Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Social Justice and the Gospel

What part if any does social justice have in the Gospel?

Surely it is true

The gospel is the promise of right relationship with God by no doing of our own, is peace and joy and fullness in Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead, who is present to us and for us here and now in the Word proclaimed in the reading/preaching and received in, with, and under the bread and wine. Jesus Christ himself is the Good News!

That is, the good news is not just a bunch of words and movements--as a promise might be viewed made on its own--but an actual presence"here and now" of God in Christ through the Spirit, or "peace and joy and fullness in Jesus Christ". So we can say the real person of Jesus himself is the Gospel. I hope that much is not controversial.

But then, what follows? Can we--should we--say that social justice is distinct from the Gospel, an effect of it rather than an item contituting it? No.

This is true as well, I should think:

When what is good for the community is not also good for an entire organ thereof, what we have identified as good as such for the community then is also somehow sinful and certainly not the fullness of God's gospel and will.

That is, a dualism between the good of the church and social justice is false; at least this is how I read Christopher.

So, to pick on Derek a little, I think this is off the mark:

But our preaching and our teaching becomes disoriented if somehow the logical corollary becomes the focus and the central thesis from which it proceeds is obscured. The Church’s primary responsibility is the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel, then the works of mercy that flow from this revelation. To preach the works alone, or to assume that the connection between the faith and the works is obvious and need not be said is to risk corruption of the Gospel with which we have been entrusted.

The primary responsibility of the church is not preaching and proclaiming alone, of course, but sacramental--the very existence of the church is bound up with the Eucharist and Baptism. Works do not merely flow from the sacraments of the church; they constitute them. Without works, there could not be any material signs of grace. This is implied too by the Offering which formally begins the Eucharist, as distinct from the Proclamation of the Word. It is the very works of the congregation, and through these works their very lives, that are sanctified and brought into the real presence of Christ--and the Father more importantly--through the Eucharist. Hence we can speak meaningfully of a sending at the end of the Eucharistic liturgy that has the real presence of Christ continue with us outside the building and in the secular world. Or what is much the same, the church continues to exist throughout the rest of the week. We should see the action of the Eucharist and the rest of our lives as a whole.

But injustice is inconsistent with the real presence of Christ. This is not a matter merely of our moral response to the Gospel. The kerygma/didache distinction is more rational than real;
worship without justice is worthless. Hence we pass the peace before beginning the Eucharist proper, and confess our sins, begging forgiveness. Surely if discerning the body--the presence of God--is a precondition of receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior, and this discernment requires repentance, we should beware of putting injustice out of mind. Receiving in faith--entering into the real presence--is impossible without repentance; presumption to the contrary is sin. Without desiring justice in the liturgy of the Eucharist, there is no actual Eucharist. It is strange then to separate them; it would seem better to see justice as partially constituting the reception of the Eucharist; call it "infused" or "imparted" justice: no matter.

For any sin is social injustice, and any righteousness social justice. In addition to any human or mortal sinned against, we are always in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has been a clear implication of the doctrine of the church from its earliest days that any sin is at least sin among at least four persons, and at least between the sinner and God. Or: sin always affects communion, our being with God in three persons. It is incoherent to see the quality of communion apart from Holy Communion, and thus to see justice as apart from the Gospel.


At 8:41 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

First, to clarify a point. I'm pretty sure you're clear that I'm not speaking chronologically about (using your distinction) moving from kerygma to didache---I'm speaking logically. Didache apart from kerygma is a good idea, but it ain't the Gospel; within the Gospel proclamation didache is bound up with the kerygma.

I think you've stepped in it here, though: For any sin is social injustice, and any righteousness social justice.

Sin--Was ist das? To learn a lesson from our Lutheran friends, "The lack of ability to trust fear or love God" (AC II.26; also the reverse of SC 1.2).

At 10:55 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I'm not sure about your point concerning sin.

The Lutheran account you cite seems to imply even the beatified saints exist in a state of everlasting sin, insasmuch as being finite they will always lack ability to trust, fear, or love God--and that regardless of what is infused in or imputed to them. Surely we do not wish to say that about Mary, at least. Thus, the "account" cannot be taken seriously.

But perhaps that is that part of your point, that I am somehow committed to that silly account of sin?

One might be able to abstract kerygma and didache, so that there is a conceptual or logical distinction. OK.

But in reality, they interpenetrate, so that in presenting the kerygma, the didache is already present. And vice versa, the didache cannot be present apart from presence of the kerygma.

Maybe this is the suspicion about MDGs: MDG-advocates separate morality from the person of Christ? If so, that is a gross mistake on their part.

But isn't it is also a mistake to sunder the person of Christ from such items as the MDGs? Just as in the first case, morality fails apart from Christ, so in the second, Christ is not present apart from morality.

Do we disagree after all?

At 11:28 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

But in reality, they interpenetrate, so that in presenting the kerygma, the didache is already present. And vice versa, the didache cannot be present apart from presence of the kerygma.

Maybe this is the suspicion about MDGs: MDG-advocates separate morality from the person of Christ? If so, that is a gross mistake on their part.

That's precisely my point... I see the majority of the church's teaching of social justice as a didache that has come unhooked from the kerygma and it is therefore a gross mistake. Especially because it doesn't have to be that way. The kerygma is not the kerygma without the didache but it is possible to have didache without kerygma--it's just no longer Christian didache. So, I don't think we're actually disagreeing here.

I think we're disagreeing on sin, though...

You're eliding the concept of social. To say any sin is social injustice, and any righteousness social justice because God is a Trinity and therefore all sin occurs between four persons (and that these four therefore constitute a "society") is being sophistical and twisting the plain and commonly acknowledged sense of the term "social justice."

At 11:38 PM, Blogger Derek the Ænglican said...

Oh, sorry--let me address the issue about the definition of original sin. The answer is simple; original righteousness (the ability to fear, love, and trust God as we ought) only abides in humanity in the pre-lapsarian state or in the eschatological state. Only grace through the action of the Holy Spirit enables us to approach this state in our present condition.

Actually, the early Luther in "Two Kinds of Righteousness" from 1519 states that this second kind of righteousness "is a product of the righteousness of the first type [imputed], actually its fruit and consequence... This righteousness follows the example of Christ in this respct and is transformed into his likeness."

At 8:14 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

OK; we actually are saying much the same thing on the main point about the kerygma.

On original sin, you seem to be up on Luther; I'm not familiar with him. Does he think that original righteousness is restored at the Eschaton? It seems that it cannot be, inasmuch as although it involves the ability to love God as we ought, it also includes the ability to sin. That is, one might distinguish the freedom of the saved--with security--from prelapsarian freedom that lacks security, such that they overlap while differing. It seems Luther must have some way of taking the difference into account--I don't know what he would say.

On the point of social justice: we may try to restrict the extension of "social" to human groupings here below, but isn't that to give creation too much autonomy? Is a merely human society here below possible apart from participation in God--and so participation in the Trinity? If it is not possible, then the word "society" has its the inner life of God as its primary focus. If the term is to be extended, its use applied to humans is the derivative one. It wouldn't seem sophistical to point out the focus in reality for a term's meaning.

Two notes on this: the society of the church established in the Eucharist is to be a paradigm of human society, at least inasmuch as it alone is what will be consummated of human society at the Eschaton (the "society" of the damned providing no model).

Human society qua church and as derived from the inner life of God is revealed and foreshadowed in the record of Jesus' life with his apostles, no? That is, we know something of God's inner life from the life of Jesus, which is really present in the church. In this way, we may give concrete content to the notion of society that takes God's life as its focus.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Which is to make the Eucharist central, with its proclamation and reception of Christ, and to derive a theology of justice--as social--from the sacramental practice, while taking the content of justice to be constituted in the greater communion--relationship--between the believer and God as a minimal node. It so happens that minimal node will imply the derivative society of humans--a body permixtum--inasmuch as the individual would not have come to receive Christ without that body. So, in conclusion, the "move" from primary focus to derivative focus is not one of before/after but one of structure.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

"structure": the sacramental practice is complex, involving different types of relationship and communion, and so different types of justice that are not equally grounded.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Christopher said...

First, promise and presence using Luther's understanding are inextricably bound together. God gives us his word--promises, and his word does what he says he does, gives himself--as the words of institution read in Greek, this is the new testament (as in will and testament, I bequeath to you my very self)... So you got the gist of the definition of the gospel I use. I drew on Luther because he is clear about the gospel. I fear some of our leadership is not. But I needn't have, notice our own classic canon, "with thy word and Spirit". Word refers to the Words of Institution by which with the Spirit Christ is present to us and for us in the mystery.

Second, proclaiming in the Reformation understanding is sacrament. The Words of Institution are proclamation saying what God in fact is doing on the altar. The sacrament is a visible word, to use Augustine.

To make didache as the gospel, unhinging it from its the proclamation of Christ is to fall into moralizing or to make religion about ethics. This is my worry. Loving our neighbor is present, certainly, in the kerygma but what we are preaching isn't this but it seems to me we are preaching "you must do this and this and this" depending on your flavor of Anglican. That's not quite the same thing as the freedom given to us in the gospel to fo forth to love neighbor as you meet her or him in the present moment given these types of patterns the community has best noticed live this out, didache. Nor does it allow for disagreement about how best to accomplish "working might and main for neighbor" (rather than works of mercy). Do this in this way has crept in as gospel itself.

We're in danger of losing the Reformation insight that we are saved while we are yet sinners apart from works of the law. In other words, we're preaching works righteousness. So Derek sums my worry very well. Absolutely, faith without works is dead. But works without Christ, as Paul tells us, are still in sin, and thus, can only lead to death because we're putting our faith in the wrong places--our works and ourselves.

I will elaborate a little more, that our original righteousness itself was by God's grace. It was never and will not be original to us in our nature. One way of saying this is that in the prelapserian state, Adam and Eve were immortal, but not because of somthing in themselves, but due to being in grace. It was then, now is, and ever shall be by God's grace that we live.

While in this life, we're betwixt and between, and so, I get nervous of statements about the Church that say as you have done that we're the paradigm. Elaboration is needed because overly rosy takes on the the church in this life (ecclesia crucis/ecclesia militans) are not helpful and do not name the reality 1 John tells us about, that we sin in and as Church. More accounting of this has to occur in any presentation of the Church "this side of the New Creation", to use Volf's phrase.

Luther accounts for your concerns for salvation by falling back on what God promises to do for us in Christ, that in Him rests our security. The freedom of the saved is found no where else but in Him. For Luther, without God, we're always unfree, bound, and cannot turn to God but only flee. Grace by word, sacrament, and Spirit works this freedom in us. Even now. But sin also is still at work, and thus, we must daily die to sin.

Interestingly, as a side note, the earliest prayers we have "to" Mary and the saints are actually "for" Mary and the saints from the Armenian rite.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was great, Christopher.

You say the thing that is, to me, most important about all this: "Nor does it allow for disagreement about how best to accomplish 'working might and main for neighbor' (rather than works of mercy). Do this in this way has crept in as gospel itself."

This is how self-justification will inevitably creep in - and that obviates the central and transforming fact of God's promise that says "A broken and contrite heart I will not despise."

This is where everything has to start, IMO; otherwise it becomes merely about us and what we want - and this, to me, is exactly our current problem. We must start listening again to God, and not merely proclaiming our own Gospel. And everybody is at fault in this, as far as I can tell; it's really, really difficult to avoid. But we have to continue to try to break our own hearts, not somebody else's.

- bls

At 12:27 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Whoops; I thought you and Derek were at odds; my reading of your piece was wrong.

Anyhow, isn't it right to say that nobody here favors seeing kerygma and didache really distinct? The issue seems to be a worry about cutting the didache apart from the person of Christ, so that the church is caught engaging in some version of immanent, secular power politics. The ideas that works require faith is one I think all share.

To put a finer point on it: nobody here takes Kierkegaard in "Works of Love" over Adorno's critique of his reading of the Good Samaritan parable, sc. that the Christian's duty to works are satisified in praying for the afflicted apart from doing anything to bind their wounds. The problem we as a church face is rather binding apart from prayer.

It seems then that Luther doesn't say what God promises to do for us is resore mere original righteousness--surely not if he promises to take us in Christ. There must then be different ways of being in Christ, some with and some without security. No?

Prayers for Mary and the saints are interesting. Can you say what they were asking? Forgiveness? Thgat thet not be cast into Hell or otherwise damned?

We can be a paradigm now because our identity is not exhausted by the present--our primary being is eschatological, such that we are judged and may be an example in being chastened even now by being held to the fire of what we shall be.

Otherwise, isn't Williams right, and the church is some kind of ghostly and bloodless abstraction?

At 4:21 PM, Blogger RFSJ said...

I missed participating in this, but I do think the point about seperating kerygma and didache is important. Coincidentally, I actually speculated about this in my own homily for St. James of Jerusalem on my blog, talking about martyrdom and witness and how we live that out.

At 5:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"that the Christian's duty to works are satisified in praying for the afflicted apart from doing anything to bind their wounds"

At what point does this break down and absolve us of a duty to become scientists and cure all disease, or became economists and devise plans to help as many people as possible, etc. . .

At 11:57 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Surely members of the body of Christ will have such duties as being Christian doctors or Christian economists, putting the mind of Christ to what they do healing and binding wounds.

That is not to say all must be Christian doctors or economists.

At 12:14 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

earlier anon,

"Do this in this way" doesn't really get at the heart of what Christopher is trying to say, I think.

For instance--"Preach the Gospel by preaching Christ" fits the form of what Christopher seems to reject, and yet it is mandated by the Gospel if anything is.

Or: "Administer the Eucharist by distributing the body and blood of Christ". Can we have rubrics?

What should one say to "Feed the hungry by distributing food"? Are there any conditions where that would be constitutive of Christian mission? It seems so, taking the life and preaching of Christ as a model.

Examples could be multiplied endlessly--and the thing is "distribute food" is not far from the MDGs.

And is there anything preventing contrite redistribution? Not mortification of the flesh so much as an ongoing repentance.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger bls said...

Earlier anon was me, Scotist.

I think Christopher was referring to political agendas and programs when he said "do this in this way." I, anyway, understood it that way, and wasn't referring specifically to the MDGs in what I wrote above.

And you can see the "do this in this way" thing at work, when people argue against the MDGs because of their dislike of the United Nations; that's a perfect example, in fact.

I think you're misunderstanding Derek, actually. He (as far as I can tell) is simply saying that the Gospel comes first, and all else follows from that. We make mistakes, being human; our political views may blind us to the truth. That's happened innumerable times in history. Which is where Gospel (and the contrite heart) come in, IMO. I think he's simply saying that the MDGs have at this point been made primary, instead of them flowing naturally from the Gospel.

I think that's true, too, and I can't understand it; we are missing a chance for evangelism when we don't preach Christ before all. See what I mean?

I think we all do agree that our waking from self-absorbed slumber in the West and reaching out a hand to help others in distress is extremely important, in any case.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I think if Derek was saying just what you claim, he is nevertheless wrong.

The kerygma includes the revelation of who God the Father is in the historical person of Christ, and that cannot be sundered from justice: read the Magnificat. Sunder them, and you preach a false Jesus, a false God, an impossibility.

The issue might be simple: the kerygmatic proclamation of the Kingdom "already but not yet" here in the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus does not move at the level of specificity of the MDGs: conceded. The UN does not appear in the Gospels: fine.

But that is just to say "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" analytically includes "Be just" or "Feed the hungry" but does not say just how this is to be done.

Whether Christians should adopt a Flat Tax, a Poor House, Bread Lines, Full Employment, fascism, the free market, market socialism, stalinism or whatever to be just and feed the hungry is not settled by the Gospel.

That is where we get into the didache: what table of moral values should we adopt today?

Will it include libertarian anarcho-capitalism or welfare state liberalism? The church may have to take risky stands that may come out wrong and require revision--so what? The same can be said of the moral tables in "Paul" or the pastorals.

Sometimes I get the impression some want to throw everything about the justice and peace and goodness of God as it affects us into the didache, regardless of generality or particularity. There's the mistake.

As for Christopher, I think he would admit there is nothing wrong in saying "do it in this way" when it comes to lots of areas outside the kerygma where the church must take a stand in its praxis, like much (though not all, as some parts are kerygmatic) of its Sunday worship.

Almost everyone agrees--for instance--in rubrics or most of any of our elective pieces of liturgical prayer that we may be ordered to do such in such in a way, even though future revision may be necessary--or even inevitable. You don't stop saying the Nicene Creed though you know it will most likely be changed next BCP, no?

To think saying "do it in this way" is wrong in specifically moral praxis when you accept it in extra-kerygmatic liturgical praxis is simply fallacious special pleading unless one has a more substantive argument; you can see as well as I can that he just doesn't, and neither does Derek.

There are such arguments around--think Novak, Hayek, Nozick, Polanyi and so on. But if the church is going to yoke itself to such thought, let's have it out in the open and get it on. I don't see those guys appealing explicitly to their premises anyway.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

This is not just me, in case that is an issue.

I'm getting this in part from certain Radical Orthodoxy people on the one hand, and in part from some things Hauerwas has written in the Blackwell Political Theology handbook.

True, it's what I've always wanted to find all along, but seeing them saying it confirmed the feeling.

Sundering the secular from the sacred, or nature from grace, or the secular from the holy lilturgy risks incoherence: no part of politics, economics, art, or science is separate from theology--or even can be separate from theology.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger bls said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger bls said...

Again, I think you're misunderstanding. Derek, as far as I can tell, is not trying to sunder the secular from the sacred; he's simply saying that everything follows from the Gospel. He's saying, in fact, that in some cases the sundering has occurred, and that the Gospel is not being being preached. He's saying that the proper order has been reversed, and that the secular is being put before the the Gospel, which should always comes first.

He's saying that we love because he first loved us, and that is the proper order. That's what I think he was saying above when he asked you what "sin" is; he's saying that you're using a religious term to judge actions in the secular world - and that this is the right order.

If "do it this way" does not come from the Gospel, then it becomes simply another human desire. Right?

I don't really know how to say this more clearly; I feel like we're talking past one another. I completely agree that the gospel and social justice can't be sundered; I just think that the Gospel is the primary source for social justice, and that we should say so, and why. Otherwise, we risk falling into self-will and self-justification. Right?

At 4:48 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Myabe we are just talking past one another; maybe I'm just looking for a dust up. It's happened before; I tend to think of this stuff on a football model: "Look! There he is with the ball! Tackle him!" Perhaps that's just not productive in this case.

If there is something substantive here, it'll likely come up again.


Post a Comment

<< Home