Extremist Evangelicalism: Forgetting Gospel Implications
I have been waiting to write this post for a few weeks now. I kept waiting to see if I missed something. Because honestly, I have never been more confused with my brothers in Christ than I am today. Over the last few months, I have seen fellow Christians take common sense and throw it out the third story window and I just don’t get it.
Here is what I do get.
I understand that we live in a polarized time. Our culture is one of extremes. One only needs to look at the last U.S. election to see that clearly displayed (and it’s all over Canada too folks). I remember discussing with a fellow Christian how I was not happy with Republican Donald Trump’s character and the other person looked me in the eye and said, “But you’re fine with killing babies.” No, I never said anything even close to that. I’m completely opposed to that! How is that the next logical step in this conversation? Yet, that’s the “wisdom” of this age. We live in a world of extremes where if you are not supportive of a morally corrupt man then you must be pro-abortion, if you are for any type of gun-control then you must want all guns to be taken away. We skip the next logical step and replace it with five steps we just made up in our heads. This erroneous ideology has crept into the church.
Back in April, a conference about racial injustice was had in Memphis on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. The subject was how racism is sinful, has no place in the life of the Christian, and how we can work toward racial reconciliation. Yet, the backlash from this conference was explosive. Blogs were written and broadcasts made that attacked this conference saying that they were choosing social justice over the Gospel. Then at Together For the Gospel (the largest Christian conference), a few speakers including David Platt along with Thabiti Anyabwile and Ligon Duncan (although everyone seems ok with his for some reason even though they all said the same thing??) spoke directly to this issue of racism in the Christian life. The backlash grew and it continues even now through blog posts and Twitter responses.
Let’s Be clear.
The Gospel is not about social justice, nor is it about racism. The Gospel is about repentance of sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Social justice is not the mission of the church either. The mission of the church is to see the Gospel spread so all may joyfully worship God forever. No one at any of these conferences said differently. What they did say is that the Gospel has implications, even political implications. The Gospel is not just a list of facts one must believe in order to be saved from their sin, the Gospel shapes your worldview, in earnest it gives you a new worldview. As Ray Ortlund beautifully writes, “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.” In order for the church to be faithful to the mission of spreading the Gospel, these Gospel implications must be lived out.
This is not argued in most areas. No one is saying that helping the homeless should not be done by the true church of Christ. No one is saying that stopping sex trafficking is not to be done by the church. We all applaud when an organization like the Southern Baptist Convention sends thousands of dollars in aid and hundreds of volunteers to help in hurricane relief efforts. Why is this any different? The skeptic would say because they have elevated this subject over the Gospel. How so? Where has the Gospel been compromised? Perhaps we have skipped a few logical steps once more. Deviating from the main subject to discuss its effects is not a rejection of that subject. Talking about racism, having conferences about racism, preaching on the sin of racism is not a rejection of the Gospel. When done properly, as I have seen in most of these cases, it is a necessary implication of that Gospel message.
Who is compromising the Gospel Here?
I would agree that there are probably people who have elevated this subject over the Gospel, I’m not writing to defend them. Yet, I don’t believe they are alone in compromising the Gospel. How is the world to know that we are Christians? Jesus says it’s how we love one another. What I have witnessed over the last few months has little to do with love and more to do with politics and skepticism. Christians have abandoned trying to understand one another's views, choosing instead to throw labels at each other. "Ignorant" and "heretic" seem to keep popping up in these conversations, and one is far more serious than the other.
I am not saying that we should not be protective of the Gospel. Of course, there is always a place for bravely standing for the Gospel when it is being compromised. We must never be ashamed to do this, but at the same time we must make sure that love is our motivation, not skepticism. Before we say “anathema” let us make sure we understand if and how the Gospel has been compromised or if we are just missing something.
For those who would claim that racism is a distraction to the Gospel message, I would say let us follow after Christ together. As God, Christ knew that sin was the true problem to the issues his followers faced. Yet, He lovingly helped them through their physical and social issues. He fed the starving, healed the sick, elevated women, and showed compassion to people of other races. We know that racism will not be solved by our efforts, just like we know that we cannot stop adultery or lying from existing in our culture, but shouldn’t we do something? We cannot just ignore this sin, as past generations have done. Let us not just believe the Gospel, but faithfully live out its implications to a divided and sinful world.
Cited Works: The Gospel by Ray Ortlund Jr., p. 117