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My Reactions to the Wallis-Mohler Debate on Social Justice

My wife and I attended a fascinating debate between Jim Wallis and Al Mohler on the relationship of social justice to the essential mission of the church (http://www.henrycenter.org/programs/trinity-debates/).  The debate took place on campus at Trinity, in the chapel building, which was filled up with people.  The debate was very stimulating, and I wanted to record my responses and thoughts briefly to what was said.

There was a lot both men agreed on.  Both affirmed the importance of personal salvation in Jesus Christ and the importance of evangelism.  Both also affirmed the necessity of Christians being involved in public (even political) acts of justice, and that this is commanded by God in Scripture.  And not only did they both affirm these things, but they both had a genuine passion behind both of these convictions.  It was moving to hear Jim Wallis share his deep desire to see people come to Christ through acts of social justice, and equally moving when Al Mohler spoke of the urgent need for more Christians to take the question of social justice out of the hypothetical and actually seek to meet the immediate needs of people right before them.

Where Wallis and Mohler seemed to differ, however, was their biblical and theological grid for understanding why Christians should engage in social justice and how that relates to the gospel.  Wallis believes that the gospel is inclusive of social justice, and that social justice is integral to the gospel.  It does not replace the good news of forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; but it includes the inbreaking “already” of God’s reconciliation and redemption of all creation, which includes social justice.  Interestingly, Mohler also says that Christians should be engaged as God’s agents in repairing and restoring God’s glory in his fallen world until Jesus returns, which is inclusive of all spheres of life and vocation, including social justice.  But Mohler wants to define the gospel as the proclamation of what God has done in Christ to reconcile sinners to God through his death.  The mission of the church is to proclaim this gospel and make disciples.  Mohler distinguished between the mission of the church “as the church” to be announcing this gospel and making disciples, and that social justice is to be undertaken by redeemed and transformed Christians doing what Christians should do–which includes social justice.  Thus, where Wallis says that social justice is “integral” to the gospel, Mohler says that social justice is an “implication” of the gospel, and the gospel and discipleship takes priority in the mission of the church…(full article)

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Image by six steps  via Flickr


To dig deeper, i think the debate has to be informed by

  • their respective eschatology: is it the [relatively] ordered world or the chaotic world that the coming Christ is going to take over? if we hold onto the latter view (pretty much premillenial in nature), then social justice must be understood as an implication of the gospel proclamation rather than integral to it (viz., there is a way to divorce social justice from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus). On the contrary, if we think more in progressive and postmillenial terms of the gospel, then the former view promises a more coherent outlook: the gospel brings shalom/social justice not by implication but by a direct transformative encounter. The premise is the gospel’s efficacy to save (then we ask whence and whither).
  • a balanced account of Logos Christology and Adam Christology. For there is no such metaphysical redemptive work of God that can be called ‘the gospel’ without simultaneously incurring the scandalous kenosis of the divine Logos that took place in the temporal realm. What Jesus of Nazareth enacts historically must also be the basis of the confessional metaphysics that underlies our articulation of the gospel.
  • the revelation of sociology and a  phenomenologically-based hamartiology (namely, the phenomenology of sin): as Reinhold Niebuhr says, social injustice is structural sin. There is no such metaphysical sin that we can talk about without simultaneously incurring and explicating its foundational existential and relational aspects: our broken existential condition and the unjust structure that we keep externalizing and internalizing. Sin is about wrong order and faulty relations (above all with God, but also with men, and the rest of creation), rather than, as some traditionalists would say, some imperfections vis-a-vis a speculated perfect Being. There is nothing  concede if we agree upon and behold the truth that our Lord Jesus is the ‘perfect’ sinless moral exemplar for human beings. Now if the gospel of Jesus is the salvation in its totality and it deals with the sin of this world in its totality, it must have in its essence something (note: I didn’t say ‘everything’) against social injustice, that is to say, an element of social justice. We must appreciate the cross as the utmost outcry against social injustice.
    Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...
    Sermon on the mount
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