A recent podcast hosted by Justin Brierley, Debating the Statement on Social Justice – Jarrod McKenna and James White, sparks my thinking this morning. One might wonder what social justice has to do with Christmas Eve that I should be thinking about it. Quite a lot actually.
Before tying up that loose end, though, I feel the need to comment on the discussion. James White was a drafter of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. The express purpose of the Statement is to clarify the meaning of the Gospel in order to guard against false teachings creeping into the Church through modern “sociological, psychological, and political theories”. Certainly, concern over false teachings and false gospels is a theme we find as far back as the Gospels, themselves, and the Pauline letters. We are right o be concerned.
On the other hand, as I listened to the discussion, another concern occurred to me. Yes, we are not of the world, but we are in the world, and the world is our mission field. Jesus left the 99 to search for the one lost sheep. Paul was a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks, becoming all things to all people so that he could reach them with the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Though Paul was concerned about false gospels creeping into the Church, he was also concerned about relating to the lost world.
At the risk of caricaturing the gentlemen on the podcast, James White appeared to represent the Church that might be described as so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good. Without conscious concern for how we relate to the world, we become myopic, cliquish and parochial, unable to relate to the people around us who desperately need the gift of God’s peace, hope and love that we have. Jarrod White, on the opposite end, appeared to represent the Church that has so related to the world that it is no longer light and salt, offering nothing but a watered down hope that is moored in, and maybe even indistinguishable from, this earthly subsistence.
I am certainly doing both men an injustice, as I don’t assume that either one is so unbalanced. Yet, I think there is some truth in these extremes. The buzz words of modern culture, philosophy and psychology, like “social justice” and “intersectionality” (to name just a couple) may carry with them some meanings and underpinnings that are foreign to the Gospel, even antithetical to it in the foundations on which they have been developed, and may even insidiously carry with them a danger of leading the Church astray if they are embraced with those underpinnings and foundations in place, but this is where the world lives. We shouldn’t be ignorant of this world.
Without letting go of the moorings of the Gospel, we can be like Paul and become all things to all people. That means getting to know people, learning what informs them and inspires them, and relating the Gospel to people “where they are”. This is what God did when he emptied Himself of His glory, position, power and privilege to become a man. This is what we celebrate on Christmas – God becoming man, learning firsthand what it feels like to be a man, relating to us in the most intimate of ways so that He could deliver the good news (the Gospel) to us in person.
The recently coined word, intersectionality, is the focus of my Christmas thoughts this morning. God through Jesus demonstrated intersectionality in the most transcendent and life changing way.
Jesus was born at the intersection of the Ancient Near East and the beginnings of the modern Western world. God entered into the world He made at the right time and place. (“[W]hen the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman,….” Galatians 4:4) The birth of Jesus is the intersection of heaven and earth, God and man, the infinite and the finite, perfection and imperfection, grace and sin, love and hate, good and evil offering salvation and redemption to a lost world.
Judea is in the very cradle of humanity, at the intersection of cultures, races and worldviews, east and west. God couldn’t have chosen a more strategic time or place for entering into the history of His creation. In Judea, the social, commercial and cultural worlds of the east and west intersected robustly to provide the fertile soil, warm sun and strong winds to plant, grow and carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The Greco-Roman world, with its networks of roads, communities and power became a conduit through the Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment by which the Gospel could be preserved, protected and communicated – both because of and in spite of the culture, philosophy and worldviews. There has never been a time in which the world has not been set in opposition to the Gospel, yet God uses those very same cultural, social, political and philosophical structures to convey the Gospel.
Paul demonstrates the intersectionality of the Gospel perfectly in Acts 17 when he quoted Aratus, a pagan poet, and the Cretan philosopher, Epimenides, in his address to the Greek crowd at the Areopagus in Athens. Paul, the protector of the truth of the Gospel against false prophets and false teachings, found an intersection between the Gospel and the pagan world by referencing their poetry and philosophy to explain the Gospel. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?)
Just as God intersected with humanity in Jesus Christ, we who are followers of Christ should seek ways in which we can intersect with the world. We should not be lured into false teachings, but we shouldn’t be ignorant of the poetry and philosophy of the world. It is the milieu in which people in the world live. Instead of fearing the influence of the world in the Church, we should be working through the language of the world to redeem the world with the Gospel.