Lessons learned from Russ Moore's journal article: "The Kingdom of God in the Social Ethics of Carl F. H. Henry"
How shall we follow the Lord Jesus as Christians in our tumultuous socio-political context today? Every generation of Christians in every geographical context answers this question with their churches and lives. Various Christian teachers and self-centered tendencies within complexify, confuse, and discourage me from clarifying my stance and moving forward confidently. Am I too political? Am I losing the gospel? Is it ok for me to be indifferent to some of the pain and injustice brought to my attention?
Thankfully Dr. Russ Moore, president of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, feels and understands the tension. Russ clarifies the issues so that I can confidently, clearly, and courageously follow Jesus in my church and in our society.
Russell Moore published an article entitled: "THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE SOCIAL ETHICS OF CARL F. H. HENRY: A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY EVANGELICAL REAPPRAISAL" in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 55/2, (2012), 377-97.
I won't attempt to summarize and review the article here. The whole article is worth your time. For my edification and for those who read this blog, here are the key lessons I took away and hope to internalize for gospelizing and discipling my church and neighbors for the sake of the nations.
The main idea is that a proper understanding of the kingdom of God eschatalogically (doctrinally dealing with end times), soteriologically (doctrinally dealing with salvation), and ecclessiologically (doctrinally dealing with the church) effectively guides a Christian social ethic.
The Kingdom, Social Ethics, and Eschatology.
When you apply the kingdom of God eschatalogically to social ethics you will avoid isolationism on the one hand and triumphalism on the other. If you remember that the kingdom has already brought the end times in some sense then you will not disengage or isolate yourself or your church from social involvement (Mark 12.31, Luke 10.25-37). On the other hand, if you remember the kingdom has not yet consummated the end times then you will avoid triumphalism, overconfidence, and a short-sightedness that ignores the eternal condemnation of the unbelieving (John 3.36).
The Kingdom, Social Ethics, and Soteriology.
Salvation necessarily includes initial, progressive, and final salvation (my categories). Initial salvation includes conversion, justification by faith alone (Rom 3.21-31, 5.12-21, Gal 1.8-9, 2.15-16), and personal regeneration (Eph 2.1-5). Progressive salvation includes "sanctification," better called "transformation" (Phil 2.12-13). The first error here is embracing a socio-political gospel (The "social gospel") because it erases initial salvation by confusing it with progressive and final salvation. The opposite error is "evangelism only Christianity" that excludes the necessary implications and applications of progressive salvation. Therefore, reject the socio-political gospel and embrace the sola fide gospel (the gospel of justification by faith alone). At the same time, reject the notion that evangelism alone is our mission, our mission is discipling which is holistic in pressing through initial salvation to progressive salvation (Matt 28.19-20).
The Kingdom, Social Ethics, and Ecclesiology.
The doctrine of the local church is crucial for discipleship and ethics, both personally and socially. Most Christians today cannot even define the local church. When one understands the church as an embassy and expression of the kingdom of God, but not its fullness, the church can avoid two corresponding errors. The first error is being consumed by a burden for the world and its socio-political brokenness that you neglect the primary importance of building up your local church. The opposite error is to be consumed exclusively by spiritual and (truncated) ecclessiological concerns that you neglect gospelizing your particular socio-political (historical-cultural) context of sin and brokenness (e.g. Islamic societies may understand the immorality of LGBT issues but not the rights of women that the Western societies understand, and vice versa). Churches and their members, therefore, ought to reveal truth and a true politic in their churches (John 13.34-35, 17.21, Eph 3.10). Simultaneously, churches and Christians must speak and engage their socio-political situation prophetically and confidently (Matt 14.4, Acts 17.16-31; 24.24-25).
To summarize, local churches and their members should engage, preach, and focus. (1) Engage your society while realizing this world will be inevitably broken in some ways until Jesus returns. (2) Preach the gospel of justification by faith alone centrally while applying the gospel and the common grace it enables to every area of the Christian's and society's life. (3) Focus on truth-filled, confessional, disciplined, grace-filled, holy, and healthy churches that speak and engage their socio-political context. If we don't we will confuse the gospel with good works on the one hand or cut off common and saving grace to our neighbors on the other. Worst of all, we will not follow Jesus faithfully. But if we engage, preach, and focus we will clarify the gospel, adorn it with the necessary good works, and channel common and saving grace through our engagement.
Russell Moore concludes, "What matters is that evangelical Christianity embrace a Kingdom vision that leads to the mystery of Christ and love for his church" (397). I would only add, from this matrix of love for Christ and his church, let us love our neighbors to the very same gospel-driven degree that we love ourselves.