Hey, SJW, how’d that social action work out for you?

Thirteen years ago I engaged in some correspondence with a well-known social justice warrior (SJW) theologian/preacher.   He did not like my read on what brings a person to salvation and a real relationship with Christ…..conviction, repentance, confession, belief in Jesus.   Sadly, it has been borne out that his approach did not work with some key individuals in his own life who have forsaken the Christian faith to set up a SJW “church” that excludes Jesus altogether, denies the existence of heaven, and simply tries to love people in lieu of directing them to salvation..  Banking on “good works” to get one to faith in Christ is a huge gamble.  On the other hand,  a true relationship with Christ will almost invariably lead one to good works!  it is a perfectly logical and natural progression from loving to following to becoming like Jesus.

July 4, 2005
Dear Well-Known SJW Preacher,

“How do we convert people?” you ask. And you answer, “Get them to do Christian things before getting them to become a Christian. Challenge them to get involved in social work, to preach the Gospel to the poor. Truth must be communicated in the concept of action. Those who come to do the converting end up being converted, not the children on the street. They won’t convert the poor, but they themselves will get converted due to the principle of praxis. Preach about the needs of the poor, get people to commit themselves to Christ by helping the poor. You’re a Christian when your heart is broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus. The greatest need of a person is to love. Loving is what it is all about.”

What breaks the heart of Jesus is our sinfulness. Pity and compassion for the poor don’t save. Helping the poor is a natural result that arises from believing in and submitting oneself to Christ, not a means of salvation.   Repentance and confession about one’s own sinfulness does.

Such a theology of works as you promote will not convert people. That doesn’t mean that such good works aren’t useful. They are. They just won’t lead to salvation. Here’s a little illustration for you. Read Jeremiah 38. Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern with muck in the bottom after running into problems with the locals. The Ethiopian Eunuch petitions the king to allow him to give Jeremiah food. He goes a step further and goes to the storehouse to obtain “filthy rags” and throws them down to Jeremiah to put around himself so that when he throws down the rope to pull him out, he won’t be bruised and burned, hurt by the rope.

Now what saved him? The filthy rags? No, the rope and the Ethiopian eunuch’s strength. Does that mean the rags had no value? No. They provided comfort in the process. So it is with good works. (“Filthy rags” according to Isaiah). They have some value in consoling us once we are shown the true hopeless nature of our dark hearts. They give us some measure of protection against the pain and shame of our nakedness when we are confronted with the depth of our depravity. But it is that understanding and faith that there’s someone up there with a rope that actually can do the work that saves us. The filthy rags must have been viewed as having some value to society or they wouldn’t have been stored in the storehouse. But let’s view them in the proper context. Their value is palliative and face-saving, not soul saving.

I wouldn’t tell a young child trying to mimic my housecleaning that her efforts were totally useless. I’d encourage them and trust that as she grows in size, coordination, and skill that her efforts will take on real value to her in her own home someday. In the mean time they are useful for forming a willing heart and good habits. But they won’t get the house cleaned. When she is sufficiently mature and understands how and why things are done, she’ll be able to do them with all the grace and commitment of maintaining an orderly home herself and her family, not to please me or to make herself feel important.

Get your theology in its proper Biblical sequence. Orthodoxy precedes orthopraxy . Jesus said he who hears (elsewhere he also says ‘and understands’) my word AND does it is my disciple. Your order of business is your undoing. And why, when your beliefs are noted it’s always “Creed, Bible, personal relationship with Christ”? I think your order there is out of whack, too. It’s relationship with Christ that equips us to embrace a creed and gain understanding of the Bible.