There is a place for doctrinal statements, creeds, systematic and dogmatic theology. It is an important calling and crucial to the life and health of the church. But not all theological statements are that.
There is also an important place for polemical statements, pastoral statements, memorial statements, piles of rocks with oil poured over them saying, thus far our God has brought us and we will not forget. These sorts of statements are not cathedrals. They are not oratorios. They are just piles of rocks, words built out of faith for a particular moment, laying claim to God’s eternal word, His presence, His powerful working in history, and our trust in Him here, in this moment.
That’s what I take the Social Justice Statement to be. It is not pristine systematic theology. It is not a cathedral. It’s a simple altar. God-willing, there will one day be a cathedral built here on this spot, staking out a biblical orthodoxy in confessional language on social issues for the good of the Church and the glory of Christ. But that day has not yet arrived. But the faithful build altars until that day, memorials for our children, pointing them to the Word of God, despite the raging of the nations, and the compromise and cowardice and folly of many in the Church.
Let me be clear: I am not accusing anyone who has not signed the Social Justice Statement of compromise or cowardice or consigning anyone to the raging of the nations. I’m simply saying those facts in general are a good reason enough for the statement to be written and signed by many. There may be other factors involved in why someone may not be able or feel comfortable signing. But I did want to answer a few objections here:
1. To those who object on grounds that the Statement’s summary of the gospel is reductionistic: take your qualms up with the Apostle Paul. His summary in 1 Cor. 15 was even shorter and less detailed than the Statement. If Paul can summarize the gospel without mention of the Kingdom or define it without reference to its impact on social or political structures, then so can we. Sometimes, that’s the best summary.
2. The clear point of the Statement was to distinguish between the gospel that must be preached and believed unto salvation at all times and in all places, and the implications and applications, which are important in their own right, but which are not definitional components of the gospel and will necessarily shift in some particulars in various places and times. A man must believe in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, but he need not believe any number of direct and necessary implications of that gospel in his life and in the world, in order to be saved. This is not reductionistic. This is the glorious simplicity of the gospel.
3. The Statement is a pastoral and polemical warning. An author at Kuyperian Commentary, explained that he couldn’t sign the Statement because it implied he needed to warn women working at crisis pregnancy centers that they may be distracted from the gospel. On the one hand, I’ve read the Statement a number of times and find this interpretation of the Statement odd. But even if that’s what the author honestly came away worrying about (and I trust his honesty!), I absolutely do not have a problem having that category in my pastoral file: the category of “pro-life activist who is being distracted from the gospel.” If you don’t have that category in your file, you are not qualified to be pastoring anyone involved in any social activism.
4. In the same article, the author writes: “With Nicholas Wolterstorff, I want to insist, “The church is not merely to wait with grim patience for the new age when the Spirit will fully renew all existence. It must already, here and now, manifest signs of that renewing Spirit.” There is deep and apparently unappreciated irony in this quotation of Wolterstorff, who in the last few years got his new age of the Spirit and Kuyperian theology to manifest in blessing homosexual marriage in the church. In other words, that quotation is exactly the sort of thing the authors of this Statement are warning about. Wolterstorff is a fool (Rom. 1), and people who quote him as an authority on cultural engagement and social issues need to take a long, slow look in the mirror of Scripture to see whether they have imbibed more folly than they may think (Js. 1).
5. What this Statement does well — without filling it out in detail — is ground the gravitational center of any legitimate kingdom work in the proclamation of the gospel that must be believed, Christian worship, and clear exposition of Scripture. If you read carefully, this teaching and preaching of the Scriptures is distinguished from social and political “activism” — even though snap shots or tweets of either one may occasionally sound/look the same (say, preaching through Deuteronomy or preaching the gospel in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic). But this prioritization is the clear New Testament model. The Statement does not deny the good and rightful place of seeking to influence the public square, laws, or culture. It simply insists that this good work is secondary to the work of proclaiming Christ crucified, though which God changes hearts. The work of Christian discipleship will necessarily have social and political impact: husbands who love their wives like Christ loved the Church, masters treating slaves as brothers in Christ, families caring for their own widows, and blind, biblically defined judicial justice, etc. While these may be indicators of changed hearts, none of these can effect a change of heart.
6. I reject the complaint that failure to define “social justice” carefully is a fatal flaw in the Statement. As I stated at the beginning, there is an important time and place for careful definitions and distinctions, but at this point, a general, wide-reaching Statement that links sexually confused identities, gay identity, racial identity, and victim identity as the marks of justification in the current wave of social justice warrior activism is doing a massive service to the Church. People who complain that this combines too many different issues under one heading are contributing to the problem, not helping to solve it. The world is running this “identity” play on the Church on every one of these fronts, and Christians are often the kind of simpletons who are susceptible and vulnerable to pleas to make more careful distinctions, but that itself is often a distraction. Related, some have complained that the term “social justice” has been weaponized against good Christian people working for true Christian justice, but this is like a group of waiters on the Titanic claiming that everybody throwing stuff overboard is weaponizing their attempts to provide good food service to their customers. Yeah, whatevs. If you’ve built your Christian ministry on the foundation of the term “social justice,” that ship is taking you somewhere you do not intend.
7. Finally, I see not a little bit of impatience and resentment in God’s design for cultural change in some of the objections being raised. I’m a postmillennialist, meaning that I believe that the Great Commission will be accomplished before the Second Coming of Christ. I believe the gospel will be preached to all the nations, the nations will come slowly but surely to their knees, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). I believe the nations will be discipled. I believe this not because we have the perfect utopian political-social plan, not because we’ve figured out how to make people stop being envious or prideful or hateful. It will not be by might, nor by power, nor by law, nor by policy or institutions. No, it will be by grace and by the working of the Spirit. Jesus said that if He was lifted up on the cross, He would draw all men to Himself (Jn. 12:32). I believe that the Great Commission will be accomplished because Jesus purchased the nations with His blood. “Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Ps. 2:8). Yes, there is an important place for faithful cultural, political, and social engagement. Watch me writing this blog post. But the central mission and the central means is proclaiming Christ crucified and risen for sinners. Yes, discipleship must commence, and we must teach the nations the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation. But Christ is King and He has established His battle plan. It consists of announcing a bloody cross and empty tomb. It consists of water, bread, wine, and Psalms. And yes, this means that God is far more patient than we are, but He knows what He’s doing. Our pitiful attempts to run out in front of Him end up with the Nicholas Wolterstorff’s of the world blessing homo marriage. No thanks. It might seem like short term progress to make treaties with the Canaanites, but I’d rather build altars in the wilderness while we wait for Jesus to give us the land.