Review of Compassion (&) Conviction
Dear (name withheld),
Thank you for interacting with me on Facebook on the topic of social justice. I believe you reached out to me because you love me as a brother in Christ and saw what I posted as detrimental to the mission of the church, and wanted me to act in a way that honors Christ. For that concern and love, I thank you.
As you requested, I took the time to read Compassion & Conviction, by Justin Giboney, out of a similar concern; in that I love you as a sibling in Christ, and I want to see God’s best for you; and also because you said you were sincerely interested in my thoughts on it.
I did my best to give this book a fair shake. There were times I agreed with it, other times I disagreed with it, and still more times when I paused to consider its perspective and compare that with scripture. There was one section I gave three days’ consideration to before forming a conclusion and moving forward.
My overall summary of the book is that where it’s good, it’s very good, and where it’s bad it’s very bad.
First, I’ll start with the good:
- It asserts that the Christian must put scripture first, and subordinate all other human philosophies to the authority and control of scripture.
- It asserts that there is no neutrality anywhere in life, including the public sphere. All laws and public policies represent some worldview and source of ultimate authority, and all laws are necessarily enforcing some morality. For the Christian, this source is God and the Bible. Christians should not shy away from that, and should assert their source of authority just as confidently as the secularists do theirs. Few Christians today have this perspective, but it is necessary for faithful engagement in the world. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory.” (Lk 9.26)
- It asserts that Christians should get involved in politics, and cites plenty of strong biblical evidence to support this.
- It suggests that Christians should not blindly accept the narratives of or blindly give support to either side of the two-party system found in the United States. Our loyalty is not to a political party, but to Jesus Christ. Whenever the Christian votes, he is making a strategic decision between imperfect parties and imperfect candidates.
- It criticizes abortion, homosexuality, and lying (p44), marriage penalties and over-incarceration (p45), Christians who would make or apply laws hypocritically or with partiality (pg 47), and “ends justify the means” tactics (p68) used in politics.
- It states that “Some Christians attach themselves to efforts that speak of equality and justice, not knowing that the group they’ve affiliated with believes Christianity is ultimately an obstacle to their ideal society.” (p70)
I believe the reason many Christians are attracted to this book and others like it is because of a desire to obey verses like Isaiah 1.17: “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Seeking justice and correcting oppression are godly goals.
As I said, the book’s good parts are very good, and there are many of them. I would sometimes find five or six completely good pages in a row, seemingly taken straight from scripture. There’s a lot of truth in the good parts.
The problem I see is that the bad parts of the book are woven into the good ones in such a way that they are subtle, deceptive, and therefore extremely dangerous. Sometimes the truth and error are on the same page; sometimes even in the same paragraph or sentence! Honestly, it reminded me of the way Satan tempted Jesus by using biblical arguments. Satan was quoting scripture and using that scripture as a temptation to sin! Jesus responded with other scripture that countered and nullified the arguments Satan gave. And that’s what I believe is needed to respond to this book—more scripture, appropriately applied.
My hope is that you will listen to me; and like a Berean, search the scriptures to see if what I’m saying is true.
What are the bad parts?
1. Syncretism with worldly philosophies
This book asserts that Christians should use “social teaching” (i.e. sociology, critical race theory, intersectionality) alongside scripture to answer political questions.
“When confronted with a political question, we should consult Scripture, church tradition, and social teaching to glean wisdom and direction.” (p 33)
And again, the church should be leading the way. We can understand and appreciate identity politics, intersectionality, and critical race theory. (p 101)
This book wants to somehow harmonize scripture with leftist sociology (which itself is derived from pagan philosophies). It doesn’t want to take a hardline stance (as it critiques those who view politics only through the lens of sociology—pgs 99–100), but it does want to hold to a soft form of it. It’s trying to find a middle ground between the Bible and the hardcore pagan. The problem with this is that any amount of syncretism is too much.
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Gal 5.9)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2Cor. 6.14–15)
When worldly ideas come into the church, they rarely take a pure/hard form at the outset. It’s the soft forms that come in; and then once they take root, they spread. Cancer doesn’t kill a person instantly. It takes time. The mainline Protestant denominations today are spiritually dead because 100+ years ago they opened themselves up to worldly ideas like Higher Criticism, which denied the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.
This is nothing new. For centuries, the church tried to harmonize the Bible with pagan Greek philosophy. In my own lifetime, I’ve seen Christians try to harmonize the Bible with naturalism, darwinism, existentialism, feminism, egalitarianism, homosexuality, and now with pagan sociology. The end result is always the same—an eventual denial of scripture and complete adoption of human ideas.
This is because whenever the two come into conflict, one of them must necessarily yield to the other; and the worldly philosophy inevitably rises to the top level of authority.
The historic protestant Christian church has affirmed three relevant doctrines about the Bible:
- The Bible is sufficient to instruct us in matters of both faith and practice.
- The Bible itself is to be the lens through which we read the Bible.
- The Bible is the standard by which we evaluate all other matters
This book explicitly denies that the Bible is sufficient to instruct us in how to answer political questions, for we “should” also consult sociology (p 33). As a result, in practice, it also denies the other two doctrines as well: sociology becomes the lens through which we read the Bible, and sociology becomes the standard by which everything else is judged.
Consider this statement:
“Our political opinions must be based on biblical standards and not dependent on human ideas. We must assess the issues within a framework that emphasizes love and truth, compassion and conviction, social justice and moral order.” (p 37)
Those two sentences contradict each other. “Social justice” as a framework of thought is a human idea, not a biblical standard. But that doesn’t matter, because everything is being viewed “within a framework” that emphasizes “social justice.” And it “must” be assessed that way.
But why must the Bible and our application of it be assessed within a framework of social justice? Because the compromise has already taken place. Sociology has secretly risen to the top of the authority ladder.
All the other “bad” parts of the book flow out of this.
2. Preaching of a false gospel
This book seeks racial reconciliation that is detached from Christ.
Reconciliation … is a process that can’t rightly be conceived of until we’re fully committed to winning the fight against racism and attending to the many disparities that racism has created. (pgs 102-103)
And when Christians add their unique contributions to this work of intentionality around reconciliation, amazing things can happen. The miracle of reconciliation can unfold as Christians move through a four-step process, yet this process is relational, not formulaic.
STEPS TO RACIAL RECONCILIATION
Awareness … Host an educational event about race in America.
Relationship … Host a series of conversations (or a fellowship event) with a church whose demographics are substantially different from yours.
Advocacy … Ask them to join you in advocating for an issue.
Active Reconciliation … Meet together to identify assets and needs on both sides of the relationship.
According to this book, racial reconciliation can be achieved through better communication, mutual understanding, and political engagement that eliminates disparity.
The scripture, on the other hand, teaches that reconciliation between warring ethnic groups comes only through the cross of Christ, and that it has already been accomplished in Christ.
For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. (Eph 2.14–16)
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us… (Titus 3.3–5)
Racial animosity is a sin. So are racial vainglory and racial bitterness and racial envy. And the only way to effectively deal with sin is with the cross of Christ. In the cross, Christ established peace, and abolished divisions and enmity. To seek any other method of reconciliation apart from Christ (i.e. educational gatherings, political advocacy, sharing of resources, etc) is to follow after a different gospel.
It’s not that educational gatherings, political advocacy, or sharing of resources are bad or wrong. But this book is clearly identifying them as the means to racial reconciliation, and that is false and evil! (Gal. 1.6–9)
Note, that I am not talking about a false gospel of individual salvation, but rather corporate salvation. How are societies saved? How is sin dealt with on a large scale? The answer here is the same as for individuals—the cross of Christ.
Why has this book abandoned the true gospel for a false one? Because it has embraced pagan sociological ideas.
A lack of knowledge about American history, racism embedded in ideological perspectives, and the continued effects of racism and racist policies prevents us from pursuing true racial reconciliation. (p. 94).
even well-meaning people and institutions engage in practices that reproduce and reinforce negative outcomes such as segregation, disadvantages for minorities in the job market, and the portrayal of whiteness as superior in public communications and entertainment. … we’re unwilling to acknowledge race as the root cause of tough issues because we don’t want to admit that we still have work to do. (p. 98)
These are talking-points straight out of critical race theory. The “root” problem is identified as systemic racism and inequality. “Well-meaning people” (I take this to mean “Christians who don’t even realize they are racist”) are part of a system that is racist, and this results in inequalities. And these inequalities prevent us from pursuing “true racial reconciliation.”
To be fair, page 94 says, “Racial reconciliation is a process that starts with the gospel and ends with the gospel.” But which gospel are we talking about? Is it the gospel that says that the root problem is sinful rebellion against God? That in Jesus Christ all sin is removed, including racial animosity and envy and bitterness? That in Christ the full penalty for our sins has been paid? That our sins are forgiven and no longer held against us? That unity in Christ is the only true source of racial reconciliation?
No. This book advocates the ideas that our root sin in society is racism; that it still haunts us, that it still needs to be paid for; and that reconciliation cannot happen without that payment. And the payment for that sin is not the death of Christ. This is a false gospel, and must be rejected vehemently!
3. Speaking truth in misleading ways
Faithfulness does not demand support for any one economic theory or form of government (pgs 33-34)
But there is rarely only one Christian position on a public policy issue. We don’t want to prescribe specific policy approaches as the only faithful application of gospel truth. (p 45)
For instance, the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what economic system we must use, even though Christians often try to use the Bible to support a specific economic system. Different economic systems might come with different problems, but pretending that God has ordained a particular preference oversteps the bounds of Scripture. (p53)
These statements are technically true, since there could potentially be more than one God-honoring economic theory or form of government; but they are misleading because some economic theories or forms of government are inherently wicked and completely ruled out by the Bible. This fact is left unsaid. The impression is left with the reader that all economic systems and forms of government are basically neutral and that the Bible doesn’t speak to any of them; and this then opens the door to Christians accepting the wicked forms.
For example, socialism is categorically evil because it fundamentally disobeys at least four biblical commands:
1) “You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Ex. 20.17)
Socialism is driven by covetousness. The leading Marxist writers plead with the poor to recognize and covet what the rich have, and to obtain it through governmental intervention.
2) Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2Cor. 9.7)
Socialism wants the “haves” to give to the “have nots,” and it uses the power of the government to force this giving to take place. This kind of giving is not pleasing to God. God wants giving to be voluntary and cheerful, and the amount given is to be determined only by the heart of the giver.
3) “You shall not steal.” (Ex. 20.15)
Socialism uses the power of civil government to take money from the rich in order to give it to the poor. But stealing is evil, even if done by a government, and even if done through the tax code and euphemistically labelled as “redistribution of wealth.”
In order to get around the idea of theft, socialism removes the right to private property. It’s not stealing if it’s not really yours to begin with.
But the 8th commandment, above, implies the holiness of private property in the same way that the 6th commandment implies the holiness of life and the 7th commandment implies the holiness of marriage and sex and the 9th commandment implies the holiness of truth. Private property ownership is a God-given right, and human governments do not have the authority to abrogate it.
4) “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (Lev. 19.15)
Socialism wants to divide society into two classes and then be partial to one over the other. But God says this is wickedness. Biblical justice does not judge according to which class a person belongs to, but rather judges according to the facts of the individual case, and the behavior of specific people. Biblical justice does not side with all poor people (or all women, or all ethnic minorities, or all sexual minorities, etc), but with whomever is personally innocent.
Can injustice and theft and covetousness happen in capitalism? Yes, of course! But they are not baked into the system. Capitalism can function in a God-honoring way, or it can function in a sinful way. Socialism simply cannot function except in a sinful way.
4. Adopting worldly definitions of the “good”
Christians should engage politics because doing so provides us with a robust opportunity to love our neighbor by acting justly, promoting human flourishing, and seeking the prosperity of our community. (p7)
We only wish to influence the state for the sake of human flourishing. (p 30)
“Human flourishing” is not a thought-category of the Bible. It’s a thought-category of pagan psychology.
The call of Christ is to deny oneself, take up our cross daily and follow him. Jesus calls us to die to ourselves. If anyone wishes to save his life, he must lose it. Living righteously in the world during this age of history necessarily includes persecution and suffering.
I’m not saying we should intentionally cause other people to suffer, but the end goal of human life is not flourishing. Rather, we are to do all things to the glory of God, with love for God and our neighbor; and this often does not line up with “human flourishing.”
If one buys into the category of “human flourishing” as “good” then anything outside of it is “bad.” And I have personally seen this thought process being used to justify all kinds of sins and unbiblical ideas.
5. Adopting worldly ideas about the role of government
“Christians should engage politics because doing so provides us with a robust opportunity to love our neighbor by acting justly, promoting human flourishing, and seeking the prosperity of our community.” (pg 6)
“Therefore, Christians should participate in the political system and do our best to ensure that society is treating people fairly and upholding healthy standards of human dignity.” (p 11)
“To refuse to engage in politics is to refuse to take advantage of a useful tool for God’s work.” (p 11)
This book assumes that part of civil government’s job is to provide for the poor, to seek economic growth, and to right societal wrongs; and that trying to use civil government to accomplish these goals is good and God-honoring. But these assumptions are not supported by scripture.
According to the Bible, God is the one who established civil government as his servant; and he gave it the power of the sword (the power to compel people to do what they don’t want to do, up to and including the point of killing them) in order to carry out two (and only two) tasks: to establish justice (i.e. to punish evildoers and reward the righteous), and to provide a peaceful, orderly society in which the gospel and piety can prosper (e.g. no riots, no attacking armies, etc). We get this from 1Pet. 2.13–17, Rom 13.1–7, and 1Tim 2.1–4. (I am presenting these ideas in summary form. If you want further explanation of any of this, I can provide it.)
God did not empower civil government with the sword for any other purposes, including providing jobs for workers, promoting economic prosperity, making sure everyone has an equal share of wealth or opportunity or power, or redeeming society from its sins or from the effects of sin.
Christians need to recognize that pagans will always try to expand government’s power and use it for their own ungodly means, and they will do so in the name of doing good.
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you…” (Lk 22.25–26)
Jesus said that Gentile rulers claim to be benefactors. They say, “We’re doing this for your own good! We’re saving lives! We’re helping people! We’re bringing about a better world!” But in reality, they are only reducing freedom by trying to control everything (“lord it over them”) and acting in a way that Jesus says is sinful (“not this way with you”).
Christians are often deceived by the “benefactor” rhetoric, because they want to see good done. They want to see society redeemed. But the God-given means to accomplish this is not through governmental power. Government is not a savior.
Because of the lording/benefactor warning of Christ, and because of the great damage that can be done when government’s power is expanded (cf. Prov. 29.2; 28.15, 28), it is imperative for Christians to seek to keep government’s power in check; to keep it to a minimum of what is required to do the job God has assigned to it. Remember, “it is not this way with you.”
The social justice movement wants to use the power of the sword to bring about social change for good (e.g. to eliminate racism or poverty). But you cannot expect God’s blessing when you disobey him. Good will not result from the evil use of means.
Despite there being many good parts to the book, the bad parts within it are subtle and dangerous and deceptively woven into the good; and I cannot recommend that Christians read it. The good points from this book can be gleaned elsewhere without all the extra baggage.