A Gospel Issue?
The Gospel’s Response to Social Justice

Photo Courtesy of Patrick Perkins

By Marcus McClain

Published September 1st 2020

            Recently, there has been controversy concerning “social justice.”  Many Evangelicals who would consider themselves conservative — politically as well as theologically — have seen the cries for social or racial justice as concerning or “anti-biblical.” [1] Most famous (or infamous) for their criticism of the pursuit of social justice is perhaps none other than mega-church pastor John MacArthur. While MacArthur certainly gained attention for his blog in 2018 when he stated that social justice used language of “law, not gospel” by “demanding repentance and reparations from one ethnic group for the sins of its ancestors against another,” [2] it was his statement on social justice a month later that gained him widespread recognition as an antagonist to the “social justice movement.” Signed by Evangelical leaders such as James White, Voddie Baucham and Justin Peters, MacArthur founded The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel which declares that “applications of the gospel…are not definitional components of the gospel.” [3] However, this article will argue that justice and the pursuit of justice goes hand-in-hand with the good news of the Kingdom; therefore, it is the duty of every follower of Christ to seek justice and good for all people.
            If the case that: the pursuit of justice is inextricably linked to the gospel is to be made, then it is imperative that I provide a definition and description of what I mean when I say “gospel” or good news. The gospel of the Kingdom is best captured in Isaiah 52:7, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…who announces salvation and says, ‘Your God reigns!’” (NASB). Even though all humanity was (and is) in rebellion against YHWH, [4] completely dead in our trespasses and sins, [5] and the world itself was (and is) corrupted and subjected to futility, [6] YHWH has not given up on humanity or the world but will rule righteously, peacefully, joyfully and eternally. It is objectively good news that YHWH will judge and destroy all evil and wickedness to accomplish this rule; however, all of humanity was corrupted by sin and deserved a judgement of destruction. Therefore, YHWH — in His love — sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to live, die and rise for us, so that through our union with Him, we might be forgiven by the Father, reconciled to the Father, adopted by the Father and be made heirs of the Father and joint-heirs with Christ. Through repentant faith, humanity has the gift to be a part of the Kingdom of God and that is subjectively good news! Therefore, when I say “gospel” I am talking about the good news that YHWH will reign completely and fully, bringing all evil, suffering and injustice to an end.
            Pastor Grady Arnold, stated that “social justice by definition is based on anti-biblical…concepts,” [7] but is this true? According to Merriam-Webster, social justice is defined as “the doctrine of egalitarianism.” That is, it is the teaching of the philosophy that all humans are equal, regardless of their “social, political or economic affairs;” furthermore, social justice seeks to advocate for “the removal of inequalities among people.” [8] It is certainly biblical that all humans are created equal; for God created all humans in his image [9] and especially in Christ, there is to be no distinction made according to one’s socio-political status or one’s affluency or lack thereof. [10] Social justice, I will argue, was first an idea in God’s mind, and we will trace the thread through the scriptures, starting with the First Testament and working our way to the New.
            In the Law or Instruction of the First Testament (the Torah), we see YHWH giving commands such as: “Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb” (Exod. 12:4 NASB). In establishing the Passover, YHWH makes it clear that His people are to help their neighbors by being generous with what they have. This is the same idea behind gleaning; YHWH commands His people not to harvest their entire fields but to “leave them for the needy and for the stranger” (Lev. 19:10 NASB). 
            While many on the more conservative side of the socio-political spectrum (who also profess to be worshipers of the God of Israel) complain about the possibility of their resources [11]  being given to those less fortunate, this is exactly what we see YHWH mandating in the Torah. While the “owner” of the field is the one who prepped the land, planted the seeds, and cultivated and pruned the crops as they grew, the needy person who could not work and didn’t own land and the immigrant, were free to benefit from that hard work because YHWH is Lord and He was the one who had given the land as a gift. 
            Have we forgotten that nothing we have was not received as a gift from above? [12] Is a recalibration needed? How is allowing someone who did not work, to reap the benefits of that work, just? Because all the earth and its plant life was given to humanity for food. [13] Since YHWH determined that all (edible) plants and animals are food for all humanity, people deserve food. It is not radical, liberal, socialist, or Marxist for human beings to ensure that other human beings do not starve; instead, it is just, gracious and reflective of the nature of YHWH Himself, in whose image we all are created.
            Beyond food and the Torah, the words of Lemuel’s mother teach us something about biblical justice. She is recorded as teaching her son to “open [his] mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate…and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy” (Pvbs. 31:8,9 NASB). If the rest of the chapter is the standard to which women are to measure themselves against, then surely the words here should be a standard for men to measure themselves against. 
            While some are surely opening their mouths concerning abortion, they are forgetting about those who have been born. Others open their mouths to defend the rights of those who have been born already (as they should) but are strangely silent around the area of abortion. Here we see that justice demands we open our mouths for “all the unfortunate,” and we should do it whether it is popular with our political party or not because a Christian’s first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and the ideals of that Kingdom. In societies where there are minority populations who have little representation, causing their perspectives and needs to go unheard (“the mute,” figuratively), Bible-believing Christians must open our mouths. For those who are vanishing or dying, like the terminally sick, the elderly, and the unprotected and unwanted unborn (“the unfortunate”), Christians must be the ones to open our mouths to ensure their rights are established and protected. Likewise, Christians have a duty to speak with and for those who are differently abled, mentally ill, and poor (“the afflicted and needy”). This is the Word of the Lord, it is “perfect,” “sure,” “right,” “pure,” “clean,” “true,” and “righteous altogether” despite what we think or feel about it, and “in keeping [it] there is great reward” (Ps. 19:7-9,11 NASB).
            In the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see more clearly what the Kingdom of God looks like and therefore, we also get a sense of the implications for how citizens of the Kingdom of God should think and act. At the start of His ministry, Jesus read this from the scroll of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19 NASB). When asked by followers of John the Immerser if He was indeed the Messiah, Jesus responded this way: “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22 NASB). 
            Part and parcel to Jesus’s preaching of the good news of the Kingdom was giving sight back to the blind, proclaiming freedom to slaves and other captives, opening the ears of the deaf, healing diseases and bringing the dead back to life, and also proclaiming “the favorable year of the Lord” which is a reference to the year of Jubilee, when all slaves and bondservants were freed, land was returned to its original owners and all debts were forgiven. [14] So we see the continued mission of God in Jesus Christ to remove the inequalities, sufferings, and need from among humanity, God’s greatest creation.
            If we briefly consider church history, the Church as the Body of Christ, continued this work; bringing widows into families, adopting children and running into villages and cities racked with plagues to bring relief, healing and the good news of the Kingdom. In the 1500s when Geneva saw an influx of poor immigrants and refugees, John Calvin organized men to help and aid them; believing that to “care for the poor was…the fourth mark of the Church.” [15] Are today’s Christians so far removed from our history that we promised to conserve? Are we so deaf to our Lord and our God that we could think advocacy and action to bring good and justice to others is taking away from the gospel of the Kingdom?
            As we move toward that time when all tears will be wiped away and death and suffering will be no more, [16] let us be diligent to continue the work of our Lord while it is still day [17] and open our mouths for justice and put our hands and feet to the loving work of seeking the well-being of all people. Let us no longer be consumed with greed and covetousness, forgetting that what we have is a gift from the Father of lights. Let us lay aside the unbiblical idea that social justice is a distraction from the gospel and with one voice and one mind, proclaim the good news and the favorable year of the Lord, in Jesus’s name!

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Footnotes:


            [1] This word is used by Pastor Grady Arnold in his resolution “Against the Anti-Gospel of the Social Justice Movement” which can be found in full at: https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/pastor-warns-that-social-justice-is-evil-calls-on-southern-baptists-to-reject-it/.

            [2] John MacArthur, “Social Injustice and the Gospel,” Grace to You, Aug 13, 2018, https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180813/social-injustice-and-the-gospel.

            [3] John MacArthur, “Gospel,” The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel, Sept 4, 2018, https://statementonsocialjustice.com/.

            [4] Romans 3:23a.

            [5] Ephesians 2:1.

 

            [6] Romans 8:20.


            [7] Grady Arnold, “Against the Anti-Gospel.”


            [8] Definitions available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20justice and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/egalitarianism.


            [9] Gen. 1:26-28.


            [10] See Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11, and James 2:1-9.


            [11] Or resources they believe are theirs. 


            [12] Consider 1 Cor. 4:7 and James 1:17.


            [13] Gen. 1:29 and 9:3.


            [14] See Lev. 25:10-17.


            [15] C. Woznicki, “How John Calvin Dealt with Refugees and the Poor,” CWoznicki Think Out Loud, Mar 10, 2017, https://cwoznicki.com/2017/03/10/how-john-calvin-dealt-with-refugees-and-the-poor/.


            [16] Rev. 21:4.


            [17] See John 9:4 and Rom. 13:12.

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