Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

Book Review: “Radical” by David Platt

January 5th, 2011

If the chapter titles of David Platt’s Radical were written to describe the contents of said chapters, they might read as follows:
Chapter 1: A challenge to comfortable Christianity
Chapter 2: A radical gospel which requires a radical response
Chapter 3: The American way of self-reliance vs. God’s way of Christ dependence
Chapter 4: God’s purposes in the world aren’t just for YOU, they’re for the WHOLE WORLD
Chapter 5: God’s goal is reproducing disciples, not isolating followers
Chapter 6: Following Christ means selling all we have and giving to the poor
Chapter 7: If we don’t share the gospel with the world, the world is damned.
Chapter 8: As radical followers of Christ, we have a guarantee of risk and a guarantee of reward
Chapter 9: A challenge for believers to become radicals by 1) praying for the entire world, 2) reading through the entire Word, 3) sacrificing money for a specific purpose, 4) spending at least one week in another context, and 5) committing their lives to a multiplying community

All in all, it’s a decent book. It is effective at promoting its main point, that is, to issue a wake up call to comfortable American Christians. It’s highly readable, with lots of stories to make the page-turning even easier.

On the down side, Radical has the potential of de-emphasizing the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Platt’s emphasis on the radical response of a true believer through actions such as selling possessions and giving to the poor, taking the gospel to the whole world, and taking risks for the sake of Christ may cause some readers to miss that this is only the RESPONSE to the FREE gift of God in Christ Jesus. One is not saved BECAUSE one sells all of his possessions—he sells all his possessions BECAUSE he has been saved freely.

Furthermore, Platt’s emphasis on “exciting” radicality through social justice activism may cause believers to undervalue and therefore ignore the less-exciting but no less radical actions that Christ calls His followers to. Christ has not only called his followers to give to the poor. He has also called them to live lives of radical forgiveness, of radical dependence, of radical trust. These things are just as radical as the showy actions of social justice—perhaps even more radical because they’re silent, they’re unlikely to result in the world’s (or the church’s) acclaim. They’re what Kevin DeYoung might call “faithful plodding.”

Overall, Platt’s Radical is a good book, but believers should be careful to not consider it the be-all, end-all of the radical Christian life. Read this book. Let it issue a challenge to your comfortable Christianity. But then turn your eyes towards the word of God and see what radical acts God might be calling you to through the pages of Scripture.

Rating: 3 stars
Category:Christian Living
Synopsis:Platt issues a challenge to comfortable Christianity–and the illusion that the Christian life equals the American dream.
Recommendation: Worth reading, but ultimately, take your view of what “radical” Christianity looks like from the pages of Scripture rather than simply taking Platt’s angle on it.

Visit my books page for more reviews and notes.

WiW: The Cross and Society

July 12th, 2010

The Week in Words

I’ve been reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ and making notes over the past few weeks. Then I found a couple of articles that seemed to go along with what I’ve been reading…

Michael Horton on The Cross in Today’s Discourse:

“In contemporary discourse on the atonement and justification, Hunsinger judges, ‘The social or horizontal aspect of reconciliation…eclipses its vertical aspect.'”

“In much of evangelicalism today, the emphasis falls on the question “What Would Jesus Do?” rather than “What Has Jesus Done?” Jesus provides the model for us to imitate for personal or social transformation.”

I can see the growing emphasis on the horizontal aspect of the cross–how the cross impacts our behavior towards others–in much of my reading, blogwise or bookwise. Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, particularly, seems to emphasize this a good deal.

And it is true that the cross impacts our relationships with others. But is this the whole story?

C.S. Lewis rightly decries the notion.

Screwtape (Lewis’s fictional older demon) on how to tempt a Christian:

The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [=God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner.”

If the cross becomes merely a means by which society can be changed, the cross loses its power and the enemy has succeeded to a large degree.

What then is the cross’s impact?

Michael Horton (again) on the essence of the cross:

“Christ’s penal substitution is not the whole of Christ’s work, but without it nothing else matters.”

We cannot primarily look upon the cross as an example we are to follow, but as a completed work, accomplished by Christ on our behalf. We cannot primarily look upon the cross as a means by which to transform society, but as the means by which God the Father and Christ the Son transformed us from sinners to saints, from enemies to friends, from abandoned orphans to adopted sons.

Yes, we should attempt to take up our crosses and follow Christ. Yes, we should seek to follow Christ’s example in our daily lives. But unless we recognize the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, we will have lost the transformative power of the cross.

Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

The Secret Socialist (Part 2)

June 29th, 2010

Social justice.

It’s the catchphrase that’s taking the American church by storm. Maybe it’s taking the entire nation by storm.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to define.

Clearly, it’s involved with social issues. Social justice is applied to social issues from poverty, hunger, homelessness, sexual exploitation, and lack of access to medical care.

And it’s somehow related to justice. At least, that’s what the name implies. It implies that it seeks to apply justice to these social issues.

The problem is, the name “social justice” is often misleading.

Sometimes the things that are lumped under “social justice” are truly justice issues. Sexual exploitation is the result of someone doing a wrong to another. Justice argues that the one who does the wrong be punished. Justice–wielding the sword to punish wrongdoers. In other cases, people are unjustly denied things they rightly deserve. Justice says that they should be given what they deserve. Justice–rewarding the one who does good.

But many of the things considered to be “social justice” are not justice at all. “Social justice” argues for feeding the hungry, giving homes to the homeless, providing money to those without money. Truly, some of the hungry, the homeless, and the impoverished are there because injustices have been done to them. Others are there because circumstances outside of their (and any others’) control has placed them there (medical conditions, children born into poverty, etc.) Others are there because they have placed themselves there via drug use, laziness, or lack of discipline.

Justice demands that we work to ameliorate the suffering of those who suffer unjustly–those in the first category. But justice does not argue that we make any effort to improve the conditions of those in the second and third categories.

Does this mean that we should not interest ourselves in the social concerns of the undeserving?

Absolutely not!

As Christians, we are called to live lives not of justice but of mercy.

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”

Luke 6:27-36

Every Christian has received a great gift that he is completely unworthy of. While we were squandering our lives, abusing every gift that God had given us, God chose to give us grace upon grace–salvation of our souls, right standing before God. God poured out the judgment His justice demands on His own Son, while pouring out His mercy and grace on us.

We have been called to live in the same manner–absorbing the costs, pouring out the benefits. We have been called to live lives marked not by social justice, but by mercy.

Read my thoughts on justice and the purpose of government and continue checking back to hear me wrestle with how the issues of justice and mercy should inform a Christian’s political and non-political life.

The Secret Socialist (Part 1)

June 26th, 2010

Last night, my siblings were discussing the apparently dead-in-production film version of The Hobbit and Peter Jackson’s lawsuit against New Line.

Several siblings remarked that Peter Jackson didn’t really NEED more money.

Their remarks struck me wrong for whatever reason and I added my comment: “The question isn’t whether Peter Jackson needs more money, but whether he deserves more money.”

It’s not an issue of who needs what or of “fairness”. It’s a matter of justice.

(Please realize that I know VERY little about this particular court case–I cannot even begin to answer the question I posed. That’s not the point.)

The point is that even in some of the most conservative of us (my family is pretty conservative as a whole), there lurks a secret socialist.

Now, it may well be that I am completely blowing this out of proportion. My siblings weren’t necessarily saying that Peter Jackson shouldn’t win this lawsuit because he didn’t need the money. Rather, I am almost certain that they were asking why he was pursuing the lawsuit, as though he needed more money.

But the conversation (along with my reading of Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation) got me to thinking about the purpose of government.

The governments of this earth have a God-ordained role to administer justice:

” Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
Romans 13:1-7

The God-instated role of government is to reward the one who does good and punish the one who does evil. In other words, governments are intended to administer justice.

The problem is that justice…well, justice isn’t always very NICE. Justice is often pretty “unfair”. Justice means that the poor man who steals from a rich man–even if he’s stealing just so that he and his family can eat–is punished and required to repay what he has stolen–even though the rich man has no need for the stolen money.

“People do not despise a thief
If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving.
Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold;
He may have to give up all the substance of his house. ”
Proverbs 6:30-31

The mercy of the onlooker means he does not despise a thief who steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. The justice of the law demands that he restore sevenfold, regardless of the personal cost to himself.

Sometimes, even we conservatives look at the law and desire for it to be merciful–but that is not the purpose of government. The purpose of government is not the administration of mercy but the administration of justice.

Please don’t write me off as a hard-hearted conservative yet! I’ll be exploring this issue further in the upcoming week. Stay tuned to hear my thoughts on social justice and the role of the church in society (which is quite different from the role of the government in society.)

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