So last week there was a stir over the Q&A at the Shepherds Conference, where Phil Johnson asked Mark Dever, Lig Duncan, and Al Mohler why they hadn’t signed the Social Justice statement. By the time I got around to watching it, it was not there to watch anymore—it had been pulled from public view for copyright reasons. Fortunately, I know some people, and was able to look at a copy that somebody had thoughtfully cached.
First, on the back and forth, some of the initial criticisms I had heard didn’t seem to me to be warranted at all. I didn’t think Phil Johnson did a poor job presenting the questions—I thought he did very well in a difficult situation. And I didn’t think Al Mohler misbehaved or flipped out. I thought his replies were gentlemanly and cogent, although it was apparent that he had, as our Victorian ancestors would have said, taken umbrage.
So if I might, I would like to assemble my own collage response. I would like to give my condensed summary and take on why these three gentlemen did not sign the Social Justice statement. This is my understanding, my takeaway, which I would then like to interact with—laboring to avoid polemical combat with a straw man. So here goes.
In the woke universe, a number of intersectional issues have been woven tightly together, and are presented to us by the world as woven together. The men on that panel were absolutely united in their take on some of these issues, in a conservative and good way, most notably on abortion and the LGBTQ+ business. There was no disagreement there. But on at least several of the woke issues—most significantly race and #MeToo—the three men believe that the historical record shows that the church has failed significantly in the past.
Their desire is therefore to separate all these issues from one another, treating them as distinct entities, in order to prevent evangelical young people from glibly assuming that if theological conservatives were wrong on this one, they must be wrong on that one too, or worse, wrong on them all. Theological conservatives used to prohibit black couples from staying in their motels, just as theological conservatives today want to prohibit gay couples from doing the very same thing. So, according to their lights, they are trying to fight of the logic of “from Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall.”
In other words, they don’t see themselves as capitulating to the general agenda. They see themselves as granting a legitimate point, but only want to do so if that point is carved out and separated from the larger intersectional project. Thus they believe themselves to be in a better strategic position than those conservatives who are resisting the intersectional tsunami across the board, which the Social Justice statement did.
Now I have no trouble taking their word for it as regards their intentions. I believe that they are sincerely convinced that this is what they are doing. I believe them to be fine conservative men. But I also believe that history has shown us more than one instance of fine conservative men getting themselves out-maneuvered. A hero of the First World War, who spent a lot of time muttering never again while helping to build the Maginot Line, remains a hero. But heroes can be misguided, and can pour a lot of concrete in the wrong places.
Let’s take four issues together. There are more than this, obviously, but we can illustrate the point with four. Our culture has settled on a general “received wisdom” on LGBTQ+ issues, on sexual harassment issues, on racial issues, and on abortion issues. Because of our high rebellion against Jehovah, I would submit that our “received wisdom” on all four of these issues is little more than a befogged cloud of folly. It is not the case that we have clarity on two of them, and are mysteriously blind with regard to the other two.
As a people, our generation is blind on all four of them—and the whole thing is not mysterious at all. We here in secular America are not to be trusted when it comes to any of these issues. We are fools and blind, thinking that we can reject a transcendental ground for moral judgments, and still keep our moral judgments.
If you assume that “we” now have a shared “clarity” when it comes to race, you will not be successful in your attempts to separate that issue from the other issues in the intersectional agenda. If we assume that “we” now have “clarity” when it comes to accusations of sexual impropriety, you will not be successful as you attempt to keep that issue distinct from the others. This is because the only way to have clarity on any issue is by grounding it exegetically. Exegetical clarity is the only way to keep issues clear, and unless you keep issues clear, you cannot keep them distinct. This is why you have to be able to say things like, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts . . .”
We think we have clarity on sexual harassment because we are “against it.” We think we have clarity on racism because we “disapprove of” racism. It should be so easy.
The #MeToo movement can only function as a movement if we throw out the biblical foundations for due process, the rules of evidence, and the presumption of innocence. The Lord of hosts does not permit you to label yourself as a “survivor,” and show up at a seminary president’s office with a list of demands. We do not know how to reject the demands of social justice because we have not grasped the demands of simple biblical justice. I have written plenty on that elsewhere.
And there will be absolutely no biblical redress for the very real offenses of slavery time, and for the grievous offenses of the Jim Crow era, which I have also written plenty about elsewhere, unless and until evangelical expositors are permitted to note that the New Testament contains far more teaching on master/slave relations than it does on husband/wife relations, and most of what it teaches is blithely ignored by just about everybody. The New Testament teaching on master/slave relations is especially ignored by inerrantists.
“Let as many slaves as are under the yoke consider their own masters worthy of all honor, in order that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have Christian masters, let them not despise them because they are brothers, but rather serve them all the more because those who benefit are believers, and beloved. Teach and exhort these things” (1 Tim. 6:1–2, my own adjusted version).
Inerrancy was mentioned as an important doctrine in that panel discussion, but inerrancy is absolutely useless unless we are prepared to live and die by the results of our exegesis. And it is frequently the case that liberals are more to be trusted with representing what the Bible actually says than evangelicals are. This is because evangelicals have an a priori obligation to live by and defend the results of their exegesis. The liberal can say, “Paul taught wives to submit to their husbands, ho ho ho.” The evangelical has to think to himself, “A servant leader has a supple spine, which God gave him so he can find out what mama wants, and pretend he thought of it himself.”
Please note that to say that the woke among us are wrong on race and wrong on sexual abuse is not to say that there is no such thing as racial sin biblically defined, or sexual cruelty, biblically defined. There most certainly is, but the actual sins involved are a world away from the pretended or made-up sins.
The bottom line is that we live in a corrupt generation. We are muddled about everything. We preen and posture in our pretended moral goodness, as we seek to save future generations from the fluctuations of the weather, for pity’s sake, while at the same time refusing to save them from the abortionist’s forceps. We slaughter black babies and sell the pieces off, and lionize politicians who arrange for federal subsidies for those who are selling the babies. We sit quietly as those orchestrating this ongoing slaughter continue to lecture us about the failings of our white ancestors two hundred years ago.
Our collective moral compass is flat busted. Getting any kind of moral direction from our lost and wayward generation is like getting your sushi from the truck stops along Interstate 90. And I am not prepared to make an exception for the mahi mahi.