With all the hoopla about Glenn Beck v. Jim Wallis on “social justice,” this is worth noting. Marvin Olasky has a problem with how many theologians and pastors mean the term “social justice.” He says, if necessary, find another church. A snippet of his thoughts (via Between Two Worlds):

[M]odern usage [of the term “social justice”] by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.

How to respond? I’d suggest four possible ways. . .

Challenge those who speak of “social justice” in a conventionally leftist way. If your local church is committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching. If necessary, find another church.

A second: Try to recapture the term by giving it a 19th- (and 21st?) century small-government twist. The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to do this. I wish them success.

A third way: Accept the left’s focus on systemic problems but not its faulty analysis. Learn about the biggest institutional hindrance to economic advance for the poor: the government’s monopoly control of taxpayer funds committed to education and welfare. Work for school vouchers and tax credits that will help many poor children to grow both their talents and their knowledge of God.

Fourth and best: Tutor a child. Visit a prisoner. Help the sick. Follow Christ.


8 Comments

  1. “[M]odern usage [of the term “social justice”] by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.”

    Because the Bible clearly only supports a free enterprise system? Because free enterprise is the best economic hope for the poor?

    Olasky has his own political views and he has projected those onto Christianity. It is a shame that he associates liberal politics with liberal theology.

    In reality, you can be a political liberal in favor of highly progressive taxes, universal health care, and many government social service and simultaneously theologically conservative.

    I think that Beck, Olasky, and even Wallis (to a degree) all hamper the discourse by trying to tie a political philosophy to a theological viewpoint.

    In my mind you should either 1) accept that you can be liberal politically and conservative theologically or any other combination or 2) focus on arguing why you think there is only one valid political viewpoint to match your theological viewpoint.

  2. I don’t know who Marvin Olasky is but the instant he predicated schism on political preferences he lost any ability to be a part of the conversation.

  3. Mike,

    Olasky’s quote that your cited is two-fold. He says social justice usage is unbiblical because it makes the Gospel fighting capitalism. Liberation theology says we are saved primarily from unjust social institutions, not from sin. Christ is a proto-marxist political liberator, not a redeemer.

    On the other hand, he is saying that free enterprise is actually better for the poor than the alternatives. Having read/heard a lot more from him, he doesn’t mean christians can only support free enterprise. He is arguing that, based upon his investigation of both the bible and the nature of poverty/economics, free enterprise is best for all involved. He has argued elsewhere that liberal policies, while well-intentioned, have in effect done much more harm than good.

    Olasky does believe you can be a theological conservative and political liberal. He just disagrees with you and wants to discuss with you why he thinks you are wrong. As long as it’s civil (and he is so), I think dicussing these things is perfectly legitimate. Being something like a political agnostic is not necessarily a virtue. So if you want a fuller argument, I suggest his book the tragedy of American compassion.

  4. Dane,

    Olasky was born jewish, became an atheist/marxist member of the communist party. He was very, very liberal in his politics, obviously. He converted to Christianity and to poliical conservatism later on. He taught for several decades at the University of Texas teaching journalism. He is now the Founder of World magazine, which follows current events/politics from a Christian perspective. He has been a very reasonable advocate for conservatism and for orthodox christianity, and deserves more than anyone on this blog (myself included) to be part of the conversation.

  5. I now know who Marvin Olasky is but the instant he predicated schism on political preferences he lost any ability to be a part of the conversation.

    No really. With a view of cult and culture so skewed, there are several conversations that must take place before he’s able to contribute anything worthwhile to the conversation. Or he can just keep mum on the schismatics and stick to reciting point number four. That way, people won’t realize that his understanding of the church is deficient and they’ll be able to go: “That Marvin, such a nice boy! See? He gets it. He understands the place of politics in the church. He doesn’t need to read Ben Bartlett’s article from Cinco de Abril.”

    That said, maybe someone should forward him Ben’s article. Then he can join that conversation at least. ‘Til then, his ill-formed conception of the unity and concern of the church prevents him from being taken seriously.

    Here, let me point out the problem: “If necessary, find another [non-conventionally-leftist] church.” Why the problem? Because there is nothing biblical about the notion/suggestion. Nothing. It’s repulsive.

  6. Dane, I don’t think Olasky is saying to leave your church merely because it believes liberally on politics. I’ve heard him say otherwise before. Notice what he says before your quote of him. “If your local church is committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching.” That is a higher standard for leaving than you seem to attribute to him. There are times when political beliefs so infect the church (left or right leaning) that the gospel and the mission of the church become distorted beyond recognition. I think of the prosperity gospel on the right, for instance. Making material prosperity a sign of God’s favor or righting social injustice the heart of the gospel makes it no gospel at all. I think Paul speaking to the Galatians wouldn’t disagree. That doesn’t mean God can’t materially prosper His people; nor does it mean God doesn’t demand we help those in need (though Olasky doesn’t disagree with the second at all. He merely disagrees on what is most effective in realizing that mission).

    I welcome healthy debate over whether current political issues line up with biblical principles. Just as we don’t have to get everything right in theology (do we baptize infants? What is the best form of church government? Is the bible to be read as dispensations or as covenantal? All of these, by the way, have caused divisions and the first two make it, according to Al Mohler, incapable of disagreeing people to be in the same denomination). If we can disagree there and still hold larger communion as believers, we can remain christians and still think the other person is dead wrong on whether the bible is more supportive of free market principles, affirmative action, gay marriage, etc. When our differences do not effect the heart of the gospel, there is no reason for a split. Nothing I’ve read elsehwhere from Olasky would disagree with these ideas.

    I also think his debate with Jim Wallis at Cedarville (linked at the bottom of his article) is helpful. And finally, I think he could read Ben’s article fron “cinco de abril” and say “amen.”

  7. One quick addition. I noted that Olasky would probably approve of Ben’s article. To be clearer, I meant he would agree with the conclusion that basic political divisions should not cause hate, rancor, and divisions among believers that hampers or destroys our community as followers of Christ. Christians above all should strive to be models of civil disagreement.

  8. I don’t think Olasky is saying to leave your church merely because it believes liberally on politics.

    Well then he should pick different words because that’s the natural conclusion on would draw from his words. Here, look. He refers to those who speak in a conventionally leftist way and then throws in the supposition that they are committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators (by nature of their leftist thinking). Further, he posits gospel-centered teaching in opposition to social justice in the final clause of the sentence. The two things are, of course, unrelated but that doesn’t stop him from typing them together. And one must conclude that Olasky is saying that if your church supports would-be dictators by simple virtue of the fact that they are politically leftist, it may be necessary for you to leave them.

    He kind of games the table here by propping up gospel-centered teaching as the foe of the political left, turning his suggestion into “If they don’t have gospel-centered preaching, it may be necessary to leave,” but that’s a blind. He’s made the two (gospel preaching and a leftist politic) mutually exclusive. This was just a plain irresponsible thing to do.

    There are times when political beliefs so infect the church (left or right leaning) that the gospel and the mission of the church become distorted beyond recognition.

    That is absolutely true. But if that’s what he was saying, perhaps he should have said that instead. Maybe he should hire you as PR ^_^ since you’re doing a better job at explaining him than he did.

    All of these, by the way, have caused divisions and the first two make it, according to Al Mohler, incapable of disagreeing people to be in the same denomination.

    Yeah, but Al Mohler’s obviously wrong because there are dispensationalists, credobaptists, people entirely apathetic to governmental structures in my conservative Presbyterian congregation. Still, further proof that denominations are dumb.

    Nothing I’ve read elsehwhere from Olasky would disagree with these ideas.

    Then he shouldn’t have said it. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe he didn’t mean it the way that he said it. In the context of what he’s saying, “if necessary, find another church” is wholly inappropriate. I’m still a little concerned that he’s one of those who’s allowed political beliefs to so infect his Christianity that the gospel and mission of the church have become unduly distorted. (Your recommendation otherwise notwithstanding…)

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