The Gospel and Social Issues
About the Guest
Pastor David Platt wonders why believers are rising up against popular social injustices like poverty and slavery, but remain silent on other issues like abortion. Platt reminds Christians that they are called to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and tells how his church, and family, have sought to do that.
Pastor David Platt wonders why believers are rising up against popular social injustices like poverty and slavery, but remain silent on other issues like abortion.
The Gospel and Social Issues
Bob: There are lots of issues that press in on us in this culture—issues that demand a biblical response—things like poverty, racism, sex slavery, immigration, abortion, persecution, pornography. What is a follower of Jesus to do? Here’s David Platt.
David: In a culture where these issues are so prevalent, we all need to be equipped to share with others how the gospel affects the way we think about each of these issues. Then, when it comes to how we act, no one person is going to address poverty, while starting a pregnancy care clinic, while adopting five orphans into their home, and on and on and on. This is where I encourage folks just to read through all these issues—think about the gospel and then ask the Lord, “What specifically are you leading me to do?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
We’re going to hear a compassionate call to living counter-culturally today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to tell you—I was a little surprised when I heard that the next book David Platt was going to write was going to be a book addressing contemporary issues. Just because of all of the things I’ve read from him, I just didn’t expect this was the next place he was going to go.
Dennis: Yes. After writing a book called Radical, you kind of wonder, “Now, why did he do that?” So, I’m going to ask him. First of all—David, welcome to the broadcast.
David: It’s great to be here.
Dennis: David and his wife Heather have just moved to Richmond, Virginia.
He heads up the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Used to be a pastor for a number of years and has taken on an international assignment. Let’s go to Bob’s topic, here: “Why in the world did you tackle a book on contemporary social issues?”
David: Really, when you think about it, what drove me to write this book is really the application of what I had written in Radical. Too, what I see is the most pressing social issues around us in our culture—so just a deep, personal, pastoral burden [drove] me to write this book. When I look at the rapidly-shifting moral landscape that we live in and the number of social issues—ranging from poverty, to same-sex marriage, to sex trafficking, to religious liberty, racism—how does the gospel compel us to live radically / counter-culturally in light of these issues?
Dennis: Yes. What I want our listeners to know here, at the beginning, is—I want them to think and listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit has to say to them about: “What’s the application out of what David’s talking about for you—
—as a single man, married man, married woman, or a parent raising children today? This is really the assignment of the family isn’t it; David?
David: It is. I’m so glad you mentioned that, just at the start, because that was my prayer in writing this Counter Culture book—was to say: “Here are these issues. Let’s look at our lives. Let’s look at our sphere of influence. Let’s look at where God’s put our lives, marriages, families. How can we be a part of applying the gospel practically, right where we live, in light of these pressing social issues?”
Dennis: Parent’s hearts are going to end up being displayed to their children and what they’re passionate about is going to be caught by their children.
Bob: David we’ve got, as you know, a generation of younger evangelicals, who kind of feel like we need to shy away from the issues you’re addressing here—that we will, in fact, hurt the gospel if we tackle culture war issues. They’re saying the culture wars need to be done away with, and we need to be focusing on just sharing about Jesus with people.
David: I get that because I was there. One, I want to be focused on sharing about Jesus with people, primarily, over and above everything else—but take an issue like abortion—for years, I was shamefully passive on that issue / just totally silent—not just as a Christian—but as a pastor, would hardly address it because I had it over here, in this political sphere that I wasn’t going to touch.
Then, I’m reading Psalm 139 one day. It was just like: “How can I not address this issue? This is not a political issue. Before that, it’s a God issue / it’s a gospel issue—God’s love for the children He’s creating in the womb.” Then realizing: “Okay, I’ve got to—I’m compelled to act on this issue. Before it’s ever a political issue, it’s a gospel issue.”
Dennis: It’s really the application of our forgiveness as we pierce the darkness of a culture.
I almost recoiled, Bob, when you said the word, “culture wars” because I don’t view, frankly, the topics you’re talking about here as a culture war issue. To me, it’s a matter of, as you say, justice. It’s a matter of bringing the truth of God’s Word to a world that doesn’t know what’s right.
David: That’s exactly right. You look at an issue like orphans and widows. When you believe the gospel / when you’ve been adopted by God, Himself, then you are compelled to act when it comes to orphans around you. Not that everybody is going to adopt—although, many people the Lord will lead to do that—but to say, in a
James 1:27-kind-of-way: “How can we look after the orphan and the widow?”
Bob: You know that, when we go in the marketplace and say, “We care about orphans and widows”, everybody goes, “Good for you!” They cheer you on. When you go in the marketplace and say, “We care about unborn babies,” and “We care about God’s design for marriage,” they say, “Sit down and be quiet.”
David: That’s exactly what’s driving me to write this book—is to show that the gospel doesn’t give us the option of picking and choosing which social issues we’re going to address / which ones we’re going to ignore, based on what’s most comfortable or least costly to us in the culture around us.
Dennis: I’ve said for years, David—that I think the abortion laws will be overturned when the church becomes so pro-orphan that—like Mother Teresa, who said, “Give me your babies.” When the church says: “Give me these children that are fatherless / that don’t have families to grow up in. Give us these children.” At that point, the culture may end up saying, “You know, maybe there’s something to their argument being against abortion and being pro-life.”
David: Let me give a great picture of that. Even in the church that I pastored, we were reading/studying James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father looks at as pure and faultless is to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” We called up the Department of Human Resources in our county and said: “How many kids, in foster care, do you have that need help right now?
“How many families would it take to be able to care for all the kids in our county?” They kind of laughed at me. I said, “No, really—how many families?” They said, “We could probably use 150 more families.” The need was so great. Two weeks later, we had an informational meeting. Families came pouring in, and 150 of our families signed up to care for every child in foster care in our county.
What that did is—it not only provided an avenue to care for these kids in a way that displayed the gospel—but then it provides all the more fuel for us to then go to women, who are struggling to discern whether or not to keep a baby and say, “There’s actually a whole mechanism that’s set up for your children to be cared for—either through adoption, or in this way or that way—come alongside you.” When we show that kind of effect of the gospel in our lives / in the church, then it has ripple effects far beyond.
Dennis: What I want our listeners to hear is that was David Platt, the pastor, reaching out to a governmental agency offering help. I want you to know, as a layman, you can do this too.
There’s a movement, across our country, of families who are stepping up and saying: “Give us your children. Work with us and train the families I bring to you.” It’s happening in county after county, across the country.
David: It is. That’s what is so exciting to see, as God wakes people up to the reality of needs around—how the gospel compels us to address those needs around us—and the creativity of God in how He leads different families to do different things—to care for children, in His name, in these ways.
I can just tell you story after story, when you walk through the preschool area of our church. You just see children from different countries, that have been adopted; but you also see different children from all over the city, who are walking through challenging times. Each one of them represents a story of a family who’s coming alongside and loving that child—not just that child / but in a foster-care situation, loving the parents of that child, and working toward reunification and the health of that family It’s just a beautiful thing to see the gospel taking root in families in that way.
Dennis: David, I think one of the things the enemy does is—he goes to families and he whispers in their ears: “You can’t make a difference. You’re just one dad,” “…just one mom,” “…just one family. God can’t use you—you’re not seminary-trained.” That really is one of the greatest lies that has the church paralyzed today in our culture.
David: It really is. One of the things I address in the Counter Culture book is that tendency we have to say, “Well, I can’t fix everything, so I won’t do anything.” It is—it’s a lie straight from the adversary because God has uniquely designed His body to reach out to individual children in ways that have far-reaching effects. You think about just one of these children—who’s being cared for / loved in foster care and adoption, through a family that’s showing them the love of the Father to the fatherless—the effect in that one child’s life and how that will have ripple effects far beyond that one child.
Bob: What did you do, as a pastor in Birmingham, to motivate or to unleash people to get engaged in ministry? How did you cast that vision?
David: I would say it’s two-fold. One, I kept giving them the gospel—kept reminding them. That sounds overly simplistic but even to connect that to what we were just talking about when it comes to foster care. Many of the children in foster care have some rough backgrounds. When it comes to foster care and adoption, this isn’t—it’s not an easy task / it’s really difficult for families. So, why would a family bring a child into their home? Maybe because they have fetal alcohol syndrome—he’s going to be very rebellious / it is going to be very hard in the home. So, why would a family take that risk and do that?
Here’s why—because they know that there was a day, when they were running away from God and rebellion against Him—God, in His mercy, reached out His hand of grace into their heart and brought them from death to life and adopted them as His children. As a result, it now—it just makes sense to do the same thing in other children’s lives.
I keep giving them the gospel and then helping them think through—just to kind of seed practical ideas:
“Here’s how you could potentiality apply the gospel then, in a foster child’s life.” “Here’s how you can apply the gospel in this pregnancy care center.” “Here’s how you can apply the gospel in the midst of sex trafficking around us in the city,” or whatever it may be. To think intentionally through: “This gospel that I believe is not just a Sunday-by-Sunday thing. This affects every facet of my being and my life,” and to think through the practical ways that can play out.
Dennis: You’re not challenging people to do something that you and Heather haven’t done.
David: Adoption, by God’s grace, is a part of our story—that God has blessed us with four kids. Two of them are adopted, and I’m so thankful. Even as we were just talking, just a second ago, about the effect—I mean, “Can you really have that great an effect?” I think about our son from Kazakhstan / our daughter from China—and just the effect they’ve had on my life; much less, my wife and I are having on their life. Don’t underestimate, for a second, what God will do when your family gets serious about applying the gospel to these issues.
Dennis: What I want our listeners also to know—just as in God’s family, it’s not perfect after they get redeemed and after He adopts us—when you reach out and you get involved in these social issues, it’s going to be messy. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be some warm feeling, where everything falls in place, and it’s going to be really easy to do.
No, we’re talking about doing the hard work of persevering / of faith, working through difficulties. This is gritty stuff you’re challenging people to do—it’s discipleship stuff.
David: It is. It’s very gritty and it is discipleship. We tell our folks, all the time in the church: “Don’t adopt or start caring for foster children because you want a cuter Christmas card to send out to your friends. This is not what gospel ministry is about.
It’s about addressing some really challenging circumstances sometimes—and at great risk—but it’s worth it.” That’s the beauty and this is the way the gospel always works.
This is the invitation to Christ: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.” So, die to yourself because there’s better life for you. It’s worth it to walk through the grit because of what it will do—not just in somebody else’s life, as they see the love of Christ expressed through you toward them—but what it will do in your own life / in your own relationship with Christ.
Bob: David, there are nine subjects listed on the front of your book: Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Persecution, Abortion, Orphans, [and] Pornography. I read that list and I think to myself: “If I’m going to try to live out a gospel-centered response to those, I’m overwhelmed just by looking at the list—to try to speak to one of those feels consuming.” How do we, as Christians, calibrate our lives so that we know: “Am I supposed to be speaking to all of these? What do I do?”
David: In this Counter Culture book, I take each chapter and address a different issue. At the end of each chapter, I try to give some practical take-aways.
One: “How does knowing about these issues affect the way we pray?” because that’s something all of us can do—just from our knees—and not to underestimate the value of what it means to go before the Lord and intercede on behalf of those who are being trafficked around the world for sex and intercede on behalf of those who are poor. “How does it affect the way we pray?” “How does it affect the way we speak?” I think, in a culture where these issues are so prevalent, we all need to be equipped to share with others how the gospel affects the way we think about each of these issues. That, I think, is consistent with all of them: “How we pray,” / “How we speak on these issues.”
Then, when it comes to how we act, this is where I encourage folks just to read through all these issues—think about the gospel / let it inform your praying and your speaking—and then ask the Lord, “What specifically are You leading me to do?” God may lead this person to address this issue in that way / this person to address that issue in that way. As we’re doing that, the creativity of God—He will lead us to do all kinds of different things in ways that resound to His glory in each one of our lives.
Dennis: One of the first issues you tackle—in fact, I guess it is the first issue—it’s poverty. Jesus spoke a lot about the poor. I wonder: “Today, in our country—if we’re so rich today in our evangelical church—that we’ve really forgotten or have perhaps passively ignored the poor among us and haven’t really addressed their needs.” Speak to that if you would.
David: I think that’s right on—that’s exactly what we’ve done. First Timothy 6 talks about how we’re prone to do that—it’s because we think of wealth in relative terms. We always think of people who are wealthier than us, but the reality is when 90-plus percent—not just the world, but world history—looks at the wealthy, they think of us. We don’t need to feel bad about that. My aim, in that chapter, specifically, is that—by no means to present a guilt trip—but to say: “Why has God given us this wealth?
“Maybe He’s given it to us for the spread of His worship / for the spread of His goodness—to display Him as Father to the fatherless by using wealth to care for those who are in need—to look at those who are poor and say, ‘How can we best be an expression of God’s character to them?’ which we see all throughout Scripture—to really seriously think about this in a world where we are surrounded by massive physical need.”
Bob: Let me ask you some real practical questions in the area of affluence and poverty. When a mom and dad are sitting and thinking, “Maybe it would be fun for us to go to Disneyland on vacation”; and then somebody says, “How can you go to Disneyland on vacation when there are people dying around the world?”
A mom and a dad are trying to figure out what car to get because Mom’s car just broke. They go: “Well, let’s see. This one costs more money but might not break down as much, but how can we spend this much money on a car when there are people dying from starvation?” How do you deal with those kinds of dilemmas in a culture of affluence, when you know that you’re going to Disneyworld and kids don’t have a well?
David: That’s a great question. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed walking our church through, and then, even my own family through—to think through because there are not specific guidelines that we have in Scripture—“I live at this income,”—but I do think we see clear exhortations to live simply and to give sacrificially. To live simply—that doesn’t mean that a Disneyworld vacation is wrong, by any means.
In fact, I think there are places—we see in Scripture—you look at a robust theology of possessions—what you’ll see is there’s room for extravagant celebration, even, on periodic basis, but not to live in that. What we encourage our folks to do / what my wife and I have done is just to set a cap on our standard of living. If God entrusts more wealth to us, then don’t raise the standard of living—raise the standard of giving. Just have that much more to give away. That’s where the “give sacrificially” comes in.
I think we’re exhorted all throughout Scripture that we should be giving in a way that hurts / in a way that does lead to sacrifice in some ways. That’s going to look different in different people’s lives. What it does in our hearts—when we start to see, “Okay, I’m not going to have this so that others can have that,”—that’s a good discipline for us to build into our families.
Dennis: I want to ask how you’ve done it, as a daddy. You’ve got four children—Caleb, Joshua, Mara Ruth, and Isaiah. Their ages are?
David: They’re nine, seven, four and two.
Dennis: How are you practically try to imbed compassion toward the poor and engage your children in this?
David: When the Lord really began to convict me on these things, we decided we needed to make a change in the house we live in as a family. Now, we only had two kids, at this point; but those two kids walked through that process with us. Obviously, they were young—but seeing us down-size our home—which is a whole nother journey to walk through that even in marriage.
My wife and I—it’s not that she loves all these worldly possessions and I don’t—but just us coming to the same page on “Okay, how are we going to live simply?”—that’s a sanctifying process—for a husband and wife to think and pray through that together.
I remember, when we were trying to decide what house to move into—I would bring some houses to the table, “Hey let’s look at these”; and she would bring some houses to the table. We just weren’t on the same page. I said: “Okay, let’s do it this way—let’s write down a list of the top five things that you value in a house and I value in a house. We’ll just start there.” So we sat down—this will show you how patient my wife is because we sat down and the first thing on her list was just some place for the kids to be able to run around outside—whether it’s a yard or park somewhere—just someplace for the kids to be able to run outside.
She says, “What’s the first thing on your list?” My first thing was: “Water.” She said, “Water?” I said, “Well, yes, because a lot of people around the world…”
I started giving this lecture on “People don’t have water in the world.” As I was speaking, I realized: “Oh no! I’m so sorry, babe.” It just shows you the patience of my wife, but the process that’s involved. We walked through that process. The Lord brought us on the same page, where we have a house that—again, would be luxurious compared to many places in the world—but we believe is a simple expression of how we can best use our money here.
They’ve seen that; and then we’ve tried to help them think through—even as we build in personal routines for them—just basic allowance for chores kind of thing. We encourage them to take that money and to live simply and give sacrificially. This brings honor to God and brings good to others.
Dennis: One of the things we did, as a family, is that we had rice to eat one day a month. We took what that meal would have cost for our family of eight, and we sponsored a child.
Today, if I was doing it again, I would say: “I want to sponsor a child in a ministry that is gospel-centered—that is going to share Jesus Christ as they feed the children / as they dig a well. The important thing is to train your children to think outside of their own family. The family can be an ingrown unit in this culture—satisfying their own needs and not be thinking compassionately about the world.
Bob: Of course, if you’re going to train your kids in that direction, then you have to have your own thinking aligned, biblically. You’ve got to have your mind renewed on the kinds of things we’ve been talking about today. That’s where a book like the book that you have written, David, called Counter Culture, is going to be helpful for a lot of moms and dads.
We’ve got copies of David’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. When you get to the website, look in the upper left-hand corner for the button that says, “GO DEEPER.” When you click on that button, you’ll see David’s book right there.
Again, it’s called Counter Culture. You can order copies from us, online. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call to order. Our toll free number is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk more with David Platt about some of the issues that are swirling in our culture today and how we can think and act, biblically, in response to these issues. Hope you can be back for our conversation.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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