The Resurrection Heresy De Jour

I happened across a copy of the Easter Sunday edition of the Seattle PI this morning. The name of our Lord God and Savior “Jesus” caught my eye and I decided to give the “Focus” section a read on the bus.

The “Social Justice Gospel” abounds, and it was present in at two of the several Easter related OpEds that I read. One was from a United Church of Christ Pastor and was entitled “Easter is about life here and now” to which I would offer a hearty amen...but the article further explains.

The Resurrection – according to the pastor – is about life, here and now because it demonstrates that God’s peace, justice, and righteousness prevails against “callous…unjust…and tyrannical powers” Why, yes, indeed it does…but I wonder if he and I are thinking about the same callous, unjust, tyrannical powers? The author never says specifically who or what he is writing about, saying only that such powers were responsible for killing Jesus. In one poignant sentence he refers to these powers as a “system” and also references this connection with the hope we have against “death systems at work in our own world.”

He also sets up a dichotomy between two things to be found in the Resurrection: immortality and justice and he claims that we need to have both and that indeed there is room for both. But, he states that an Easter without the notion of justice is an Easter that has been “domesticated” and has lost its “subversive memory.” (subversive???? You wanna see subversive? Go to your local Orthodox Church this saturday and watch and listen...the greatest subversive act in all history will be shown to you - and it doesn't involve bombs or protests!) The author says: Immortality is about heaven, justice is about earth – the here and now. This is a completely false dichotomy, for the Orthodox heaven is brought to earth and the Kingdom is here and now – just as Jesus said: it is within you, not outside of you.

The callous, unjust, and tyrannical powers that killed Jesus Christ is indeed a death system and is indeed at work in our world today, but it is NOT the Roman or American Empire, it is NOT capitalism, it is NOT communism, it is NOT Islamic Jihad, it is NOT the military industrial complex, and it is NOT corporate America. It is sin.

And herein is the problem with the social justice gospel: Jesus never preached it – at least not in the way that it is being preached today. How many times have I written this before: Jesus never once had a critical thing to say about the oppressive and imperialistic slave trading Roman Empire…not a single thing! Roman soldiers would come to Him and he would not launch into a tirade about social justice and “death systems”…instead He simply told them to be good in their work. And after Jesus gave his rousing “Beatitude” speech, the thousands or so who were present did not march off to protest the unjustices of the Roman Empire. Jesus was not a politician, and He was not an “activist” and the liberation He taught was not one that involved revolutions.

We will never find and fix the “death system” by looking at governments or corporations, because the most callous, unjust, tyrannical, and powerful death system is found right here in my heart and I suspect if you look hard enough it is in your heart too. This is the danger of the social gospel – we are looking for and protesting so hard against external systems, that we may neglect the means by which Jesus brought change to the world: He examined individual hearts and opened them to His sometimes painful love. No, an external social “system” did not crucify Jesus – we did. But Glory to God, He has trampled down death by death and THAT is what makes Pascha about “here and now” and unto ages of ages, amen.


Jared said…
James, great post! Thanks!

I know for me, it is just so much easier to blame something external to me than to blame myself. I will prevail over the unjust system, but then I am defeated before I begin because the system trully is me.

I think a Christian marriage offers a good example of this: only until we see love, not as a juridical system, will a marriage trully be successful. Love is not something that is measured out when the other person deserves it, but is given freely.

That is why I think Christian marriage is so powerful against this idea of the "social justice gospel". It doesn't work because love has nothing to do with WHAT a person is, but WHO a person is. Even in the face of the unjust Jews, Christ asks God "to forgive them, for they know not what they do". That is the true gospel. Thanks James...
Mimi said…
Meg said…
I have known for a very long time that there was something radically wrong with the social-action gospel, but trying to define it has always eluded me. Thanks for these insights, James! As a college prof of my husband's used to say, the trouble with radicals is that they aren't radical *enough*....
Anonymous said…

I read the same editorials, and had to put the paper down when I got to the "subversive" bit. It's gotten to the point where the criterion of authenticity is one's subversiveness.

The reality is that the world is trying to subvert the church, and has been successfull in doing so. Let's not give them any more chances.

- Steve K.
Anonymous said…
"No, an external social “system” did not crucify Jesus – we did."

Love this post, James...However, this statement (above) is not completely true. We did not crucify Jesus, Nor did our sin. Nor did the Jews, the Romans, or any other worldly "system" you rightly stated.

To say that our sin crucified Jesus is true on the surface, but it is not essentially true. It is a statement that has its' order reversed. Jesus laid down his one took it from Him.

Instead of being taken, it was given. To us. Mucho difference...

This is a distinction that must be always upheld by Holy Orthodoxy.
Anonymous said…
Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann writes:

If God loves every man it is because He alone knows the priceless and absolutely unique treasure, the "soul" or "person" He gave every man. Christian love then is the participation in that divine knowledge and the gift of that divine love. There is no "impersonal" love because love is the wonderful discovery of the "person" in "man," of the personal and unique in the common and general. It is the discovery in each man of that which is "lovable" in him, of that which is from God.

In this respect, Christian love is sometimes the opposite of "social activism" with which one so often identifies Christianity today. To a "social activist" the object of love is not "person" but man, an abstract unit of a not less abstract "humanity." But for Christianity, man is "lovable" because he is person. There person is reduced to man; here man is seen only as person. The "social activist" has no interest in the personal, and easily sacrifices it to the "common interest." . . . Social activism is always "futuristic" in its approach; it always acts in the name of justice, order, happiness to come, to be achieved. Christianity cares little about that problematic future but puts the whole emphasis on the now--the only decisive time for love. The two attitudes are not mutually exclusive, but they must not be confused. . . . Christian love, however, aims beyond "this world." (Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, pp. 25-26)
fdj said…
Thank you anon! You are absolutely correct. Let me try a nd briefly weasel out of the corner I mistakenly painted myself into. I did not mean to imply that God was not ultimately laying down His life for us - truly no one takes it from Him - but there is a point where our sin plays a role in the actual taking of that life - albeit that this could never happen lest He gives Himself over to it.

It is in that sense that I say that WE killed God, rather than an unjust system. But I stand duly reminded that God lays down His life, and we receive it.

Anon 2 - excellent quote and plays perfectly into what the editorial was saying, albeit completely flipping his point on its head. Here and now, indeed!
Anonymous said…
Fantastic post, James. As a new reader to your blog, I was pleasently surprised and edified by your words. I often debate with some of my "socially aware" friends who preach a social Gospel, which is all good and dandy, but who apparently neglect their own role. One of my more favorite questions is, "What have YOU actively done to better the world? When was the last time YOU looked at your own heart instead of pointing the finger at someone else's?" It usually stops them in their tracks and, at the very least, lets them (and me!) realize our own special role in Christian praxis, and, ultimately, our own sinfulness.

Again, fantastic post! I look forward to more!

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