The work of Richard McBrien and Martin Heidegger increased the popularity of the needs-based social Gospel in Christian circles.

Martin Heidegger

Controversial Philosopher Martin Heidegger CC BY-SA 3.0 by Willy Pragher
German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) taught that life’s answers lie within the self.i Heidegger taught that the soul authenticates itself by showing concern for others or “caring.” Heidegger’s “care” (German Sorge) has no place for God, but is based on the religion of self:

Being-with-others, having concern for others, and taking care of the world are modes by which Da-sein (there-being) becomes attuned to being-in-the-world. Thus, the being of Da-sein reveals a care and concern by which Da-sein understands and transcends itself.ii

Heidegger’s philosophies were also found in the Church, which set up a system of “spiritual growth” that functions without God. In this system, the Church sets the standard and educates the masses through Christian psychology and spiritual directors, all of which leads to spiritual formation.

Richard McBrien

Father Richard P. McBrien, Professor of Theology at Notre Dame, is an influential Catholic and key proponent of the social Gospel—that is, the belief that the Church’s mission is to right social wrongs. Father McBrien says in his book Catholicism that “the Church’s involvement in, and commitment to, the struggle for social justice, peace, and human rights is an essential, or ‘constitutive,’ part of its mission.”iii

According to DePauw University, McBrien “has served as an on-air commentator on Catholic events for CBS television and continues to offer regular commentary on all the major television networks. Father McBrien writes a syndicated weekly theology column for the Catholic press and is the general editor of the HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism.”iv

In Catholicism, McBrien quotes Anne Carr, who says this:

The mission of the Church is one of service to the people, especially the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. Although structures of authority are necessary for this mission, those structures are always subordinate to it and are to be judged by their capacity to enable the Church to fulfill the mission.v

We learn in Catholicism, courtesy of the theologizing of Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, that the Church in Latin America “must take a clear stand against social injustice and in favor of the revolutionary process,” and via Leonardo Boff that “the Church must be defined in terms of energy, charism, and the progress of the world.”vi

Father McBrien also discusses what he calls the feminist view of the Church as “an exodus community…called to abandon the established social order and its religious agents of sacralizationand to witness an alternative social order.” He says these ideas belong to the “change-agent” or “servant” model of the Church, which stresses proclamation and practice of the Gospel “by application of the Gospel to the struggle for social justice, peace, and human rights.”vii

Missing the Point

While it is true that the Church is called to bring freedom to the oppressed and care for the poor, what Father McBrien’s new morality misses is the reliance on God for freedom and peace.

As long as we see caring for others as a way to save ourselves through our righteousness, we miss the point. And when we spend all our efforts demanding human rights, we forget that as sinners we have no rights—except the right to death.

Jesus offers us the gift of salvation and calls us to live out the principles of His Kingdom on this Earth (see John 15:19 and 17:11, and Philippians 2:15). But as long as Satan and his evil angels continue to operate on this planet, we shall never see true peace. Too much of the world is led by false theories originating from the father of lies—the devil.

We are told to preach the Gospel to the world, but we know from Bible prophecy that all of the world will not choose Christ and His Word. In fact, the Bible is very clear that at the end of time, a very small percentage will be faithful to God’s principles. This has been evident even in history. When Israel was still God’s chosen people, the majority wavered in their faithful obedience to God and worshiped idols, but there was always a small remnant that kept the commandments of God.

During the Dark Ages, the same situation occurred: the majority followed popular teaching and the minority sought God’s truth in His Word. Those that seek God with all their heart and mind and soul have always been the minority. This is how it will be will be until a final end has been made to Satan and his host.

True social justice and peace lie in obedience to God’s truth as found in His Word—the Bible. This Book was written for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

If the Bible’s principles of love were followed, inequality and social injustice would not exist. Our world is so full of abuse and injustice because we have refused to acknowledge the relevance of God’s commandments. When we focus on God and obedience to His will as revealed in His Word and His law, peace and social justice can prevail. But when we pick and choose what we want to believe and reject God’s rule over our lives, we see anarchy and chaos.

Heidegger, McBrien, and other proponents of justice and peace miss the focus on honoring God’s laws. Instead, they believe that social justice and peace will be achieved through human cooperation, human unity, and human hard work. But the Bible tells us that our hearts are deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Only with the Holy Spirit in hearts that are submitted to God’s will and ways and that are praying for God’s strength through our weakness can we hope to make any impact for good on this planet.

We do not need a “new morality” based on good works and relativism. What we need is to return to God’s absolute morality.

Ellen White tells us this:

While they claimed to be very jealous for the honor of the law, self-glory was the real object which they sought; and Christ would make it manifest to them that the lover of self is a transgressor of the law (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 79.1).

This article is adapted from Walter Veith’s Rekindling the Reformation DVD The Jesuits and the Counter Reformation Part 1.



i. “Heidegger, Martin,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

ii. Alex Scott, Heidegger’s Being and Time.

iii. Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism (New York: Harper/Collins, 1994): 725.

iv. “Father Richard McBrien Discusses ‘Challenges Facing the Next Pope’ Wednesday,” DePauw University website (April 8, 2005).

v. Richard P. McBrien, Catholicism (New York: Harper/Collins, 1994): 705.

vi. Ibid: 701.

vii. Ibid: 704.