This week an “Evangelism Task Force” appointed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines in 2017 released the findings of its report. Their assignment was to “investigate the possibilities for renewal among Southern Baptists in evangelistic effectiveness for the third decade of the 21st Century.”
The task force’s chairman was Paige Patterson, a former SBC president who was recently fired from his role as the president of an SBC seminary after making inappropriate comments about women and mishandling rape allegations of students. All of the task force’s members were men.
Part of the lengthy report is a section of “evangelism articles of affirmation and denial.” It includes statements like “We deny that evangelism should be employed through means of manipulation, coercion, deceitfulness, or intimidation” and theological statements like “We affirm that the heart of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins.”
One the lines that is getting attention, though, reads, “We deny that the gospel is primarily concerned with social justice, political engagement, or secular aims resulting in the call to personal repentance and faith being minimized or ignored.”
SBC evangelism task force report, previously chaired by Paige Patterson, says that social justice is not a Gospel priority…. https://t.co/jSia1NiVxz
— The Christian Post (@ChristianPost) June 12, 2018
The report doesn’t specify what it means by “social justice.”
The language is interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, it lumps social justice in with “political engagement” and “secular aims” to correct misbehavior. It’s not that these can’t be related, but they aren’t necessarily. Social justice issues can be addressed without institutional or partisan politics or “secular aims.” And the word “primarily” is an interesting choice because it seems to suggest that evangelism and the effort to fight injustices are unrelated and separate. Yes, they can be done independently of each other, but that doesn’t mean they should be. In fact, the book of James explicitly links them:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? … Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless.
It says, “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Martin Luther found the book so troubling that he said, “I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove.” And disconnecting social justice and carrying for those in need from the gospel risks doing just that.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.