Beck, Lillback, Mohler and DeYoung on Social Justice
I am not a huge fan of melodramatic, Mormon political analysts talking about God and country. But I was interested to see that yesterday Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, was on Glen Beck to talk about the difference between the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel in light of current discussions on social justice. You can watch the segment of the show here.
Al Mohler has written a post in which he criticizes Beck for not being nuanced enough in the discussion. You can read it here. Many of Mohler's conclusions (especially with regard to the primacy of the Gospel) are good and right. While there is a great measure of truth to his criticisms, and while Mohler's points are certainly more nuanced (and coincide to a much greater extent with Lillback's), they might fall under the same criticism that he leveled at Beck. For instance, Mohler never takes the time to trace the historical development of the terminology, "social justice." He simply attempts to distinguish between the use of that phrase and the phrase "social Gospel." At one point, Mohler attempts to root his understanding of a biblical approach to "social justice" in the Lord's call for "justice" in the writings of the OT prophets. Mohler writes:
The one who pleases the Lord is he who will â€œkeep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justiceâ€ (Gen. 18:19). Israel is told to â€œdo no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness you shall judge your neighborâ€ (Lev. 19:15). God â€œhas established his throne for justiceâ€ (Psalm 9:7) and â€œloves righteousness and justiceâ€ (Psalm 33:5). Princes are to â€œrule in justiceâ€ (Is. 32:1) even as the Lord â€œwill fill Zion with justice and righteousnessâ€ (Is. 33:5). In the face of injustice, the prophet Amos thundered: â€œBut let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing streamâ€ (Amos 5:18). In a classic statement, Micah reminded Israel: â€œHe has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?â€ (Micah 6:8).
The problem with the unqualified use of these verses is that they cannot be properly understood apart from their redemptive historical context. They were written to the theocratic church in the OT. The commands are for the rulers and people of the church-state . In some cases they have the care for the poor and needy within Israel in view. In other cases, they have the godliness of individual to individual relationships in mind. Individual Christians are to be "just" towards those around them (i.e. do those things that are pleasing to God as He reveals them in His word). But God's rule in the theocratic state, throughout redemptive history, was to reflect the justice that He would show on the cross and then in His people in the eschatological Kingdom. His prophets, priests and kings were types of the true Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we are not called to care for the poor and needy in our own country, or in any other modern nation. But, it is to make a very important distinction between the household of faith and the societies in which we live. We are, as Paul said, to "do good to all, especially those of the household of faith." Mohler is not clear as to the precise application of these verses to the New Testament church. He seems implies that "social justice" is an implication of the Gospel. But the reader is left wondering how, by appealing to these verses in an unqualified manner, Mohler has not suggested that the role of "social justice" is as applicable to the the hands of governments as it is to individuals. Consider carefully those who are addressed in the verses mentioned. We certainly cannot make a one-for-one application based off the teaching of verses that were written to the church-state of Israel. While some will see what I am saying as an attempt to get around caring for poor and needy, it is actually a theological nuance that is demanded by biblical theology. Are we to care for the poor and needy in the church and in society? James 1:26 clearly teaches that caring for widows and orphans is the necessary fruit of the Gospel for those who profess faith in the crucified and risen Christ.
Mohler does admit that the New Testament is "stunning silent on any plan for governmental or social action." Furthermore Mohler intimates that "the apostles launched no social reform movement. Instead, they preached the Gospel of Christ and planted Gospel churches. Our task is to follow Christâ€™s command and the example of the apostles." So I'm left wondering how Mohler would define "social justice?" We know that Beck is criticizing those in Washington, and in liberal churches, who use the terminology as a guise for Marxism. But this raises Beck's concern: Should we use the terminology at all? I am certainly not afraid of to use the word "justice" to intimate "doing what is right to those around us as God has revealed what is good and right in His word." But I am uncomfortable using the phrase "social justice" in an unqualified manner, or to denote caring for those who have chosen a life of laziness and moral corruption. We are to be merciful to all, and we may choose to show "mercy" to those who have, by a series of sinful and self-indulgent actions, squandered their livelihood. In this case the terminology "social mercy" would be more fitting. The Lord did say, "If a man does not work, neither shall he eat." So there are times when a measure of prudence is needed to know when we are to care for the needy, even within the covenant community. I wonder if any of the evangelical and Reformed theologians who are trying to redeem the language of "social justice" would take Paul to task for saying that we shouldn't help widows under 60 in the congregation. If that is a biblical mandate, then wouldn't it actually be "unjust" to start providing, on a daily basis, for a 55 year old widow in the church. Those are the nuances for which I am calling.
For a more careful exposition of some of the key biblical passages often cited in defense of "social justice," Kevin DeYoung has a short, but helpful, series on seven passages frequently cited in support of government directed "social justice." You can find them here, here, here, here, and here.