26 September 2018

The Epidemic of Heart-reading in the "Social Justice" Community

by Hohn Cho



Tim Keller recently weighed in on the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. After attempting to summarize a concept called "speech act theory" advanced by secular academics such as John Searle, admitting that Keller agrees with 80% of the statement itself, and then lamenting the increasing political polarization in both the world and the church, he proceeded to say the following:
"It's—it's not so much what it says; it's what it does. It's trying to marginalize people who are talking about race and justice. It's trying to say you're really not biblical—uh, so it's it, and—and it's not fair, in that sense. So, that's the reason why it—when some somebody—if something starts to go down it with me, and say, "Would you agree with this? Would you agree with this?" I would say, "You're looking at the level of what it says and not at the level of what it's doing." And I do think what it's trying to do is that it's really trying to say, "Don't make this emphasis; don't worry about the poor; don't care about the injustice. It's not really that important." That's what it's saying. Uh, even if—even if I could agree with most of it, it's—I don't—I don't like it."



AD Robles has provided both a substantive response and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek one where he demonstrates how using "speech act theory" on certain "social justice" advocates (hereinafter "SJAs") might work. I commend them to your attention, because in Robles' typically insightful fashion, they both make a strong point and offer compelling evidence of how ludicrous Keller's position is when applied via the equal weights and measures of Proverbs 20:10, a verse which many SJAs would do well to take to heart.

What I'd like to focus on, however, is the growing epidemic of "heart-reading" among many SJAs. It's a simple and obvious fact that human beings are unable to read other people's minds or hearts. Some people might be especially good—even uncannily so—at making solid estimations, perhaps, but even for the very best detectives who are actually able to observe their subjects in person, the success rate will be nowhere near 100%. With that simple reality in mind, a question arises about whether we should assume the best, or the worst, of others' hidden motives?

For Christians, we have a crystal-clear answer from Scripture. We know from 1 Corinthians 4:5 that we should not "go on passing judgment" regarding our brothers' and sisters' minds and hearts, but instead trust that God "will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts." Instead, if we truly love our brothers and sisters, as we are commanded to do in John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, 1 Peter 1:22, and all throughout the letter of 1 John, we will strive to heed the call of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, perhaps most pertinently 1 Corinthians 13:7, which tells us that love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." None of this is rocket science; it is really just basic Christianity. Indeed, one needs only to observe a godly Christian marriage briefly to know how important this concept is to a fruitful, harmonious, and loving relationship, while even a cursory glance at any troubled marriage will almost certainly show that a willingness to heed 1 Corinthians 13:7 is in very short supply.

Applied more broadly, I would posit that failure to heed Scripture's admonitions on this topic begins a slide down the road of microaggressions that the secular world has already embraced with aplomb, an attitude which also appears to be making inroads into the church, tragically. Think about what kind of local body would honor the Lord. Is it one where every word and deed is hyperanalyzed for hidden thoughts and motives, with second-guessing and jumping at shadows abounding? Or is it one that takes people at face value—no, far more, one that actively attributes good motives to them by believing and hoping all things and refuses to attribute bad motives to them by bearing and enduring all things—and allows interaction with actual words and deeds while leaving hidden thoughts and motives to the Lord, between that individual and the Holy Spirit? I certainly know which local body I would prefer to join!

On that note, I find it ironic that some are accusing the drafters of the statement of having fundamentalist tendencies, when quite a few traits I would personally associate with fundamentalism (e.g., the legalistic attempts to graft of extra-biblical convictions onto others, the denigration of Christian liberty, the speck-plucking while ignoring one's own planks, the double standards, the censorious treatment of dissenters) seem far more prominently displayed among many SJAs. In fact, the only thing I've found more laughably unbelievable about the discussion thus far is the claim that men such as my pastor, John MacArthur, who three decades ago spearheaded the debate on Lordship salvation and the necessity of obedience and genuine fruit, are somehow ignoring or dismissing the importance of the outworkings of the Gospel in believers' lives.

Regardless, rather than make presumptuous accusations about what the drafters are "trying to do" (a clear accusation of active effort and intention), perhaps Keller, who is far from alone among his fellow SJAs' heart-reading efforts, could instead believe and hope all things in love about his brothers.

And now, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals' online magazine, Reformation21, and the drafters of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel launched a series this morning on what the statement's 14 articles both say and intend. So even if he was uncertain before—which is still no excuse for attributing negative or sinister hidden motives to fellow believers—Keller really no longer has any excuse whatsoever.

I pray that the nature of the dialogue surrounding the statement will improve, and that critics will engage with what it actually says, rather than presume that the multiethnic group of faithful and godly men with literally centuries of faithful ministerial experience have some kind of secret agenda to "marginalize people" and "don't worry about the poor, don't care about the injustice." In my own effort to engage with precisely what Keller actually said, I must sadly conclude that claims like his are character assassination, plain and simple, and they cheapen the discourse immeasurably. And it is especially ironic that Keller had just finished bemoaning the increasing political polarization of the world and the church, because in offering such an aspersion-filled partisan take, he is guilty of the very thing he claims to oppose.

Pundit, heal thyself.

Hohn's signature

2 comments:

Jim Pemberton said...

I agree with 80% of what Tim Keller says, but it's not what he says, but what he does. He marginalizes people who are trying to bring the Scriptures to bear on the social justice issue...

Hohn C said...

Jim, nice riposte. Astonishing to see the response to what was supposed to be a clear statement of biblical truth so uncontroversial that Thabiti Anyabwile initially agreed with it; and even a more strident SJA like Kyle Howard agreed with 95% of it.