Is this Really Happening?

This is unbelievable! Barack Obama has consulted emergent church leader Brian McLaren as an informal campaign adviser in regard to getting the “evangelical vote.” Even CNN seems to think this is odd since historically Democrats have conceded the evangelical vote on account of such things as abortion. But now, there is a push to get “the evangelical left” (if that’s not an oxymoron) to support the Democratic nominee.There is definitely a trajectory here and it does not look very much like biblical Christianity. CNN notes that at the heart of this partnership is a concern for “social justice.” The Scriptural proof for such an endeavor: a misunderstanding of Matthew 25:31-46 . There Jesus says:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

These verses are often alluded to in order to drive a “social justice” agenda. We are told, that the message of the Bible is feeding the poor and clothing the needy. But this is not what this passage is teaching. Our Lord is teaching us to look at the fruit of our lives as professing Christians. He is explaining that what we do should mirror what we say we are. But He does this in a manner that is almost always misunderstood. How we treat other believers in need shows what we think of Christ. Jesus makes clear, “as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, You did it to Me.” It is not solving social injustice (I would argue that the definition of ‘justice’ needs to be defined), but caring for believers. Since Jesus Christ represents believers and since He lives in them, the way that we treat professing Christians shows our love for Christ. It is often said that these kinds of good works are the Gospel. But when men and women say this they are trusting in these works for salvation. Notice carefully what the righteous in the parable say: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give You a drink.” The “righteous” are not trusting in what they did, they are trusting in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. This is why they are called “righteous.” Elsewhere in scritpure we are told, “There are none righteous, no not one.” So when we come to consider how it is that these ‘sheep’ are called righteous, we are led to embrace the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. As a result of redemption through His blood we are freed to be merciful, kind, and compassionate. But this needs to be defined in association with the Biblical definition of the Gospel. It is not sufficient to take this passage and make it say whatever we want it to say about “social justice.” If someone really wanted to push the issue I would say that it deals with “ecclesiatical mercy” (i.e. dealing mercifully to those of the household of faith).

In regard to the issue of “social justice” I would recommend Mark Dever’s talk at this years Together for the Gospel Conference. You can find this talk here. I would also recommend Ligon Duncan’s talk at the last Twin Lakes Fellowship. You can listen to this here.

14 Responses

  1. Nicholas T. Batzig


    If you would define “social justice” for me I could answer your question. Allowing women to kill innocent unborn children is not “justice” in a biblical sense. Besides that Matthew 25 does not teach political “social mercy.” That is the point of the post.

  2. Jeff Waddington


    Jesus was not teaching Politics 101 or a civics course.

    The use of these passages to support social justice is predicated upon the classical Liberal misunderstanding that the term “brother” applies to humans by virtue of their creaturely status.

    While there may be sense in which we are all God’s children by creation (per Acts 17), Scripture’s overwhelming emphasis is clearly that we are God’s children by adoption. And we are adopted by God when we exercise faith in Christ and are united to him and enjoy all the benefits of redemption.

  3. Foolish Tar Heel

    As best I can tell you guys (Batzig, Waddington, etc.) have a great anxiety about Evangelicals who are interested in social justice/mercy. I realize you are anxious about churches supplanting your understanding of the Gospel with what you classically understand as the social-Gospel. But, the energetic zeal with which you go after Evangelicals who promote social-justice as part of Kingdom work and the way you understand it is quite striking.

    Also, it is not the case that those (such as myself) who see social-justice/mercy as kingdom work are necessarily “trusting in” our mercy ministry for salvation.

    Nick and Jeff, do you think kingdom work is only “vertical” work and not “horizontal” work, such that churches that have ministries, want to feed the poor, want to serve tangibly the impoverished, etc., are going liberal and watering down the Gospel? This is really not meant to be a caricature. This has been explicitly taught in various Westminster classes, for example. I have frequently heard that those who understand so-called horizontal work as part of kingdom work and the gospel are “watering down the Gospel.” I guess this shows how perspective matters. From my point of view it is those who strictly bifurcate vertical (kingdom work) from horizontal work (at best, good neighborly behavior) who have watered down the Gospel.

    On a different note, can you find the imputed righteousness of Christ in any passage of Scripture? That you claim to find it here makes me wonder if you can. Let us try another one, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt 16.27). As you are probably aware, there are many such passages. Please understand, I am not saying such passages teach against the imputed righteousness of Christ. Rather, I am simply wondering if you can somehow show that such a passage also teaches the imputed righteousness Christ, as you claim to show for Matt 25.

    Tommy, howdy. It has been a while. In case you do not know who I am, when we had Enns’ seminar “Biblical Interpretation in Second Temple Judaism” together, I presented on angelic resurrection/exaltation-of-the-righteous traditions. Well, forget it, this is Stephen. I hope you and your family are doing well.

    Nick and Jeff, I hope you and your families are doing well today too. Nick, I hope to meet Anna and Micah at some point.

  4. Jeff Waddington

    Foolish Tar Heel

    No one ever said you could not do deeds of mercy. I notice you did not address the matter I raised.

    How imputation comes into this picture may be interesting but is besides the point.

    And don’t assume you know what I think beyond the narrow focus of my previous comments.

  5. Nicholas T. Batzig


    Thanks for jumping in on this one. I was going to erase the comments this morning but now I think I’ll keep them up. I should have written more carefully crafted arguments. Some of what I said was directed more pointedly at the Roman Catholic understanding of Matthew 25. This is due to the fact that I heard it abused by Roman Catholic apologists for the three summers my wife and I were in Wildwood, NJ (where we did evangelistic work).

    I think you and Tommy have missed the “cultural context” of the post. This surprises me since you both seem to be ardent defenders of the cultural context methodology. The context was a consideration of Barack Obama looking to Brian McLaren for advise on how to win the liberal evangelical vote. CNN noted that a group who calls themselves Matthew 25 are behind the push for evangelicals to vote for Democrats who care about “social justice.” If you guys have not read the CNN report you should. It helps clarify my concerns. I made the point that “social justice” needs to be defined. I understand that we like trendy phrases that we do not often understand but if we are going to to Christianize a socialist term we should be careful that we are still “rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    I wrote the post because I have realized for several years now that Matt. 25 is almost never exegeted correctly. Therefore, I approached it from an exegetical perspective. You two should at least appreciate the effort I put into exegeting parts of the text. This is basic biblical studies methodology.

    While I admit that the “imputed righteousness” comments may not have seemed as relevant to the discussion as they are, I was trying to exegete the passage as faithfully within the biblico-theological and systematico-theological context. This is a basic rule of Reformed hermeneutics. Now, that is not to say that I do not believe in a practical righteousness of the believer. John clearly teaches this when he says, “Everyone who practices righteousness is righteous just as that One (Jesus Christ) is righteous.” However, any practical righteousness we have comes to us from Christ, only after He imputes His perfect righteousness to us.

    I am not willing to get into a long drawn out discussion about the definition of the Gospel. Please read 1 Corinthians 15:1-3. There you will find Paul’s definition. I don’t see the fruit of the Gospel (acts of mercy and love) mentioned as part of the Gospel. Nor am I willing to deal with the subject of judgment according to works in this post. I don’t know about you but I was judged at Calvary when my precious Savior died for me. He has said to me in John 5:24, “Whoever hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” In 1 John, John elaborates on this when he says, “We know we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.” This is the evidence that we have been saved. It is not the cause, grounds, means or instrument of our salvation. So, Steven I would not agree with you proof texting use of Matt. 16:27. What the Lord says there needs to be understood within the context of the rest of Scripture.

    Before anyone else jumps in here and tries to accuse me of not wanting to care for others, I want to point out that I am eager to develop further mercy ministries at the church in which I minister. James 1:22-27 is pretty clear about our need to do that. As is Matthew 25. Please listen to the sermon I preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church on James 1:22-27. You will see that I do not tone down the need for emphasizing that believers must be careful to maintain good works.

    As far as Matthew 25 goes, which is the main focus of this posy, Jesus does encourage good works, in fact He says they must be there. But He is not saying they must be there so that we can be saved. He is saying, IF WE ARE SAVED these things will be there. And you know what, the righteous in the parable don’t recognize that those are there. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you…” They were not trusting in their care of the BRETHREN.

    Steven, on a personal note. I am looking forward to meeting your wife one day soon as well. Give me a call some time soon.

  6. Foolish Tar Heel


    If you notice, I did not assume what you think, I asked what you think. With all that has happened at WTS and is going on in the various sectors of the American Evangelical-Reformed world, I am beginning to think that the basics of conversation and dialogue are lost among all of us…even at the Connversation blog! : )

    Also, I did not address your specific point because I have yet to run into anyone among us Evangelical-Reformed who stress social-justice/mercy as part of the Gospel because we have the classic liberal (e.g., Harnack) understanding of “brother” and the Fatherhood of God.

    We may do what we do for flawed theological and Scriptural reasons, but (at least for me and many with whom I work and interact) not for the reason you mentioned.

    At one point I too read Machen (and others) against those who broaden “brother” and God’s Fatherhood in Scripture in the so-called classic liberal sense. I recall discussing this with my mother back in college when she did use the classic liberal understanding of God’s Fatherhood to support various things I found contrary to the Gospel. I think I even gave her Machen to read on that point.

  7. Foolish Tar Heel


    Sorry, I had to do something after replying to Jeff and before I could back to you…

    I imagine you did not mean to do this, but it seems you misread what I was saying.

    For one example, I did not offer Matt 16.27 as a proof text against imputed righteousness and/or as a proof text for works being the “grounds” of our salvation, as you present me as having done. Rather, in view of how you found Matt 25 as speaking to imputed righteousness, I wondered if you could find Matt 16.27 doing the same. Note how I wrote, “Please understand, I am not saying such passages teach against the imputed righteousness of Christ. Rather, I am simply wondering if you can somehow show that such a passage also teaches the imputed righteousness Christ, as you claim to show for Matt 25.” I thought this should make clear that I was not offering Matt 16.27 as some beginning salvo for a discussion of “the subject of judgment according to works in this post” (your words).

    As you know from when we enjoyed some great beer!, I am quite aware of how Reformed theological hermeneutics works—even if wea disagree on what that means in practice at times. My concern is that we have a tendency to allow our Systematics to drive us to find certain doctrines in texts that do not teach them. This is similar to, for example, John Murray’s warning about how though he certainly thinks limited atonement to be Scriptural, he does not think John 6 (6.36-40, 44-45, 65, etc.) teaches it. For me, I think us having righteousness in God’s sight in Christ is Scriptural, I just think finding Matt 25 to be speaking to the imputed righteousness is a stretch.

    Even though I think your exegesis approaches Matt 25 with some questions and concerns the passage does not address as you imply it does, your point about how “the righteous are not trusting in what they did” (as seen in how they did not know when they had done the things Jesus says) is intriguing and a very helpful pastoral application of the verse in some settings. I had certainly never thought of your point before in connection with this passage.

  8. Foolish Tar Heel

    Also, Nick, I have heard before arguments along the lines of what you wrote, “I am not willing to get into a long drawn out discussion about the definition of the Gospel. Please read 1 Corinthians 15:1-3. There you will find Paul’s definition. I don’t see the fruit of the Gospel (acts of mercy and love) mentioned as part of the Gospel.”

    If I may, this seems more like a rhetorical trick to win points with people who already agree with you rather than an attempt at a point meant to advance a conversation.

    Using your logic, in a different context I could appeal to Rom 1.1-4 in a way that would be obviously ridiculous.

    In Rom 1.1-4 Paul discusses the Gospel of God, for which he was set apart, which was promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, the one who became out of the seed of David according to the flesh, the one who was designated/set-apart Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness out of (from) the resurrection of the dead.

    So…in Rom 1.1-4 where Paul discusses the Gospel of God, I do not see a reference to Jesus’ death for our sins. According to your logic with 1 Cor 15.1-3, this appears to mean Jesus’ death for our sins is not part of the Gospel.

    We could also play some fun games with Rom 1.16-17, 2.16, etc.

    Again, this is obviously ridiculous, but at the same time part of why I do not find your use of 1 Cor 15.1-3 in your comment helpful.

  9. les.prouty

    foolish tar heel,

    I do believe that Nick is correct to point you to the definition of the Gospel as Paul succintly laid it out. Dever’s yalk/sermon at T4G on the gospel is right on and compelling. I would suggest all to listen.

    Basically, I think there is today a melding of the implications of the gospel with the gospel itself. Deeds of mercy are not the gospel. They are implications OF the gospel. Giving a meal is not the gospel, it is an implication of Christian love.

    The reason many of us are very uneasy on this subject is that the protestant church has been down this road before in the 20th century, most recently. We’ve been there and have the t-shirt.


  10. Nicholas T. Batzig


    This is not a rhetorical trick, it is a life or death matter. I would never say something just to win support from people who already agree with me. I say it because it is the only message that will get you out of hell and into the presence of God for eternity. Paul says the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom and power of God. He does not say, “the message of Jesus is Lord will save your soul.”

  11. Nicholas T. Batzig


    I jumped ahead to your last comment and missed your second to last. Sorry about that. Thanks for the clarification on your use of Matthew 16:25. I should have checked with you as to your use of it. I misunderstood what you had written. I agree with your concerns about not coming to the text with systematic concerns based on misunderstandings of doctrines in Scripture. I commend you for pointing that out. You are right in quoting Murray on this as well. And, I would agree that I did that to some extent. Thank you for the commendation on the point about the righteous not trusting in their works (and not even knowing what they had done). I appreciate your willingness to acknowledge that point.

    We should take the issue of the definition of the Gospel up when we meet again. Perhaps we will gain a better understanding of each others positions in all their nuances when we talk. Give me a call sometime soon.

    Sorry for any harsh tone I might have written in when I misunderstood your use of Matt. 16:25. BTW, I read the passage and was meditating on it this morning since you raised it. There is a serious call for real discipleship in that verse. We MUST deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus–the Jesus who denied Himself and took up the cross for us. May God help us to do so.

  12. Jeff Waddington


    I apologize for sounding harsh. I certainly believe that the Christian life is one that involves us doing good works.

    My question has to do with social justice. While I believe that we should do good to all men as much as we can, mercy ministry is actually intended for those in need within the church.

    The short of it is that I do not believe that mercy ministry or addressing social injustice ought to be the main focus of the church.

    Are there times when the church should stand up for justice? Yes, I think so.

  13. Tommy Keene

    Hey Nick thanks for your clarification in the July 3, 5am post. (5 am???) That helped in understanding where you are coming from.

    I agree with Stephen, though, about your use of 1 Cor. 15, though I don’t think you are just being rhetorical. But Paul defines the Gospel in many places; the Scripture interprets Scripture principle requires us to be nuanced.

    All this talk of beer in this post is making me thirsty. We should all congregate somewhere!

Leave a Reply