RPM, Volume 18, Number 37, September 4 to September 10, 2016

How Do We Do Social Justice? (III)

By Ron Gleason

What Constitutes Social Justice?

Over twenty-five years ago, David Chilton penned these words in the introduction of his response to Ron Sider: "…there are new voices in evangelicalism today, claiming that a truly biblical Christianity demands centralized economic planning and the 'liberation' of the downtrodden masses throughout the world. Faithfulness to Scripture is being equated with a redistribution of wealth. Notions of social reform once thought to be the province of aberrant liberals may now be heard down the street in the Baptist church." 1

Chilton proceeds to unmask what Sider (and I would also include Campolo, McLaren, and Wallis in this tribe) is really preaching: Revolution. 2 Of course, it is not blatant revolution for that would be far too obvious. No, this crowd is promoting "revolution by installments." 3 In other words, it's a kinder, gentler, more subtle form of Marxism under the guise of Christianity. Given the widespread and overarching ignorance of biblical truth in the modern Church, it's an easy sell, especially among the younger generation. Moreover, "The 'Christian' who advocates theft in the name of social justice is in truth calling for the Revolution, whether or not he fully realizes what he's doing." 4 In the cases of Campolo, McLaren, Sider, and Wallis, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that all of them fully realize what they're saying and where they want to go with their "revolutions." All of these men advocate bigger and bigger government, more taxation of the wealthy (read: redistribution of money), and more welfare for the "destitute." They have yet to define what these folks look like.

George Grant traces what he calls the "war on the poor" to Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union message in 1964 when he declared an "unconditional war on poverty." How can it be, you might ask, that a declaration of unconditional war on poverty has the unintended consequences of actually becoming instead a war on the poor, because that is precisely what happened? The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was to be the watchdog at the welfare trough in Johnson's "Great Society," which was his version of utopia. Initially, HEW had a budget of $2 billion to pour into the welfare trough. "Fifteen years later, however, its budget had soared to $180 billion, one-and-a-half times more than the total spent by the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. In fact, its budget had grown to be the third largest in the world, exceeded only by the entire budget of the United States government and that of the Soviet Union." 5 This should have remedied the poverty problem in the United States, but it actually had the opposite affect. The liberals were forced to rewrite the playbook and it was called A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to Utopia.

As welfare programs increased exponentially and government spending (of our tax dollars) increased twentyfold, some amazing results were calculated and they weren't encouraging. Before the war on poverty fired its first government subsidized bullet, approximately 13% of Americans were considered "poor." Twenty years and billions of U.S. tax dollars later, approximately 15% of Americans were considered poor. They must have been taking lessons from our public schools. Here's another interesting, yet from an economist's perspective a highly predictable result: Prior to Johnson's declaration of war on poverty the unemployment rate in the U.S. hovered somewhere around 3.6%. Twenty years later, it "was running at 11.6%." 6 Hence the adage: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Clearly, the government had entered the welfare fray and the results were predictably devastating. In all the hoopla, Americans had forgotten that the only dependable route from poverty to economic self-sufficiency is always work, family, and faith. Unfortunately, some churches tend to pick up societal trends—knowingly or unwittingly. Interestingly, in the mid-1980s many denominations were in the throes of building mega-churches and didn't have a lot of residual money to spend on true diaconal needs, since large sums of money were being tied up in erecting large, palatial-like edifices as monuments to the success of that particular church. The Church, therefore, abdicated its diaconal responsibilities to the state, which was all too happy to contribute significantly to the dependence of the poor upon the state for its well-being. The "womb to tomb" mentality produced wards of the state in great numbers, while the Church stood by and watched. Please don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that the Church did nothing at all during this time. Much good was done, but clearly a paradigm shift was underway.

Somewhere along the way, however, pastors turned into CEOs and their studies became known as their offices. A big church and a big staff were symbols of success. The campus was gorgeous and state-of-the-art, but the biblical requirement to be concerned about the neighbor's soul got lost in the shuffle. There was still some vestigial remnant that Christians were to be concerned about the plight of the poor, social injustice, and the increasing urban blight, as well as other social issues, but the modern Church had loosed itself from its biblical moorings, even though Scripture was still used.

There was a paradigm shift in preaching as well. The new trajectory was to talk to the unchurched "seeker" in a manner that wouldn't turn him or her off. Sermons, therefore, became increasingly topical in nature, using screens, Power Point presentations, praise bands, drama, and the like. Not only did the sermons become more topical, they tended to focus more and more on issues raised by Dr. Phil or Oprah than on Scripture. Increasingly smaller portions of Scripture were read in the gatherings and the topics were presented in easy anecdotal story form. My point is this: being unplugged from Scripture, the modern Christian Church has lost its tools of discernment and has wandered off mouthing vague, victo-cratic7 platitudes that may or may not have anything to do with Scripture.

The economist Benjamin Rogge once wrote, "…the typical American who calls himself a Christian and who makes pronouncements…on economic policies or institutions, does so out of an almost complete ignorance of the simplest and most widely accepted tools of economic analysis." 8 I would change Rogge's quotation slightly to read that many today who call themselves Christians have neither a biblical nor economical view of life. This is one reason why people like Campolo, McLaren, Sider, and Wallis get such a wide reading. Ironically, it's a kind of return to the Dark Ages, except this time the modern Church has various translations and paraphrases and still remains woefully ignorant of even the most fundamental biblical truths.

Robert Frykenberg, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin wrote in 1981 how insidious Sider's theology was. Frykenberg penned these words: "But without showing us exactly how the world's hungry are to be fed, nothing results except the mouthing of pious platitudes and highly emotional exhortations to act. Such well-meaning efforts to help are at best inefficient and wasteful, and, at worst, utterly self-defeating and demoralizing." 9 This was precisely my point a couple of issues back when I challenged the admirers of and adherents to the social gospel Marxist policies of Campolo, McLaren, Sider, Wallis, and others to show where they had done anything close to serious biblical exegesis to back up their ostensible findings. No response. What they do is akin to the Rick Warren approach: find something you want to talk about and then torture and distort a translation or preferably something from The Message to somehow say something close to what you want to say and use it.

In 1980, Klaus Bockmuehl wrote these prophetic words: "Marxism in the West today has become a potent temptation for gifted, forward-looking young Christians, evangelicals among them. They are fascinated not so much by its radical secular humanism as by its socialism. Because evangelicals have little knowledge of Marxism, they identify Marxism with social reform and regard it as an energetic attempt to realize liberty, equality and fraternity or simply claim that Marxists are 'for the poor.'" 10 Christian philosopher Ronald Nash observes, "Almost without exception the major evangelical books about social justice that have appeared since 1960 have been authored by writers who reject and condemn political conservatism as a cruel, heartless and uncaring movement totally out of step with an informed biblical view." 11

Therefore, "Basic to the theory of the evangelical Christian who finds liberalism or socialism or even Marxism attractive is an appeal to social justice." 12 Add to this that the word "evangelical" or "evangelicalism" has morphed into anything from Open Theism, feminism, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, or anything else along the spectrum so it has lost any meaning it might have had a while back. Now we have homosensual13 Christians, shack-up Christians, multiple adultery Christians, Christians with multiple abortions, multiple divorce for unbiblical reasons Christians, and rich Christians who no longer believe they need to obey God and attend Christ's Church.

More than two decades ago Antonio Martino pointed out that the expression "social justice," "…owes its immense popularity precisely to its ambiguity and meaninglessness. It can be used by different people, holding quite different views, to designate a wide variety of different things. Its obvious appeal stems from its persuasive strength, from its positive connotation, which allows the user to praise his own ideas and simultaneously express contempt for the ideas of those who don't agree with him." 14 Similar conclusions led Ronald Nash to say this: "Serious questions can be raised about the evangelical liberal's grasp of the complex social, political and economic foundations of justice. The liberal evangelical is often inattentive to important distinction in the notion of justice; he fails to see how his claims draw him into an unavoidable and dangerous dependence upon a coercive state; he is blind to the fact that many of his preferred programs to help the poor end up being self-defeating; and he is unaware of the confusion that pervades his interpretation of the biblical teaching about justice." 15

It is clear and evident to any and all who have not fallen prey to the trappings of the mega-church and the mysticism of the Emergent church that serious distortions of Scripture and of the care of the poor are rampant in the modern evangelical Church. If you don't believe me, just pick up Jim Wallis' God's Politics or Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change and it will become crystal clear—that is, if you still possess a modicum of biblical truth in your Christian armamentarium.


  1. David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1981), p. 4.
  2. Ibid., 5.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves, (Atlanta: American Vision Press, 1985), pp. 39-40. Italics mine.
  6. Ibid., 45.
  7. A "victo-crat" is one who is convinced that nothing is his or her fault, but that they are victims of "the system." Typically, victo-crats expect someone to come along and save them, like, for instance, the government, rather than working hard to relieve their own circumstances.
  8. Benjamin Rogge, "Christian Economics: Myth or Reality?" The Freeman, December 1965.
  9. Robert Frykenberg, "World Hunger: Food is not the Answer," Christianity Today, December 11, 1981, p. 36.
  10. Klaus Bockmuehl, The Challenge of Marxism, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980).
  11. Ronald Nash, Social Justice and the Christian Church, (Mott Media, n.d.), p. 4.
  12. Ibid., 5.
  13. I owe this concept to Bill Gairdner, who, in his new book, Oh, Oh, Canada! A Voice from the Conservative Resistance, (Toronto, Canada: BPS Books, 2008), made the astute observation that there actually can be no sex in homosexual (pp. 62ff.), since in our biology textbooks words like "sex" or "sexual" have to do with reproduction, which clearly homosensuals cannot do. I highly recommend Bill's book. Americans and Canadians alike need to read it. Just go to www.bpsbooks.net and order your copy today!
  14. Antonio Martino, "The Myth of Social Justice," in Arnold Beichman, Antonio Martino, & Kenneth Minogue, Three Myths, (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1982), p.23.
  15. Nash, SJCC, 6-7.
Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.