FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 18, number 35, August 29, 2019
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” -2 Peter 3:10
Have you noticed the many sermons, books, and blogs telling the church of Jesus Christ that our purpose is to reweave the culture? Hugh Welchel refers to this as our calling from God to “reweave shalom.” Tim Keller, in Generous Justice, puts it this way, “Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, and power and resources into the lives and needs of others.” In other words, due to the sin and injustice in the world we have lost shalom and our job is to bring it back, to reweave shalom into our culture. The term shalom is a Hebrew word which means completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. It is still used today as a greeting. To say, “Shalom” to someone is to wish them the very best. It is a wonderful Biblical concept.
If by reweaving shalom Welchel and Keller mean using our time, goods, power, and resources to preach the gospel, to fulfill the Great Commission, calling men, women, and children everywhere to repent and be saved, to allow over many years for a tsunami of truth to wash over every aspect of our culture which brings some measure of Biblical morality then wonderful. Praise the Lord. I am in full agreement. If, however, they mean that the church’s responsibility is to labor for social justice, to focus our attention on righting the wrongs, real or imagined, of government then I suggest they are grossly mistaken. As the agnostic and former leftist radical now turned conservative David Horowitz writes, “When Soviet Communism collapsed in 1991, progressives didn’t give up their illusions. Instead they changed the name of their utopian dream. Today they no longer call their earthly redemption ‘Communism.’ They call it social justice.”
Social justice in the garb of Christianity is founded on the ancient heresy of Pelagius, a fourth century monk who believed in the basic goodness of man. He denied wholeheartedly the doctrine of original sin. He acknowledged that the world has many problems and injustices but these are not, he said, because of man but rather because of societal structures. Augustine, on the other hand, believed in the total and complete depravity of every person, that only God’s saving grace could restore man. Pelagius believed that if we could only work to make the world more moral, more just, then we could eventually reach a utopia or perfect world. The early church condemned Pelagius as a heretic.
This is the message of communism and social justice-a perfect world or utopia is possible if only we can change societal structures. This notion, however, is a pipe dream, a mirage. Jesus told us that we would always have the poor with us (Matthew 26:11). Why? For one thing the world is filled with godless, profane, and wicked people who rip off families and nations, who usurp power for their own advantage, leaving the weak and defenseless in their wake. No manner of reweaving shalom is going to change that. When we truly understand that the world is full of sinners, selfish human beings who so very often oppress other ethnicities in order to exalt themselves, that crony capitalism unjustly puts more and more wealth into the hands of the few, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then surely we can see that something far more radical that “reweaving shalom” is necessary to bring change to the world.
But social justice, social action is “cool”. It is very appealing. It is the “real world” in which people daily live, and many pastors and leaders in the church of Jesus Christ have bought the lie “hook, line, and sinker.” This does not mean, of course, that we are not to concern ourselves with foster children, the poor in our inner cities, or to adopt children from developing nations. However these efforts, along with so many other good ones, are the result of gospel. These efforts are not the gospel itself. When we hear people speak of renewing our world, that by our deeds of mercy we can bring our world much closer to utopia, to the new earth (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1-4) then I am reminded of similar statements made by liberal Nineteenth century theologians like Henry Ward Beecher, Josiah Strong, and Walter Rauschenbusch. This form of liberalism emptied the churches because it took the edge off our direct responsibility to evangelize the lost and then to disciple them.
Behind these statements is the idea that our world, as we know it, is permanent, that it is not going away. I have heard numerous preachers make this statement. While it is very difficult for proponents of this ideology to dismiss passages like 2 Peter 3:10-13 which clearly teach some kind conflagration which will end the world as we know it, they nonetheless do their very best to do just that. While they readily admit the world’s fallen state, they still say the church’s role is to labor for the redemption of culture. That is, we are to make this world a better place. This is to come, they say, by practicing social justice, racial reconciliation through progressive, statist, identity politics. More specifically, they are urging us, as the church of Jesus, to seek justice, reconciliation, and reparations for victims of violence, oppression, or racism; to preserve God’s creation through Green energy initiatives; to transform social and cultural systems, and to labor for the removal of what they call systemic racism and oppression of minorities.
Government, however, has its place. Government is to administer justice (Romans 13:4), but government can never change the heart of man. Government policies can never remove greed, bigotry, sexual immorality and perversion. It can never turn a racist into one who loves all people. It can never make a girl who was molested by her brother forgive him. Only true Christianity, preaching Christ crucified in the power of the Holy Spirit, where people are born again and have a heart change, can bring any level of shalom to this world and even this will never go very far. Why? Because every one is born a hell bound sinner and even redeemed sinners still sin. But we do have this hope, that the heavens and the earth will be consumed by fire on the day of the Lord, the day of judgment. And in that conflagration the world and the galaxies as we know them will be destroyed, but God will rebuild, establish a new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness will abide forever. In this new heavens and earth there will be no more sin or sickness or death or mourning or crying or pain. The old has passed away and the new has come.
1. Our Calling to Restore Culture, Hugh Whelchel, June 20, 2012, <Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics>
2. Ibid.3. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Brown, Driver, and Briggs, page 1022.
4. David Horowitz, Dark Agenda: The War to Destroy Christian America, pages 29,30. 5. The following all speak of fire as a means of God’s final judgment, Isaiah 34:4, Psalm 46:6, Micah 1:4, Malachi 4:1, Revelation 8:7-8, 9:17-18, 16:8, 18:8, 20:9
6. Douglas Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, addresses the issue of environmentalism and how Christianity has rightly or wrongly borne the brunt of much criticism for neglecting environmental issues. The paper is actually quite good, especially when we keep in mind Moo’s main point, to show that Christians should in fact be concerned about the environment. My concern, however, is that Moo seems to dismiss these fiery images which are so prevalent in Scripture about the end of the cosmos as we know it.