An Evangelical Response to The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

Malcolm Foley   -  

(pictured above is from the lynching memorial in Birmingham Alabama).

An Evangelical Response to The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel

Malcolm Foley and Justin Hawkins

We dream neither of a faith devoid of good works nor of a justification that stands without

them…Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ;

but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he

cannot be divided into pieces.

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion , 3.16.1

 

I. A History of Errors

Jesus began his ministry by standing up in a synagogue one Saturday morning, and saying

that he came to bring justice to bear on the earth, and particularly so on behalf of the

poor, oppressed, weak, and vulnerable: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has

anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the

captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to

proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). John MacArthur and the other

signers of the recent Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel , insist that none of these

stated ambitions of Jesus ought to be understood literally as having anything to do with

social justice. They say instead that the social justice concerns that Jesus articulates here

are not the Gospel, but are the Law, and that any attempt to weave social justice concerns

into the heart of the Gospel diminishes and undermines the Christian gospel. We — a

theological ethicist in training and church historian in training, as evangelicals who are

both committed to historic Christian orthodoxy and also convinced of the legitimacy of

the concerns of much of the social justice movement, beg to disagree. We believe that in

so doing, we, and not the authors of the Statement on Social Justice, are the heirs of the

best parts of the evangelical tradition in America. At the end of the Statement, the

authors say: “We have spoken on these issues with no disrespect or loss of love for our

brothers and sisters who disagree with what we have written. Rather, our hope is that this

statement might actually provoke the kind of brotherly dialogue that can promote unity

in the gospel of our Lord Jesus whom we all love and trust.” It is in this spirit of brotherly

dialogue that we write this response.

The confusions about the intent and meaning of the social justice movement in

the Statement reflect longstanding debates in American religious history. In the history of

lynching in America, one of the more common arguments in its wake was this: when

black men stop assaulting white women, lynching will stop. That is to say, the personal

responsibility of blacks — and not any structures of systemic racism — is fundamentally to

blame for the fact that Southern whites could arise on Sunday, attend church in the

morning, and summarily execute a black man by hanging him from a tree in the

afternoon. Racism, they said, had little to do with it. Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil

rights advocate, got most upset when she heard this argument coming from a Methodist

minister because she wondered how someone purporting to be a Christian leader could

say such a thing. She wrote in her autobiography: “American Christians are too busy

saving the souls of White Christians from burning in hell-fire to save the lives of black

ones from present burning in fires kindled by White Christians.” Her outrage was

founded in two fundamental realities: first, that this minister clearly did not know the

facts on the ground and second, that the comment placed the blame for the barbarity of

the crowd on the back of the accused, under the guise of attributing personal agency and

responsibility to the lynched man. The reality was that many of those Black people were

deemed criminal by the Jim Crow legal system, and had themselves done nothing wrong.

Under this regime, bumping a white person on the street made you a criminal. Not

doffing your hat to a white man made you a criminal. It was factually untrue that most

people were lynched for rape. In fact, fewer than 40% of the victims were even accused of

rape. But it was a much better narrative that hit people in the gut and justified brutality.

By thus suggesting that the weight of lynching rested on the backs of Black people alone,

this pastor obscured the fact that lynching was much more often the brutal enforcement

of Jim Crow rather than “vigilante justice”. Such a response rang hollow at best and

vicious at worst.

We do not even wish to hint at the idea that the authors of this Statement might support

lynching. But we see these same analytical and theological mistakes that prolonged that

injustice continuing in modern conversation about race and justice among evangelical

Christians in America. The errors of the past ought to induce us to be exceedingly careful

in the ways that we discuss matters of social justice in the present and future, and we do

not see that care being manifest in the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. That

statement instead assumes that “social justice” is some kind of abstraction, ignoring the

fact that the idea is rooted in seeking concrete ways to love our neighbors (the

abstraction can be seen in the fact that while it vilifies the Social Justice movement, the

statement never mentions a single author or practice against which they are arguing). A

response like the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel comes across to many as

hollow at best and vicious at worst.

It is with these concerns in mind that we, a theological ethicist in training and a church

historian in training — both of whom grew up in American Evangelicalism and who still

desire to hold to historic evangelicalism — respond to this statement. The difficulty with

online statements and summaries of any kind is that they obscure the reasoning that

leads to such statements. We see this in Christian history, where creeds and confessions

are abstracted from their context and so their worth and content are misinterpreted as a

result. Nevertheless, we think this document worth responding to for two reasons. First,

because it is put forward by figures with a high profile in evangelicalism, who have behind

them lifetimes of faithful ministry work, but whose signature attached to a document like

this will dismay many who desire faithfulness to that same gospel that they have learned

from MacArthur and others. Second, because we think this statement is grievously

erroneous. We think that the statement is theologically deficient in two important ways:

First, it misunderstands the relationship between Law and Gospel, and second, it

proceeds from an incorrect doctrine of sin. Both of these are, in the confusing but

common phrase, “gospel issues,” because the first articulates how we are to embody the

fruits by which our faith is known (Matt. 7:20), and the latter articulates what it is of

which we must repent in order to be save.

II. Theological Error #1 in The Statement on Social

Justice and the Gospel : The Relation of Law and Gospel

What is crucially important for the authors and signers of this statement to realize is that

the concerns articulated in much of the Social Justice movement do not need liberal

theology to undergird them; almost all of those concerns can be articulated as flowing

naturally out of the historic Christian orthodoxy which is articulated in American

Evangelicalism. The first theological error of the statement is too strong a division

between Law and Gospel. One of the articles in the Resources section of the website is an

article entitled A Gospel Issue? , and it recounts one pastor’s conversation with a

well-intentioned parishioner who insisted that social justice was a gospel issue. In

response, the pastor responds:

“Gospel and law aren’t the same thing. The law is a prelude to the gospel, not really

part of the gospel. The law tells us what God requires of us. But then it condemns

us, because it requires perfect obedience and curses anyone who doesn’t obey its

every jot and tittle. But none of us obeys so thoroughly. And ‘whoever keeps the

whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.’ That’s

James 2:10 . Jesus said in Matthew 5:48 that the standard the law sets for us is God’s

own absolute perfection. We can’t live up to that. The law therefore brings wrath

( Romans 4:15 ), not salvation. The law can only condemn us, because we are guilty.

All of us.”

This is not the position of historic Calvinism, to which John MacArthur is himself a

subscriber. One of the dividing lines between Calvinists and Lutherans at the

Reformation was about the proper use of the Law. Lutherans argued typically that there

were two uses: (1) to act as a mirror to reflect our own sin back to us, and thereby show us

our need for grace; and (2) to act as a restraint upon evildoers, which is why the

Lutherans were not anarchists. In addition to these two uses of the Law, the Calvinists

added another one: the Law exists to guide the believer in holiness. This became known

as the Third Use of the Law , which Calvin himself called “the principal use, and more

closely connected with its proper end” ( Institutes 2.7.12). It is this Third Use of the Law

that moves the Christian toward holiness, and in this way, the justification which is

effected by grace alone is inextricable from the sanctification into which the Christian is

guided by God’s moral precepts. The reason justification and sanctification are so tied

together for Calvin is that they both flow out of union with Christ. Union with Christ is

that effect of grace and that real relationship by which, through the Spirit, believers

receive not only justification, but also sanctification, breathing life into our love of

neighbor. Thus, fighting for justice cannot be relegated to an “extra”, an implication, or an

appendix to the Gospel. It is, rather, integral to the salvation of the individual, otherwise

when justification and sanctification are detached from each other, Christ is “divided into

pieces” (Institutes 3.16.1). Calvin, therefore, would disagree vehemently with the

Statement’s claim that “implications and applications of the gospel, such as the obligation

to live justly in the world, though legitimate and important in their own right, are not

definitional components of the gospel” (Denial #4)

With this theological framework in mind, we can re turn to our consideration of Phil

Johnson’s interaction with his parishioner. Seeing that this parishioner herself actually

stands on the side of Calvin, Paul, and even MacArthur himself (on those days when he is

fighting against the antinomians rather than against social justice), it is simply a

caricature to describe her, as the author of this article does, as “a self-styled full-time

evangelical social justice advocate who is incorrigibly convinced that the gospel of Jesus

Christ alone doesn’t sufficiently address the problem of injustice.” At best, such a

description describes a simple failure to listen to this woman and a forgetfulness of the

tradition in which the author, Phil Johnson, stands. At worst it is a failure of charity,

perhaps birthed from the recognition that one’s own position is too weak to describe in

straightforward terms, and therefore which must be discussed in innuendo.

Given that MacArthur is so indebted to Calvin in his theology, it is no surprise that

elsewhere, John MacArthur himself rejects this strong dichotomy between Law and

Gospel. In an interview on the website of Grace to You , John MacArthur’s ministry home,

he and Phil Johnson, another of the original signers of the statement, are discussing their

rejection of antinomianism — that is, those who deny that the Law has any governing

effect on behavior in the life of the Christian, which is a misunderstanding which

MacArthur has rightly spent much of his time attempting to refute:

PHIL: Yeah. In fact, the sort of knee-jerk response you’ll get to that sort of thing

these days is, “Well, that’s legalistic. You’re moving away from the gospel back into

law. And it’s inherently legalistic then to preach the imperatives you find in

Scripture; rather, you should just preach the indicatives.” And that’s the idea

behind always going back to the cross; it’s about what Christ did for us rather than

what we are to do. And there’s a germ of truth in that. The gospel is about what

Christ did for us rather than what we are to do, but that’s not the road to

sanctification is it?

JOHN: Yeah, well, the New Testament, I agree, is full of indicatives: that is,

statements of fact. But it’s also full of imperatives.

PHIL: Yeah.

JOHN: So, you always ask the question to these people, “Well, what are all the

commands there for? What is he trying to tell us in the 3rd chapter of Colossians

or the book of Ephesians with all the commands? What is all this about? I mean

these are commands.” And Paul says to Timothy, “The things that you’ve heard

you’re to teach others.” And then later in that same book he says “These things

command and teach.” Command and teach. We live under mandates; we live

under commands. The difference between legalism and freedom is (sic) Christ is

that in Christ we love to obey, we long to obey, and our hearts are broken when we

disobey. That’s not legalism. That’s love working in obedience.

This interview as a whole is definitely worth reading, given that it seems designed almost

step for step to refute the way that the current statement draws a sharp distinction

between Law/Gospel, and that it was published online only a year and a half ago. Almost

as if to respond to their own insistence that Law and Gospel be kept hermetically apart,

Johnson and MacArthur argue:

JOHN: The grace of God teaches us to deny certain things and behave in certain

ways.

PHIL: Right. And that’s grace, not law, teaching us. So, that goes back to my

earlier comment, grace and law are different, but they’re not in disagreement.

They’re not hostile to one another; they agree.

JOHN: Well, of course they agree. The same God who has given the law, has

authored the law, is the source of grace. And God isn’t contradicting himself. You

know, the law of grace – the faithful preachers, the Reformers, the Puritans, and

even to this day faithful preachers understand how they go together. You would

agree that in today’s sort of – I don’t know – public evangelical movement, there’s

far too little preaching of the law.  So, people who don’t understand the law and

what the law demands and how far they fall short and the deadly and everlasting

consequences of the law on the life of an impenitent, unbelieving person, people

who don’t understand that don’t understand the gospel. They don’t understand

the magnanimous grace of God: They don’t understand the love the God, the

compassion, the mercy, the kindness of God if they don’t understand the law. The

Reformers understood that; they were fierce preachers of the law to bring sinners

under condemnation, and that’s exactly the work of the Holy Spirit who convicts

the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. Where’s that preaching today?

There’s none of that.”

Of course, this earlier interview is likely correct: Bonhoeffer’s diagnosis that our

Christianity without repentance is “the justification of sin without the justification of the

sinner” is undoubtedly an apt description of much of conservative evangelicalism today,

which is itself in great need of repenting and reforming. It is worth noting that even

within historic Conservative Evangelicalism in America, there is a plurality of opinions

about the need to preach the condemnation of the Law before the recourse of the Gospel;

Jonathan Edwards, one of the grandfathers of American Evangelicalism, recounts some

self-consciousness over the fact that his own conversation did not follow the order set

down by the Puritan Divines — that is, it did not involve first a terror at the demands of

the Law before a sense of the sweetness of the Gospel. But the paragraphs that MacArthur

and Johnson spoke in the quotations above simply do not accord with the theology of

Law/Gospel laid down in their own Statement. If they believe their statement, they must

retract their earlier assertions, and thereby take one step closer to Antinomianism. But if

they are unwilling to do that, then they have at least to entertain the possibility that one

way in which the repentance of modern evangelicalism must play out is in its complicity

in the racism expressed in social structures and institutions today.

III. Theological Error #2 in The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel :

A Non-Evangelical Doctrine of Sin

The second theological error of the Statement is a non-evangelical doctrine of Sin. Here

the Statement’s theory is better than its practice. It claims

“Although families, groups, and nations can sin collectively, and cultures can be

predisposed to particular sins, subsequent generations share the collective guilt of

their ancestors only if they approve and embrace (or attempt to justify) those sins.

Before God each person must repent and confess his or her own sins in order to

receive forgiveness. We further deny that one’s ethnicity establishes any necessary

connection to any particular sin ” (Denial #5).

It is worth noting first here that the logic of this claim is that the collective cultural sin

which plagued America is a past issue, and that we who are alive today are in the category

of “subsequent generations” who stand ready either to condemn or approve the errors of

our fathers, which are, nevertheless, a matter of history and not ongoing. If this is the

case, we might ask, when did it become the case that structural and social racism was

abolished?

Here as before, this error can be articulated entirely using the resources of historic

Christian orthodoxy. Protestants — especially Calvinists — famously believe in Total

Depravity. This doctrine means not that human beings are incapable of doing anything

other than evil, but rather that the effects of sin on us are total. Ostensibly the authors of

the Statement believe the same thing when they assert that “All are depraved in all their

faculties ” (Affirmation #5) Sin affects every aspect of our humanity. In Calvin’s original

context, he meant this to entail that sin touches human rationality and thereby blinds us

to the truths of God and to the fact of our own sin. On this account, the great secret

weapon of sin is that it blinds us to itself; it encourages us to act as if we have the ‘God’s

eye view’ of the world, as if we do not bring an interpretive lens to scripture or the world.

But the category of Total Depravity can be expanded out to include the fallenness not

only of human reason, but also of gender and sexuality.

We therefore need eyes to see the particular ways in which our sin plays itself out in all of

our faculties . Often those eyes are the eyes of our brothers and sisters, and often those

brothers and sisters have used the tools of critical theory in order to help us see. The

Statement proceeds as if its authors are not themselves culturally-conditioned, as if they

have no need of others to point out their sins — in short, as if Total Depravity is untrue.

This is, as we have said, an un-evangelical and unbiblical doctrine of sin.

The second orthodox Christian resource for understanding sin is Luther’s famous claim

from his Lectures on Romans that sin is “man turned in upon himself.” Luther means by

this that the individual becomes self-obsessed. This again helps us to specify how sin

operates in particular, rather than in general, categories. If I am a man, and my gender is

‘curved in upon itself,’ the result of this will be misogyny. If I am white, and my whiteness

is ‘curved in upon itself,’ the result will be racism. And the doctrine of Total Depravity

will blind me to every operation of sin like this.

To the humble and teachable, this body of literature represented by critical theory need

be no more an ‘attack on the sufficiency of scripture ’ than are the rebukes of a friend or

counselor who can see not just that we have sinned, but the particular ways in which we

have sinned. This literature might help us to see the way that Total Depravity plays itself

out through hundreds of years of policies and their attendant ideologies that have caused

these false ideas about neutrality to permeate our society from housing to schools to

incarceration to hiring practices . (For those evangelicals who are suspicious of the idea

that racism can show up in institutions and structures that disproportionately target one

demographic over another, we commend the research discussed in Ta-nehisi Coates’ long

article The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration . )

Here the usefulness of critical theory can be understood as an articulation of the principle

embedded in Isaiah’s doctrine of sin. Isaiah claims: “all we like sheep have gone astray, we

have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him, the iniquity of us

all” (Is. 53:6). The passage here demonstrates two things: (1) the universality of sinfulness

(“all we like sheep have gone astray”), and (2) the way in which particular expressions of

sin diverge from each other (“we have turned every one to his own way”). The authors of

the Statement see the universality of sin (“because of original sin everyone is born under

the curse of God’s law and all break his commandments through sin. There is no

difference in the condition of sinners due to age, ethnicity, or sex” (Denial #5). What the

statement lacks is the account of the particular divergent expressions of sin — it can be

the case that all are equally sinners, and that this sin finds different expression among

different groups, but on this, the Statement is silent. It is precisely this task with which

Critical Theory is most helpful. For example, Scripture informs us that the rich will be

tempted to oppress the poor (James 2:6). Yet how in particular this will happen varies

from society to society. If it is the job of the Christian thinker to take the principles of

scripture and interpret the world through them, then the natural question to ask after

reading a text like this from James is: “how does this play out not only in society

generally, but in my society in particular?” Here critical theory is eye-opening, and it need

not be a resource against the scriptures, but as a specification of the Scriptures. C.S. Lewis

anticipated this use of scripture in Mere Christianity:

Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for

applying “Do as you would be done by” to a particular society at a particular

moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular

programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow,

that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not

give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give

you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended

to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences; it is rather a director

which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them

all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

At other times, the authors and signers seem to argue as if yes, these structural issues are,

in fact, sinful, but eradicating them should not be an emphasis of Christians because we

can never be fully healed of sin. So one supporter of the statement argues in the

Resources page :

“The fact that many Christians continue to exclaim that “Racism still exists!” – as if

racism, a term I dogmatically disapprove of but will use for the sake of this article,

should be treated as if it were the attitudinal equivalent of a carton of milk that has

reached its expiration date – is testament to the level of naivety that exists in failing

to realize that politics and, by association, politicians, is wholly inadequate in

meliorating not only the effects of such a mindset, whether individually or

systemically, but also the cause of it.”

This is a difficult argument for which to find evidence. For example, most in America

consider human slavery, just to pick one example, to have been a grave evil — and it is

quite obvious that it is a grave evil that has been ameliorated by some strange

combination of the Holy Spirit brooding over history and outlawing a particular

expression of a particular sin. Those evangelicals who signed this letter who also consider

themselves to be compelled to abolish abortion in America operate under the same logic:

it is, in fact, possible for human laws to restrain the sinfulness of evildoers. This is, of

course, the Second Use of the Law on which Protestants of almost every stripe have

historically agreed: “by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by

any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law”

( Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.7.10). Martin Luther King, Jr. was himself echoing

this principle of this in a famous statement in support of legislating morality. He said, in a

statement that The Gospel Coalition themselves quoted as an apt response to the claim

that the law cannot legislate morality , famously quipped : “It may be true that the law

cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty

important, also. ”

At other points the authors argue as if to say that critical theory is not diagnosing disunity

among people, but causing it. Again on the Resources page, in an article entitled No

Division in the Body , John MacArthur argues:

“The New Testament never speaks of our unity in Christ as a far-off goal to be

pursued or a provisional experiment to be trifled with. Our union with Christ (and

therefore with one another) is an eternal spiritual reality that must be embraced,

carefully maintained, and guarded against any possible threat. That’s why I’m

deeply troubled by the recent torrent of rhetoric about “social justice” in

evangelical circles. The jargon is borrowed from secular culture, and it is being

employed purposely, irresponsibly in order to segment the church into competing

groups—the oppressed and disenfranchised vs. the powerful and privileged.”

But notice the logic of this claim: the Bible says that Christians are truly, now, at every

moment since the writing of the Bible, united in Christ. Therefore, anyone who claims

otherwise is sowing division. But if this argument holds for 2018, then it holds for 1918 as

well — two years before women were allowed to vote in America, and it holds for 1818 just

as equally — when white Americans bought, sold, and owned their Black brothers and

sisters in Christ. Was there ever a moment when there were real failings to live up to the

unity of the body? The long history of slavery, colonialism, racism, misogyny in all there

forms, demand that we answer yes. But if there was some historical moment where the

real divisions within the body of Christ failed to approximate the unity demanded in

scripture, then the arguments of the statement writers must be false. The subsequent

question becomes: have conditions changed so dramatically as to change that answer? To

this we have ample reason to say no. It must also be added as a point of history that Black

churches did not come to exist because Black people sought to separate themselves out of

some conception of anti-Gospel ethnic solidarity. Many Black Christians in the

nineteenth century, of whom Richard Allen is an excellent representative, found their

worship to be actively restricted and their well-being actively threatened in white

churches and so they sought to build their own communities. White church leaders,

instead of repenting of the ways that they restricted the worship of their members, took

the easy way out, supporting the exodus of their Black brothers and sisters. If the logic of

MacArthur’s argument holds for one of those periods of time, then it holds for all of

them. But if we see the argument in this light, then it is clearly mistaken. The unity of the

body in Christ is a real spiritual reality, but it is only occasionally recognized socially and

politically. It is, then, in the words of Paul to the Ephesians, incumbent upon Christians

to “walk worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1), which is an

imperative that suggests the opposite is possible: we might fail to walk worthy of our

calling in various ways, and one of them is failing to recognize socially the unity that we

have in Christ spiritually.

Again in the body of the Statement itself, the authors write:

“We reject any teaching that encourages racial groups to view themselves as

privileged oppressors or entitled victims of oppression. While we are to weep with

those who weep, we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression

necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or

prejudice” (Denial #12).

Presumably this is because the categories of ‘privileged oppressors’ and ‘entitled victims’

impose yet more disunity on the body of Christ. But here again the historical argument

from above applies: if it is true that there are no true victims or oppressors, it is either

true necessarily — which is to say, it is true of all moments in history equally, or it is true

by virtue of some historical development. If it is the former, then this statement has

nothing to say to those people who were ever slaves or who are even now slaves, and it

must beg to differ with the repeated Biblical claims that “the Lord is a stronghold for the

oppressed” (Ps. 9:9); “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed”

(Ps. 103:6); The Lord is the one “who executes justice for the oppressed” (Ps. 146:7), and

on and on. To be oppressed is to have justice denied to one. Justice is being given one’s

due. Therefore, to be oppressed is not to be given one’s due — in other words, not to be

given that to which you are legitimately entitled. How this argument and these scripture

passages above give us anything other than the endorsement that some are, in fact,

“entitled victims of oppression” is difficult to see.

IV. Conclusion: A Generational Moment in Evangelicalism

A generation of young evangelicals is arising who hold to historic Christian orthodoxy

orthodoxy and do not see that orthodoxy as at all incompatible with the recognition that

structural, systemic injustices appear, and that many of the resources of critical theory

are, in fact, powerful diagnostic tools for understanding how sin functions in that way.

We, the authors, count ourselves as among their number. Many of us came of age in a

generation that was rediscovering the historic theological roots of American

Evangelicalism — the “young, restless, and reformed” generation. It is our love for that

theology which inclines us away from the liberal Protestant Union Seminary’s response to

the Statement. And we are, consequently, encouraged that many of the leading figures in

American evangelicalism did not place their signatures on this statement. We consider

this a hopeful sign.

Instead, we are have titled this ‘an evangelical response’ because we still intend to fight

for the legacy of American evangelicalism, rather than surrendering it. The authors of the

Statement say: “ We submit these affirmations and denials for public consideration, not

with any pretense of ecclesiastical authority, but with an urgency that is mixed with deep

joy and sincere sorrow.” It is in this spirit of public consideration that we have written

this response. Our own plea is that the authors of this statement might consider that

those with whom they disagree are also attempting to discern the guiding of the Holy

Spirit in these matters, and likely do not deserve such snarky epithets as ‘woker than thou

evangelicals ,’ ‘our bright thinkboys,’ If the signers of this statement are truly fearful that

their opponents will slide down the slippery slope of theological liberalism, then they may

have the grace to realize also that sometimes people fall down slopes not because they are

slippery, but because they are pushed. Would they be willing to entertain for a moment

the possibility that they might be complicit in doing precisely this — at the moment when

American evangelicalism is realizing the fact that we have failed to think through the

social implications of our gospel, they are content to push us down this slope by asserting

that any recognition of the fact that Christ came to save bodies as well as souls (which the

church has always believed) demands that we abandon our evangelicalism and embrace

theological liberalism? We refuse to do so. Evangelicalism has always, at its best, been

both a movement of personal holiness (in the style of Jonathan Edwards) and of social

transformation (in the style of William Wilberforce). We see no need now to demand that

these two strands of our movement diverge. They are united in the gospel, and they can

be united in the movement of American evangelicalism.

Malcolm Foley has the last word here:

It must be noted, also, that for many Black evangelicals like myself (Malcolm) who still

take the name (Malcolm), to reach out and attempt this cross-conversation is difficult. It

has been attempted for centuries. Black Christians spoke out against the evils of African

slavery, including Lemuel Haynes, David Walker and others. Black evangelicals spoke out

against lynching and Jim Crow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as outlined in

part in Mary Beth Mathews’s Doctrine and Race . But the most frustrating aspect of

studying African American religious history is the deafness of the White pastors that are

constantly cried out to. It is that deafness that inspires and encourages the continuation

of nationalistic options and the shutting down of “conversation”. If I ever choose to

disengage from reaching out, it is not because I have acquiesced to some heresy of racial

supremacy. It is because I, like many of my Black brothers and sisters, am tired of

constantly trying to plead with deaf ears. I am tired of reading about my brothers and

sisters during the Civil Rights Movement who were constantly told to wait because there

were issues more pressing than their livelihoods. I am tired of reading about my brothers

and sisters under the invisible terror regime of lynching who cried out to white pulpits to

join them in denunciation of evil and who were met with accusation and diminution. I

am tired of hearing my brothers and sisters now crying out about mass incarceration and

police brutality and receiving the same responses. This is our national history. And it is

tiring. To demand that I engage with you is to demand something that I and many others

have already done…and in many cases, you have not listened. We ask that you do. But

even if you do not, we will continue to battle the growth of sin and sorrow, both

individually and corporately, personally and systemically. Because we affirm with the

songwriter that Christ has come to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found. And

as those united to Him by the Holy Spirit, we will be messengers of His grace, ministers of

His blessings, and servants of His people…as far as the curse is found.