One More Word about the Gospel, Cultural Marxism, and Social Justice
Many influential Evangelicals have claimed that social justice is a form of cultural Marxism. Therefore, as they have argued unpersuasively, social justice is incomparable with the Gospel and biblical notion of justice. They have called upon other Christian thinkers not to integrate social justice in their theological vocabulary and hermeneutical reasoning.
The Christians on the other side of the debate maintain that social justice is a natural outcome of the Gospel, whose basic interconnected premise and logical reasoning entail a dual Christian commitment in public: (1) the proclamation of Jesus as cosmic Lord and Jesus as the salvific hope for all people, and (2) the deeds of the Gospel resulting in rigorous Christian social activism and Christian participation in society to eradicate its injustices, evils, and all forms of social ills and oppressive systems and structures.
This matter continues to divide the Church. I believe that faithful Christians should not be quick to separate the intricate and necessary relationship between divine justice and social justice. While God’s method of effecting justice in society may differ than the human action in obtaining justice, the God of the Bible is for justice in all its redemptive and transformative sense.
The Case Against Exclusive Hermeneutics
There are five major problems leading to this “exclusive hermeneutics,” from the pen of those who reject the intimate rapport between the Gospel and God’s clarion call to his people to practice and promote justice in society.
1. These thinkers are reading Scriptures from the perspective of the dominant class while ignoring the God of the Bible who always sides with the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed. These are not cultural Marxist terms. Karl Marx did not invent those cultural concepts and linguistic terms; they are found in the original Hebrew and Greek Texts of the Bible. Moreover, when one considers the predicament of America’s enormous poor populations and the world’s poor populations, one should inquire about the nature of established human systems, structures, organizations, and powers that hinder human flourishing and generate the inhumane practices and living conditions of the global poor.
2. These Christian thinkers are bad cultural exegetes and terrible interpreters of the God who despises injustice, abuse, and oppression of any manifestation or form. This is due to their negligence of being good students of American history and global history and the wide economic and educational gap that separates the rich and the poor, the privileged and the disenfranchised, the oppressed and the oppressor.
3. Many Christians have either not studied Marxism or if they have read him, they have interpreted him poorly. It is important to read Marx’s own works, not a few articles and commentaries about his ideas.
4. Some of these Christians have not studied American History from the lens of the Native Americans, whose European-inflicted suffering and pain is immeasurable; the enslaved Africans, who were brought to the United States and the Americas involuntarily and whose labor was freely exploited and gained; and from the viewpoint of America’s contemporary economically-disadvantaged populations, whose collective story and shared experiences are often disenfranchised and silenced in America’s theological metanarrative and Sunday morning sermons.
To only read and consider American History from the lens of those in the seat of power and influence is detrimental to Christian witness in the public sphere. It is also certainly not compatible with the God of the Exodus and Liberator of the Hebrew slaves. This deliberate dodging reinforces the problem of telling a monolithic American story/history (and Christian story/history in America and in the world) that defines the whole of the American experience, while intentionally erasing the complex experiences and lives of those in the margins and silencing the voice of America’s minority populations.
5. Many Christians spend a lot of time reading theology books written from the worldview and vantage point of White American and European Male scholars. This demographic is not the guardian of truth and the divine revelation. No one has a monopoly on Biblical interpretation or theological hermeneutics.
The White Male American-European theological experience does not define the global and intricate experiences of other Christians in the world. It is not the telos of Biblical hermeneutics. This practice of “theological-hermeneutical exclusion” has made these Christian thinkers insensitive to the plight of the world’s poor, a group that characterizes a large population of Christians. The Christians with this theological preference need to move from their terrain of theological comfort to explore the writings and ideas of Brown and Black theologians and Biblical scholars.
Finally, I must also say that this current debate among Christians on the meaning of the Gospel and Social justice has deep roots in theological education and ethical instructions at the seminary level. The curriculum of America’s theological seminaries and divinity schools, especially those of the Evangelical tradition, is “white,” “European,” “male,” and “intellectually exclusive.” Unfortunately, these phenomena are also representative in the faculty-student body. The issue of theological and human representation in theological education has tremendous implications on race relations in churches, the effectiveness of the Gospel in culture, and social justice conversations among Christian thinkers and leaders.
Part two of this article will be published on Wednesday, April 17th 2019.
8 thoughts on “One More Word about the Gospel, Cultural Marxism, and Social Justice”
Amen! Thank you for taking the time to break this down. So many Christians (white and uninformed Christians of color) simply do not understand (or want to) that much of American Christianity (and some parts of the world) is from a white/European lens and it dictates the content that is preached at the pulpit. Can’t wait to read more!
Your attack on others and their level of humility is noted.
Those of you who attacked this article, please humble yourselves and see the truth that is really here. These are all good points that we must consider.
I am interested to hear what Part 2 of this article says, because as it stands, Part 1 is woefully inadequate and actually seems to prove the point the author is trying to counter. I echo Thomas W.’s comments on April 16, and, additionally, I add a couple of my own critiques below:
First, in Point 1, Dr. Joseph states that God “always sides with the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the oppressed.” Additional explanation and some Biblical citations would have been worthwhile in providing context for that statement, because, by itself, the statement is flagrantly heretical. If God always sides with widows, Jezebel (the widowed queen of Israel) would not have met the end she did in the Old Testament. Moreover, if God always sides with the poor, that would put Him on the side of Nazi survivors of World War II (who in Soviet hands were most certainly no longer a dominant class) and ISIS militants now (many of whom are no doubt poor, orphaned, and on the run). Dr. Joseph’s statement, as written, simply does not appear to hold water, though I would be interested in hearing further explanation.
Second, Dr. Joseph critiques those who say social justice is cultural Marxism and therefore unbiblical, but I am a little uncertain as to what Dr. Joseph’s opinion of Marxism is. In point 3, he states, “Many Christians have either not studied Marxism or if they have read him, they have interpreted him poorly. It is important to read Marx’s own works, not a few articles and commentaries about his ideas.” So what is Dr. Joseph’s stance on Marxism? I note with concern that I find no statement in this article that is directly critical of Marxism, though I also concede that the author’s reference to the Gospel and belief in a spiritual reality would have made Marx spit his morning coffee through his nose. I simply am unable to ascertain whether Dr. Joseph is arguing that social justice is not influenced by Marxism or whether he is arguing that social justice, even if influenced by Marxism, is biblical. Those are two very, very different arguments.
In closing, though my statements above are critical of Dr. Joseph’s article, I am, as always, grateful to The Witness for the opportunity to comment here. And though Dr. Joseph should feel no obligation to respond to an anonymous commenter such as myself, I would be interested to hear further elaboration on the points he makes. As it stands, his article’s own words (and not the words of critics) causes me to be concerned that Dr. Joseph is incorporating either Marxist thought or something equally unbiblical into his interpretation of history. He has failed to calm my doubts about current conceptions of “social justice.”
Points 1 and 2 are largely ad hominem. Point 3 is mind reading fallacy on the assumption of what others have read. Point 4 and 5 still don’t address the fulcrum, but attack their knowledge and racial background.
All of these with general assumptions and stereotypes, but nothing emperical or specific on who you refer to. You are as guilty here of poor response and irrational judgemnt as they are.
This only contributes to the problem, not alleviates.
The primary problem is that side A sees social justice being defined and used by paganism and Marxism. Side B sees it defined and used by biblical justice.
You waste 99% of your time arguing past each other. Rather than recognizing the truth in both side A and side B.
Aside from semantics and arguing past each other. This issue swings on the how past corporate sin in the church is applied to future generations who do not share and have not shared in that sin.
It is not an issue of loving your neighbor (side B’s social justice) by which we all agree on.
Is this something that should take place in all parts of the world? Or are you only saying this is what it looks like in America.
For example, you say that the Gospel should entail a commitment to…. “(2) the deeds of the Gospel resulting in rigorous Christian social activism and Christian participation in society to eradicate its injustices, evils, and all forms of social ills and oppressive systems and structures.”
How exactly would you tell a North Korean christian, for example, to be involved in “rigorous Christian social activism and Christian participation in society to eradicate its injustices, evils, and all forms of social ills and oppressive systems and structures.” in North Korean society? A society where even the act of owning a Bible could get you (and your family) thrown in a concentration camp of unimaginable conditions….
Are you saying that those North Koreans have a Biblical imperative to be social activists in order to “erdicate…injustices, evils, and all forms of social ills and oppressive systems and structures” in North Korea? And that if they aren’t doing those things, then they are not fully living out the Gospel?
You are writing such truth. It took some 50+ years for me to truly understand what kingdom living really is and it is not male, white, or American/European. Thank you!
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot. You’ve nailed it! Number 2 & 5 are gold. Can’t wait for part two. Thank you, Celucien.