Søren Kierkegaard said that “doctrine collects people.” He was not painting a very positive picture of “doctrine,” but the idea gets at what the propagation of doctrine does: it collects people together, but it also divides them from others who do not embrace that doctrine.
Conservative evangelical Christians have been inclined to draft “statements” in recent decades that function to draw together like-minded Christians, and separate those who do not stand by such statements, in the same manner as Kierkegaard’s understanding of “doctrine.” In 1978, there was the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, that sought to define what it means to say that the Bible is without error. In 1987, there was the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, that sought to resist a growing trend within evangelicalism, to rethink God’s purposes for manhood and womanhood within the family and within the structure of church leadership and ministry. In 2017, there was the Nashville Statement, that sought to address challenges from the surrounding culture, with respect to sexuality issues, such as same-sex marriage and transgender identity. Also, in 2017, there was the Reforming Catholic Confession, designed to broadly speak of what it means to be a Protestant Christian, remembering the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, with Martin Luther.
All of these statements have received varying amounts of attention and criticism from within the ranks of conservative Christians. But the most recent statement, in 2018, the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel, has proven itself to be more contentious than any of the preceding statements.
This new statement, signed chiefly by such Christian leaders as Southern California pastor, John MacArthur; Arizona Reformed apologist, James White; Idaho classical homeschooling champion, Douglas Wilson; and Florida Ligonier President, Chris Larson, among others, has drawn over 7,000 co-signatures, many of them being pastors, all across the United States. Much of the impetus behind this statement is driven by concern over worldly philosophies making inroads into Christ’s church, in the area of so-called “social justice.”
One thinks of well-known movements in the culture at large that can be included: such as #MeToo, the social media propelled movement raising awareness of sexual assault and harassment, in the workplace, and even in the church, and #BlackLivesMatter, a similar movement seeking to campaign against violence and systemic racism towards black people. While the signers of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel say they oppose sexism and racism, they are also concerned that such popular movements within the wider culture are taking values from the secular culture, and using them to undermine Scripture in the areas of race, ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.
For example, supporters of the Statement say that legitimate concerns over sexual harassment are being used to weaken God’s plans and purposes for church leadership, with respect to men and women, saying: “In the church, qualified men alone are to lead as pastors/elders/bishops and preach to and teach the whole congregation.” while also denying that “the God-ordained differences in men’s and women’s roles disparage the inherent spiritual worth or value of one over the other.” With respect to race, the Statement denies that “Christians should segregate themselves into racial groups or regard racial identity above, or even equal to, their identity in Christ.” Read the Statement for yourself for more detail.
Critics of the Statement , such as Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore, are concerned that the Statement does a poor job of defining important and crucial terms, such as the key phrase, “social justice.” Southern Baptist seminary president, Al Mohler, is not persuaded that the Statement adequately understands the problem of racism, and too easily dismisses certain people, real victims of racism, as being “entitled victims.”
Christians should think carefully about movements within the culture, under the light of Scripture. But the polarized response to the Statement , even from those on the least progressive end of the theological spectrum, shows that more work needs to be done to move the conversation forward. No matter what one thinks of the Statement, it is evident that evangelical Christians are far from being unified on these matters. There is an urgent need within the church to listen better to and understand one another.