One of my Chinese students recently asked me whether Christianity would eventually become a philosophy instead of a religion. The question puzzled me at first. After some probing, I realized that he was asking whether Christianity would eventually drop all references to the supernatural world, sin and forgiveness, death and the devil, and the eternal destiny of human beings and become a simply another source of wisdom alongside Confucianism for living the present life. This young man lives in an officially atheist country, so perhaps he was thinking that a Christianity understood as ethical wisdom would not be as offensive to the ruling party as a Christianity that referenced God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Its ethics could inspire personal well-being, community spirit, and social peace. Such a Christianity could be made to fit with a culture focused only on this world, and with a little adjustment here and there it could even lend support to the social and economic goals of Chinese communism.
Even before our conversation ended my mind had turned from the atheist culture of China to the western world, specifically to the United States of America. I am not going to generalize, but more and more I find myself interacting with Christians who focus on Christianity’s utility as an instrument for “social justice” to the near exclusion of its message of salvation from sin, death, and the devil. The question seems no longer to be “how do we attain right standing before God as individuals?” but “what position should we take on the social issues of the day?” It is all about problems of race, gender, inequity, and climate change. Its ethical message is limited to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The world is divided into oppressed and oppressors, innocent and guilty, anti-racists and racists rather than believers and unbelievers. Sin is a systemic problem within the social order, and salvation can be achieved only through social change. My Chinese student asked about a politically correct Christianity suited to an atheist culture. I was shocked when I thought of the parallels to the American situation. Some people prefer a politically correct Christianity that requires no personal repentance and conversion and is adapted to the secular progressive spirit that dominates high culture. It is a Christianity without power, a timid echo of the culture, whose most potent message to the world is “we can be progressive too.”
The original Christianity presented itself as the solution to our deepest problems. And our deepest problems are not political, social, or psychological. They are sin, death, and slavery to the devil. All other ills derive from these causes. Sin is the radical, individual self-centeredness of the soul that pollutes every act in the mind and in the world. Social problems find their origin in the original sin in the human heart. Without God’s intervention, death is the final destiny of every living thing. If nothing lasts, nothing matters; and death is irrefutable proof that nothing lasts. The devil is that deceiving and enslaving power that manifests itself in the individual evil will, in the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and the pride of life and in social life in injustice, war, and genocide. It is a power against which no flesh can stand. Christianity is about salvation from that total destruction of body and soul that is the human heritage and destiny. Politically correct Christianity offers no remedy for sin, no salvation from death, and no victory over the devil. It is a physician that treats the symptoms but neglects the disease.
These thoughts strike me as important to understand. An experience of shock and confusion shared because the conversation with a student led to a pointed moment. A sudden flash of wisdom, perhaps awakening, yet carefully crafted as to not be too woke.
Reading my previous sentence a few times over, I am unwilling to amend the challenge made but it unintentionally comes across as harsh. It is intended to be delivered in direct reply and with the tones of respect, an insatiable curiosity, and an endless desire to seek truth.
In all the concern expressed in the comparison of an atheist society to current American society the conclusion I read is that politically correct Christianity is synonymous with Social Justice. I am bothered (not triggered) that the timeless wisdom earned, documented, and passed down through the story of Israel and into the manifestation of God incarnate, the son of God, the Savior, never claimed to be Lord of any domain. What I might mean in that statement is that it seems to me that we have misunderstood the opportunity of our own time.
Are we advocating for the raising up of the importance of sin and reconciliation with God for each of us independent from our interactions with those around us? The church after all, is simply the people. It is no coincidence in my interpretation of the founding documents of our nation, that it is, “We the people”, aka the church, is the sovereignty that produces the ideology of equality under the law, liberty of self-governance, and inalienable rights. It is in my view problematic to claim the importance of Christianity in society while at the same time pushing aside the role of justice within our social interactions.
It occurs to me too though, that the word “social” is an incompatible descriptor to the more important term “justice”. Yet I dare say there is no acceptance of grace for reconciliation with God without the recognition of what we each deserve for the sin that has shamed us from loving the least among us, and our enemies as our neighbor. Surely the good news is the message of equality of all in the judgement of God and by the Grace of God.
Justice is not a social program and it certainly is not a function of religion. Justice is not what we are due (T. McAllister); it is that which we do in thought, word, and deed to spread the news, that though we are all guilty of sin, we are saved from damnation by Grace. Just as Jesus died a death of injustice, the spirit of that mission is with us still as it has always been for all of time.
Thus, we have no choice in our own salvation, but we are given the gift of freewill. I ask in earnest, with what then shall we do with this freedom from sin if we are not to pursue equality for all and live lives of committed to justice through sharing the Grace of our declared Lord?
I looked back at Matthew 19:28 after writing these thoughts. Suddenly, the “Son of Man” holds even greater significance.
Justin: I appreciate your taking the essay seriously enough to reply and, indeed, to make a serious reply. To respond thoroughly and accurately to your concerns would take more time and space than I have. I can say briefly that I believe deeply in acting justly and promoting justice as we are able. By “social justice” I mean “the social justice movement” in its postmodern academic form. I mean a radically leftest secular movement that ends up doing everything that it condemns. My point is that this movement, radical in its politics and coercive in its methods, is being adopted uncritically by many Christians under the banner of biblical justice and, thereby, given Christian cover to a secular and in many ways anti-Christian movement. I don’t know whether you have read my other essays on and around this topic, but if you’d like consider my thinking on this subject in greater depth just search the blog under the term “social justice.” Also, in December 2020 and January 2021 I wrote some reviews of academic books dealing with “the social justice movement.” Thanks again for serious and thoughtful reply.
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I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the discussion. Thank you. I admit I have some catching up to do in regards to your past blog entries. The last entries I read were the letters to academia.
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There has always been a tension between the inner works of our salvation and the outwardly evident effects of that process. This is most recognizable in the book of James and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. The balance of “being” with “doing” is vulnerable to the appeal of appearances and pleasing others on the one hand, but with seeking to submit oneself obediently to God on the other.
Godly love is an obedient love. Jonah is but one example of people in the Bible wrestling with “do” what God commands whether we like it or not. Jonah did not “feel it” when he submitted to God’s command to testify to the people of Ninevah. He didn’t like the people of Ninevah, and was loathe to the idea of them actually turning to God and being saved. But he did it, and God’s plan for Ninevah was completed. Jonah might have sulked afterward, but ultimately he learned a lesson of the importance of obedience whether he liked it or not.
“Doing” can be a productive effort in seeking toward “being.” There is truth in the idea that if we act, and do, whether we “feel it” or not, can help move us toward beginning to feel and be. People may not always be responding directly to God’s command to love all others when they engage in matters of social justice. And they might be doing so as much, or more, for sake of appearances and approval from others as for having love of God in their heart, but in the process of doing, people do move toward being.