Leading Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has responded to John MacArthur’s recent claims that evangelicals’ embrace of social justice causes is a threat to the Gospel.
Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recently spoke with co-host Skye Jethani on the Holy Post Podcast to discuss social justice within the Church.
Moore, who leads an entity responsible for a conference in honor of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death this year, responded to a statement signed last week by over 3,000 evangelicals that supports MacArthur’s condemnation of evangelical’s “newfound obsession with the notion of ‘social justice.'”
The statement released last week argues that the Bible’s teaching is being challenged by “the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for ‘social justice'” and voiced concern that “values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”
Specifically, Moore was asked if rhetoric from “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” that seems to “differentiate and bifurcate” the ideas of social justice and the Gospel is “helpful.”
“No, because the Bible doesn’t put those two things in separate categories and neither do they,” Moore responded. “Sometimes what people want to do is to essentially do with public justice what other people do with personal morality.”
“You will have people who will say anytime someone starts talking about the imperatives of Scripture — like being sexually pure — ‘That is legalism and all that matters is who I am in Christ,'” Moore continued. “Is there such a thing as legalism, of course. If someone were to say, ‘Maintain sexual purity in order that you may be acceptable before God,’ well that is legalism. But that is not what the Scripture is teaching.”
Moore added that it would be flawed to argue that because legalism can happen in personal morality that means that personal morality is separate from from the word of God and the Gospel.
“Of course not. The same thing is true with what we do together. The Bible doesn’t make these artificial distinctions between what we are doing privately and personally and then what we are gathering together and doing,” Moore stressed. “The people who would say that don’t really believe it [because they] don’t act that way when it comes to the issues they care about and in most cases rightly care about.”
The statement led by MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, California, and president of The Master’s College and Seminary, comes after there was an unsuccessful push by some in the SBC earlier this year to get the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to denounce the social justice movement.
In the podcast, Jethani followed up by asking Moore what he thinks animates the desire to “make social justice a lesser calling” or, in some cases, “a slippery slope that is going to take us away from the Gospel entirely.”
“In almost every case, we are not really talking about ‘social justice’ and we are not even talking about social engagement broadly. We are almost always talking about race,” Moore asserted. “I don’t even want to concede to the conceit that what we are talking about is a broader issue of social engagement because again, that is almost never the case. Some of the very people who would say this are the people who have talked about, and rightly so, abortion and the systemic public problem of abortion.”
“We don’t simply say Jesus can forgive people for abortion, therefore, let’s not worry about whether or not the law recognizes an unborn child as a person,” Moore added. “They don’t do that. What we are really talking about here is an issue of race.”
Moore added that it is “disheartening” to see the Church repeat the same problems of past centuries with the “same talking points.”
“So, if you were in the Southern Baptist or Southern Presbyterian context in 1845 and the question of slavery comes up, the response is going to be ‘You are distracting us from the Gospel. We need to be the people who are sharing the Gospel and evangelizing the world and not to get involved in these social issues like slavery,'” Moore said. “Well, if you stand up and call people to repentance for drunkenness and adultery but you don’t call them to repentance for participating in or applauding the kidnapping, rape, forced servitude of image-bearing human beings, than you have spoken to it. You have said, ‘This is an issue to which you will give no account at judgement.’ That is not what the Bible teaches.”
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