Scot McKnight answers this question in the affirmative. Here is his take:
“For [the one] who has lost God the people [or, the nation]can be a first station on [a] new way.” These are the words of Martin Buber, that brilliant Jewish philosopher. He is reflecting here on the loss of his pietist roots in Hasidic Judaism and on his first impulse to channel that former faith into national hopes, into Zionism. Buber in some ways eventually came around to a more religious, Hasidic existential worldview.
But what struck me about this reflection of Buber’s is the need on the part of many (formerly) religious people, Christians included, to launch from their faith orientation into a social orientation. That is, they need to get lost — to give themselves to — a cause, something bigger than their own life. Many shift from the church to society (and sadly think the move is “kingdom” vs. “church”).
Which leads me to ponder whether or not the many today who are now entranced by social justice are expressing not so much a dimension of their faith but a stage on the way of losing that faith.
Has social justice become an idol? Has it become a substitute for God, for personal engagement with God?
Of course, justice is of colossal importance in the Bible, but that justice is always connected to covenant and therefore to piety. The question I am asking is if some need to consider the Why? question in their commitment to social justice. Are they abandoning piety and finding justice to be its substitution?
The struggle for nation will never satisfy; only God can ultimately satisfy.
Interesting in light of the protests/gatherings in Philly yesterday, and the difference in perspective between the Occupy movement, and the Christ-centered gathering led by The Simple Way. One was the social gospel with Christ at the heart, the other doesn’t seem to really have a heart, just anger.
Also, McKnight is not, I believe from reading some of his other writings, saying there is no place for the social gospel. He is simply saying that we should insure our walking toward social goals do not cover a walking away from God. We should be walking there with God in an attempt to bring His Kingdom to bear on the situation. Ignoring the poor is not the solution to this idolatry. There is an equal danger of idolatry at the other extreme, where we expect that God will take care of the poor without our help and we are free to give in to the idolatry of self-centeredness or the idolatry of nation by expecting the “nation” to take care of the poor in place of God and His people.