Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

A Purple Haze: Looking More Carefully at ‘Social Justice’

alexandru-bogdan-ghita-javr3cmXbSE-unsplashYou keep using that word . . .
I do not think it means what you think it means.
— Inigo Montoya —

Have you ever used a word in a sentence, only to discover that the meaning of that word is not exactly what you thought it was? I have. And I’ve had to go back and rewrite the sentence, or admit on the spot, that I misspoke.

I would propose that the term “social justice” is such a word. It is used a lot today, by lots of different types of people. I am sure I’ve used it. Yet, as we seek to define to what it is, we quickly learn that like Clark Griswold’s Christmas turkey, social justice looks great on the outside, but doesn’t contain much meat when we cut into the bird.

Here are five quotations about the haziness, dare I say the meaninglessness, of the term “social justice.” I have tried to capture each quotation in a sentence. And at the end, I’ve included something of a takeaway on the subject—namely, that social justice is not as helpful or value neutral as its contentless definition may first appear.

I am sure you have had some run in with social justice, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. Feel free to add a quote, a question, or comment in the comments section. Continue reading

Social Justice 101: 12 Scriptures, 7 Proposals, and 3 Appreciations from *What is the Mission of the Church?*

nathan-lemon-FBiKcUw_sQw-unsplashIn What is the Mission of the Church?Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide two chapters on social justice. The first examines twelve passages often used to support social justice with biblical texts. The second chapter synthesizes their exegetical findings. Under seven “proposals” they offer a helpful introduction to the topic of justice, so often labeled “social justice.”

In what follows, I will share their twelve Scriptures and seven points. Then I will offer three words of appreciation and application from What is the Mission of the Church?

Twelve Scriptures Related to Social Justice

Continue reading

25 Exegetical Truths about Justice: A Summary from Psalms 97–101

cloud05Over the last five weeks, I have been outlining an approach to righteousness and justice that stands on an exegetical study of Psalms 97–101. In what follows I will summarize those studies and show the way righteous justice is . . .

  • found in God’s kingdom,
  • communicated by his justification of sinners,
  • mediated from heaven to earth through his royal priests,
  • triumphant over all sin and unrighteousness, and
  • established in his household.

As I have stated many times, the order of God’s righteousness and justice is important. And here is summary of the steps that we find in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

From Personal Righteousness to Public Justice (pt. 2): Five More Truths from Psalm 101

cloud05Yesterday, I began to walk through Psalm 101, observing the ways that verses 1–4 teach us about personal righteousness. Today, we will return to that psalm in order to see what verses 5–8 tell us about public justice. As I defined it in my sermon on Psalm 101, public justice can be defined as actions that promote the well-being of others, based upon the righteousness of God. 

The two words “promote” and “based upon” are where the action is in this definition. As I explained yesterday, personal righteousness is necessary for justice to endure, thus explaining how I understand the relationship between God’s righteousness and justice. Today, I will explain what it means to promote the well-being of others. As Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (The Mission of the Church) note, there are times when the word justice, and “social justice” especially, are unhelpful. One reason is that acts of charity might be better described in terms of compassion and loving opportunities for service rather than justice and moral responsibilities to correct the world’s problems.

I agree. Yet, when defined appropriately—in terms of impartial processes and not equivalent outcomes—I do believe it is possible to speak of justice in terms of promoting the well-being of others, in the sense that justice protects the vulnerable, assists the needy, and looks for ways to improve opportunities for others to enjoy God’s blessings—especially eternal blessings.

In what follows, I will attempt to show what public justice looks like, as we consider five truths from Psalm 101. But first let me summarize all that we have discovered about God’s justice in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

Jesus, the Poor, and the Mission of the Church: Three Truths about the Gospel

black cross on top of mountain

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
— John 12:8 —

What does the cross of Christ have to do with the relief of poverty? Does the gospel address the issue of economic justice? When Scripture speaks of Jesus paying our debt is this spiritual in nature, or material too? How did Jesus think about his cross and what his cross was meant to accomplish? These questions and more can be asked when we think about the gospel and its relationship to poverty and justice—a theme that continues to confront us these days.

Thankfully, Scripture gives us clear direction, recording Jesus’s words about his cross and his concern for the poor. In a passage found in all four gospels, we find Mary anointing Jesus’s feet in preparation for his cross and burial. And from this encounter, we learn much about what Jesus thought about poverty. Let’s see three things. Continue reading