to redress the balance from preaching and telling the needy and oppressed “be warmed and filled”, to preaching and giving the needy the compassion and help they require. This does not lead to a departure from the gospel (examine the lives and ministries of William Carey and Charles Spurgeon for example) but leads to a demonstration of gospel-transformed love in the life of the church that further adorns the gospel tree with branches laden with good fruit.

Reading this statement was a bit of a sad experience for me. The addendum also. Why?  A few reasons.
It links this quite problematic statement with two other imperfect but good statements, Danvers and Nashville, that speak to real issues of our time and churches. I hope putting this statement alongside those statements will not be used to discredit the biblical truths therein. Sadly I think it is more likely that Danvers and Nashville will be seen to give this statement credibility, and the real losers here will not be these statements and what they represent, but our black brothers and sisters and their allies in the fight for racial reconciliation – once again set back by the white majority culture’s denial and deflection.
Then I read the initial and early signatories. Some of them I know. Some of them I consider friends. One of them I have known since I was three years old, went to the same church with, and was shaped in my approach to preaching in ways I probably do not fully appreciate or realise. A reminder to me, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Others I am not as fond of – initial signatories include

  • the man who recently disparaged what he called “the angry civil rights movement” of the 1960s
  • the apologist who has spent absurd amounts of time critiquing what he perceives to be mission drift by social justice advocates not at all seeing the irony in his own mission drift
  • the entrepreneur  and conservative social activist who ranted to me about an Islamic invasion of London engineered by George Soros, lectured me on my naivety in have a gospel-centred compassionate approach to Muslim refugees, and when asked when he last shared the gospel with a Muslim told me about a conversation he had with a cab driver about Donald Trump. While he was busy writing these things to me, I was busy actually doing real evangelism on the street and met a Muslim refugee who has since trusted Christ, been baptised, and is a faithful member of the church.

I do not know what the critics of social justice want – surely not social injustice? I do not understand why Christians would push back against those of us who long for racial reconciliation in America’s fractured society and churches – would they rather persist in racial division? Why, at a time when

  • nationally and globally, alt-Right to far-Right, white nationalist to white supremacist movements are on the rise
  • pastors are still getting fired for trying to reach black communities
  • churches are being disfellowshipped from associations and conventions for congregation-wide anti-black racism
  • black brothers and sisters are saying they are not so sure reconciliation with white brothers and sisters is practically possible since they often don’t feel welcomed and loved
  • Those evangelicals who voted in the presidential election did so overwhelmingly for the most all-around unpleasant and distasteful president in America’s modern history, who routinely  and crassly denigrates human life, especially that of foreigners
  • the list could go on…

Why, given the above, is this the statement that people think we need? Great damage is being done. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. May God have mercy!

Though I’m tired – and don’t intend to comment on this matter endlessly – God helping me I will continue to seek the peace of my city, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God. With the Spirit’s help I will continue to listen and continue to learn, so that my heart will not grow hard and cold to those who suffer, and I will seek to order my life by both the great commandment and the great commission, leading my church to do likewise till I am disabled, die, or Christ comes again.

PS: For anyone still wondering what social justice is, exactly, Joe Carter’s article at TGC is probably the best summary I’ve seen: The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About Social Justice. Also, a must read from Carl Ellis Jr.: Biblical Righteousness Is a Four-Paned Window.

 


Ryan Burton King is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church Wood Green (gracebaptistchurch.org.uk), team-leader of Grace Baptists in Europe, Central District Secretary – Association of Grace Baptist Churches SE, and local community worker. You can connect with Ryan on Facebook (ryanburton.king) or Twitter (@RyanBurtonKing).

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, SJW? (by Casey McCall)

This article was originally posted at Prince on Preaching, the website of Dr. David Prince, and was written by Casey McCall, pastor of Ashland Oldham County in Buckner, KY.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is rightly known today for his preaching. The pioneer mega-church pastor attracted weekly crowds numbering in the thousands to his Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England. His sermons were distributed all over the world with an estimated 100 million copies being sold by the time of his death. By all accounts, Spurgeon’s ministry stands as one of the most numerically fruitful in documented history. He reached thousands, and he did so without compromising his faithfulness to preaching the whole counsel of God as the 63 published volumes of his sermons bear witness.

However, we would be mistaken to assume that this “soul-winner” focused exclusively on winning souls. He did not, as so many do, draw a sharp line of separation between the important work of evangelism and attention to the social injustices of his day. While he most certainly believed that the primary purpose of his preaching was to declare the gracious salvation that can be found only in Christ Jesus, he also understood that the gospel of Christ— the very gospel that eternally saves souls—comes with temporal social implications. Spurgeon believed that followers of Christ were obligated to “be on the side of peace and of justice…on the side of everything that is according to the mind of God, and according to the law of love.” 1

Spurgeon explained,

I feel that the best way to lift up the lost and degraded from the horrible pit and the miry clay, in a spiritual sense, is to preach to them Jesus Christ and Him crucified; but this need not prevent me from using all measures possible to promote social reform; and I firmly believe that lectures upon useful and scientific subjects, in which a lecturer is able to throw out hints about dress, cookery, children, cleanliness, economy, temperance, and the duties of the household, or to exclaim against the tally system, the pot-house, begging, and puffery, may be very useful.”2

Spurgeon’s championing of social justice causes can certainly be seen in his sermons, but we see it most clearly in his personal life. Here is a man who powerfully practiced what he preached. Here is a hero who, despite pastoring a mega-church, preaching several times per week, and publishing hundreds of books, found the time and energy to support dozens of ministries whose purpose was to alleviate suffering in a cultural context where thousands of people were suffering. Spurgeon personally established and funded orphanages, a college to train the poor for Christian ministry, a book distribution society for London’s working class, and worked tirelessly to alleviate poverty. He also found time to campaign against what he perceived to be one of the grossest injustices in history: human slavery.

Slavery had been abolished in England since 1833, but it was still going strong in America in Spurgeon’s day, thanks largely to slave-holding Christians defending the wicked institution through deplorable methods of biblical interpretation. Spurgeon saw this as a travesty and made it known early on in a sermon called “Separating the Precious from the Vile” (1860):

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.3

This theme of boldly speaking out against the wicked institution of racism-fueled slavery continued throughout Spurgeon’s ministry and predictably won him many enemies, particularly among fellow Baptists “across the pond” in America. As a matter of fact, Spurgeon’s courageous opposition to this injustice led to slanderous attacks on his character, book burnings of Spurgeon’s works, and even death threats.4 Lewis A. Drummond concludes, “Almost unparalleled in church history, the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon epitomized the perfect blending of evangelistic fervency and deep social concern. . . .There seemed to be no end to the variety of social ministries the Metropolitan Tabernacle undertook.”5

We live in an age when many theologically-minded brothers and sisters justify ignoring social injustices in the name of focusing on evangelism. Spurgeon heroically models for us that it’s not a matter of either/or, but both/and. The gospel calls us out of darkness and into the light of Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace. As we continue to tell sinners that they can find salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, may we follow Spurgeon’s lead in opposing injustice, unrighteousness, and sin wherever we find it. God calls his people to “seek the welfare of the city” where we dwell (Jer. 29:7). Spurgeon, commenting on this passage, says, “You are part and parcel of this nation, for you share in its protection and privileges, and it is yours as Christian men to feel that you are bound in return to do all you can to promote truth and righteousness.”6

Was Spurgeon a social justice warrior (SJW)? It depends on who is defining the term as it has become little more than a political slur. He was most certainly a gospel warrior who believed the gospel had social implications. He asserted, “Because we fear God, and desire his glory, we must be political—it is a part of our piety to be so”7 and “It is part of my religion to desire justice and freedom for all.”8

 


 

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 25 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1972), 391.
  2. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, C. H. (1899). C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1856-1878, Vol. 3 (Cincinnati; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1899), 53.
  3. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 155.
  4. This reaction is documented well by Christian T. George, The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, vol. 1 (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2016), xvii-xxiv.
  5. Lewis A. Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 398,438.
  6. Spurgeon, “The Present Crisis,” 391.
  7. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from his diary, letters, and records, by his wife and his private secretary, 1878–1892, Vol. 4, 132.
  8. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1873 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 255.

 

Casey McCall is Lead Pastor of Ashland Oldham County, located in Buckner, KY.

NAMB goes high profile on evangelism

Baptist Press reported:  Johnny Hunt to lead NAMB evangelism leadership group

The group Hunt will be leading will be focused on championing the cause of evangelism among Southern Baptist churches and pastors. It will also equip pastors with tools and leadership skills that will allow them to lead their churches to become more evangelistically active.

NAMB critics should be satisfied with this, since they have found NAMB’s lack of an evangelism staff to be a profitable route to gripe about the SBC’s declining baptism numbers. Predictably, no evidence links the two unless you are a big fallacy fan.

I like what NAMB is doing and support the move. Perhaps NAMB can move the needle on evangelistic results for the entire SBC. No doubt Hunt, with a long record of entrepreneurial, creative, and effective church leadership has ideas this hacker and plodder, semi-retired pastor doesn’t have. Let’s see what they are.

But I’m not sold on major changes being driven by national leadership no matter how high the profile. At least it will be a simple matter to judge Hunt’s success: either baptisms go up or they don’t. Conferences held, times preached, evangelistic tools sold…all those are secondary. We baptize more or we don’t. One suggestion, find a way for NAMB to encourage greater family size, more kids. That would do it.

Manifestly above my pay grade but this is how we do things in our Grand Convention. My prayers for his success.

NOBTS Chapel and My Meeting with Dr. Kelley

Some time after Katrina (I’m not sure when. Months maybe. Those early years are a blur to me now) I arrived back to my house from a long day of helping visiting mission teams gut homes. My wife Michelle met me at the door with a big smile. It was hard to smile then and we were very busy. Well, I was very busy. Maybe too busy. But Michelle greeted me with a smile and said, “hurry in and look at what we received today.” There on the kitchen counter was probably the prettiest bouquet of flowers I’d ever seen and on the note was something like the following,

Dear Michelle and Jay, We know how busy you are during this difficult time and just wanted to let you know that we are praying for you both. Especially you, Michelle, for the sacrifice you are making while Jay is spending all this time serving with Disaster Relief. You are both appreciated.

Signed, Chuck and Rhonda Kelley

That note was then, and remains today, one of the most thoughtful things anyone ever did for us. I can’t tell you how much we needed that kind word at that time.

I have long appreciated Dr. Kelley for his encouragement to me and his heart for evangelism. I have loved him for his love for New Orleans and his service to our school. He has been gracious to my family, including to my mom and dad (Dad served for 10 years on the Board of Trustees at NOBTS). I publicly defended him from the floor of the Convention way back during the “Sole Membership” issue. Prayed for him in the aftermath of Katrina. Disagreed with him on some administrative issues at NOBTS and then this past Tuesday was disappointed and deeply frustrated with his chapel message that opened the Fall semester at NOBTS. You can find the link to that video HERE.

In the 16 years I have known Dr. Kelley I had never seen him stick out his neck like he did this past Tuesday. He rarely engages in polarizing topics. He appears never to be rattled by the goings on around the convention. He, to my knowledge, has never publicly waded into the trite debates of social media. But there was something markedly different on Tuesday.

Admittedly, he did something he had never done before and that was to publicly offer his own personal thoughts, from his private journal, during a chapel message about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention. While many of us in the blogosphere regularly comment on SBC issues without giving it a second thought, for him, it is unusual. And it was disconcerting and uncomfortable for me to see it happen in chapel.

Most everything he said during the first half of the message (much of the second half was agreeable to me) felt to me, not angry or malicious, but rather like I was watching a deeply hurt man react to frustration and pain that has been building for some time.

I basically disagreed with almost everything he said. He spoke of communicating with people who expressed great disappointment in the meeting in Dallas and on the direction of the future of the convention. I, on the other hand, have never been more encouraged and excited about the SBC and its future. He spoke of concerns for entities and decision makers that came across as frustrating and perplexing for him, and although I have had concerns about our entities from time to time I have not once been as moved to the level of disappointment that he is experiencing.

After his message Tuesday afternoon I though about contacting him, but then I thought (or hoped) maybe folks didn’t interpret the message the way I was afraid it was going to be interpreted. So I waited, but I didn’t have to wait for long. Social media lit up and it was clear that for some, his message came across even worse than I assumed it had. So, Friday afternoon I contacted his office for a meeting and he graciously received me. What follows is not a verbatim account of our two hours but is a survey of our interaction and my thoughts. It was a private conversation with privileged information but he is aware that I was going to write about our meeting.

After a kind welcome, he asked about my dad’s health. We chatted for a moment and I began my remarks by expressing my appreciation for him, retelling him of the story of those flowers after Katrina and how important I believe, just as he does, it is for brothers to speak with one another when we have differences. I expressed my concern over his comments, how I believe they have been taken in a very negative light by a great many Southern Baptists. I expressed my concern for him and for how his remarks reflected on our school as well. I told him that it was clear to me, although others may not have seen it, that I was watching a man that was hurt and that I was surprised by his message because it was not what I was used to seeing from him. I went on to state my concern for how his words could be damaging to recruiting efforts for new students and frustrating for current seminary students who might feel as if their thoughts/opinions and their hopes for the future of the SBC have been dismissed as being off course. I spoke for quite some time on a number of concerns and he listened actively and with interest. Then it was his turn to share his thoughts.

If Dr. Kelley is anything, he is a walking encyclopedia of Southern Baptist life and history. He recounted some aspects of the history of the SBC of which I was unaware. He spoke of the histories of entities, of stories of convention work and cooperation through the years and his deeply held conviction about what is happening in the SBC.

Although he did not “double down” on his remarks from Tuesday, his conviction regarding his concerns remain steadfast. He did not say this to me but I honestly do not think he expected the kind of response his message engendered. It is clear to me he feels strongly that he is expressing the sentiments of a significant portion of people in the SBC and as evidenced by the number of people that have corresponded with him before and after his message, he appears to feel validated in most, if not all of the ideas he shared on Tuesday.

I believe he painted an unfortunate, dark and foreboding picture of the SBC on Tuesday and I could not disagree with him more. I see great hope in the future of our convention. I am very happy about the election of our new president (of whom, by the way, Dr. Kelley spoke very highly and shared his confidence in Dr. Greear’s work in evangelism and passion for the gospel). I am encouraged by the overall direction of the entities (but will continue to offer critique when I feel it is appropriate) and I am down-right excited with this current generation of pastors and young people who have a great passion for the lost and a heart for discipleship. I have argued in the past that convention entity heads ought to be allowed to speak their mind about issues in SBC life, just like the rest of us (albeit not in the area of entity servers being used for electioneering 🙂 ) … and, well… he did just that. He shared his concerns. I just wish he hadn’t done it in chapel.

It is most evident to me that his greatest concern is with the change in dialogue we have witnessed which favors spending time on secondary and tertiary issues in place of focusing on the “heart matter” of evangelism. To me, it appears that his particular critiques weren’t as much about the specific concerns he shared as it is that those things, in his mind, are the evidences that our focus is not where it should be. He offered me a helpful analogy in the form of “conversations at a party.” He noted that the tone and tenor of a party is often loud with many different conversations going on at the same time. He suggested that the reason for or theme of our party (the SBC) is for the work of evangelism. However, he notes, when the purpose of the party has been lost, people begin to hear and pay more attention to the private side conversations taking place at the party and we become distracted by the peripheral dialogues. He believes the reason for the problems, which he has pointed out, is due to our lack of focus on evangelism. I heard him loud and clear on that. In fact, I’m now rehashing his sermon through that lens. All in all, it is even more clear for me that a sort of perfect storm happened for Dr. Kelley on Tuesday with (1) his personal convictions, (2) validation from an agreeing segment of Southern Baptists, and (3) his own hurts and concerns culminated in privately-journaled thoughts that were (unfortunately, in my opinion) unveiled in a chapel message.

Dr. Kelley does not need me to defend him, nor would he want me to, and certainly, in this case, I would not do so. We not only have disagreements about the content of his message but also about some of the mode and tone of the message. However, what we ALL need is to realize that each of us are more often misunderstood than completely understood by others. I know I have been. I believe Dr. Kelley to be wrong about most of his concerns, although I now understand his concerns better than I did. I believe him to be wrong about the state of the SBC, but I now understand what he is seeing that moves him in that way, even if I disagree with his interpretation. What is NOT wrong is his heart for the lost, his love for the SBC and his willingness to stand up and say what he feels is right even if he is in the minority. I think the most important thing I took from our meeting is that we all do well to remember in these days, however you feel about the state of the SBC, there are considerable numbers of Southern Baptists who feel differently about the health of the SBC.

On a side note, I was reminded today why it is so important to interact with those with whom we disagree. Sitting down with one another does not mean, nor should it mean, that we rise in unanimous agreement. But it does mean that we are giving ourselves and the other an opportunity to listen and to be heard. I have been reminded anew that to sit on the other side of a computer screen and lob ad hominems to and fro is sinful action. It is unchristlike. I needed to remember that. We need to be better at communicating. We need to engage one another. We need to be people who will “talk with” one another rather than just “talk about” one another.

Also, let me reiterate something for current and any possible future students of NOBTS. I am very proud of our seminary on a couple of fronts. As Dr. Kelley mentioned in the later part of his message, NOBTS has always been a balanced school. In my words, we have had both 5 point reformed profs and 4 point remonstrant profs. 😉 Speaking as a Pastor who holds to a reformed soteriological position, I can say that I have only and ever been appreciative of the good balance of professors at NOBTS. We are not a “reformed” seminary and we are not an “anti-Reformed” seminary. We are a Baptist Seminary holding to the tradition of “both rails” and I want to assure anyone who might view Dr. Kelly’s chapel message in contrary terms to rest assured, that will not change. His hiring philosophy has kept our school balanced and for that I am very thankful.

We left one another still in disagreement about the particulars but I hope we left with a little more respect and appreciation for one another having sat down to talk as brothers should. This is how Jesus taught us it ought to be. For the sake of our school I believe we can move past this issue and on to a mutually shared excitement for the future of the cooperative work of the SBC.

P.S. I have asked Dr. Kelley if he would be willing to consider writing something for us here at Voices that might offer more insight or help to clarify his position and he received that offer with a smile and suggested he would consider that opportunity. I hope he does.