It grieves me to meet you in this way. The church I pastor has been strengthened by your ministry. Your voice is known here because of the work you have done to support families, comfort the hurting, counsel those who seek wisdom, and—most importantly—preach the Gospel. I would be eager to write to you about these things, but I am loathe to address you about the matter at hand. I address it because “the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is at stake. But before I go there, I want to stress that I respect you and honor you for your work in the ministry. If “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6:10), far be it from me to overlook your track record in Gospel ministry when bringing this corrective.
The problem is that your recent article, “My Confession: Toward a More Balanced Gospel” does not belong to our common salvation, but rather, stands in subtle opposition to it. Even as you have lent your ear to Dr. Eric Mason, and his teaching, as admitted, contributed to your change of understanding regarding the Gospel, please lend me your ear, although I have done nothing to earn a right to speak to you. For twelve of the last fourteen years of my life, I ministered in inner-city Philadelphia, where I was an ethnic minority. I was “white” among a majority “black” and Hispanic culture and church. Later, I was a minority in a Vietnamese congregation. According to the (Marxist) proponents of intersectionality, maybe this would afford me some credibility to speak to the matter at hand. But I don’t think so.
All that matters here is the truth. If you and Dr. Mason and I would choose to sit and swap dramatic stories about the things we have seen and suffered in inner-city Philadelphia, I don’t think I would be outdone. But such talking wouldn’t solve the problem. It might even make things worse. In the end, it is only truth that stands to convince you anew of what you already knew of the Gospel of God’s Grace before your recent changes. Truth, not me, can convince you, and we have but one Word of Truth in order to know what that is. I hope we agree on Sola Scriptura. Yet people have a role in rightly handling the Word. So, as Job listened to Elihu, despite his lack of earned social credibility, please hear me out, even though I am unknown to you and we are meeting in this undesirable way.
Your new gospel, over against the one you preached so effectively for so many years to the great benefit of many, is a deviation from the genuine Gospel, due to a fundamental category error. You write, “we have been chosen to be his ambassadors, not only of his forgiveness, but equally of the justice that he was unwilling to compromise in order to deliver his grace to us”. You thus assert that the message of our ambassadorship, the gospel we herald, is “equally” a message of forgiveness of sin—an offer from our King to rebellious sinners, of which we are merely stewards—and a message of justice, our role having yet to be determined. The latter you make equal to the former.
Thus, in your new gospel, God’s ambassadors herald 1) forgiveness and 2) justice. Or, the gospel is the message of forgiveness and the message of justice (one not to be outdone by the other). That is how I am understanding you…gospel=forgiveness+justice.
The genuine Biblical Gospel, by comparison, if put into such an equation, would be Gospel=Grace. The entire right-hand side would be called “grace” because it encompasses the whole of what God did for us in giving us what we ill-deserve. The Good News according to the Scriptures is that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son—Jesus Christ—to die upon the cross, thus satisfying His own demand that sin be justly punished, and that He rose to life for our justification, so that all of us repentant believing ones will receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Notice how centered on God this Gospel is. It is so much about Him, one could rightly call it The Gospel of God’s Grace.
Your equation has Good News equal to the forgiveness God provides plus some justice that is differentiable from the forgiveness that is already there on that side of the equation. That is like saying Gospel=Grace+Grace. If gospel=forgiveness+justice, and the justice you are referring to is God’s heavenly justice, then the forgiveness to which you wish to add it already implies the satisfaction of God’s justice. So, your only change would be to redundancy. But, if you are not being redundant, if you are moving “toward” a gospel that is different than what you used to preach, then you must now be speaking of some other kind of justice—not what God has satisfied, but something we usher in, on earth as it is in heaven. Either way, you can’t have it both ways. If you want to speak of justice as part and parcel of the Gospel, then it must be that justice which Jesus satisfies on the cross, namely, God’s justice that must punish sin. But if you start out speaking that way, then you cannot jump categories to speak of our pursuit of justice in human relationships, unless you clearly indicate that you are now referring to this different kind of justice.
My core concern is that your article does not clearly differentiate between God’s justice in heaven—righteousness upheld in relation to His holy Self and a bunch of rebel sinners—and justice on earth. Beginning well, at some point in the article, you conflate these categories, because by the end of it, the preaching of an atonement that satisfies God’s justice is no longer sufficient Gospel, but needs “justice” work on our part to make it balanced and complete. Quite eloquently, you say that “on the cross of Jesus Christ, grace and justice kiss”. Such language is near to Gospel truth. I might quibble with the language a bit, preferring to say that love and justice kiss, while grace flies like a banner over the whole. But your category is clearly a heavenly one, recognizing that God is the One with whom we have to do. He is at the center of this word picture. It is His love (Romans 5:8), His justice (Romans 3:26), His grace (Ephesians 1:6) that makes this good news so glorious. You and I are tracking together early in the article. But then your subheading reads, “The Gospel of Justice”.
Let it be said that the Bible nowhere speaks of a “gospel of justice”. Nor does it speak of a “gospel of love” (a phrase often used by “Red Letter Christians”). “Justice” cannot be the Gospel, because if God gives justice to us, then we all go to hell. That’s not good news. “Love” cannot be the Gospel, because if God gives love to us, freely pardoning without a blood atonement and without faith to connect us into it, then God is not just, and our hope of heaven is founded upon the whims of an all-powerful (and completely untrustworthy) Being. That’s not good news. “Grace” can be the Gospel, because if God extends His kind forgiveness to whom He desires on the merits of the shed blood of the perfect Lamb, lovingly giving us what we don’t deserve while justly punishing our sin vicariously, then we are happily forgiven. That’s good news. And so it is that the Bible speaks of “the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24), but never of “the gospel of justice” or “the gospel of love”.
Under the heading “The Gospel of Justice”, your category error begins when the so-called “gospel of his justice” comes down from heaven into the realm of man-to-man relationships. Drawing upon the general equity of the biblical teaching that genuine faith will produce good works (James 2), you go beyond merely asserting that doing justly (Micah 6:8) is part of what genuine Christians do. You elevate that particular piece of fruit of the Gospel to the category of the root. The root of the Gospel is God Himself, who—in His grace—extends to sinners what we don’t deserve—namely, forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The new man in Christ, born from that root (born of God), will produce fruits in keeping with repentance. The Christian is like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1). We arise from the root of the Gospel, like the church is said to arise from the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). But, you push the fruit under the ground, trying to make it a root. You make “justice” in human relationships part and parcel of the Gospel. It is not.
The Gospel is 1) the Person of Christ, 2) the work of Christ, 3) according to the Scriptures 4) the forgiveness of sin and eternal life, and 5) repentance and faith. It is a profoundly God-centered message. It doesn’t need to be balanced out by any man-centered category of justice. To add to the Gospel actually defaces it. So says the book of Galatians.
Finally, it must be said, the pursuit of “justice”, which is at best one of many fruits of the Gospel, needs to be defined and supported with specific examples before it can even be considered a meaningful call to action. Nowadays, in this country, given the current political climate and agendas of men, one cannot merely say that “justice work” is what we need to be doing. Does that mean looking for “white privilege”? If you find it, what does it mean we are to do?
Paul, I call on you to recant your article for the reasons given above. Your article poses a number of questions. Mine does as well. I would welcome a public dialogue between us, or one that included us and one or two others who stand on each respective “side”. I understand that reasoning together from the Scriptures is better than making demands. So, I welcome any face-to-face interaction you are willing to grant. But, be it known that I believe the Gospel is at stake, and therefore call you to return to the Gospel you preached for many years. I implore you to confess the absolute God-centeredness of the Gospel, and do so publicly, like your recent “confession”.