Mohler and Wallis discuss the role of social justice in the church’s mission

Communications Staff — November 1, 2011

Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. joined Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., to debate whether social justice is an essential part of the church’s mission, Oct. 27, 2011. The Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity sponsored the debate.

Mohler argued that social justice, while an important calling upon individual Christians, is not an essential part of the local church’s mission. Wallis argued that “if the gospel is not good news to the poor, it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In an atmosphere of noted excitement, Mohler and Wallis stressed the importance of civility and respect in the debate, even in the midst of significant disagreement. The format gave each of them a 20-minute opening remark, followed by interactions and rebuttals to what the previous speaker stated. The evening ended with Mohler and Wallis answering questions from the audience.

Wallis’argued primarily from the perspective of his discomfort of being brought up in a white, socially disengaged church. According to Wallis, Matthew 25 awakened him to the realities of seeing the gospel as a “theology of hope.” He warned that the privilege of upper-middle class churches can turn social justice into a program or an option, instead of a mandate. Expressing great regret in his church’s failure to embrace civil rights in the 1960s, Wallis noted that he sees an uprising in younger evangelical enthusiasm for social justice.

Calling Luke 4 Jesus’ “Nazareth Manifesto” and emphasizing its importance in offering good news to the poor, Wallis insisted that in the beginning Christians were “people of the Way, not the people of the ‘Right Doctrine.'” Wallis stressed the importance of doctrine throughout the night, but equally emphasized “the gospel is a message of the transformation of our social, political, economic and moral lives.”

Mohler’s main concern was finding the right theological manner in which to understand justice. Grounding justice as an attribute of God, Mohler insisted that as a response to the gospel, people justified by the grace of God in Christ will necessarily have an interest in justice and realize that “God is glorified when society reflects his essential attributes.” But, he carefully noted, “Everything the church does is not necessarily its mission.”

The question, Mohler noted, is not whether justice is essential to Christians, but whether it is essential to the church.

“The church’s first priority within the city of man is to preach the gospel promiscuously so that God’s enemies may become members of the city of God,” Mohler said.

“The shape of the commission is made up of action words – teaching, proclaiming, sending, going.”

Mohler drew attention to the absence of a New Testament model for the church taking on massive social change.

“I’m not concerned that any good thing done in Christ’s name not be done. I’m concerned about proclaiming salvation,” he noted.

Summarizing his position, Mohler stated, “There is nothing that the church – as individuals – ought not to do if it is right and righteous. But, this will only happen if the church as the church will do the thing that only the church can do, and that is to preach the message of salvation and to make disciples.”

Audio and video for the debate will soon become available at www.henrycenter.org

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