Social Justice vs the Gospel’s Liberty of Conscience

A letter from one PCA member to other PCA members urging that we live in the full freedom of our identity in Christ.

So, I plead with my brothers and sisters in Christ, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Social Justice philosophically is a yoke of slavery which binds the conscience of believers.


Dear Fellow Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I love the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), even with all her faults.

Over the past several years, the language of Social Justice has become more prevalent within my beloved denomination. Very true, racial sins are often plaguing sins among us all. This same topic of Social Justice has been growing within the broader PCA since before the year of racial reconciliation. A few years ago, it is possible one General Assembly (GA) moderator was elected precisely because of his views on Social Justice.

In a prayer of repentance a few years ago during an optional GA event, the attendees corporately prayed from the bulletin, “We grieve that those who have spoken the Gospel truth on our racial unity-in-diversity have been shouted down as ‘Cultural Marxists’ or ‘social justice warriorsrather than celebrated as servants of the Gospel.” Tensions are obviously running high at GA over Social Justice.

Though those who drafted this prayer are well-meaning, it is doubtful they know the philosophy behind these ideas. Without a specific definition for the moment other than a person is considered guilty by class association, Social Justice is a worthy topic, but it also is a core principle of Socialism and Cultural Marxism within academic, popular culture, and judicial circles. A new America, for better-or-worse, was cast in the political changes of the 1960s. And, as is always the case, churches tend to be microcosms of the culture at large. Such syncretism of cultural ideas is inevitable. Thus churches should always be “reforming” – working through such ideas to see if they stem from vain philosophies of men (Col 2:8) or the Spirit of God (Jn 17:17).

I desire to warn PCA members to the broader philosophical roots and implications of Social Justice. As PCA elders, we cannot merely be evangelical, Protestant, or, God forbid, fundamentalists. Each of us swore an oath to a “system of doctrine” whereby we accept the overall views of God, the Scriptures, ecclesiology, sacraments, etc., as recorded in the Westminster Standards and the Book of Church Order to be a unified, consistent system of thought. That is to say; we subscribe to a specific Christian philosophy. Undergirding all these doctrines are presuppositions, which make each doctrine internally consistent with other teachings. For example, the Preliminary Principles of the Book of Church Order give consistency and a basis for the interpretation of the BCO.

Interestingly, Social Justice is a modern form of collectivism founded in 19th century Hegelianism, the same fundamental philosophy behind the theological movements of Modernism and Neo-Orthodoxy. Hegel argued personal identity is defined by class association, though gaining identity is a lifelong “struggle.” This philosophy is the foundational principle behind Marxism, Socialism, political and theological Liberalism. Christian Identity is not found in one’s being united to Christ, but rather being joined to an oppressed social group. Thus, Cultural Marxists today must define people according to class. Some current classes include male/female, black/white, citizen/immigrant, rich/poor, upper, middle, and poor “classes,” plus various communities like the LGBTQ “community,” Hispanic community, the Muslim community, etc. Class self-identification is the grandchild of the Hegelian dialectic, and, in this country alone, has now produced three generations of state-sponsored poverty, class factionalism, and ever-growing gender confusion. Using such dialectical reasoning or “Hegelian Logic” individuals now “self-identify” as African American, Gay, Lesbian, American Indian, Muslim, etc., “communities” in hopes to gain an individual identity. Social Justice is the language of such Cultural Marxism and American Collectivism in general. If you are in doubt, may I suggest performing a search for “Social Justice” on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s website? It is sobering to think some members of the PCA are today adopting principles which justified splitting from our mother denomination close to 50 years ago.

Here is the rub for Reformed and Evangelical Christians, by supporting the class identification of our culture a church is trying to reconcile Christ to the culture rather than reconciling the culture to Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:18). The Hegelian dialectic (“struggle”) never resolves. Once a racist, always a racist. Once a homosexual, always a homosexual. Once an adulterer, always an adulterer. That is why such proponents ask, “Are you or have you ever been a racist?” Sounds rather reminiscent of the questioning during the McCarthy era inquisition. According to such views, there never is complete forgiveness in this life. Being new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) or having the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) will have to wait until the afterlife.

Moreover, Cultural Marxism (as in all forms of Marxism) never really wants to reconcile anything. Rather, the desire is to foster constant dialectical conflict or “struggle” which, so they believe, will bring about the utopian society. Do not hold your breath. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to “free” an individual from forensic guilt before God (Ac 13:39; Jn 8:32; Rom 6:18) and provide peace and unity in the hearts of all forgiven sinners (Rom 15:13; Gal 5:22). Jesus pronounced “peace” to all those who place their faith in Him, the enmity of Genesis 3 is now gone being reconciled to Christ (Eph 2:16). This truth makes a worship service benediction the best moment of a believer’s week. Hold your head up high for the benediction is not a prayer, but a blessing directly from Jesus Christ to you because Jesus alone has paid all your debts thus enabling you to live as a guilt-free man.

Further, Social Justice denies Jesus Christ is alone “Lord of the Conscience.” If one is guilty collectively or socially, the conscience is bound to the moral consciousness of society and not Jesus Christ. One must now atone for guilt to the class. Some today try to preach or force conviction by social guilt, rather than relying on the truly life-changing conviction which comes from the Holy Spirit alone. Jesus Christ being alone Lord of the conscience is a necessary presupposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thus the first Preliminary Principle in the BCO. What makes Justification by Faith so powerful socially, is it make the person a responsible individual before God and frees the person from collectivism. No longer does the person rely on the implicit faith of the priest for salvation. No longer is the individual bound to the collective will of a church or society.

Martin Luther took his stand because his conscience was not bound to the church or society, but rather to Jesus Christ alone. For another example, Galileo had to publish some of his astronomy books in Protestant countries because Italian Catholic ‘collectivism’ (though, understood differently then) bound his mind and ideas to the vain doctrines of the church fathers. And, one needs to ask: when does class self-identification end? Should there be an “Adulterer community?” “Child-molester community?” “Cheating on taxes community?” “Not tithing on gross income community?” Logic tells us something is amiss.

However, the Gospel of Jesus creates “individualism” where, no matter one’s standing in society, each person stands equally guilty before the judgment seat or innocent before the mercy seat. Each person stands equally before Jesus Christ from whom they receive judgment or mercy by His grace. In Christ racial barriers are broken (Gal 3:28a), class barriers are broken (Gal 3:28b), and sexism is broken (Gal 3:28c), for all individuals are equal in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28d):

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28 NASB)

there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Col 3:11 NASB).

So, I plead with my brothers and sisters in Christ, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). Social Justice philosophically is a yoke of slavery which binds the conscience of believers.

A few years ago, a Sunday School teacher jokingly proposed the next time he was placed on a pastoral search committee, he would fly the committee to Scotland. Rent a van and drive north until sea water splashes on the windshield. In the nearest small town, look for a “Free Presbyterian” church. Hire the pastor, who will be around 85 years old. Though PCA doctrine is more solid than that of the Free Presbyterians, there would be a noticeable difference with the 85-year-old Free Presbyterian pastor. In the United States, denominations tend to preach and teach: 1) who we can be in Jesus Christ, and 2) what we should be doing in the name of Jesus Christ. Such messages are better suited for non-believers and a mere lesson in moralism to believers. However, a sermon from the 85-year-old Free Presbyterian pastor will assert: 1) who we already are in Christ, and 2) what Christ has already accomplished for us. Now go and change the world with your liberty in Jesus Christ. Such sermons free believers from both forensic guilt and a guilty conscience (Rom 8:1). When the Holy Spirit frees a heart, such a heart burns with desires to change the culture (2 Cor 3:17).

I beg the elders of the PCA, carefully review this troubling trend of Social Justice in our particular denomination. Is this philosophy from the Holy Spirit? Or, is it from the vain philosophies of men? It appears Social Justice stems from vain destructive philosophies of men. There are better ways to “engage culture.”

In Christ,

Kevin Goodner (of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Ala.)
A heart set free by Christ