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“Social Justice”

(36 posts)

The Good of Society

When considering the nature of sin, Wilberforce said, the vast bulk of Christians in England estimated the guilt of an action “not by the proportion in which, according to scripture, [actions] are offensive to God. but by that in which they are injurious to society.” Now, on the face of it that sounds noble, loving, and practical. Sin hurts people, so don’t sin. Wouldn’t that definition of sin be good for society? But Wilberforce says, “Their slight notions of the guilt and evil of sin [reveal] an utter [lack] of all suitable reverence for the Divine Majesty. This principle [reverence for the Divine Majesty] is justly termed in Scripture, ‘The beginning of wisdom’ [Psalm 111:10].” And without this wisdom, there will be no deep and lasting good done for man, spiritually or politically. Therefore, the supremacy of God’s glory in all things is what he calls “the grand governing maxim” in all of life. The good of society may never be put ahead of this. That would dishonor God and, paradoxically, defeat the good of society. For the good of society, the good of society must not be the primary good. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 121–122

Why I Am Not a Socialist

Monday··2008·02·04 · 9 Comments
This is not a treatise on the practical failure of socialism. I will not be telling you why socialism doesn’t work and capitalism does. If you’re looking for a lesson in economics, read Adam Smith1, Milton Friedman2, or Thomas Sowell3. This is an explanation of why—all pragmatic considerations and emotional motivations aside—socialism is wrong, and should be rejected by all Christians as an inherently sinful system.4 Let me assure you that I am not cold and uncaring of the needs of others. I think it would be great if everyone had plenty to eat, nice clothes, and a solid roof over their heads. I would be happy to see everyone receive a good education and quality medical care. I would like to see everyone have everything they need in abundance. I would like to do what I can to make that a reality. Wouldn’t you? I hope you would. On the other hand, I know that all people should not have what they need. Scripture tells us that those who will not work should not eat.5 The logical end of that, of course, is that those who are unwilling to earn a living should be allowed to starve. This, by the way, was not the word of the mythical harsh God of the Old Testament. This was the command of the Apostles to the New Testament Church. I am also not among the wealthy targets of the “tax the rich” mentality. This is not a crusade to protect my wealth from the IRS. Socialism is often presented as the Christian response to poverty. Jesus cared for the poor, and so should we. The early church shared all things in common, didn’t they? Therefore, it is right that the entire nation share all things in common with everyone. Governments ought to redistribute the wealth of the fortunate, privileged classes with the less fortunate and underprivileged.6 There are a few problems with this thinking, however, one of which is the fundamental reason why I believe socialism is antithetical to Christianity. That problem is simply that governments do not produce and possess wealth to distribute. They must take it from those who produce it. Now I’m going to get straight to the point. This will be short and seem very simplistic, but that’s only because it really is this simple. First, let me illustrate the difference between Christian giving and socialist “giving.” Suppose I find someone in need and discern that their need is legitimate and they truly cannot meet it through normal means (something a government can never do). I dig into my resources and give what I can. Maybe that isn’t enough, so I alert others to the need and some of them are able to help, as well. The need is met and we give glory to God. Or, I see people in need and think, “someone should help them.” I see that there are people who have more than they need, so I go about robbing them and distributing their money as I see fit. You see, it’s one thing to give of your own resources and to exhort others to do the same. That is Christian charity. It’s something else entirely to give from someone else’s resources. We call that theft. We call it theft no matter how good the motivation behind it is. And when it’s done by force, we call it robbery. That’s what socialist governments do. ’Hold on, there,” you might say, “ours is a democratically elected government. They represent the will of the people, so it isn’t stealing.” Well, yes, it is. Just because the majority agrees that Joe Rich and John Middleclass should be robbed to keep Susie Singlemom in groceries—and let’s be honest, to keep Bubba Trailerpark in beer and cigarettes—doesn’t make it less than robbery. The majority does not have the right to democratically rob the minority.7 It doesn’t matter how good your intentions are or how many people agree with you. It doesn’t matter how much good is actually done. The end does not justify the means. When you reach into your neighbor’s pocket to fund your good deeds, you are a thief. If you see a need that ought to be filled, go to it. Put your money where your mouth is. Just don’t put my money where your mouth is. I have my own conscience to deal with, and you are not it. Now, I just know there is someone reading this and nodding, “You tell ’em, man!” Thanks for your support. But now is the time to look into your own heart and ask if you’re really practicing Christian charity. How many Susie Singlemoms8 do you know who are living on public assistance because their churches—and you—have more exciting ways to spend the money God has trusted to you? That new car or plasma screen9—did you neglect one of “the least of these”10 within your sphere of influence to acquire it? Are you decrying the increasing socialism in America (or where ever you may be) while living like a socialist by passively letting government do your job? You also need to put your money where your mouth is. It has been said that we ought to vote and govern as cold, hard capitalists, because that ensures the greatest prosperity for the greatest number of people, but live as socialists, sharing our wealth with the needy. I agree with the first part of that statement, but the second part misunderstands what socialism is. Socialism is not giving what is mine. Socialism is taking what is yours and giving it away, and that is stealing, no matter how you try to justify it. We ought to live as Christians, following Christ’s example as we steward the resources God has entrusted to us. That is what the Bible teaches. 1 The Wealth of Nations 2 Capitalism and Freedom 3 Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One 4 Coincidentally, Chip Bayer posted on this subject the day after I wrote this article. Read his article here. 5 2 Thessalonians 3:10 6 The classifications of “fortunate” and “privileged” are Marxist inventions; but that is not the subject of this essay. 7 This is why the American founders designed a constitutional republic rather than a democracy. Democracy is nothing but a tyranny of the majority. 8 . . . or elderly widows, or families just “down on their luck” due to various difficulties? 9 I’m not advocating a monastic lifestyle. God’s normal means of preventing poverty is through work. That means the best way to fight poverty is to purchase the products and services that people produce (read the authors mentioned above for a better understanding of this principle). However, we must not neglect those who may be temporarily, or in some cases permanently, outside the normal economic process. 10 Matthew 25:31–46

When More Is Less

Tuesday··2011·11·22 · 1 Comments
I just picked up Cruciform Press’s October publication, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, today. It’s a title that makes me nervous. It could be excellent, applying the gospel and gospel priorities to Christian life, or it could go very badly, falling into popular philosophies of so-called “social justice.” The introduction and table of contents suggests the former, so I am optimistic. In the few pages I read this morning, the author, Aaron Armstrong, describing the state of creation and life in Eden, wrote, “It was a world in which poverty could not exist” [p. 15]. Poverty could not exist because poverty, like all miseries now in this fallen world, is a result of sin. In a sinless world, there is no poverty. Reading that, I was struck with an idea not (yet, anyway) stated explicitly: It is perhaps the first irony of all time that poverty began when the richest people who would ever live wanted more. Adam and Eve had everything they could ever need. They were given dominion over all of creation, and free use of all of it, save one thing: they could not eat the fruit of one tree. Of the abundance of the garden, only one tree was off-limits. And it took only a few words from the serpent to make them think “It’s not enough; I want more.” Because Adam and Eve wanted more than God had given, we all have less.

The Poverty of Sin

Getting to the root of poverty: The first man and woman were created in the image and likeness of God and declared “very good” in his eyes. They were then given the task of serving as God’s representatives within creation. For a time, they lived in perfect harmony with God, each other, and the world around them. But when they chose to sin, everything changed. Their original identity was lost. Their relationships with God, with each other, and with the world were broken, devastated, ruined. This is poverty in its most true and ultimate sense. Incomparable riches—an unbroken relationship with God and a harmonious relationship with the rest of creation—have been squandered. Everything about our existence has been impoverished as a result of sin. A fallen world inhabited exclusively by sinners: that is the essence of poverty. Sin, and the effects of sin throughout creation, is the Poverty from which all other poverty flows. —Aaron Armstrong, Awaiting a Savior (Cruciform Press, 2011), 23.

A Modern Babel

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth. —Genesis 11:1–9 Aaron Armstrong compares current efforts to eliminate poverty to the building of the tower of Babel. The current discussion about poverty has a common theme: most people who think poverty can be eliminated also think humanity must be united to achieve it. If we are one in purpose, the thinking goes, nothing can stop us from achieving our goal: All 191 UN member states unanimously agreed to the Millennium Development Goals. The first of those goals is to eradicate extreme poverty. Jeffrey Sachs believes that if we are united in purpose and tactics, we can end extreme poverty by 2025. Paul Collier believes the eight richest nations of the world need to be united in creating new laws and charters designed to assist reformers within the 50 poorest countries in their quest to change their countries for the better, and that the rest of us need to unite in pressuring them to do so. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these options. Building a tower can be a morally neutral endeavor. But it comes back to the “why.” Are we seeking somehow to make a name for ourselves, or are we seeking to make much of God’s name? —Aaron Armstrong, Awaiting a Savior (Cruciform Press, 2011), 23. Armstrong wonders if “that ‘confusion of languages’ dynamic is still not at work, a means by which God hinders our ongoing attempts at uniting this fallen race for the sake of our own glorification.” I think he’s onto something there.
When helping those in need, Christians need to be discerning in the way we help. In any situation, there may be factors that affect how we offer assistance. But one thing upon which the gospel forbids us to base our decisions is the worthiness of the recipient. The Israelites were freed from slavery because the Lord loved them and kept the oath that he swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When he gave them the promised Land, it was not because of their righteousness, for they were a stubborn people. In the wilderness, they provoked him to anger, worshiping the golden calf, grumbling and complaining endlessly. If a people were ever completely undeserving of God’s mercy, it was the Israelites! Yet, God still brought them to the land he had promised. Is this any less true of us? How can we, if we have been saved through Christ, say to anyone, “You are not worthy of my help”? How we help may vary from situation to situation (something that we’ll look at in later chapters), but no one should be considered unworthy of assistance. —Aaron Armstrong, Cruciform Press, 2011), 44&ndash45.

Grace before Ethics

The following paragraph impressed me as one that could be slipped into any book on Christian living. In fact, any such book that doesn’t contain the principle of this paragraph is probably way off-track. We must recognize that before Jesus ever offers ethics, he offers grace. If we don’t see that . . . we will use the Sermon on the Mount as a hammer, a means of forcing ourselves or others to act in a way we never could act without the grace of the Holy Spirit. This legalism is the natural inclination of our hearts. We want law, not gospel. We want deeds, not creeds. We want the demands of the law—even if it’s just so we can disobey them. But the good news of the gospel includes the fact that grace always comes before the demands of the kingdom. Jesus is not telling us what is required to earn blessing. He’s telling us what to do in light of the fact that we are already blessed! “The gifts of love always precede the demands of love.” —Aaron Armstrong, Awaiting a Savior (Cruciform Press, 2011), 65–66.

What Is the Mission of the Church?

In an interesting providence, the very morning I was choosing between two books to begin—What Is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, and Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones—both came up in my feed reader, here and here, respectively. I chose the former. “Social justice” is possibly the hottest evangelical fad going today, hotter than the embrace of figurative readings of Genesis the downgrade of prophesy and miracles (my opinion, not DeYoung and Gilbert’s, at no extra charge).The Missional movement is largely to blame for the confusion over the title question of this book. What Is the Mission of the Church? is not, however anti-“missional”, or in any way a diatribe against that movement. The authors are simply concerned about the confusion that is evident in some circles about the mission of the church, and its effects. They write: 1. We are concerned that good behaviors are sometimes commended but in the wrong categories. For example, many good deeds are promoted under the term social justice, when we think “loving your neighbor” is often a better category. Or, folks will talk about transforming the world, when we think “faithful presence” is a better way to describe what we are trying to do and actually can do in the world. Or, sometimes well-meaning Christians talk about “building the kingdom” or “building for the kingdom,” when actually the verbs associated with the kingdom are almost always passive (enter, receive, inherit). We’d do better to speak of living as citizens of the kingdom, rather than telling our people that they build the kingdom. 2. We are concerned that in our newfound missional zeal we sometimes put hard “oughts” on Christians where there should be inviting “cans.” You ought to do something about human trafficking. You ought to do something about AIDS. You ought to do something about lack of good public education. When you say “ought,” you imply that if the church does not tackle these problems, we are being disobedient. We think it would be better to invite individual Christians, in keeping with their gifts and calling, to try to solve these problems rather than indicting the church for “not caring.” 3. We are concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems, we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely, making disciples of Jesus Christ. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 21–22. Concisely, We want the church to remember that there is something worse than death and something better than human flourishing. If we hope only for renewed cities and restored bodies in this life, we are of all people most to be pitied. —Ibid., 23.

You shall be a blessing

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country,  And from your relatives  And from your father’s house,  To the land which I will show you;  And I will make you a great nation,  And I will bless you,  And make your name great;  And so you shall be a blessing;  And I will bless those who bless you,  And the one who curses you I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” —Genesis 12:1–3 I realize that explanations of grammatical technicalities might send you into a glassy-eyed trance, and I’m thankful that such discussions are not generally necessary. Thanks to quality English translations, Scripture is clear enough even to uneducated amateurs like me. Still, it is necessary to acknowledge the need for scholarly assistance at times. This is one of those times. Is Genesis 12:1–3 a missional command? At first, a closer look at the grammar of Genesis 12 seems to support a “missional” understanding of the text. There are two imperative verbs: “go” in verse 1 and “be a blessing” at the end of verse 2. So, contrary to the ESV translation, it looks as though Abraham has two commands: go and bless. [Christopher] Wright makes much of the grammar, arguing that “both [verbs] therefore have the nature of a charge or a mission laid on Abraham. . . . ‘Be a blessing’ thus entails a purpose and goal that stretches into the future. It is, in short, missional.” But it’s curious that Wright builds so much on this foundation when earlier he acknowledges that “it is a feature of Hebrew (as indeed it is in English) that when two imperatives occur together the second imperative may sometimes express either the expected result or the intended purpose of carrying out the first imperative.” In other words, the second grammatical imperative may not have the force of an imperative, but rather of a purpose or a result of obeying the first imperative. In fact, our English translations all render the end of verse 2 “you shall be a blessing” or “so that you shall be a blessing” or something similar. There are several other places in the Old Testament where an imperative verb should be translated as a result clause, rather than a command. Take Genesis 42:18 for example, where Joseph says, “Do this and you will live.” Both “do this” and “live” are imperative in form, but “live” is also clearly to be understood as the result of “doing this.” It’s not another command. We think this is how the second imperative in Genesis 12:1–2 should be translated—as a result clause, rather than as a command. This means, to quote Eckhard Schnabel, “Abraham does not receive an assignment to carry YHWH’s blessings to the nations; rather, the nations are promised divine blessing if and when they see Abraham’s faith in YHWH and if and when they establish contact with his descendants.” . . . Most crucially, the New Testament does not understand the call of Abram as a missional charge. Clearly, it is a glorious mission text announcing God’s plans to bless the whole world. But the blessing is not something we bestow on others as we work for human flourishing. Rather the Abrahamic blessing comes to those who trust in Abraham’s Offspring. This is Paul’s understanding in Galatians 3:9 when, after quoting Genesis 12:3 (“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”), he concludes, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” If there are missiological implications from Genesis, their emphasis is not “go and bless everyone” but rather “go and call the nations to put their faith in Christ.” —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 31–32, 33–34.

The Church’s Key Assignment

If we want to discover the mission of the church, we have no better place to go than to the book of Acts, in which we see the earliest Christians, led by the Apostles, carrying out that mission. The book of Acts is especially important because in it we can actually see the scope and nature of the earliest Christian mission. If you are looking for a picture of the early church giving itself to creation care, plans for societal renewal, and strategies to serve the community in Jesus’s name, you won’t find them in Acts. But if you are looking for preaching, teaching, and the centrality of the Word, this is your book. The story of Acts is the story of the earliest Christians’ efforts to carry out the commission given them in Acts 1:8. This does not mean that the church in Acts is one big evangelistic rally or inductive Bible study. We see the church devoted to the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer, as well as the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). We see examples of believers sharing with each other (Acts 2:44–46; 4:32–37) and hear of many signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 5:12–16). Truly the kingdom has broken in as Jesus continues to “do” miracles through the apostles and sometimes others (Acts 1:1; Heb. 2:3–4). But there is no doubt that the book of Acts is a record first and foremost of apostolic witness expanding from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth. As Darrell Bock puts it: This commission [Acts 1:8] describes the church’s key assignment of what to do until the Lord returns. The priority for the church until Jesus returns, a mission of which the community must never lose sight, is to witness to Jesus to the end of the earth. The church exists, in major part, to extend the apostolic witness to Jesus everywhere. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 49–50.

The Preeminent Gospel-Driven Ministry

Wednesday··2014·01·15 · 2 Comments
Jesus’s mission is in some ways a model for our mission. But this invites the question, in what ways? How does the exalted Christ carry out his mission through us? Is it by empowering us to do what he did and to continue his incarnational presence on the earth? Or is it by empowering us to bear witness to all that he taught and accomplished? —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 53–54. In What Is the Mission of the Church?, DeYoung and Gilbert choose the latter, that is to say, biblical, answer. Contrary to some popular views, we cannot “be Jesus” to anyone. I doubt those who make such statements have really thought—biblically, that is—about what that would mean. The implications are enormous. Shall we, by our deaths, atone for sins? To answer affirmatively is blasphemy. No, our mission is not the same as Christ’s mission. Furthermore, his ministry is not in all ways a model for ours. That is not to say, however, that it is in no way a model for ours. But before we can follow his example, we need to understand the true focus of his ministry—and this is where many “missionals” go off the rails, claiming that Jesus mission was one of service. “There’s no problem with this formulation,” say Deyoung and Gilbert, “if we mean ‘serve’ in the Mark 10:45 sense of the word, that Jesus ‘came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Unfortunately, what is generally meant is that “Jesus’s mission was to meet human need, whether spiritual or physical.” And that is a mistake. We know this sounds heartless, but it’s true: it simply was not Jesus’s driving ambition to heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor, as much as he cared for them. He was sent into the world to save people from condemnation (John 3:17), that he might be lifted up so believers could have eternal life (3:14–15). He was sent by the Father so that whoever feeds on him might live forever (6:57–58). In his important work on the missions of Jesus and the disciples, Andreas Köstenberger concludes that John’s Gospel portrays Jesus’s mission as the Son sent from the Father, as the one who came into the world and returned to the Father, and as the shepherd-teacher who called others to follow him in order to help gather a final harvest. If Köstenberger is right, this is a long way from saying that Jesus’s fundamental mission was to meet temporal needs. But that’s John, someone may object. His Gospel is always something of an outlier. What do the other three Gospels say? Well, let’s take a look at Mark as an example. No doubt, Jesus often healed the sick and cast out demons in Mark’s Gospel. Teaching, healing, and exorcism were the three prongs of his ministry (see, for instance his quintessential first day of ministry in Capernaum in Mark 1:21–34). And yet what drove his ministry was the proclamation of the gospel, the announcement of the kingdom, and the call to repent and believe (1:15). Jesus healed and exorcised demons out of compassion for the afflicted (1:41; 9:22), but the bigger reason for the miracles was that they testified to his authority and pointed to his unique identity (e.g., 2:1–12). Don’t miss this fact: there is not a single example of Jesus going into a town with the stated purpose of healing or casting out demons. He never ventured out on a healing and exorcism tour. He certainly did a lot of this along the way. He was moved with pity at human need (Mark 8:2). But the reason he “came out” was “that [he] may preach” (1:38). If anything, the clamor for meeting physical needs sometimes became a distraction to Jesus. That’s why he frequently commanded silence of those he helped (1:44; 7:36), and why he would not do many works in a town rife with unbelief (6:5–6). —Ibid., 55–56.

Representative, Not Incarnational

A reiteration and summary of yesterday’s post: [I]t is unwise to assume that because we are sent as Jesus was sent, we have the exact same mission he had. We must protect the absolute uniqueness of what Jesus came to do. D. A. Carson, commenting on John 17:18, concludes that when it comes to the mission of the disciples, “there is no necessary overtone of incarnation or of invasion from another world.” Instead, we come face-to-face with “the ontological gap that forever distances the origins of Jesus’ mission from the origins of the disciples’ missions.” We cannot re-embody Christ’s incarnational ministry any more than we can repeat his atonement. Our role is to bear witness to what Christ has already done. We are not new incarnations of Christ but his representatives offering life in his name, proclaiming his gospel, imploring others to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). This is how the exalted Christ carries out his mission through us. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 57.
The mission of the church in one sentence: The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 62.

More Than Nuggets

A short lesson in hermeneutics: It’s never a good idea to make a biblical case for something—especially something as monumentally important as the mission of the church—from just a few texts. The Bible isn’t just a potpourri of pithy sayings from which we can pick up a nugget here and a nugget there. No, it’s a grand, sweeping, world-encompassing story that traces the history of God’s dealings with mankind from very beginning to very end. If we really want to understand what God is doing and what he would have us to do as his people, we need to have a good grasp of what that story is, what its main themes are, what the problem is, what God’s remedy to the problem is, and what it all looks like when the story ends. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 67.

Human Alienation, Mediated Reconciliation

A number of authors have begun to argue that mankind is really just one part of God’s vast creation, and that man in fact derives his significance from being part of that creation. So, it’s said, God loves creation, and therefore he loves humans. God will redeem the whole of creation, and therefore mankind will be redeemed. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 70–71. Among the problems with that thinking, say DeYoung and Gilbert, is that in the Fall, it was man, not creation, that was alienated from God; the salvific hope given in Genesis is not to the whole creation through Adam, but to Adam through Christ; and the theme of man’s alienation from God and mediated reconciliation is central to the biblical narrative. First, and most importantly, the prime problem that the Bible sets up in its first three chapters is the alienation of man from God. To be sure, there are enormous consequences that follow from man’s sin and alienation from God. Relationships between human beings themselves are disrupted. God tells the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16), indicating that she will sinfully desire to master her husband (cf. Gen. 4:7), and he will sinfully tend to dominate her. God also tells Satan that there will be “enmity between [his] offspring and [the woman’s]” (Gen. 3:15), the result of which will be strife not only in the family but throughout society (see Gen. 4:8, 23). Moreover, the created order itself is affected by Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:17). No longer will the soil willingly yield its fruit to Adam. Now he will have to work for his food, and work “in pain,” God tells him, and “by the sweat of [his] face.” In the midst of all this suffering, though, we must remember that all these tragedies—the alienation of man from his fellow man, and the alienation of man from his world—are symptoms of the underlying problem, the alienation of man from God. It was Adam’s decision to rebel against God that precipitated all the rest. Twice God makes this point in the curse he pronounces over Adam: Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree . . . cursed is the ground because of you. (Gen. 3:17) The fundamental problem, the one at the root of all the others, is man’s severed relationship with God. Second, we should notice that even in the first dreadful moments after Adam’s sin, the hope of salvation is not for Adam to work to return the world to its original “very good” state, but rather for God to effect salvation through a Mediator. In the midst of all this postfall bad news, the first hint of any “gospel,” any good news, comes in Genesis 3:15. There God promises Satan that the woman’s Offspring “shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That is a poignant description of Christ’s victory over the Serpent, once you know the end of the story. Satan does indeed bruise Christ’s heel (a wound, but not a finally fatal one), but Christ bruises Satan’s head, crushing it by his death on the cross and his resurrection. That’s how God would bring about salvation. Again, there is nothing in the early chapters of Genesis that would lead us to believe that the work of returning the world to its original “very good” state falls to Adam. God does not give him such a charge, and the reason is that Adam has already blown it. To be sure, his original mandate was to protect the garden and “cultivate” it, even to build from it a society that would perfectly glorify God. But he utterly failed at that task. When God exiles Adam from Eden, it is not with a commission to continue the work of building the world into a God-glorifying, cultivated paradise. Adam’s existence in the world would not be one of continual progress toward godliness anymore; it would be one of frustration and painful work in a world that was now reluctant and even hostile toward him. No, the work of fixing the disaster fell to another, to the Offspring of the woman who would crush the Serpent’s head. Third, these themes of alienation from God and salvation by a Mediator are central to the whole story line of the Bible. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 21, the Bible is the story of how a gracious God who is also perfectly just and righteous acted to bring sinful human beings back into his presence and favor. It is the story of how God justly and righteously lifted the flaming sword of Genesis 3:24 and reopened for his own people the way to the tree of life. —Ibid., 73–75.

The Exodus as a Type

Here is another good lesson in hermeneutics from What Is the Mission of the Church? How did the New Testament writers understand Old Testament texts? DeYoung and Gilbert debunk an errant interpretation of the typology of the exodus: [S]ome have argued that the exodus from Egypt provides a paradigm by which we should understand God’s entire program of redemption. . . . because the exodus from Egypt had political, social, and economic components, we must understand the gospel, redemption, and our mission to have political, social, and economic components as well. There’s a certain compelling logic to that argument, especially since the final salvation of God’s people will certainly include those aspects. But there are also significant problems with that understanding. Perhaps the most important is that the New Testament writers simply do not treat the exodus in that fashion. In their writings as in the prophets, the exodus does function as a type (or paradigm) of redemption, but typology is not a matter of carrying every aspect of a type over to its antitype. Thus when the New Testament talks about the exodus as a type of salvation, what it focuses on is not at all its political and economic aspects, but rather the picture it provided of the spiritual salvation God was bringing about. In Matthew 2:15, for example, when Matthew ties Jesus explicitly to the redemption of Israel from Egypt, he doesn’t draw out any political or economic implications. Rather, he has already said that Jesus’s mission was to “save his people from their sins,” and now he’s tying the exodus itself to that aim. It’s as if he is saying, “If you think the exodus was a great redemption, you haven’t seen anything yet!” In Ephesians 1:7, too, Paul adopts this language of “redemption”—famously used to describe the exodus—and puts it again in terms of salvation from sin: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” Similarly in Colossians 1:13–14, the apostle evokes the exodus with the imagery of Christians being taken out of Satan’s kingdom: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Again, the language and imagery of exodus are used to talk not about political and economic redemption, but about spiritual redemption. So while the exodus does seem to function in Scripture as a paradigm of salvation, we have to be as careful as the apostles were in using it. We should see in the exodus God’s redemption of his people from slavery, and rejoice that he has redeemed us from slavery, too—not slavery to a foreign political power, but slavery to sin. We should also recognize that on the last day, God will indeed set everything—politically, socially, and economically—to rights. And we should rejoice in that certain hope. But we would go beyond the evidence of Scripture—and beyond the practice and writings of the apostles themselves—if we appropriated the exodus in every literal respect as the pattern of our mission in the world. The Gospel writers do not use it that way, the apostles do not use it that way, and we ourselves should not use it that way, either. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 79–81. That last sentence bears repeating: “The Gospel writers do not use it that way, the apostles do not use it that way, and we ourselves should not use it that way, either.” Remember that principle in all your Old Testament reading.

Zooming In, Zooming Out

Monday··2014·01·27 · 2 Comments
What is the gospel? DeYoung and Gilbert describe two perspectives, both correct, the difference of which they compare to viewing through a wide-angle lens versus a zoom lens. In the former, “the gospel of the kingdom,” all the blessings of the kingdom of God are in view. In the latter, “the gospel of the cross,” the focus is narrowed to the cross and its immediate vicinity. Concerning these perspectives, three points are made: First, there is only one gospel, not two. . . . There is only one gospel—one message of good news—but the New Testament writers seem to have no problem zooming in and out on that one message, sometimes looking at the whole thing and calling it “gospel,” and other times zooming in particularly on forgiveness through Christ and calling that “gospel,” too. Second, the gospel of the kingdom necessarily includes the gospel of the cross. You cannot proclaim the “full gospel” if you leave out the message of the cross, even if you talk for an hour about all the other blessings God has in store for the redeemed. To do that would be like picking up an armful of leaves and insisting that you’re holding a tree. Unless those leaves are connected to the trunk, you don’t have a tree; you just have an armful of dead leaves. In the same way, unless the blessings of the gospel of the kingdom are connected to the cross, you don’t have a gospel at all. Take a look again at those passages from Matthew and Mark where Jesus preaches the arrival of the kingdom. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Jesus never preaches simply, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He always preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” or, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand; therefore repent and believe the gospel.” That is a crucial thing to keep in mind; indeed it is the difference between preaching the gospel and preaching something that is not the gospel at all. To proclaim the inauguration of the kingdom and all the other blessings of God without telling people how they may become partakers of those blessings is to preach a nongospel. Indeed it is to preach an antigospel— bad news—because you’re simply explaining wonderful things that your sinful hearers will never have the opportunity to be a part of. The gospel of the kingdom—the broad sense of “gospel”—therefore, is not merely the proclamation of the kingdom. It is the proclamation of the kingdom together with the proclamation that people may enter it by repentance and faith in Christ. Perhaps, in fact, it would be more accurate (though clunky) to speak of the gospel of the cross and the gospel of the kingdom through the cross. And that leads to another point. Third, and more specifically, the gospel of the cross is the fountainhead of the gospel of the kingdom. It is the gate through which all the blessings of the kingdom are to be gained. The fact repeated over and over again throughout the New Testament is that the only way a person can become a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom is by coming in faith and repentance to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus for salvation. To put it in terms of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a person can’t simply jump the wall and partake of the blessings of the kingdom; you have to go through the Wicket Gate of faith and repentance, or the blessings of the kingdom will be closed to you. Incidentally, that’s why it makes perfect sense for the New Testament writers to call the gospel of the cross “the gospel,” even as they go on calling the whole complex of good news “the gospel” as well. Because the broader blessings of the gospel are attained only by means of forgiveness through the cross, and because those broader blessings are attained infallibly by means of forgiveness through the cross, it’s entirely appropriate and makes perfect sense for the New Testament writers to call forgiveness through the cross—the fountainhead of and gateway to all the rest—“the gospel.” That’s also why we never see the New Testament calling any other single promise of God to the redeemed “the gospel.” For example, we never see the promise of the new creation called “the gospel.” Nor do we see reconciliation between humans called “the gospel.” But we do see reconciliation between man and God called “the gospel” precisely because it is the one blessing that leads to all the rest. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 107–109. Whichever view we are taking at the moment, keeping the cross our central focus should be sufficient to keep us from slipping off into a social or political gospel.

What “Kingdom Life” Is Not

DeYoung and Gilbert lay out several important facts concerning the kingdom of God. These two, I think, are particularly relevant as rebuttals to some popular notions: 4. No one is a Christian simply because he or she is living a “kingdom life.” To be a Christian is to have come to the Christ in faith and repentance, trusting him as the only one with power and authority to forgive sins and secure a righteous verdict from God. It is never enough simply to recognize him as a good teacher or a wise rabbi, or to “follow him” as an example of moral, kingdom living. This would be to sell him short. Not only so, but it entirely misses the way into the blessings of the kingdom. If you have not come to the King in repentance and faith—recognizing him as the one who was crucified in your place and now reigns in resurrected life—then you are not a citizen of God’s kingdom, and you are not a Christian. The New Testament could not be clearer. The only way into the kingdom is through the blood of the King. 5. Non-Christians do not do “kingdom work.” The phrase “kingdom work” is confusing and nonbiblical and probably should be jettisoned, but even if we grant its use, we should at least be agreed that it cannot be applied to good things that non-Christians do. When a non-Christian does a good deed, it is most certainly good (at a certain level), and it is an instance of God’s common, evil-restraining grace on all mankind. It is a singular kindness of God that human beings are not as bad as we could be. But that those good works are “good” is all we can say about them. They are not “kingdom work” because they are not done in the name of the King (see Rom. 14:23b). C. S. Lewis was wrong. You simply can’t spend a lifetime serving Tash (or even yourself!) and expect Aslan to be happy about it. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 111–112.

Extending the Kingdom

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” —John 18:36 Political and social activism do not extend the kingdom of God. Only one thing accomplishes that. [T]he New Testament uses the term “kingdom of God” to refer to God’s reign specifically over his redeemed people. It’s true, of course, that God’s rule extends over the entire universe. Nothing and no one is outside or independent from his sovereignty. And yet when Jesus and the apostles talk about the kingdom of God, they are speaking specifically of God’s benevolent, redemptive reign over those he has saved. Thus Jesus can talk about those who will and will not enter the kingdom (Mark 10:14, 23–25; Luke 18:17), and even those who will be cast out of the kingdom (Matt. 8:12; Luke 13:28). Paul, too, is quite clear that there are some people who are in the kingdom, and others who are out of it: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9; see also Gal. 5:21). Paul even teaches that those who trust in Christ are transferred from one kingdom to another—from the “domain of darkness” into the “kingdom of [God’s] beloved son” (Col. 1:13). Biblically speaking, therefore, not everyone is a citizen of the kingdom of God. There are a few important ramifications that flow from understanding the kingdom of God as his redemptive rule. For one thing, understanding that kingdom is a dynamic, relational word rather than a geographic one keeps us from thinking that “extending the kingdom of God” is the right way to describe planting trees or delivering hot meals to the homeless. Sometimes people talk as if by renovating a city park or turning a housing slum into affordable, livable apartments, we are extending God’s reign over that park or that neighborhood. We’re “bringing order from chaos,” someone might say, and therefore expanding the kingdom. But as we’ve seen, the kingdom isn’t geographical. Rather, it is defined relationally and dynamically; it exists where knees and hearts bow to the King and submit to him. And therefore you cannot “expand the kingdom” by bringing peace and order and justice to a certain area of the world. Good deeds are good, but they don’t broaden the borders of the kingdom. The only way the kingdom of God—the redemptive rule of God—is extended is when he brings another sinner to renounce sin and self-righteousness and bow his knee to King Jesus. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 120–121.

The Kingdom Is Future

The kingdom of God was inaugurated at Jesus’s first advent. That kingdom, however, has yet to be established. We are still living in “this present evil age,” waiting for the establishment of the kingdom when Christ returns. DeYoung and Gilbert write: That’s important to remember for at least a couple of reasons. For one thing, it protects us from a wrong and ultimately discouraging optimism about just how good we should expect to be able to make this world. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that creation will one day be “set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). But he is equally clear that until that day, the creation remains “subjected to futility” and under its bondage to decay (vv. 20–21). We are afraid that many church leaders are doing their people a disservice by leading them to hope too much for the betterment of society in “this present evil age,” which still languishes in bondage and futility. Mission statements like “Transform the City and the World” and “Change the City, Change the World” express a commendable desire, but simply go too far beyond what the Bible tells us we should expect to see in the world during this age, before Jesus returns. And the result, we fear, is that over the years, as cities don’t become havens of virtue and justice, as poverty persists, as inadequate housing remains, as governments remain susceptible to corruption, Christians will find themselves discouraged and possibly even questioning the goodness or power of God—all because they have their hopes set too high and on the wrong things. . . . Another reason it is important to remember that the kingdom will be established only when Jesus returns is that it fixes our eyes firmly on the King, rather than on what the King brings—the Giver, not just his gifts. Our great hope as Christians is, as the refrain rings out through the Bible, “We will be his people, and he will be our God.” As John puts it in Revelation 22:4, “[We] will see his face” once again. That’s what we look forward to—not so much the golden streets and pearl gates, or even the world emptied of injustice and oppression. Great and wonderful though these are, ultimately they are not enough. We look forward to seeing our King, face to face. As Christians, we want our eyes to be not so much on the kingdom, as on the kingdom’s King. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 129–130, 131.

By His Hand Alone

It seems as if a lot of people these days are taking credit for doing, or trying to do, what only the King of kings can do. If it is true that the kingdom will be fully established only when Jesus returns, it is equally true that it will be established by his hand alone. . . . When you look at the Gospels and examine the verbs associated with the kingdom, you discover something surprising. Much of our language about the kingdom is a bit off. We often speak of “building the kingdom,” “ushering in the kingdom,” “establishing the kingdom,” or “helping the kingdom grow.” But is this really the way the New Testament talks about the kingdom? George Eldon Ladd, the man who put kingdom back on the map for evangelicals, didn’t think so. The Kingdom can draw near to men (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; etc.); it can come (Matt. 6:10; Luke 17:20; etc.), arrive (Matt. 12:28), appear (Luke 19:11), be active (Matt. 11:12). God can give the Kingdom to men (Matt. 21:43; Luke 12:32), but men do not give the Kingdom to one another. Further, God can take the Kingdom away from men (Matt. 21:43), but men do not take it away from one another, although they can prevent others from entering it. Men can enter the Kingdom (Matt. 5:20; 7:21; Mark 9:47; 10:23; etc.), but they are never said to erect it or to build it. Men can receive the Kingdom (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), inherit it (Matt. 25:34), and possess it (Matt. 5:4), but they are never said to establish it. Men can reject the Kingdom, i.e., refuse to receive it (Luke 10:11) or enter it (Matt. 23:13), but they cannot destroy it. They can look for it (Luke 23:51), pray for its coming (Matt. 6:10), and seek it (Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31), but they cannot bring it. Men may be in the Kingdom (Matt. 5:19; 8:11; Luke 13:29; etc.), but we are not told that the Kingdom grows. Men can do things for the sake of the Kingdom (Matt. 19:12; Luke 18:29), but they are not said to act upon the Kingdom itself. Men can preach the Kingdom (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9), but only God can give it to men (Luke 12:32). —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 131–133.
The year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) is frequently used by advocates of “social justice” to advance their social and political agendas. In What Is the Mission of the Church?, DeYoung and Gilbert give several reasons why that is a misuse of the text. Those reasons can be boiled down to two factors: Jubilee didn’t do most of what “social justice” advocates think it did, and even if it had, we aren’t Israel. But that just addresses what Jubilee was not. More importantly, we must see what Jubilee is: Jesus is Jubilee. When Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll in Luke 4, his simple message was, in effect, “I am Jubilee.” He did not lay out a plan to accomplish social reform. Instead he stated matter-of-factly, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). All that Jubilee pointed to and more were realized at the revealing of Jesus in Nazareth. The best news of Leviticus 25 found its fullest expression in the good news of Jesus Christ. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 153.

Injustice Is Not Inequality

Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them. —Isaiah 1:23 Isaiah 1 is another favorite of “social justice” advocates. And again, they miss the point of the text. DeYoung and Gilbert explain: The Lord was angry with his people because the leaders were oppressing the weak, taking bribes to side with the rich and powerful instead of treating fairly the orphan and the widow. . . . Isaiah 1 is a great example of the Bible saying both more and less about social justice than we think. On the “more” side, we see that Jerusalem is called a “whore” because of her injustice (v. 21). Oppressing the poor and the helpless is not a negligible offense. In fact, it renders all their religious obedience null and void. Until they would “seek justice” and “correct oppression,” God promises that Judah would be “eaten by the sword” (vv. 17, 20). But on the “less” side, notice that the oppression here was not a disparity between rich and poor or even that the poor in society were not taken care of. There are other biblical passages that require the covenant community to take care of the poor in their midst (which is not identical to taking care of the poor in the entire “mixed” society), but this passage is about oppression, a term not to be equated with poverty. The injustice was not that there were poor people in society. Poverty does not inherently indicate injustice. God’s people were guilty of injustice because they were defrauding the weak and helpless in order to line their own pockets. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 154–155. Justice is not concerned with equalizing economic outcomes. Justice is dealing honestly (Proverbs 20:10). It is dealing impartially, not favoring the wealthy and powerful in order to gain favor, or taking advantage of the defenseless—widows and orphans in particular—because it is easy and profitable (Proverbs 22:16, 22–23). Justice is giving, indiscriminately, a square deal and an equal opportunity to all.

The Least of These

He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward. —Matthew 10:40–42 Matthew 25:31–46 is a favorite “social justice” text. As usual, it is taken out of context and misinterpreted to suit that purpose. DeYoung and Gilbert correctly state that, contrary to popular opinion—that “the least of these” are all the world’s poor—“‘The least of these’ refers to other Christians in need, in particular itinerant Christian teachers dependent on hospitality from their family of faith.” 1. In Matthew 25:45 Jesus uses the phrase “the least of these,” but in verse 40 he uses the more exact phrase “the least of these my brothers.” The two phrases refer to the same group. So the more complete phrase in verse 40 should be used to explain the shorter phrase in verse 45. The reference to “my brothers” cannot be a reference to all of suffering humanity. “Brother” is not used that way in the New Testament. The word always refers to a physical-blood brother (or sister) or to the spiritual family of God. Clearly Jesus is not asking us to care only for his physical family. So he must be insisting that whatever we do for our fellow Christians in need, we do for him. This interpretation is confirmed when we look at the last time before chapter 25 where Jesus talks about “brothers.” In Matthew 23, Jesus tells the crowds and disciples (v. 1) that they are all brothers (v. 8). The group of “brothers” is narrowed in the following verses to those who have one Father, who is in heaven (v. 9), and have one instructor, Christ (v. 10). Jesus does not call all people everywhere brothers. Those who belong to him and do his will are his brothers (Mark 3:35). 2. Likewise, it makes more sense to think Jesus is comparing service to fellow believers with service to him rather than imagining him to be saying, “You should see my image in the faces of the poor.” . . . in the rest of the New Testament it’s the body of Christ that represents Christ on earth, not the poor. Christ “in us” is the promise of the gospel for those who believe, not for those living in a certain economic condition. Matthew 25 equates caring for Jesus’s spiritual family with caring for Jesus. The passage does not offer the generic message, “Care for the poor and you’re caring for me.” . . . 4. The similarity between Matthew 10 and Matthew 25 is not accidental. The pertinent sections in each chapter are talking about the same thing. [see Matthew 10:40–42, above] Clearly, Jesus is speaking here of disciples. The context is Jesus’s sending out his disciples to do itinerant ministry (10:5–15). In the face of persecution and a hostile world (10:16–39), Jesus wants to encourage his followers to care for the traveling minister no matter the cost. The disciples would be solely dependent upon the good will of others to welcome them, feed them, and support them in their traveling work. So Jesus assures his followers that to show love in this way is actually to love him. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 154–155. In summary, Matthew 25 is certainly about caring for the needy. But the needy in view are fellow Christians, especially those dependent on our hospitality and generosity for their ministry. “The least of these” is not a blanket statement about the church’s responsibility to meet the needs of all the poor (though we do not want to be indifferent to hurting people). Nor should the phrase be used as a general cover for anything and everything we want to promote under the banner of fighting poverty. What Jesus says is this: if we are too embarrassed, too lazy, or too cowardly to support fellow Christians at our doorstep who depend on our assistance and are suffering for the sake of the gospel, we will go to hell. We should not make this passage say anything more or anything less. —Ibid., 164–165.
Just one sentence today. This is what the Bible is all about. This is what Christianity is all about. Not all those other things that distract us. This: If our story does not center on Jesus Christ, and the story of Jesus Christ does not center on his death and resurrection for sin, we have gotten the story all out of whack. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 175.

Who Are “The Poor”?

There can be no doubt that Jesus has concern for the poor, and therefore, that we ought to, also. However, [W]e must remember that the “poor” in Scripture are usually the pious poor. They are the righteous poor, the people of God oppressed by their enemies yet still depending on him to come through on their behalf (see, e.g., Psalms 10; 69; 72; 82). This does not mean “the poor” should be evacuated of any economic component. After all, the pious poor are very often the materially poor. But it does mean that the poor whom God favors are not the slothful poor (Prov. 6:6–11; 2 Thess. 3:6–12) or the disobedient poor (Prov. 30:9), but the humble poor who wait on God (Matt. 5:3; 6:33). —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 175. Indiscriminate handouts based solely on economic status are not what God has in mind when he tells us to care for the poor.

What Is Justice?

Scripture defines justice, and it is not what “social justice” advocates say it is. And without a clearly scriptural mandate, no one has the right to lay the burden of their own convictions on another. Justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. We are often told that creation care is a justice issue, the gap between rich and poor is a justice issue, advocating for a “living wage” is a justice issue. But the examination of the main social justice texts has shown that justice is a much more prosaic category in the Bible. Doing justice means not showing partiality, not stealing, not swindling, not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you. We dare say that most Christians in America are not guilty of these sorts of injustices, nor should they be made to feel that they are. We are not interested in people feeling bad just to feel bad, or worse, people thinking there is moral high ground in professing most loudly how bad they feel about themselves. If we are guilty of injustice individually or collectively, let us be rebuked in the strongest terms. By the same token, if we are guilty of hoarding our resources and failing to show generosity, then let us repent, receive forgiveness, and change. But when it comes to doing good in our communities and in the world, let’s not turn every possibility into a responsibility and every opportunity into an ought. If we want to see our brothers and sisters do more for the poor and the afflicted, we’ll go farther and be on safer ground if we use grace as our motivating principle instead of guilt. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 176–177.

Heavenly Minded

Dismissing an old cliché: There’s an old saying that a Christian can be “so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good,” and that critique can legitimately apply to some folks. But we think it’s more often the case that Christians find themselves in trouble precisely because they don’t think enough about eternity. They don’t meditate long and hard enough on what God intends to do for them and with them when this age is over, and their circumstances, priorities, even sufferings are not viewed through an eternal lens. It ought to be that when the world looks at a Christian’s life, much of what they see simply will not make sense, and that’s because the Christian’s eyes are fixed on something out there in the future that the non-Christian cannot even begin to see. Eternity—the end game, the final picture, the new heavens and new earth—ought to set the trajectory of a Christian’s life so profoundly that his life doesn’t quite add up when the world looks at it. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 196.

Not Just a Bunch of Christians

There are numerous good things that Christians can and even, on an individual case-by-case basis, ought to do. But it does not follow that those things are the mission of the church. As DeYoung and Gilbert point out, there is a difference between the church and a bunch of Christians. [W]e need to bear in mind that there is a difference between the church considered as a bunch of individual Christians and the church understood as an institution—as an organization of Christians that can and indeed must do some things that individual Christians cannot and indeed should not do. Perhaps we can talk about these two different entities as “the church organic” and “the church institutional.” When a group of Christians decides to become a church, they covenant together to take on certain responsibilities. They take on the responsibility, for example, to make sure the Word is preached regularly among them, to make sure the ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Supper—are regularly practiced, and to make sure that discipline is practiced among them, even to the point of delivering one of their number over to Satan by excommunicating them (1 Cor. 5:5). Not only so, but you can see the difference between the church and an individual Christian just by looking at the way Scripture talks to each—that is, by looking at the commands it gives. Think about it. There are some commands given to the local church that an individual Christian just should not undertake to obey on his own. An individual Christian, for example, can’t excommunicate another Christian; but the local church is commanded to do so in certain situations. Nor should an individual Christian take the Lord’s Supper on his own; that’s an activity the local church is to do “when you come together” (1 Cor. 11:17–18, 20, 33–34). In the same way, there are commands given to individual Christians that are clearly not meant for the local church as an organized group. A Christian man is commanded to “give to his wife her conjugal rights,” but the church institutional better not try that! (Roll your eyes—but it makes the point!) There is a difference between the individual Christian and the local church, and therefore we can’t just say that whatever we see commanded of the individual Christian is also commanded of the local church. To put perhaps a finer point on it: If I am commanded to do justice, does that mean ipso facto that it is the church’s mission to do justice? By the same token, if I am commanded to love my wife as my own body, does that mean it is the church’s mission to love my wife as it loves its own body? What sense would that even make? Our point is simply to say that defining the mission of the church institutional is just not as simple as identifying all the Bible’s commands to individual Christians and saying, “There, that’s the church’s mission.” The mission of the church, as we’ve been arguing throughout this book, seems to be something narrower than the set of all commands given to individual Christians—it’s proclamation, witness, and disciple making (which includes teaching everything that Jesus commanded). This is simply another way of saying that bearing witness to Christ is the church’s unique responsibility in a way that film making or auto repair or tree planting is not, though all of these may be examples of ways in which an individual Christian follows Jesus. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 232–233.

Risking Irrelevance

An appropriate follow-up to last Friday’s post: Ultimately, if the church does not preach Christ and him crucified, if the church does not plant, nurture, and establish more churches, if the church does not teach the nations to obey Christ, no one else and nothing else will. And yet, many others will meet physical needs. As Christopher Little writes in his provocative article “What Makes Mission Christian?,” “There is nothing particularly Christian about humanitarian work in the first place. For example, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, the United Nations, USAID, Oxfam, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, etc., are all striving to alleviate the ailments of humanity for basically philanthropic reasons.” In today’s cultural climate, where the accolades come quickly to those with humanitarian strategies and the opprobrium falls fast on those with evangelistic concerns, it is even more imperative that we keep the main thing the main thing. The danger is real. If we do not share the gospel—with words!—the story will not be told. Just as bad, if our priorities mirror the Millennium Development goals, we will be redundant. Gilbert Meilaender puts it well: “The church risks irrelevance, in fact, when it makes central in its vocation God’s preference for the poor and not his universal favor toward the poor in spirit.” Our scorecard is still the same as it ever was. The One who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth calls us to make disciples of all nations. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 238–239.

Something Worse, Something Better

In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing. —Kevin DeYoung & Greg Gilbert, What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011), 242. Death is surely an enemy. The evil of death must never be minimized, even in declaring the glorious hope of those who die in Christ. Death is an enemy to be defeated. But it is not our worst enemy, and it is not to be feared. “The consistent witness of Scripture,” write DeYoung and Gilbert, “is that death is grievous, but far from the ultimate disaster that can befall a person. In fact, there’s something worse than death. Much worse.” For the most part, Jesus did not want the disciples to be afraid. He told them not to fear their persecutors (Matt. 10:26), not to fear those who kill the body (v. 28), not to fear for their precious little hairs on their precious little heads (v. 30). Jesus did not want them afraid of much, but he did want them to be afraid of hell. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Jesus warned. “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (v. 28). . . . The doctrine of hell, however unpopular it may be and however much we may wish to soften its hard edges, is essential for faithful Christian witness. The belief that there is something worse than death is, to recall John Piper’s imagery, ballast for our ministry boats. . . . All of life must be lived to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). And we ought to do good to all people (Gal. 6:10). No apologies necessary for caring about our cities, loving our neighbors, or working hard at our vocations. These too are “musts.” But with the doctrine of hell as ballast in our boats, we will never sneer at the old hymns that call us to rescue the perishing, nor will we scoff at saving souls as if it were nothing but glorified fire insurance. There will always be soft cynics who eagerly remind us that the goal of missions is more than “mere” escape from hell. “Well,” John Piper counters, “there is no such thing as a ‘mere’ escape from hell. Rescue from the worst and longest suffering can only be called ’mere’ by those who don’t know what it is, or don’t believe it’s real.” —Ibid., 243, 244, 245. Death is bad, but hell is infinitely worse. Conversely, Just as there is something worse than death, so there is something better than the good life, something better, that is to say, than human flourishing. . . . Sometimes we miss what the end of the story is all about. Yes, there will be a new creation. Yes, heaven will come down to earth. Yes, there will be peace and prosperity, security and abundance. Yes, this is all part of the coming kingdom that has already broken in on our world. But shalom is not the end of the story unless it’s shalom with God at the center. Or to say the same thing in different terms, human flourishing is not human flourishing without worship in spirit and truth. If we could somehow remake the world right now into a place with healthy relationships, meaningful work, adequate provision, and equal treatment for all, a place where the good guys are on top and the bad guys get their just desserts, we would still not have heaven. . . . The good life might be good, but without Christ it’s not the goal of Christian mission. Worship is the quintessential task of those who belong in heaven. The elders and the four living creatures in Revelation 4 are worshiping. Together with the angels they sing praise to God and to the Lamb in Revelation 5. The nations are gathered before the throne in Revelation 7 that they might cry out, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:10). In Revelation, when all mission comes to an end, “it becomes clear that mission is in fact a means to an end, the end being a total focus on the worship and the glory of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Worship is the end of the end of the story, not human flourishing, because a redesigned world is nothing without delight in God. This means that Christian mission must always aim at making, sustaining, and establishing worshipers. John Piper is right: worship is the fuel and goal in missions. “The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.” And if this is our aim, our passion, our joy, then discipleship must be our task—the Great Commission must be our mission. —Ibid., 246–247.

Is the Chicken Local?

Wednesday··2014·04·02 · 6 Comments
Ah say, ah say, it’s a joke, Son (just not the funny kind). I freely admit that this post by Bethany Jenkins of The “Gospel” Coalition, Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From, made me angry, and not only because the title ends with a preposition—and yes, I did just put the word “Gospel” in quotation marks. I did that because, if that post is representative of the coalition, if the issues addressed are even on the radar of a supposed gospel-focused organization, leftist politics and, yes, leftist theology has supplanted the gospel. But enough beating around the bush; let me tell you how I really feel. Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From, no matter the angle from which it is viewed, no matter how tightly the viewer squints, is a disgrace. Jenkins has no idea how economies work or how the majority of us live, but is quite adept at parroting leftist propaganda. This is all very hip, I’m sure, and is probably what it takes to maintain street cred in Portlandia, but if I had any editorial control at T“G”C, I would be mortified that such ignorance was allowed to slip by, and at this very moment would be covering my hindmost parts with my very best “mistakes were made, etc.” There is so much I could say, and so many directions I could go with this. The political and economic issues could make a whole series of posts. In particular, the pretentious sanctimony of “fair trade” and “social justice” fatuity is a wonderful catalyst for what, in my house, is called “another one of Dad’s rants.” While those issues are important for Christians to understand, I’m going to leave all that aside and focus on something a little closer to home. Let’s pretend for a minute that I accept the fantastic* ethical premises undergirding Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From. Just for fun, let’s also pretend that the benefits of actually meeting the farmer who produces your food are real, and not just a romantic notion. In that world, I suppose everyone is a suburbanite with a high-five or six-figure salary. My world is a little different. Most of the people I know are not counting their grocery pennies because they are cheap. Many, if it was even logistically possible to shop as Jenkins suggests, would have to choose between eggs and luxuries such as shoes for the kids. $5.00 eggs? $4.00/gallon gas is killing us, and causing the cost of everything else we buy—groceries in particular, especially meat—to increase. And this is the situation of the families around us who live like most families I know, that is, with two incomes and as many children. Not all of us live like that, even. Some of us—our family, for example—have lived for twenty-six years on one (non-union, blue-collar) income, with eight children—six still dependent, some in college with all related expenses, and others who are still outgrowing or wearing out clothes on a nearly-weekly basis. $5.00 eggs? I don’t think so. (Some might suggest that those life-choices were foolish and poor stewardship. Go ahead. I dare you.) And we are by no means poor. Many families live on tighter budgets than ours. Some families are just thankful to have chicken at all. To suggest to most people that they should care where their chicken comes from shows just how trivial your concerns are compared to theirs. To connect such concerns to moral imperatives is despicable. I wish (dare I hope?) that Bethany Jenkins and T“G”C would take a step back, examine what they have done, and repent. I wish they would reconsider and abandon the entire Every Square Inch project, allowing me to remove those quotation marks. Alternatively, they could just pack up and move to Portlandia. * fantastic adjective 1a : based on fantasy : not real   b : conceived or seemingly conceived by unrestrained fancy

Freedom Friday: Fair Trade Fantasy

When it comes to alleviating poverty, you have a choice to make. You can live in a utopian fantasyland in which the self-righteous look, sound, and feel as if they’re helping people, while killing businesses and jobs and generally depressing economies, or you can think like an adult, face real-world facts, and actually help people. Think about that while you’re having your morning coffee.

Bread of Life (turns out it’s not real bread)

Wednesday··2014·04·16 · 2 Comments
Yesterday, my wife drew my attention to a comment on the Housewife Theologian blog in which I was named, with negative implication, in relation to the Gospel Coalition Food Pharisee post to which I responded here. That doesn’t bother me—in fact, it’s rather thrilling to be named at all in the comments of a post by an author who never mentioned me and has likely never heard of me. But then there is the following statement: [W]hen food is such a pervasive theme in Scripture (as opposed to say, oh, being a car mechanic), and when Jesus gives as one of His names the Bread of Life, investing some time to think on that is neither shallow nor useless. My first reaction was little more than, “Well, that’s silly,” but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, and the more it bothered me, the more I thought about it, until I saw just how horrifying a statement it is. What bothers me, to put it mildly, is the evidence that one of the greatest gospel discourses in Scripture has been so horribly misconstrued. First, the claim that food is a pervasive theme in Scripture is less than tenuous. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any text of which food is the theme, not without entirely missing the point, anyway. That’s bad. But to think that the Bread of Life discourse should cause us to think about nutrition and ethical agribusiness is nothing less than tragic, and absolutely heart-breaking. Pay attention, because lives depend on it: The Bread of Life is spiritual food for spiritual life. That is all it is, and it is all of that. To miss that is a tragedy. To add to it, to mingle it with worldly concerns for a worldly agenda is spiritual malpractice, a gross violation of 2 Timothy 2:15. But all is not lost. God is still in his heaven, Jesus is still Lord, and the Holy Spirit is still ministering through the Word, which is sharper than any two-edged sword. Surely it can cut through this confusion. I recommend a careful reading of John 6, followed by a skillful exposition of the same.

Gospel Distractions

There are many things the gospel is not. That needs repeating now, more than ever, as the issue is being confused daily by many who ought to know better. The gospel is one simple message. Everything else is a distraction. In the opening words of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (v. 17). Just a few verses later, he wrote, “We preach Christ crucified” (v. 23). Then a paragraph or two after that, he wrote again, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (2:2). Thus Paul neatly summarized the gist of the gospel: it is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ. In the preaching of Christ and the apostles, the gospel was always punctuated by a clarion call to repentant faith. But it is not merely a summons to good behavior. It’s not a liturgy of religious ceremonies and sacraments. It’s not a plea for self-esteem and human dignity. It’s not a manifesto for culture warriors or a rallying cry for political zealots. It’s not a mandate for earthly dominion. It’s not a sophisticated moral philosophy seeking to win admiration and approval from the world’s intellectual elite, or a lecture about the evils of cultural and racial division. It’s not an appeal for “social justice.” It’s not a dissertation on gender issues or a prescription for “redeeming culture.” It’s not the kind of naive, indiscriminate congeniality that is content to sing “Kumbaya” to the rest of the world. Within the past half decade I have seen every one of those ideas touted as “the gospel” in various books, blogs, and sermons. They are all deviations or distractions from the true gospel as proclaimed by Paul. The cross of Jesus Christ is the sum and the focus of the gospel according to Paul: “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). And in Pauline theology, the cross is a symbol of atonement. “Christ crucified” is a message about redemption for sinners. How vital is that truth, and how crucial for the messenger to stay on point? To make the gospel about anything else is to depart from biblical Christianity. Paul’s teaching is not the least bit ambiguous about this. It’s the very definition of what he meant when he spoke of “my gospel.” Quite simply, the gospel is good news for fallen humanity regarding how sins are atoned for, how sinners are forgiven, and how believers are made right with God. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 75–76.

The Presumption of Innocence Lost

These days, we’re hearing a lot about sexual abuse. I think all of us—not merely the naïve, but the most cynical—are learning that the problem is a lot more widespread than we have ever suspected. You can read about that elsewhere. That’s not what this is about. Before I get to my topic du jour, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I take sexual assault and abuse very seriously. (The difference between the two, as I define them, is that what the former simply takes by brute force, the latter takes by the exploitive use of authority or trust.) Though both are so heinous that anyone who commits either should, at the very least, forfeit his freedom forever, I consider abuse, by this definition, to be many times worse than simple assault. By this, I do not mean to diminish the horror of rape, or the suffering of its victims. I am not comparing the suffering of one victim to another, but one criminal to another. All evil is evil, but not to the same degree. In my opinion, the evil in the hearts of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, pastors, teachers, etc, who use their positions to manipulate and exploit the vulnerable souls trusted to their care far surpasses, in most cases, that of the common rapist. I have previously stated that there is no penalty (that man can inflict) severe enough to fit this crime. I am not speaking in the least bit hyperbolically. Keep that in mind if, while reading what follows, you think I’m insufficiently serious about justice and protecting the vulnerable. Now you know what I think about that, and what this post is not about, I should get to the point. At the moment, I’m concerned with how we treat both the accuser and the accused. Today, a song is being sung that was unknown at the founding of this nation. Its notes ring in sharp discord to those in our Constitution and, more importantly, with the melody of Scripture. It’s called “Believe the Victim” (or “Believe All Women”), and it’s a hit with the political left and all PC bandwagon riders. It’s not a pretty tune, but it’s loud. It’s words sound noble—what decent person wouldn’t take the side of the victim over the filthy pig of a sexual abuser?—but it’s pure poison (oops, lost my metaphor). It’s bad, because it’s deceptive; the words don’t mean what they say. “Believe the Victim” really means “believe the accuser.” the wrongheadedness of that ought to be obvious and terrifying to all who value life, liberty, and justice, but in case it’s not, I’ll explain. At the time of any accusation, unless you have first-hand knowledge—that is, you’re the accuser, the accused, or an eye-witness—you don’t know the truth. If you have personal knowledge of the accuser or the accused, you might be entitled to an opinion. If not, you don’t even have that, and you need to refrain from taking a side. Keep your mouth shut and stow your #hashtags. “The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). This is not unfair or insensitive to victims. It is not to say we should take accusations lightly, or treat accusers dismissively. This, as we know, happens often. Like the accused, the accuser deserved her (or his) day in court. It is in that venue that we learn (though not infallibly) the truth, whether the accuser is indeed a victim to be believed, a liar, or, as has happened many times, confused by “memories” supplied by others. There must be swift, thorough, and objective investigations. When that is neglected or avoided, it hurts genuine victims (and potential victims when predators go free), depriving them of the justice and protection they desperately need and deserve. Just as importantly, it hurts the falsely accused, depriving them of a restored reputation (as far as that’s possible—tragically, some cloud of suspicion will always remain). The accused needs and deserves the same swift, thorough, and objective investigation, and his day in court. Until that happens, and a verdict is delivered, those of us not directly involved in the case need to acknowledge our ignorance and butt out. #Hashtag that. We have been rudely awakened to the fact that sexual abuse is far more rampant than we knew. That is good. But one day, we’re going to wake up to find that false accusations of abuse, like the abuse itself, are more common than we have ever suspected. Both are evil, and both destroy their victims. We must hate both, impartially.


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