Not a Gospel Issue?
There is a trend I’ve noticed among quite a few “woke” Evangelical leaders these days. The liberal side of Protestantism has slanted toward “progressive” theology for the past century or so (embracing ideals including and leading up to Cultural Marxism, Social(ist) Justice, Critical Theory and Intersectionality). That is no surprise. More troubling, however, are Bible teachers who were previously considered to be sound and stalwart defenders of the faith that are also jumping on the platform of the social left.
Some are promoting Black Lives Matter (not merely the concept that black lives are important, but the Marxist and pro-LGBTQ organization behind the famous hashtag), soft forms of socialism, Critical Race Theory, feminism (especially egalitarian hermeneutics that promote women as church elders/pastors), and expressing the idea that God doesn’t care how Christians vote (even if someone chooses candidates who are anti-religious freedom, anti-freedom of speech, pro-abortion, pro-Marxist, pro-LGBTQ and more).
What is a Gospel Issue?
We sometimes hear “Woke” preachers declaring, “social justice is a gospel issue.” Caring for the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden or the misfortunate is deemed to be “doing the gospel,” or “living the gospel.” Ironically, however, if you bring up an issue that isn’t deemed to be in vogue from that preacher’s perspective (the importance of Christian children receiving a Christian education for example), you will likely be met with the retort, “that is divisive and it isn’t something we should be focused on. It’s not a gospel issue.”
A Theological Shell Game
Let me give you an example of how this often plays out. A woke preacher may champion the concept that Christians need to support the government takeover of health care and may use cherry-picked Scriptures about “loving your neighbor as yourself,” to support Socialistic medicine. If someone pushes back on this idea, or challenges the preacher, he will likely say, “Well, we’re sort of getting off the path into the weeds here. We just want to stay focused on the gospel. Your concerns are not a gospel issue, so we can just agree to disagree on these points, and hopefully work together for evangelizing and the saving of souls.”
This response sounds so orthodox it seemingly cannot be refuted. The preacher shows you the pea of wokeness under the proverbial sermon cover, but when you seek to point it out, he shows you an empty shell. You were sure you saw it there. It had to be there. But all the sudden, you feel foolish. He has turned the whole narrative around to imply that you somehow do not care about the central issue of the gospel. How did that happen?
The Gospel vs. A Gospel Issue
One meaning of the word “semantics” (according to Merriam-Webster) is, “the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings.”
In order to avoid getting caught in the semantics trap, we need to clearly define the difference between “The Gospel,” and “A Gospel Issue.” I find that woke preachers will flip and flop back and forth with their use of their terms, depending on which one fits their agenda at the moment.
“The Gospel,” is relatively narrow. The essence of it is contained in Paul’s synopsis in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
The gospel is NOT social issues, as important as they may be. The result of the gospel is about how Christ has “reconcile(d) to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).
Addressing issues of abortion, poverty, racism, sexuality, gender issues, equality or other issues of justice and social conflict is NOT the gospel.
However, the gospel has far-reaching implications that impact every one of those questions and struggles. One can understand how many of those important issues get labeled as “gospel issues.” I am not personally comfortable with that phrase as I think it is a misnomer. I would prefer to call them, “gospel-impacted issues,” or “gospel-affected issues.” True gospel issues are those that accompany salvation and the forgiveness of sins.
A Biblical Worldview
It is surprising to me that for the first time I can remember, many conservative evangelical preachers may be the strongest and most unequivocal on “the gospel,” but simultaneously the most theologically errant on the proper application of the gospel to social issues. If you ask most of these woke evangelical preachers what they believe about the deity of Christ, inerrancy of Scripture, justification by faith alone, or other basic tests of orthodoxy, most of them pass with flying colors.
Yet these same preachers hold to a Cultural Marxist worldview on most social issues. How can we explain this?
The Sacred / Secular Dichotomy
I believe much of the problem is in the privatization of religion and the relegation of matters of faith to the “sacred sphere.” Most Evangelical pastors spent over 10,000 hours being indoctrinated in K-12 government schools, not to mention secular colleges and liberal seminaries. Even the ones who attend the so-called “conservative” seminaries or Bible colleges are usually met with the same wokeness there as well, because their professors were steeped in the same anti-Christian propaganda they were. Many preachers are now conservative in their theology, but liberal in their view of social issues because of their schooling. Sadly, most preachers have been more impacted by the world than by Scripture in their overall view of life.
While they wouldn’t think of it in these terms, they have been taught that physics, law, economics, education, medicine, media, entertainment, the arts, psychology and more are all subjects on which the Bible is silent. Jesus doesn’t belong in the secular classroom, or so they have been told. Jesus belongs in your personal little heart, and as long as He stays there, we’re all good. We should note that other historical cultures, like the Roman Empire and Nazi Germany had the same essential standards. You can believe whatever you want about personal religion, as long as it doesn’t impact the way we live.
Many conservative preachers have focused so much on “justification,” as the end-all of the Christian life, they have failed to have a “theology for all of life.” Non-Biblical formulas like, “Ask Jesus into your heart to be your personal savior,” are current substitutes for a fully formed and robust application of Scripture to every sphere of existence.
Not a “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”
Since most contemporary Christian leaders don’t have a full-bodied Biblical worldview (a set of lenses that helps them see all of areas of life through a Biblical grid or framework), they just subjectively select a few verses about loving our neighbor and doing good to help explain how we are to interface with the “secular” world. Someone has rightly called this version of Christianity, “Therapeutic Self-Help Moralistic Deism.”
The true Biblical view is that Jesus is King of the universe and there is no area in all of existence where His rule and authority is not relevant. The role of the Christian is to take Christ into every corner of creation and declare Him as King and Lord over that arena. We do not passively promote Him as merely a personal savior, but as the Supreme Sovereign of all that is.
Because God lives, and because His rule and reign on earth (as it is in Heaven) is not merely future, but here and now, we must bring to bear His commands and principles to every action and activity in which we engage. Our goal is not to impose a theocracy upon irreligious people and compel them to holiness by force. Far from it! But our mandate is to teach the nations to obey everything Jesus has commanded. The “Great Commission” states:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20).
A Faith for All of Life
Rather than compartmentalized Christianity where we have a very small little “sacred sphere,” that doesn’t significantly impact our expansive, “secular life,” we need to seek to have an integrated theology that sees all of life and reality as sacred. Because we are spiritual beings, everything we impact is a spiritual issue. God is relevant to all of life. To declare that there is one area of existence to which God is not relevant is to deny His Lordship over that sphere, and to declare the existence of a higher or more supreme ruler over that domain.
Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice
When we speak of justice, we must realize that God is ultimately the “Supreme Judge of the earth” (Gen. 18:23). God is the ultimate Lawgiver and standard by which we can ultimately judge if anything is morally right or wrong. The revelation of God given in Scripture demonstrates His nature, His character and His attributes. God, in Himself, is the rule or plumbline by which we can even have categories of ethics and morality, justice or righteousness. In other words, we can’t even begin to discuss (let alone understand) true justice unless we truly know God and His revealed law-word.
There is an easy shorthand I encourage people to use to quickly discern the difference between Biblical justice (which we find repeatedly in the Bible), and Social Justice in its Cultural Marxist form. Both are concerned with societal issues, but Cultural Marxism almost always suggests change and reform that is funded by a forced redistribution of wealth. Biblical justice requires individuals to reach into their own pockets to fund those in need. This is a fundamental difference between the Bible and Karl Marx.
Woke preachers have jumped on the bandwagon of the Cultural Marxist message of taking money from the citizens by force to “do good.” This is not the teaching of Jesus or the Apostles. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:7, when discussing a Biblical doctrine of charity, that no one should be forced to give under force or compulsion.
A Biblically “woke” (as opposed to a liberal “woke”) preacher will seek to apply a Biblical theology to every issue of life. He will not relegate his teaching merely to the doctrine of Justification (as some claim he should), refusing to speak about cultural or social issues. He will not shrink from any topic but will boldly declare the truth of God in all matters. But on the other hand, he will not turn his pulpit into a political soapbox to pander to the trendy pop culture views of his day. He won’t seek to win points with his members by promoting a leftist social agenda (or even a conservative political agenda for that matter).
Rather than using his pulpit to promote social causes linked to cultural Marxism and socialism, he will point his listeners to Christ. The Christ he points them to won’t merely be the personal little Jesus who died on a cross to save them from their personal little sins so they can go to their personal little Heaven when they die (calling that “the gospel”). Instead, he will call them to recognize and worship the living King who rules from Heaven and has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). He will teach that every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:11) who is sovereign over every sphere of existence. He will not teach that social issues are the gospel, but he will teach that because Jesus reigns, there are no issues that will not be seen differently (and therefore correctly) through the lenses of a gospel-centric worldview.
Yes, the Bible speaks to racism, equity, welfare, sexuality, education, immigration and every other popular and trending topic, but it does so with Christ as the standard and His rule and reign being central, rather than humanistic, socialistic solutions that will only lead to multi-generational dysfunction and further cultural decay. To learn more about Cultural Marxism and what we can do in this divisive time in which we live, please refer to my article entitled, “The Hostile Takeover of Cultural Marxism.”
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, ESV).