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Social Justice, Pride Month, and The Two Parent Home

Social Justice, Pride Month, and The Two Parent Home

Social justice is something we’ve discussed in our preaching over the years. I’ve proposed that it’s not a helpful descriptor if we want to think and communicate in clear biblical terms. It’s overloaded with conflicting meanings. It’s also associated almost entirely in our public discourse with governmental redistributive programs aimed at resolving disparities of one kind or another.

In the last number of weeks we have heard sermons from two of the Bible’s famous chapters as it concerns human sexuality and sin, one sermon from Leviticus 18 and another from Leviticus 20. These chapters dealt with adultery, men laying with men, siblings with siblings, and on and on. In an age when the only moral principle directing sexual behavior is that of consent, these chapters stun. They were given to Israel not as a comprehensive theology and ethic of human sexuality but to protect her on entry into the land of Canaan where these practices were the norm.

Yet standing behind these prohibitions and punishments is the precious gift of our bodies, of marriage, and of human society. Basic to God’s plan for our flourishing and his glory is our behavior in bed. If we we’re going to use the terminology of social justice, then we need to speak about sexual sins, about marriage, and about children and family.

With this as background, I want to commend two articles to you.

Article 1: “Welcome to Pride Month, Christian”

In this piece, “Welcome to Pride Month, Christian,” Carl Truman helps us see that “social justice demands our opposition to [pride month’s] celebration and symbols.” He is calling out a contradiction here, as you may pick up. Some of this is tongue in cheek, a rhetorical calling out of those who have given themselves over to a new Phariseeism on one topic or another who are nevertheless quiet on this one. Even if you’re not privy to that discussion, you may be shocked in a good way at Trueman’s plainspokenness. It seems we have gotten used to frank moral demands on some topics but overly couch or avoid them on others. It’s important to ask ourselves, “why do I feel like I should say this?” or “why do I feel like I can’t say that?.” Carl’s piece is a kind of tune up for your justice sensibilities.

Here’s an excerpt:

If anybody wants to understand what is happening to the public square in America—indeed, if anyone wants to know how America, or at least her ruling class, wishes to understand itself, they need look no further than Pride Month. If the arrival of the Pilgrims, the founding of the nation, and even the contribution of Martin Luther King Jr. receive no more than 24 hours on the national calendar, the LGBTQ+ alliance has an entire month to party in the streets. And this street party is enabled by the countless commercial ventures that post rainbow flags in their windows and on their websites.

. . . But there is a silver lining here. Pride Month does offer those Christians who are passionate about social justice a chance to reassure those of us who fear their commitment to such is always tailored to appeal to the broader tastes of the day. For if Confederate flags and statues are deemed social justice issues by many (a point with which I am sympathetic), how much more so is the rainbow flag? The use of the rainbow symbol should be particularly egregious to Christians. It is the primary instrument by which the LGBTQ+ movement asserts its ownership of the culture. And it is the means of telling those of us who dare to dissent that we should have no place in the public square anymore. It tears at God’s creation order and design for family relations and social stability. And it is also a blasphemous desecration of a sacred symbol, taking that which was intended as a sign of God’s love and faithfulness and of our dependence upon Him and turning it into an aggressive symbol of human autonomy and sexual decadence.

Read the full piece. Read more from Trueman at World Opinions and First Things. For Trueman’s book-length work on the present cultural confusion, pick up, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution.

Article 2: “The Power of The Two-Parent Home”

If Trueman’s piece gets its force from its rhetoric, this next piece gets its force from its research. On a different but related topic, Kevin DeYoung has written an important journal article: “The Power of The Two-Parent Home.” Less critique in this case and more construcive. We need both.

He offers his own caveats, which any pastor will want to do. We love and support single mothers and fathers and recognize the diverse ways in which those circumstances come about. But the reason we need to acknowledge them is precisely because the single-parent home is an exception to the good norm the Lord established at creation. The two-parent home is one of the most needful and yet neglected topics in the public conversation about social good. Thomas Sowell has written for years on this topic in his work, for example, on Discrimination and Disparities. Kevin’s piece includes his own footnotes to recent studies along with a good example of theological and ethical reasoning. 

Here’s how DeYoung begins:

Humanly speaking, there is nothing more important for personal well-being, positive social behavior, and general success in life than being raised by one’s biological parents committed to each other in a stable marriage. Over the past forty years, a vast body of research has demonstrated conclusively that children are deeply affected by family structure and that married parents are best for children. Any efforts — whether governmental, educational, or ecclesiastical — that mean to encourage human flourishing must take this reality into account as both an explanation for many societal ills and as a means to the end of hoped-for societal health and vitality.

Family life in America has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. In 1960, 73% of children lived with two parents in their first marriage. By 2014, less than half (46%) of children were living in this type of family. Conversely, the percentage of children living with a single parent rose from 9% in 1960 to 26% in 2014. An additional 7% of children now live with cohabiting parents. Moreover, the increase in non-traditional family arrangements has coincided with the decoupling of marriage and childbearing. In 1960, just 5% of all births occurred outside of marriage. By 2000, around 40% of all births occurred outside of marriage (a percentage that has held steady over the last twenty years). As of 2014, 29% of births to white women, 53% of births to Hispanic women, and 71% of births to black women were out-of-wedlock. In the span of only 60 years, what were once considered exceptional family circumstances have become the norm.

Kevin traces the social implications of these trends and ends by expanding on four suggestions:

  • First, pastors, Christian educators, parents, and church leaders need to do more to teach on this subject.
  • Second, we ought to encourage public policies that make pro-child marriages more attractive and less healthy family arrangements more difficult.
  • Third, we should consider how we have normalized behavior that harms children and does not lead to human flourishing.
  • Fourth, unless called to singleness for kingdom purposes, we must encourage Christians to get married, have children, stay married, and raise those children in a stable two-parent family. 

Read the full piece, or listen Kevin read it at his podcast, Life and Books and Everything.

Are God’s Wrath and God’s Love Compatible?

Are God’s Wrath and God’s Love Compatible?

D.A. Carson has written a helpful book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Kristi gave me this book when we were dating, actually. It was our six month anniversary. Now, twenty years and about two weeks later, I commend it to you.

The occasion for this recommendation is, of course, Sunday’s sermon from Leviticus 20, “What can we learn from the Bible’s shocking judgments?” This chapter brought us up close and personal with some of the Bible’s most shocking judgments. For example, stoning for child sacrifice (which perhaps sounds reasonable) but also the death penalty for adultery (which may give us pause). There is an important biblical theological context for these commands. Remember that Adam was banished from the garden for his sin. These laws concern Israel’s life when she enters the land of promise, a new Eden. In short, the comfort we can take in Leviticus 20 is that there won’t be any such sin in the new creation. Where does that leave us, sinners that we are? Trusting only and wholly in the perfect advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, our propitiation for sin (1Jn. 2:1–3).

Chapters like this raise tensions not only in the question of how any of us can be saved, but a tension in the question of who God is in himself. Is he wrathful or is he loving? Aren’t these descriptors mutually exclusive? Is this just one of those mysteries we have to accept? Yes, we must accept it if that’s the Bible’s portrait of our God, a God beyond all comprehension. But that doesn’t mean we are left without any sense of coherence in our picture of God. 

For help with that question, Don Carson has served us well on pages 67–70 in his chapter, “God’s Love and God’s Wrath.”

Carson on the difference between wrath and love:

“Wrath, unlike love, is not one of the intrinsic perfections of God. Rather, it is a function of God’s holiness against sin. Where there is no sin, there is no wrath-but there will always be love in God. Where God in His holiness confronts His image-bearers in their rebellion, there must be wrath, or God is not the jealous God He claims to be, and His holiness is impugned. The price of diluting God’s wrath is diminishing God’s holiness.”

He continues, on the compatibility of God’s wrath and his love focused on the same person:

“God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against His holiness. But His love…wells up amidst His perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in His perfections must be wrathful against His rebel image-breakers, for they have offended Him; God in His perfections must be loving toward His rebel image-bearers, for He is that kind of God.”

How God’s love redirects God’s wrath to save sinners:

“Both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.”

As Carson has asked elsewhere, “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.”As with so many other doctrines, the theological tension leads to and finds resolution in the person and work of Christ.

Welcome Keith and Kristyn Getty, Deep Songwriters for Deep Churches

Welcome Keith and Kristyn Getty, Deep Songwriters for Deep Churches

Deep. Happy. Faithful.

Those are three words that come to mind when I think about Keith and Kristyn Getty. 

I remember where I was when I first heard, “In Christ Alone.” This song takes the deepest truths to the deepest places. There’s something about the combination of text and tune that struck me. Keith and Kristyn are students of song writing. They try their hand at hundreds of melodies before committing an album of a dozen songs. Not me. I was just a Christian with a spiritual longing for Christ’s riches. I was also a youth pastor in St. Louis who was curating the best of old and new songs I could find for our youth group. That required some finesse back in 2003, pulling songs from albums recorded by collegiate song writers, such as Indelible Grace, and updating older hymns slightly since we weren’t piano led.

I wouldn’t have put it this way at the time, but we needed some people who were alive to write some new old songs—deep songs that would stand up for generations. We also needed some song writers who would devote their craft for the church’s singing. Americans mostly listen to music and that had become what we were doing in church. The American church also had an unhappy Hatfield-McCoy problem with “traditional” and “contemporary” music, poisoning some against guitars and drums and others against the piano and strings. The beauty of sung truth was getting lost in all that noise.

Then I went to a recital for one of my students at a neighboring church. Two teenage girls sang solos. One young lady sang a sensual rendition of a Top-40 praise song. It was weird but I think that’s just what she knew to do. Then a twelve year old middle schooler approached the stage. She was unassuming and simple. The piano started in and she sang “In Christ alone, my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song.” This song was old and new, deep and accessible, solid and sweet. I chased down the authors on the recital order. They were indeed alive. The rest is history. Today at Heritage we sing some twenty-five of songs written by this couple, songs for every part of our service that magnify every facet of Christ’s work.

Keith and Kristyn are happy. How else could they so comfortably barge into our feeds with Family Hymn Sings from their living room during the pandemic each week? By God’s grace, they are also faithful to Christ and to his church. Their goal is not a musical career, or notoriety, or institution building. Their goal is to see the church sing her faith. It’s as if the American church needed a couple from Ireland–a singing people—to come help us sing. Singing is trending again, as it has from creation and as it will in the new creation. Churches have also warmed up on the role of music. As it turns out, when we prioritize the congregation’s voice, questions of genre and instrumentation become more fun and fruitful. There are lots of reasons for this, but one reason is the gift of new songs that work in different settings and which prioritize the congregation’s voice. The Gettys have helped us here.

We welcomed the Gettys to Heritage in 2018. The photo above is from the concert that ended a day of investment in area pastors and even our children.

They’ve got a beautiful new album of old songs and new in an artful mingling of Irish folk and American bluegrass. These songs tell our story and the music tells theirs. It’s called, Confessio. They’re with us tonight as part of their St. Patrick’s Tour for this album. Just like old times, we’ll sing “In Christ Alone.”

Join us in welcoming Keith and Kristyn Getty and their faithful team of musicians to Heritage.

Trent, for the elders

Welcome Three Faithful Brothers: David Mathis, Andy Naselli, Joe Rigney

Welcome Three Faithful Brothers: David Mathis, Andy Naselli, Joe Rigney

This past Sunday we closed up our series through 1 Peter with a sermon on Peter’s closing greeting. It could not have come at a better time. Here was our passage:

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. —1 Peter 5:12–14

Peter commends Silvanus, a partner who will likely deliver the letter. He connects churches with one another. He affirms one brother whom he has been discipling. In all this he is setting an example for us of the kind of warm and wide-hearted love that should mark the church in exile.

In the coming weeks we have an opportunity to work out this spirit as a church by welcoming several “faithful brothers.” I’m eager for you to meet them and to greet them in Christ.

So, let me make some introductions for us. I’ll make these remarks personal where I can, taking my cue from Peter who commended Silvanus to his own readers. I also asked each of these brothers for recommendations of things the other brothers have written lately, since they are all friends.

Receive David Mathis, a Man of Faithful Words

I don’t know where our relationship began exactly, but we really hit it off once I wrote an article for Desiring God on marijuana. Just like every good friendship. In return, David heard of our executive pastor search and pointed us to Jason Read, his brother-in-law. We are ever-grateful! David is the speaker for this year’s men’s retreat, from February 18–19. He grew up in the Upstate, he’s a graduate of Furman, and his parents live in Spartanburg. He’s also a husband and a father of four.

David is a man of words.

David is executive editor for, a ministry that we’ve been helped by over the years in many ways. Desiring God is a ministry that grew out of John Piper’s preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. I remember coming into Pastor John’s book, Desiring God, as a college student. I remember that memorable line, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” And I remember the internet in its earlier days when Desiring God was a little site that had Piper’s sermons available for free, a novel idea back then. And an idea made possible by generous donors who believed in its spreading mission. I remember when the iPod was released. Among my aspiring pastor friends, that device might well have been called an iPiper. It carried all those sermons and lectures we devoured. In any case, there’s a lot to thank the Lord for here. Read up on the history of this ministry and note the tie to Greenville. David is a steward of the mission of this ministry. Pray for his editorial clarity and courage.

David is also a writer. One book we’ve recommended for years around here is, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines. But more than an editor and writer of words, David is a preacher, a local church pastor at Cities Church, in St. Paul, MN. So much of his writing flows from the loves and labor of any pastor. You’ll sense that in some of his recent writing:

Read more from David, pick up some of his books, and follow him on Twitter.

Greet Andy Naselli, a Faithful Guardian

Andy Naselli will preach both Sundays, February 20 and 27, to bookend GO Week on this year’s theme, Spreading a Passion for God’s Glory. When we learned that he was in the region on sabbatical to write a book, we extended this invitation.

Andy Naselli is a long-time friend of our church. When he worked as research assistant to D.A. Carson, Andy was responsible for editing the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, which he could do from anywhere. So, Andy and his family moved to the Upstate, where his wife, Jenni, is from. They were members for years at one of our church plants, Grace Bible Church, in Moore. You may know him as a co-author of that helpful book we point you to, Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ.

On a personal note, Andy and I have been friends since we shared a burger in Louisville back in 2011. Five years later Heritage reached out to Andy for contacts in our search for a preaching pastor. In a momentary lapse of judgment, Andy thought of me and put us in touch. Blame him. 

Andy is a guardian.

Pastors are called to instruct in and defend sound doctrine (Tit. 1:9). Andy is a busy instructor. He is associate professor of systematic theology and New Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary and one of the pastors at Bethlehem Baptist Church. He’s got a whole bunch of PhDs, including one from Bob Jones University here in town. If you’re the kind who teaches the Bible here at Heritage, pick up a copy of, 40 Questions about Biblical Theology. If you’re a kid, you should get your parents to buy you a copy of a book Andy wrote with another brother connected to Heritage, Champ Thornton, The Serpent Slayer and the Scroll of Riddles: The Kambur Chronicles.

Or, for all of us, read these articles on eternal things:

He is an instructor in the faith but also a defender of the faith. One of Andy’s unique contributions is his ability to discern precisely where and how Christ’s bride is vulnerable to doctrinal subversion. For example, his book, No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful. Or his book review, “Does Anyone Need to Recover from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood?.” Or this article for all of us: “Seven Reasons You Should Not Indulge in Pornography.” Andy has been of helpful counsel to our pastoral team concerning some of the doctrinal challenges in our day.

Read more from Andy, pick up some of his books, and follow him on Twitter.

Welcome Joe Rigney, a Faithful Shepherd of Shepherds

Joe Rigney will preach for us on Sunday, March 6. When Andy learned that Joe would be in the area on a family vacation, he put us in touch and we invited him to preach. One faithful brother commends another. That’s how it often happens.

I first came to know of Joe Rigney through his writing on the goodness of creation and how exactly we’re supposed to go about enjoying it. For example, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. For a good place to start, try his more recent and shorter volume, Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy His World?. Related to our enjoyment of God’s gifts, he recently published, More Than a Battle: How to Experience Victory, Freedom, and Healing from Lust.

Joe also helps the church benefit from the life and writings of C.S. Lewis with, Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God, and, Live Like A Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles. There’s a lot we could learn from Lewis when it comes to persuasion. Joe helps us out here with his piece, “The Cracks in Our Debates: Lessons from Lewis on Disagreement.” Narnia fans, check out his seven interactive talks on The Chronicles of Narnia.

Joe Rigney is a shepherd of shepherds.

He’s a shepherd in the church as a pastor at Cities Church along with David Mathis. He’s a shepherd in his home as a husband and father of three. But he’s also a shepherd of shepherds as a professor and newly appointed president of Bethlehem College & Seminary.

Joe shepherds pastors not only as an institutional leader but as a theological leader. A pastor’s job is to teach, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Deceitful schemes are deceitful because they come off as true and obvious. One of the problems we’re dealing with in our day is the subtle manipulation of biblical compassion in service of false visions of justice. In this way, goofy theories about just about everything play on the best parts of us as Westerners and as Christians in particular. We’re a people with a high view of humanity. That’s good. But we’re having trouble, and that’s because we’re untethered from the Word in our understanding both of justice and of compassion. 

In this vein, read two pieces by Joe: “Do You Feel My Pain? Empathy, Sympathy, and Dangerous Virtues,” and “Dangerous Compassion: How To Make Any Love a Demon.” This is not the first topic I would have turned over for help in navigating the times, but you’ll be surprised at how important this insight is. In a conversation with Doug Wilson, “The Sin of Empathy,” (yes, provocatively titled, but read it in context), Joe and Doug tease out the implications of these reflections for the times. In this way, Joe helps us pastors read the winds so that we may speak the truth even as we do it in love.

True compassion will often require courage. Empathy can often become a disguise for anxiety or cowardice. In fact, it’s for a failure of true compassion that we often fail to act in love. Sharpened by this discussion, Joe spurs us on to true biblical courage.  

No surprise, in both pieces, Joe draws from the life and teaching of another pastor of pastors, Apostle Peter, a pastor who learned courage through some of his own failures of courage. 

On March 6, Joe will shepherd our church to sing with a sermon from Colossians 3:16. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” That will be a timely message ahead of our evening with the Gettys on March 11.

Read more from Joe, pick up one of his books, and follow him on Twitter.

A lot of good material came out of Rome. Paul was from there. Peter wrote from there. Minneapolis has been a hot-spot for faithful Word workers, as have been other cities in their own way, including ours. Join me in greeting these faithful brothers from Minneapolis.  

No Bits and Pieces, No Little People: Meet Francis Schaeffer

No Bits and Pieces, No Little People: Meet Francis Schaeffer

When the Sadducees came to Jesus with a disingenuous question about the resurrection, his response was direct: “you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mk. 12:24). We explored this interaction in Sunday’s sermon, “He is God of the Living.” The Sadducees insisted that there would be no future resurrection, that when we died that was it. It’s a brutal way to live. As in Jesus’ day we too are tempted to pursue religion without the truth of resurrection, to see the world as matter in motion without ultimate meaning.

Jesus’ chief interest in coming was souls. But we do well to ponder how a denial of a truth like the resurrection is destructive for both souls and societies. It’s by pondering the course of bad ideas that we more clearly see and speak the true goodness of the good news, to speak to our neighbors and the need of the age.

Maybe for you this pursuit isn’t so much about speaking to others as it is about coming to terms with the claims of Scripture yourself. As we said Sunday, if you have rejected Christianity because you cannot buy-in to the resurrection, you should be commended for seeing that claim for what it is. Whatever the case, I’d like you to meet someone who knew both the Scriptures and the power of God.

Meet Francis Schaeffer, a Recently Dead Pastor

It’s good for us to read the works of dead pastors from long ago, but it’s also good to read the works of dead pastors from not so long ago. In this case, the works of a man like Francis Schaeffer—a pastor and apologist from the mid-to-late 20th century—are proven valuable for two reasons. First, they have stood the test of time. Time is a wonderful sorting mechanism in a world of so many words. Second, his work has stood the test of time because he was a man who understood the times. Schaeffer was an exegete of the Scriptures and the present stage on which God’s saving plans are unfolding.

I came into Schaeffer in a theologically formative period of my own life through two books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent and The God Who Is There. Both books helped establish my confidence in the basic truthfulness and coherence of Scripture. I’m not alone. Albert Mohler tells his own story of how Schaeffer, as he puts it, “gave me a way of understanding how the Christian faith related to and answered the questions of the world around me.” Os Guinness tells a similar story in, “An Interview with Os Guinness on the 25th Anniversary of Francis Schaeffer’s Death.” Os and Mohler reminisce a bit together in a conversation they shared a few years ago. There are countless other stories along these lines.

Francis Schaeffer was an academic but no less an evangelist. His work in understanding the world was powered by his love for the people who inhabit the world, as it should be. If you’re a skeptic yourself, he had you in mind. 

Whereas Mohler first encountered Schaefer through his books, Guinness came to know Schaeffer in Schaeffer’s home turned ministry called L’Abri, which he co-founded in Switzerland with his wife Edith. If your interest is piqued, read Jerram Barr’s, “Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message,” for his story, his emphases, and some critique.

Where to Begin

With the Sadducee’s error in mind, this Sunday I quoted this excerpt from Schaeffer’s, A Christian Manifesto:

“Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality, whether they are Marxist or non-Marxist, not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is. Their concept of Man is what Man is not, just as their concept of final reality is what final reality is not. Since their concept of Man is mistaken, their concept of society and of law is mistaken, and they have no sufficient base for either society or law.”

Schaeffer had a way of getting under the surface of things. One of his central critiques of Christians in his day was that, as he said, “they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.” That is, we tend to see issues like pornography, the breakdown of the family, abortion, etc. instead of the total world and story in which these tragedies emerge. Schaeffer’s burden was to help us understand this.

For an entry into Schaeffer’s work, A Christian Manifesto is a good place to start, but let me offer a few other options. Three books together form the heart of his apologetic work: The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. These books will help to those wrestling with questions about the truthfulness of the Christian worldview and those who are engaging friends disaffected by Christianity. High School students and their parents will get help as well. Here’s from Escape from Reason

“People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God. . . . We are watching our culture put into effect the fact that when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in our whole culture—in the theater of cruelty, in the violence in the streets, in the death of man in art and life.”

The title of another book describes its aim: How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. We do well to study history with a Christian worldview. But the purpose of doing so must always be fidelity to the God of history in our own day. If you can put up with the dated and even cheesy production, watch the the video series by the same name: 

There are a host of volumes written by those who studied with Schaeffer in some fashion. One of the most important among them—and a book you would do well to have on the shelf—is Nancy Pearcy’s, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. For some reading on the life and ongoing relevance of Schaeffer’s work, check out the Summer 2020 edition of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology on the occasion of L’Abri’s 65th anniversary, edited by my dear friend Stephen Wellum—there, again, another influence of mine influenced by Schaeffer.  

No Little People

Schaeffer influenced the world with his words, but here are some words he wrote that explain his reach: “A compassionate open home is part of Christian responsibility, and should be practiced up to the level of capacity.” He more than understood the truth of Scripture for our day, but embodied it in Christian hospitality that changed the world.

This Sunday we will be in the next passage in Mark, 12:28-44, where we meet scribes who like the best seats and a poor woman who contributes all she has to live on. In all our work to understand the world, let’s remember our place in it with Schaeffer’s help—a man for whom there truly were No Little People:

Jesus commands Christians to seek consciously the lowest room. All of us — pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and non-professional included — are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place, because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to the Scripture this is backwards: We should consciously take the lowest place, unless the Lord himself extrudes us into a greater one.

It is there we come to know both the Scriptures and the power of God.

Defining Justice

Defining Justice

There’s a popular slogan these days, “No Justice, No Peace.” Surely, we should want to positively affirm this simple statement. It is theologically true that there is no peace without justice. But in context, this slogan has been used as a threat. In short, “if we do not get justice, we will burn this city down.” So much turns on the meaning of justice.

In Sunday’s sermon, “The Things that Are Caesar’s,” we considered the role of governing authorities in our lives and in God’s world. Though there may be extensive disagreement between two people in the precise scope of the government’s proper authority—whether it belongs in education, if and how it should intervene with markets, foreign policy, etc.—everyone agrees that the government is in the business of doing justice. According to the Bible’s own basic job description, it’s half of government’s job. Governing authorities are sent “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1Pet. 2:14). Paul puts it even more starkly: “For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).

In the conclusion of this sermon, I offered three comments about justice by way of application for better thinking on this topic. You might be having some conversations about injustices in our day, and you should. You don’t need my help on all the important minutiae. But we all need some help from the Bible to think in biblical categories and biblical ways about a topic dear to our Lord’s heart, that is, justice and the role of governing authorities.

The purpose of this post is not to argue that God cares for people and what that means in practical and personal terms; I expect that will emerge in the regular course of preaching and teaching. Rather, the purpose of this post is to explore a neglected and nuanced subject of the proper role of government—in its role as a minister of God’s justice—in mediating God’s care for people.

Justice is a big topic, and so is government. Here are three big thoughts for thinking about them.

First, Justice Is More Than Government

This point will seem both obvious and problematic. When Peter writes that it is the governing authority’s job to “punish those who do evil,” this assumes that evil means something. It assumes a standard of evil that is not determined by the state, a standard that is true not because an individual or society determined that it is true, but because it is. Both evil and justice, then, transcend any one time and place and state.

That should seem obvious to us. But whose justice is true justice? This is where Christianity presents us with a second absolute claim. The first is that there is such a thing as evil. The second is that God’s view of these things is the right one.

Governing authorities are “instituted by God,” they are “God’s servant,” even “ministers of God” (Rom. 13:1, 4–6). That’s the same word we use for “deacon.” Paul is pressing on us the lofty and even sacred responsibility that we have as citizens to submit to our governing authorities. But this also highlights the truth that justice is God’s business and the state is God’s servant, whether it wants to admit as much or not. God is a God of justice and humans should be treated a certain way because they are made in his image. We see that truth applied to the question of murder in the early pages of Scripture, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6). Jesus was not arguing for a theocratic state in this age. We give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mk. 12:17). His kingdom is not of this world and, as such, it does not advance by means of the state. Nevertheless, human government is still God’s government.

Here’s one thing this means: justice isn’t determined by society or the state; it is discerned. Justice is not relative but revealed. God’s righteousness is revealed in what God has made and we clearly perceive it, for he has given us inner faculties to discern a standard of justice that is outside of us (Ro. 1:19, 20). In fact, our very law-making impulse is one proof that the human conscience is sensitive to the deeper truths about God and humanity (Ro. 2:15, 16). This doesn’t mean we always get it right. In fact, we actively suppress the truth we perceive in creation (Ro. 1:18). What it means is that the human conscience is calibrated to pick up on the signals that God’s creation puts out concerning the basic nature of humanity—the dignity of all human life, human sexuality as male and female, the proper authority of parents over children, the nature of marriage as heterosexual and monogamous, the dignity and responsibility of work, etc. The state is not beholden to the particular law code given to Israel in the old covenant, as that has been fulfilled in Christ. But human government is accountable with all of humankind to the truth about humans reflected in all the Scriptures, truth which is both encoded on the human conscience and embedded in creation.

Here’s another thing this means: government can get these things right, but government can also get these things wrong. When the state wields its sword based on a false understanding of humanity it is bound to commit injustice. This means we can and should speak and work for justice in our systems of government. Abraham Lincoln was right to do so in his day, as was Martin Luther King Jr. in his. Both appealed to the human conscience and our universal sense of accountability to something higher and truer than the state. When human government uses its sword for evil, its legal systems become injustice multipliers. The riots at the Capitol were an atrocity, roundly and universally condemned, and rightly so. Greater still are some of the bills passed on that floor. My point is that the government and the news will hold out some things as evil and other things as good, but they are not and cannot be our litmus test of right and wrong; they are not a reliable gauge.

One reason that authoritarian governments suppress Christianity and the church is this: they will not accept a standard of judgment by which they may be found guilty. When a state stops being accountable to its own people, it won’t be long before it stops accounting to the people’s voice on justice. Christians have been famously resilient under state pressure. We are gracious and happy to live quiet and peaceful lives. But we are not—and we must not be—easily coerced. We know better because we know God.

Justice is more than government. We give to God what is God’s.

Second, Justice Requires More Than Good Intentions

I showed up to Southern Seminary in 2005 as a 25 year old to grow in handling God’s Word for God’s people. I came to that place because of several professors, including Ronald Nash. I didn’t get to take a class with Nash, as he died a year later in 2006. He was a rare and needed combination of theological, philosophical, economic, and historical scholarship. Rarer still, he wrote with a love and concern for the church. Lately, I’ve been growing in my appreciation of Nash all the more for his ability to see under the surface of things. Here’s how he opened his book, Social Justice and the Christian Church, some thirty years ago:

One of the two sides of Christian social concern is the Christian’s clear obligation to care and to be concerned about the poor and oppressed and to do what he can on their behalf. But the other dimension of Christian social concern adds the stipulation that if a Christian wishes to make pronouncements on complex social, economic, and political issues, he also has a duty to become informed about those issues. … There is no question about the fact that [Christians] care. But their compassion is often wedded to a political and economic ideology that is long on heart and short on wisdom.

God cares about people and that’s why people care about people. We’re like him. But, as Nash suggests, good intentions need to be paired with good ideas. Good intentions paired with bad ideas about government can lead to profound injustice.

This leads us to the topic of social justice. This is an idea in need of definition. Justice and people are too important. Unfortunately, social justice is a term that suffers from semantic overload. Ten people can mean ten different things, some of them contradictory. Some of us might hear “social justice” and think about justice expressed in human relationships, perhaps with an accent on active care for the poor and oppressed. Others might think of justice in the administration of human government so that every human is rendered his or her due. Those are profoundly biblical concerns. They also align with how the term was used when it was first employed. In what may be its original usage in the 1840’s, Jesuit philosopher and conservative Catholic Luigi Taparelli taught that inequality was not an injustice but a byproduct of justice in rightly ordered constitutional arrangements. But that is the opposite of how the term is often used today. Since the mid-point of the last century social justice has been a stand-in for policies that treat people unevenly in order to achieve even outcomes. Those are two different meanings. If you carefully define what you’re talking about intentions intersect with more or less biblical political ideologies.

At this point, we could explore the claims and consequences of Marxism, statism, and socialism. You can pick up a copy of Nash’s book for that. Or check out this interview with James Lindsay by Albert Mohler for a more realtime take on what’s happening around us.

For our purposes, I want to stay closer to the ground of the biblical text. It’s fine for us to use terminology that is not in Scripture such as “social justice.” However, a set of more biblically precise categories will help us not only understand one another, but match our good intentions to the very best ideas about justice and human government.

With that in mind, here are four types of justice with reflections on the role of the state.

Personal Justice

This is what we usually think of as personal righteousness. Often in the Scriptures the language of justice is paired with righteousness. A just or righteous person is a godly person, a person with integrity. This is someone who does what is right and does right by others. We might even include here the voluntary generosity in helping the poor (Lk. 12:33). Noah was “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Gen. 6:9). When the Bible mentions justice, this is what it is usually talking about.

The state has an obvious interest in this. Unless we’re going to be a police state, then most people will have to be mostly good most of the time. Or, as Colson’s Law states, “the only alternatives to conscience are cops or chaos. If the inner shield of a community is lowered, the outer shield must be raised to stave off chaos. Therefore, a community, especially a free democracy, that loses its conscience will necessarily become a police state.” Hence, an important function of human government is not only to promote good behavior but to “praise” and “approve” those who do good (1Pet. 2:14; Rom. 13:3).

Commercial Justice

Commercial justice is justice in the marketplace. The Lord is for this. “A just balance and scales are the LORD’s; all the weights in the bag are his work” (Prov. 16:11). “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:36). The poor or less savvy should not be taken advantage of. We should pursue just practices in our businesses and welcome the state’s regulation of the marketplace to ensure just transactions.

Here the state fulfills an important function. One of the evils that the state is assigned to punish is theft. The state should protect private property and act as a recognized authority to adjudicate disputes in the marketplace as they arise.

Legal Justice

This is justice before the law, specifically in instances of remediation, when the state is addressing some kind of harm. Five qualities are crucial for this kind of justice in order to not add injustice to injustice. This kind of justice is truthful in that it is based in the truth. False reports are condemned, and multiple witnesses are required (Ex. 23:1–3; Deut. 19:15). It is impartial, showing favoritism neither to the poor nor the rich (Lev. 19:15; cf. Acts 10:34; Js. 2:8, 9). The poor receive special attention in Scripture, in part, because of their vulnerability in legal settings (Ex. 23:3, 6; Ps. 72:1–4). It is proportional. In our interpersonal dealings we should turn the other cheek, but governing authorities are instituted to punish evil. When they punish evil they should do so with proportion, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, foot for foot (Deut. 19:21). This kind of justice is also personal, not based on our association with a group but on our own deeds. And it is procedural, involving due process in order to clarify facts, discern intent, and settle on a just resolution (Num. 35:9–34).

Let me illustrate and apply this briefly. If an unarmed man is killed in the street by a police officer, justice requires an investigation to uncover facts and a verdict based on that evidence. If it is proven a murder, then it should be called a murder and the murderer should receive a just sentence. If evidence shows that it was manslaughter, then he should be treated accordingly. Neither the victim nor the defendant’s ethnicity, connections in the community, or economic status should be in play as it concerns the outcome. Related, if it is true that evidence does not support the claim that racist police officers kill unarmed black people at a disproportionate rate (evidence which I find convincing and, if true, encouraging), then it is an injustice to make this claim. At our very best we all want to respond in a just way to injustice. An injustice will draw a crowd. Maybe it should. But in our own responses, let’s respond to God rather than a mob lest we add injustice to an already heartbreaking situation.

So far, we have explored three types of justice. Each of these could be rightly called “social justice” in the sense that they involve justice in human relationships in people are given what they are due as those made in God’s image.

A fourth type of justice is where we meet the rub between what the Bible requires of us in human government and what we might call ideological social justice.

Distributive Justice

This form of justice is concerned with the distribution of the nation’s burdens and resources. Every nation will do some of this. We pay different amounts in taxes but share the same roads and military. In the United States, things like public education and Social Security are examples of the government distributing burdens and benefits.

The question at hand is this: as an agent of God’s justice to see that people are given their due, what is the state’s responsibility to its people as it concerns the coercive distribution of burdens and resources?

We have Bible verses that regulated Israel’s national life with respect to the poor with laws that allowed the poor to glean from the fields (Ex. 23:10; Deut. 24:19–22). One could argue from those texts to social safety nets of one kind or another. But today’s cries for social justice are not just stronger appeals to help the destitute, but something altogether different.

As a subset of distributive justice, social justice proponents appeal for the distribution of resources with the goal of equal outcomes—usually economic outcomes. It sees unevenness between groups of as a problem rooted in injustice in society, a result of oppression by oppressors. Eradication of these differences, proponents insist, is a fundamental governmental responsibility. Not every person who adopts this vocabulary embraces this whole program of thought. Nevertheless, this is the philosophical and academic foundation that undergirds social policy that flies under the banner of social justice today.

How can we boil down the problem with so-called “social justice”? Here’s one way. Social justice proponents are correct that the world is fraught with injustice, but they locate the human problem in the wrong place. Christians know that the problem with humanity is inside us and it flows from inside out. It is no surprise for us to find problems everywhere humans are found. But social justice ideology insists that where humans err they do so because of the society around them and because of inadequate institutions. The answer, then, is to destroy institutions and rebuild society in order to perfect humanity.

If we locate the problem outside ourselves, we will have an unrealistically high expectation of what government can achieve, or more precisely what a few people at the top can achieve in destroying society and remaking it. Naturally, having identified the problem wrongly, they seek a solution that can only bring harm, a cost that some proponents openly embrace. There’s a discernible echo here of biblical eschatology that sees a judgment and new creation on the horizon, just without God. The social justice movement in this expression sees the state as the means to this transformation, as the state is the only vehicle for forcing the reallocation of resources and wealth. That social justice proponents see institutions as the problem and nevertheless trust the institution of human government to address the problem is a contradiction inherent to their worldview.

Liberation theologians (a driver for social justice thinking among Christians) embrace a different gospel. They see God’s plan of salvation summed up in the liberation of oppressed peoples from bondage in this age by means of the state. The centrality of the state to this vision of justice is why you may feel like affirming justice requires the endorsement of certain policy proposals. That’s why the language of “social justice” is dangerous. It allows some who use it to enlist the support of well-intentioned but undiscerning voters. This is not a post about race, but it is impossible to untangle the topic of race from social justice because the social justice movement has identified race, along with gender and so-called “gender identity,” as the fault lines that divide oppressed groups in need of liberation from oppressive society. This binary and inflammatory claim explains so much of the heat in our newsfeeds in the last decade.

What we are experiencing is not a new phenomenon. Historian Victor Davis Hansen had this to say about revolutionary societies: “In revolutionary societies the most dangerous cycle is not from poverty to equality. The most dangerous cycle is from equality to parity.” That is, from poverty to an equality of opportunity to an equality of outcome—which some refer to as equity, or which Hansen calls parity. What’s happening here socially, he says, is not so much unlike what happened in Russia in 1917 at the start of the Russian Revolution. When a people in a population who have largely achieved equality of treatment begin to see that parity is within reach, the demands of the general population go up, the demands on the state go up, the promises of the state go up, and the violence goes up. But since it can never be ultimately achieved, the society risks a descent into greater division and violence, which in turn triggers the growth of the state to address the chaos. This is why social justice has been called a Trojan horse to a totalitarian state. The state is the only agent that can bring about the demands of social justice on the broader society. 

Friends, we should be optimistic about the good of the state, cooperative, and thankful. But we should also be pessimistic because we know who humans are as sinners. Government is supposed to be limited, but without constant vigilance, as history has taught us, governments will not only reflect the best but the worst of human nature. Government is an instrument of God’s justice, but as John teaches us in his apocalypse, the state can become a beast, an instrument of Satan’s blasphemous evil purposes (Rev. 13).

What causes the state to grow beyond its divinely ordered limits? Governments grow because of human pride, as leaders find ways to arrest more power. They grow because of faulty human philosophy that locates human hope in the state. They grow because of various problems—health crises, natural disasters, threats from without, and chaos from within—as they expand their powers to solve problems but then do not give those powers back. The state grows when the people value personal affluence and pleasure more than their proper freedoms as human beings, ceding more power to the state on the promise that they can keep their comforts. And the state grows as it multiplies promises in exchange for the people’s support. At every step we hear appeals for justice and promises of a more just world.

If you want to search out this topic of social justice a bit further, Tim Challies has several helpful posts exploring some Scriptures and recent attempts to make distinctions. One book he interacts with by Thaddeus Williams is particularly helpful, Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth. For a masterful book on the relevant and familiar passages, pick up a volume we have our interns read, What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. Neil Shenvi has also done some good work on this front in his post, “Christianity and Social Justice,” and in his series, “Social Justice, Critical Theory, and Christianity: Are They Compatible?,” and in a follow-up piece, “Social Justice, Critical Theory, and Consistency.” For an economist’s interaction on these themes, read two essays by Thomas Sowell, “The Quest for Cosmic Justice,” and “Race, Culture, and Equality.”

Third, Justice Is Nothing Less Than the Foundation of God’s Throne

Why were our streets filled with men and women crying out for justice this past summer? Why did so many storm the Capitol at the start of this year? Without getting into any of the details, we can say this: people long for justice because they were made by a just God, and they are having a hard time finding it down here. We too long for justice.

For all of us, here’s some good news:

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. —Psalm 89:14

We experiment in human government, but our God does not experiment in his government of the universe. His execution of his justice and his plan is perfect. In the end, any injustice in this world will be settled.

That truth on its own is unsettling. In the garden we were in a just relationship with God and one another. When Adam sinned, he committed an injustice against the sovereign of the universe. Since then, we humans have been busy thinking up and carrying out every kind of injustice against one another and, by extension, against the God whose image we bear (Gen. 6:5; 9:6). When we cry out for justice, we’re often on to something. Human governments, as we’ve said, can commit injustice too. But just as often we are covering for injustices we’d rather not talk about or admit as individuals and as a society. The God whose throne is founded on justice sees it all. In fact, so many of our problems in this world are God’s judgment already. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18).

In an age of bad news headlines, we herald and hold fast to this good news, that the God whose throne is founded on justice is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). In the cross we meet the God of justice who is also the God of steadfast love and faithfulness. On the cross he accomplished both justice and peace (Col. 1:20). Even better, he makes us just people and he forms a just community, the church with outposts in every place where people are at peace with God and one another. Today he is building little cities within the cities of this world where people treat each other as they ought, old and young, rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Greek.

Nations come and go, but as a friend recently put it, the church is the only institution which Jesus promised to build, defend, and preserve. A knowledge of God’s justice is one way he does that. It is faith in this God of perfect justice that grounded Christians in the first century. They faced many injustices. But even as Rome declined over the second and third centuries, the church emerged intact. She was not supported by a pantheon of pretend gods who could give her no true meaning or hope. She was sustained by the God whose throne is founded in justice, who judges and who justifies.

Slogans will come and go. People will mean all sorts of things by them. The church’s message remains. It is no threat. It is not ambiguous. It is an open statement of the truth and it’s a standing offer to all: know justice and know peace.