Social Justice and Jesus

We have to wonder why Jesus does not stress learning correct theology if orthodoxy is of utmost importance. Instead, he focuses on one's relationship to God, as well as to other human beings created in the image of God. We cannot blame propositional evangelicalism, which focuses primarily on being right, on St Paul, either, since he spends much time in many of his letters either correcting wrong behavior (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-4; 5:1-8; 6:7-11) or informing us how to live (cf. Gal. 5:1-26; Eph. 4:1-32; 5:1-20; Phil. 1:27-30; 2:1-18; 3:17-21; 4:4-9). We do not conclude that theology is insignificant, however. What we conclude is that our priorities need reorientation.

What this reorientation will look like is a greater emphasis on being Christian rather than believing certain theological tenets. Many conservative evangelicals will read this and interpret the meaning as, "Theology does not matter, and what matters is being nice to others." This conclusion belongs to the cognitive distortion known as black or white thinking: i.e., rather than a both/and perspective, we must adopt an either/or motif. This is false. We can prefer a social justice theme in light of our theology rather than allow our respective theologies to govern our being Christian, meaning our being right, and grant a tip of the hat to justice.

This is not how Jesus conducted His life and ministry. You find me an instance within the Gospels indicating that Jesus prefers theological discourse over ministering to others and I will admit my wrong and change the direction of this site. When Jesus encounters people, He does not teach them theology, but how to live with a kingdom perspective. What the Jewish people are familiar with is the Law of Moses, as interpreted by the Teachers of the Law, and what works they must perform in order to please the God of Israel. Jesus, however, turns that notion on its head and teaches the people how they ought to think and live in light of the grace of God.

A theology without a heart for God and for people is an empty, worthless, futile exercise. One's theology should inform the primacy of social justice, not take its place, not assume its utilization as a battering ram against all dissenting opinions. Too many conservative evangelicals use their theology as weapons, against their theological opponents, and against the culture at large. Yet, Jesus does not call us to engage in a culture war, for we are not at war with people. At best we are at war with spiritual beings intent on our destruction -- meaning the destruction of all human beings, all civility, all good governments and God's coming kingdom (cf. 2 Cor. 4:1-6; 10:3-6).

We need to remember a core message of Jesus: "Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets." (Matt. 7:12 NCV) This corresponds with the following: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22:36-40) The latter statement is also translated: "The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments." (NLT) When Jesus returns, He will gladly reward all believers who blessed the socially oppressed, marginalized, and despised, stating, "I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me." (cf. Matt. 25:34-40 NRSV) Notice that Jesus does not reward people for being right, for having all their theological propositions in order, but for what they do.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.