Social justice is one of the most epic and age-defining controversies facing the twenty-first-century church.
Whether we see this as progress or a problem hangs on questions that seem to have nothing to do with social justice controversies. Who is God? What does it mean to be human? Why does the church exist? When did the world go wrong and how can it be put right?
What do we really mean when we way “social justice”?
SOCIAL JUSTICE A:
Perhaps we could use social justice to describe what our ancient brothers and sisters did to rescue and adopt the precious little image-bearers who had been discarded like trash at the dumps outside many Roman cities. The same two words could describe William Wilberforce’s and the Clapham Sect’s efforts to topple slavery in the UK, along with Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and others in the US. Social justice could describe Sophie Scholl’s and the White Rose Society’s work or Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and the Confessing Church’s efforts to subvert Hitler’s Third Reich. It could also describe Abraham Kuyper’s vision, not of an individualistic pietism but of a robust Christianity that seeks to express the lordship of Jesus over “every square inch” of life and society.
Nowadays, the same word combination could even describe Christian efforts to abolish human trafficking, work with the inner-city poor, invest in microloans to help the destitute in the developing world, build hospitals and orphanages, upend racism, and protect the unborn.
Let us call this broad swath of biblically compatible justice-seeking “Social Justice A.”
SOCIAL JUSTICE B:
In the last few years, social justice has taken on an extremely charged political meaning. It became a waving banner over movements like Antifa, which sees physical violence against those who think differently as “both ethically justifiable and strategically effective” and celebrates its underreported “righteous beatings.” Social justice is the banner waved by a disproportionate ratio of professors in universities around the nation where the “oppressor vs. oppressed” narrative of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, the deconstructionism of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, and the gender and queer theory of Judith Butler have been injected into the very definition of the term. This ideological definition of social justice has been enshrined in many minds not as a way but as the way to think about justice.
Social justice is also the banner over movements with a stated mission to disrupt the western-prescribed nuclear family structure, movements on college campuses that have resorted to violence to silence opposing voices, and movements that seek to shut down the Little Sisters of the Poor and Christian universities who will not bow to their orthodoxy. In other words, if we paint Christians who sound the call for biblical discernment about social justice as a bunch of culturally tone-deaf curmudgeons, then it is we who are tone-deaf to the current cultural moment. We are naïve to the meanings that have been baked into many minds with the word combination of social and justice.
Let us call this second kind of justice-seeking “Social Justice B,” the kind of social justice that conflicts with a biblical view of reality.
SOCIAL JUSTICE VS. BIBLICAL JUSTICE
Hopefully, Christians across the political spectrum can unite around the fact that not everything branded social justice is social justice.
Where, then, are the boundaries? Where can we march forward together with interlocked arms and biblically faithful hearts? And where might a vision of justice cross the line and lure us away from “the faith once and for all entrusted to God’s holy people”?
Those are critical questions we must ask if the church is to pierce the political atmosphere of our age without bursting into fragments and flames.
0:00 – The real definition of social justice
00:56 – Justice in the Bible
4:57 – The kind of justice God requires
12:44 – Social Justice B and the “Newman Effect”
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