03 May 2019

The Legalistic Pragmatism of Certain Social Justicians

by Hohn Cho



s someone who is not on Twitter but keeps abreast of it, let me point out that it has been a pretty crazy week for the Christian social justicians. For this blogpost, we'll be discussing a particular tirade by one Bradly Mason. Now, as someone who does his best to avoid responding to mere "someone is WRONG on the Internet" situations, since Mason appears to have relatively limited influence—just like me, I'd add, before anyone falsely accuses me of looking down on him—normally I'd be inclined to just let it pass. But given that portions of and references to his tweetstorm have been enthusiastically liked or retweeted with approval by many more prominent figures, including Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Bradley, Jemar Tisby, and Ekemini Uwan, and as of this writing has almost 200 retweets and over 1,300 likes, I think it's fair to say that he has struck a nerve.

That fact alone exposes the Proverbs 29:11 emotionalism and James 1:20 unrighteous anger which all too often drive so many of the social justicians' arguments, sadly. Certainly they don't appear to be driven by biblical or logical considerations, given that Mason cites zero Scripture despite 23 tweets, and quickly retreats from a slanderous bailey (naming many honorable men and groups[*] in response to the specific question, "Who is defending white supremacy using the Gospel?") to a still-indefensible motte (merely relegating those men and groups to a place of "making conservative evangelicalism a pretty safe place to harbor [white supremacist] views" and claiming they "defend White Supremacy") within the very same tweetstorm, incredibly. And during the course of his unsupported and unsupportable accusations (because none of the people or groups he names are "defending white supremacy" as they, in fact, overtly oppose white supremacy, and have said as much, and thus the claim is false), he also manages to airily dismiss many legitimate concerns raised by faithful saints, and set up and knock down over a dozen straw men, all while engaging in some of the most egregiously uncharitable heart-reading that I've seen in a long time.

Rather than get into a point-by-point rebuttal, I'm opting to highlight two overarching themes that I see in many social justicians' arguments. First, their claims and calls to action are often legalistic in nature, specifically the type of pharisaic legalism that elevates the heavy burden of man-made rules and lays them on people's shoulders per Matthew 23:4.

I find this to be an ironic phenomenon, given that social justicians often accuse their critics of being fundamentalists characterized by legalism, among other things, but the reality is that far too often, they themselves are the ones attempting to bootstrap generalized scriptural principles which do not speak to the time, place, or manner of how they ought to be applied, into extremely specific extra-biblical requirements. One example would be Anyabwile writing in the Washington Post last year about evangelicals' supposed "complicit silence" regarding President Trump (whom I did not support in 2016, by the way, but he is in fact the President, and thus for American Christians, Titus 3:1-2 applies), a terribly-reasoned piece which I previously critiqued here.

In that light, let's consider Mason's "motte" argument, specifically that the brothers and groups he accused are "making conservative evangelicalism a pretty safe place to harbor [white supremacist] views" and elsewhere that they "defend White Supremacy". This is a serious charge, and as is often the case with "social justice" rhetoric, its main support appears to be the author's opinion, specifically that the accused here too often dare to express concerns about the faulty or at times even non-existent Scriptural rationales of the social justicians, as well as the naturally dangerous fruit likely to result from such unbiblical trees.

In other words, if one disagrees with certain social justicians, or even declines to speak out on the specific topics they want with the specific frequency and strength they want, one is coddling white supremacists and defending white supremacy. Somehow. I guess. Even if some of the accused are not even white. Even if most (all?) of the accused have overtly preached and written against the evils of the sin of partiality pertaining to ethnicity and otherwise, and are supportive of things like interethnic marriage to such an extent that they are abhorred by the execrable kinists.

Look, that isn't "defending white supremacy" by any rational standard. The reality is that the accused attack white supremacy and are flatly opposed to it. Their "crime" is simply that they don't make opposing it the absolute center of their ministry, and are unwilling to just shut up and let the social justicians say whatever they want, unchallenged, as they unbiblically bind others' consciences with legalistic appeals, or even worse, confuse the Gospel with a Galatian addition of "wokeness" as a fundamentally required work. And in the exact same way, I believe all of the accused are pro-life and anti-abortion, but vehemently oppose anti-abortion extremists such as Abolish Human Abortion when they go overboard with their legalistic appeals and anti-biblical ecclesiology. Indeed, there are many similarities between the AHA zealots and the social justicians, and the comparison does not reflect well on either group.

Mason's argument is completely irrational and illogical, and again, it's absolutely legalistic. Because each of the accused, in his own stewardship, is ultimately accountable to the Lord—as well as his elders or fellow elders—for how he chooses to prioritize his public and private words and actions, and if Mason's (or Anyabwile's, or Bradley's, or Tisby's, or Uwan's, who all supported and aligned with Mason in some fashion) measuring stick for "woke" holiness is counting public comments opposed to or supportive of the social justicians' poor theology, well, they might as well break out their hemline-rulers and book bonfires.

At the end of the day, I'm aware of no biblical command to preach or speak out publicly (or tweet, for that matter) on any specific topic with any specific frequency, with the exception of course being the Gospel per 2 Timothy 4:2, 1 Corinthians 9:16, Acts 10:42, Matthew 28:19-20, Romans 1:16, as the accused have so often pointed out and emphasized in their ministries. This is true even for whatever major current event might be happening in any given week. Whether and to what extent a pastor decides to talk about 9/11, or an abortion bill, or a tragic mass shooting, or whoever the perpetrator of that mass shooting might be, is a matter for that pastor's own stewardship, and he will have a greater accountability for it per James 3:1. But when another person makes sweeping and censorious accusations about an entire swath of faithful men and ministries based sheerly on that person's perception of that stewardship and prioritization, well, James 2:13 gives me genuine concern for that person.

Meanwhile, for all of us as we decide if and when and how to speak, genuine care should be taken to avoid the real danger of virtue signaling to an outside secular world that is increasingly hostile to Christians...except of course those Christians eager to promote the latest worldly styles and fads, especially if they're willing to bash other groups of faithful Christians as they do. As Matthew 6:5 states, those virtue signalers already have their treasure, in the form of book deals, conference speaker gigs, Washington Post articles, and perhaps most commonly, the praise, admiration, and Twitter likes and retweets of countless social justicians, liberals, academics, celebrities, media figures, and cool hipsters whose only reactions to biblically faithful positions such as young earth creationism, traditional marriage, penal substitutionary atonement, and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ are the ridicule and revulsion reserved for uncouth, unwashed, unenlightened fundamentalists guilty of unspeakable thought crimes unfit for public discourse.

Before you call me an alarmist, this is already happening to Christian business owners, professors, and students. And it will continue happening, and will only get worse. And although it's unsurprising to see the faithful remnant besieged by torch- and pitchfork-carrying secularists, the saddest part to me is wondering who among my currently faithful professing brethren will end up offering them aid and comfort, or even joining their ranks.

This brings me to my second overarching theme, which is the pragmatic nature of so much of the social justician discourse. Again and again, I see concerns raised by people like Mason about the pragmatic ends of this or that action, rather than the biblical means on how to get to a particular end. I perceive over and over such a great concern for the temporal, that the spiritual is often neglected or treated as an afterthought. But as we know from 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, we do not wage war according to the flesh, and in fact there is great importance in casting down arguments and opinions that are raised against the knowledge of God. This passage would seem to emphasize the importance of making sure that our means are indeed in accordance with what God has revealed in His Word, before rushing off to try to achieve some end. I would think one way to do this would be having a civil discourse.

Instead, sadly, we have pieces like Mason's, and a general lack of interest in having a substantive discussion. Everyone I know on "my side" of the argument, including the accused, is eager to have a discussion about what the Bible says on this or that "social justice" topic, but the usual response I've seen from social justicians is crickets. And while I fully acknowledge the possibility of confirmation bias, based on my own personal experience in the church on this "social justice" issue, I believe I'm north of a dozen times recently when my attempts to engage in (highly civil) discussions have been met with silence, unfulfilled promises to respond later, in two cases a decisively dismissive attitude, and in only one case an actual conversation over lunch that turned out to be both profitable and enjoyable. And I've observed from afar a similar ratio in the tireless efforts of Neil Shenvi.[**]

When I compare this track record to some higher-profile spats in the secular world, rife with declarations that look like, "go educate yourself, I'm not going to do your homework for you" (a seemingly curious response, if one is truly interested in advancing one's preferred position within the marketplace of ideas), or "I'm sick and tired of repeating myself all the time" (a more understandable sentiment in the secular world, perhaps, but less so for Christians called not to weary of doing good in Galatians 6:9), I'm grieved by the similarity of the responses.



More and more, my impression is that many Christian social justicians are simply not interested in having a discussion (much less a debate) with the brothers and sisters who respectfully disagree with them. Instead, it seems as though the desire is simply to proselytize to build their coalition and then declare victory, with any opposition either ignored, or smashed down with a sledgehammer of presumptuously misappropriated moral authority. And when this happens, honest disagreement is often recast as hatred or slander, sadly, and people who earnestly hold differing biblical convictions are dismissed, or even worse, cast out, as adherents of a truncated or incomplete Gospel...or even as defenders of white supremacy. Because apparently, it is not good enough for many social justicians to simply separate and do ministry in different ways, as Paul and Barnabas did, but precisely because the social justicians are seeking pragmatic or even political goals, the movement must grow. And suddenly, personal convictions become "Gospel issues" and individual Christian liberty is turned into the legalistic requirements I described in my first theme, above.

Instead of such political pragmatism, what the church truly needs is more godly, Gospel-proclaiming Christians concerned for the individual souls of the lost, and not more armchair politicians. And this is true regardless of whether their arms might sit on the right or left armrest. Indeed, some of the social justicians go on and on (and on and on) wondering how any professing Christian could ever support certain policies supported by the Republican Party or even worse, President Trump, displaying an astonishing lack of self-awareness as they do so. Because the reality is that they're doing the exact same thing as the people they decry, merely from the opposing political viewpoint.



I'll leave it to each individual Christian to decide whether or not one party or the other is more supportive of his or her most important biblical principles and convictions. Speaking only for myself, however, I can't bring myself to vote for any party that would continue to maintain the horror of abortion as a fundamental right. This is my own personal bright line litmus test, my speaking up for the most voiceless and oppressed of all, as nearly a million babies a year are still being murdered in the US alone. It is every bit as shocking and immoral, if not more so, than the evils of hereditary slavery based on the color of one's skin with origins in man-stealing. Thankfully, that evil was abolished over 150 years ago...and yet our modern tragedy of abortion continues. The social justicians often speak about the importance of moral clarity on certain societal issues. I agree, and that's precisely why I personally believe all other societal issues—even some good ones, some important ones—pale in comparison to the very lives of countless unborn children.

Once again, however, the differences in temporal priorities that individual Christians might have are precisely why I and so many other like-minded brothers (like the accused) and sisters emphasize the importance of Gospel proclamation, over any other social or political matter. Because the eternal state of each individual unsaved man or woman is something we all ought to be able to unite on, and of far greater importance than any temporal issue, however dire. I'm glad to be confident in that stance from so many of the accused. Indeed, I know the majority of these men and leaders in three of the groups personally, and they abhor and clearly teach against the sin of partiality both generally as well as specifically pertaining to ethnicity. So just as Mason's "motte" charge is completely baseless legalism, his "bailey" charge is simply outrageous calumny. And he and the people cheering him on ought to repent of it and retract it.

Hohn's signature



* Mason specifically accuses the brethren Justin Peters, John MacArthur, James White, Phil Johnson, Doug Wilson, JD Hall, Josh Buice, Tom Ascol, R. Scott Clark, Darrell Harrison, Burk Parsons, and in a follow-up tweet Samuel Sey and Voddie Baucham, as well as the groups Sovereign Nations, Alpha & Omega Ministries, Grace To You, Pulpit & Pen, Reformation Charlotte, Aquila Report, American Vision, and Ligonier Ministries.

** If you're not familiar with Neil, you really ought to consider checking him out, and his research partner Pat Sawyer as well. Neil's website is chock-full of excellent, biblical takes on a wide variety of topics (including perhaps most notably, these days, critical theory), and his Twitter feed is the type of graciously edifying, Christ-honoring engagement that I would aspire to, were I ever to take the plunge onto that medium.

6 comments:

EricVDM said...

Insightful and refreshing. Thank you for putting in the time to write this. To help me cut through this all, it always comes down to the question regarding the nature of Christ's Kingdom being spiritual, and the essence of sin being unbelief. This shapes the mission of the church to be primarily about gospelism/evangelism, not social or political activism. This is the primary imperative to the church. So, the fidelity of the church is measured by her faithfulness to the proclamation of true, Biblical doctrine addressing man's greatest need - which is a believing heart, not the advancement and inclusion in social programs, etc. The church is to be the pillar and buttress of the truth, the salt of the earth, the light to the nations - all of which are spiritual in nature.

I so often get the sense in these arguments that the first and greatest commandment is that you shall love your neighbor as your self. But we can't do that unless we are reconciled to God first, and the doctrines of justification and all soteriology's corollaries must be the primary mission of the church.

Hohn C said...

Eric, thanks so much for your comment, and I agree. And interestingly enough, although I know that one's eschatology may color one's views on this topic, most of the best theologians (in my opinion, obviously), from every eschatological stripe, are pretty aligned on their response to this issue.

St. Lee said...

For what its worth, when I read this in your article: "... what the church truly needs is more godly, Gospel-proclaiming Christians concerned for the individual souls of the lost..." I could not help but think that this may pinpoint the crux of the matter. It is my impression that this whole "social justice" phenomenon has its roots in "Black Liberation Theology" wherein there is only collective salvation, not individual salvation. That said, I am quite sure that plenty of the people now on this bandwagon would not subscribe to that teaching, but are blinded by the "latest cool thing that will make Christianity appealing" aspect of it. If that is correct, then it certainly explains why there seems to be little concern for individual souls or the genuine gospel.

EricVDM said...

Hohn, On that eschatological note, I think when people say that social justice =/= social gospel are correct if they mean that they are two different things, but that puts one at a distance from reckoning with its significant overlap - especially in regards to an inclination toward an "over-realized" eschatology and a misappropriated one.

I believe it is correct that the social justice/racial reconciliation paradigm does not have a 1 to 1 equivalency with the social gospel,cultural marxism, socialism, or critical theory, etc. and to chalk it up to being just those things would be an over-simplification. It seems to be its own thing now. But it certainly has those influences and elements of each that determine how the eschaton, the nature of the kingdom, and the essence of the church are manifest. One gets the clear sense in reading Rauschenbusch's "Social Gospel" that the success of the church's kingdom calling is measured by its impact upon institutional reform, which seems to have an echo in the social justice/racial reconciliation platform. But the coming of the kingdom is manifested by the preaching of the gospel which is characterized by faith and repentance in one's relation to God. And in Acts we see that this kingdom is advanced when the Word "prevails" or is "increased."

Hohn C said...

St. Lee, I actually had an article about collectivism mostly written several months ago, but shelved it when the thing I was responding to grew stale. But I agree, the collectivist nature of much of the "social justice" issue is both telling and unbiblical, at least with respect to both salvation and many of the social justicians' preferred remedies, such as reparations.

Eric, good thoughts. On the topic of racial reconciliation, I've always found that to be a false premise (perhaps that's not the precisely correct concept, but close enough for the moment, I think). Because unless we're talking about the "Christian race" as a whole being reconciled to God by the work of His Son alone, entire "races" don't reconcile, individuals do. I allude to that in this piece below, but I may expand on the concept at some point.

http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2019/01/owing-nothing-to-anyone.html

By the way, I forgot this excellent piece by Phil on the "Is X a Gospel Issue" point I mentioned in my article.

https://statementonsocialjustice.com/articles/gospel-issue/

Bobby Grow said...
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