Amid the uproar over Glenn Beck’s recent comments about the church and social justice, a respected theologian has called for more “careful thinking” and “earnest struggle” with the issue.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., observed that most media jumped on the story taking the simple approach of pitting pro-social justice Christian leaders against the controversial Fox News broadcaster.
But the theologian, who daily tackles hot-button issues on his blog, called on “serious-minded” Christians to take a deeper look at what Beck was trying to say when he warned that the words “social justice” or “economic justice” are “code words” for Communism and Nazism.
During his March 2 radio broadcast, Beck had urged Christians to leave their church if it embraced social and economic justice.
“At first glance, Beck’s statements are hard to defend. How can justice, social or private, be anything other than a biblical mandate,” Mohler wrote on his blog Monday.
“But, there is more going on here,” he contended. “A closer look at his statements reveals a political context.”
Mohler pointed out that Beck had specifically mentioned the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the church where President Obama had attended while living in Chicago.
The Baptist theologian then said many preachers trade “the Gospel for a platform of political and economic change, most often packaged as a call for social justice.”
He looked back on Christian history and highlighted the “immediate roots” of the so-called “social gospel” to Washington Gladden, a Columbus, Ohio, pastor, from the mid-nineteenth century, and, more famously, to Walter Rauschenbusch, a liberal Christian theologian and Baptist minister in the early twentieth century.
Both Gladden and Rauschenbusch promoted a liberal theological message that redirected the Christian emphasis of salvation through Jesus Christ to one that emphasized using politics to bring the Kingdom of God on earth.
“The urgency for any faithful Christian is this – flee any church that for any reason or in any form has abandoned the Gospel of Christ for any other gospel,” Mohler stated.
While Beck’s statements suggest that his primary concern is politics, Mohler said his concern is about the “primacy of the Gospel of Christ.”
“The church’s main message must be that Gospel,” he stated. “The New Testament is stunningly silent on any plan for governmental or social action. The apostles launched no social reform movement. Instead, they preached the Gospel of Christ and planted Gospel church.”
But in spite of the church not adopting a social reform agenda, Mohler believes that a church that is faithful to the Gospel will naturally reform society through the lives of its congregants.
“The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications,” maintained Mohler.
Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University and the son of the late Christian right leader the Rev. Jerry Falwell, also said Jesus taught that individuals, not governments, should help the poor.
"Jesus taught that we should give to the poor and support widows, but he never said that we should elect a government that would take money from our neighbor's hand and give it to the poor," Falwell said in response to the Beck controversy, according to CNN.
But Beck has faced a barrage of criticism from anti-poverty Christian leaders and organizations following his remarks.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, CEO of the social justice ministry Sojourners, called on Christians to stop listening and watching Beck’s shows. Wallis said the Bible is clear that social justice is an “integral part of God’s plan for humanity.”
So far some 30,000 Christians have sent a message to Beck in protest of his social justice comments, according to Wallis.
Mohler, though noting there is some truth to Beck’s statements, criticized the comments for lack of “nuance, fair consideration, and context.”
“It was reckless to use a national media platform to rail against social justice in such a manner,” the theologian said. Becks reckless statements has left him “with little defense against a tidal wave of biblical mandates."
While the church must make preaching the Gospel central to its mission, Christians must strive to “be on the right side of justice,” Mohler concluded.