We reject theological liberalism–defined by J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism as a “different gospel” from the Scriptural gospel. (43, 44)
Above is the first “Denial” listed in the “Report of the ad Interim Committee on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation to the Forty-Sixth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.” Every time I read this line, I think, “yep,” and keep reading. No alarms.
But as time and debate has continued since its publication and adoption, I’m starting to wonder if many within the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition see this inclusion as a contradiction of the rest of the document, especially among the self-described “Machen Warriors.” I fear that Machen’s personal political and sociological views have been illegitimately folded into his definition of “Liberalism” by modern hagiographers.
What follows is a summary of our four-part series, “Christianity and Critical Theory.” I pray it is of some value to the ongoing “social justice” discussion in the Church. Let me know your thoughts.
The Enlightenment and Karl Marx
The central contribution of Karl Marx—that which places him among Weber and Durkheim as the fathers of sociology—is not his specific critique of capitalism, his communist eschatology, nor even his apprehension of the striking social ills of his day, but rather his historical materialist critique of the whole. The Enlightenment era which preceded Marx had sought to throw off the “tyranny” of the Church over ideology and the de facto authority of traditional metaphysics, replacing them with reason and rational justifications and explanations. It was a turn from the transcendent and dictated to the immanent and discoverable. Many had critiqued private property, capitalist markets, oppressive social orders, and the dismal conditions they were thought to produce, but Marx believed they had all failed to grasp their historical causes and preconditions.
As discussed in PART 1, the “gospel,” according to the Scripture, appears to be a much fuller concept than the mere facts of Christ’s death for sin and resurrection, though these are certainly of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). Beginning with the New Testament epistles, we saw that the gospel also includes the certainty of impartial judgement on the Last Day, contradicts a host of both personal and social sins, dictates who we ought to eat with, and is actually something to be “obeyed.” Going back to the beginning, it became clear that the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 promised a restoration of all that was lost in the fall; that is, it promised resurrection of both body and soul, return to original righteousness, renewal of mankind’s natural habitation, and the restoration of society with both God and man (and in each case, much more than the original). The Apostle Paul calls this message of the Seed the “gospel” (preached to Abraham), and the author of Hebrews calls the promise of entrance into God’s seventh day rest the “gospel” as well (preached to the Israelites in the Wilderness), both drawing on Garden evangel themes.
The Gospel, therefore, is a public exhibition of the Son of God manifested in the flesh, (1 Timothy 3:16) to deliver a ruined world, and to restore men from death to life. It is justly called a good and joyful message, for it contains perfect happiness. Its object is to commence the reign of God, and by means of our deliverance from the corruption of the flesh, and of our renewal by the Spirit, to conduct us to the heavenly glory. For this reason it is often called the kingdom of heaven, and the restoration to a blessed life, which is brought to us by Christ, is sometimes called the kingdom of God… . (John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke)
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. This is Biblically undeniable. But what is the gospel? There appears to be an underlying disagreement among Christians over this definition, fueling charges of both “Social Gospel” from one side and “Gospel-Only-ism” (or the like) from the other. The truth is, both of these systems obscure the true meaning of “gospel”; the former verging on Materialism and the eclipse of the individual, the latter verging on Gnosticism and the eclipse of community. I hope in this short series to offer some clarification, for I too believe that the gospel is the answer to all individual and social ills.
[For context, see “A Civil Rights Leader Is Accusing John MacArthur of ‘Lying’ About Where He Was When MLK Died.”]
As many discuss the accuracy of Pastor John MacArthur’s oft told experience with John Perkins and Charles Evers the night Dr. King was murdered, I’d suggest we need to keep in focus the hypocrisy involved in the very telling of these stories. MacArthur often offers such tales to bolster his Civil Rights bona fides before going on to criticize the so-called “social justice” movement in the Church. He prefaced his very first post in a series attacking modern Racial Reconciliation (RR) advocates with the same. Immediately after claiming, “[w]e were also shown the place where James Earl Ray stood on a toilet to fire the fatal shot,” he declares the following with bolstered accreditation:
[To be 100% clear, I do not believe that John MacArthur would agree with the image above, nor have anything but condemnation for its message. I have only used this image to reflect the attitude of many American Christians throughout our history. The image is about the content below, not John MacArthur.]
Though John MacArthur’s most recent article on Racial Reconciliation (RR) continues to rely mostly on innuendo with no attempt to connect the dots, “this sounds like that so it must be that” type reasoning, and reads more like baptized conservative politics, there are nevertheless two points I would like to briefly respond to here.
Pastor John MacArthur posted the fourth installment in his celebrated series on “social justice” and Racial Reconciliation (RR) Wednesday evening, “Is the Controversy over ‘Social Justice’ Really Necessary?” First, on a positive note, pastor MacArthur writes,
As Christians committed to the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel, we have better answers than the world could ever give to the problems of racism, injustice, human cruelty, and every other societal evil. We have the cross of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who grows and leads us in all love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
To which I say Amen and Amen! This, I believe, every Christian in the discussion can and should agree with.
But unfortunately, like the three that had gone before, there is very little substance and no arguments provided to support the critical claims of this fourth post—Biblical or otherwise—so there is still not much to interact with. What he does mention (but not substantiate) has been handled in many other articles already. He states, e.g., that “The American attitude has changed. White supremacy and all other expressions of purposeful, willful, or ideological racism are almost universally condemned”; if anything, we have already gone too far in response. I would simply suggest reading, “What Is & Isn’t Being Said: 6. ‘Color-Blind Racism’.”