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The Gospel and Social Justice

June 9, 2019

Young girl with sign at Women’s March on Washington/Sister March in Cincinnati, OH, Author DRieselman (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…” (1 Cor. 15: 1, 3-4).

This post is drawn from an essay titled “Putting First Things First” by Thaddeus Williams, Assoc. Prof. of Theology for Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.  Williams is, also, on the affiliate faculty at Trinity Law School.  He discusses the importance of social justice and its distortion in today’s society.

Biblical Command

Williams acknowledges the importance of social justice.  However, he makes clear from the outset that the gospel is of first or primary importance.

“God does not suggest, He commands that we ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed’ (Jer. 22: 3).  Jesus launched his public ministry with the stated mission to ‘proclaim good news to the poor…liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed’ (Luke 4: 18, quoting Isa. 61: 1, 2).  ‘Seek justice’ (Isa. 1: 17) is a clarion call of Scripture…”

True Meaning of Social Justice

Williams next illustrates the true meaning of social justice, i.e. its meaning from a biblical perspective.

“The term [social justice] could be used to describe what our ancient brothers and sisters did to rescue and adopt those precious little image-bearers who had been discarded like trash at the literal human dumps outside many Roman cities.  The same two words could describe [the efforts of] William Wilberforce…to topple slavery in the UK, along with Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and others in the US.  ‘Social justice’ could describe Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church’s efforts to subvert the Third Reich…”

“Nowadays, the same…two words could even describe Christian efforts to abolish human trafficking, work with the inner city poor, invest in micro-loans to help the destitute in the developing world, build hospitals and orphanages, upend racism, and so much more…”

Distortion of Social Justice

Williams explains that social justice has been greatly distorted by our society.

“Over the last couple decades…[however] ‘social justice’ has taken on an extremely charged ideological and political meaning.  ‘Social justice’ became a…banner over movements like Antifa, which sees physical violence against those who think differently as ‘both ethically justifiable and strategically effective’… ‘Social justice’ is the banner waved by a disproportionate ratio of professors in humanities and social science departments around the nation where the neo-Marxist oppressor vs. oppressed narrative…[has] been injected into the very definition of the term.”

Guidelines

Williams then provides guidelines by which we can determine whether the social justice we are pursuing is biblical.

“…How, concretely, can we tell whether we have replaced the gospel with social justice as our first thing?  The litmus test is when the second thing – social justice [or what passes for it] – starts to morph into something antithetical to a biblical worldview and thereby ceases to be justice…”

A.  Self-Importance

“…If by ‘social justice’ we mean an ideology [of self-importance] that inspires in its followers a quickness to take offense, then we have lost justice.  A Christian worldview champions a love that ‘is not easily offended.’ ”

B.  Self-Righteousness

“…If by ‘social justice’ we mean an ideology that inspires self-righteousness…then we have lost justice.  A Christian worldview confronts us with the humbling reality that our self-righteousness is like filthy rags and Christ is the only ground for our righteous standing.”

C.  Evil Systems v. Sin

“…If by ‘social justice’ we mean an ideology that blames all evil on external systems of oppression, then we have lost justice.  A biblical worldview sees evil not only in ‘systems’… but also within the twisted hearts of those who make those systems unjust.  All the external activism in the world will not bring about any lasting justice if we downplay our need for the regenerating, love-infusing work of God through the gospel…”

D.  Meaning and Purpose

“…If by ‘social justice’ we mean an ideology that teaches that the human telos (i.e., our ultimate purpose and meaning) is defined by the creature, and that anyone who challenges our self-defined telos is an oppressor, then we have lost justice.  A biblical worldview teaches that our telos is defined by the Creator and the sinful refusal to live within that God-defined telos brings oppression to ourselves and those around us.  Real authenticity and freedom do not come from defining yourself and ‘following your heart,’ but from letting God define you and following His heart…”

E.  Sexuality and Gender Identity

“…If by ‘social justice’ we mean an ideology that sees ‘heteronormative’ sexual and gender distinctions as oppressive…then we have lost justice.  A Christian worldview envisions the male-female differences…as…distinctions that cannot be erased without losing something precious – and highlights the male-female sexual union within the covenant  of marriage as the only proper and life-giving context for human sexual expression.”

F.  Abortion

“…If by ‘social justice’ we mean an ideology that celebrates abortion as an expression of female liberation from patriarchal oppression, then we have lost justice.  A Christian worldview ascribes full humanity and worth to precious, unborn image-bearers of God, and calls us to love and protect those women and their offspring who are being exploited or terminated by the abortion industry…”

Conclusion

Finally, Williams concludes:

“If we really care about the oppressed and, more foundationally, the God who cares about the oppressed, then we must carefully distinguish between true justice and what often masquerades as ‘social justice’ in the 21st century.  Otherwise, we will not only lose the gospel – the first thing – we will also end up unwittingly hurting those the Bible calls us to help.”

[1]  Journal of Christian Legal Thought, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2018), pp. 1-9, “Putting First Things First” by Thaddeus Williams, PhD.

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse https://avoicereclaimed.com

10 Comments
  1. Amen Anna!
    You have written a great post and I hope others start to see clearly..
    Millions of dollars and hours of labor are spent fighting for social justice and it only divides..
    I wish we could join hands and fight for the things that matter most to God..

    • Thank you, Mary. The credit, of course, goes to Thaddeus Williams. But I agree w/ you. The observations he makes are extremely insightful.

    • Mary Ann, I agree 100%. We MUST have priorities that match up with God’s. “What does it prosper a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

  2. Very informative post. I especially like part A.

  3. Very good post, Anna! “Let it begin with me?” This is exactly what is wrong with this world. Me, ME, MEEEEEE! The deluded self which thinks that all things begin and end with its own wishes. John wrote a gospel that puts the world and its Creator in correct perspective…

    In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:1-13, ESV)

    All things begin and end IN Christ! If they do not they are only the dead works of human flesh. Jesus said it exactly, He is the true Light that gives light to our paths. “Apart from me you can do nothing.” But to all who DO receive Him, who cling to, rely on and trust IN Him, these are becoming the sons and daughters of the Creator and are in tune with HIS view of justice, not by the shedding of blood, not by the wills of fleshly men, but by and IN the will of God.

    The author of this treatise, Thaddeus Williams, which you have quoted nails it. It always grieves me when I see people on the news rebelling against the police who have been given the authority to maintain the peace in this fallen society. In these acts of rebellion they call it “standing up for their rights.” According to Paul this kind of rebellion is rebellion against God.

    Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.” (Rom 13:1-3, NKJV)

    This rebellion includes resisting the police when they are trying to make an arrest or even burning down abortion clinics. When we resort to fleshly violence it is always in league with the prince of all evil no matter what the cause. “Put away your sword, Peter, for those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” Jesus is the ultimate example of resisting evil by doing good even when it meant His life. His final act of healing was to undo what Peter had done with his sword. As God’s children we should do the same.

    Love in Christ,
    Michael

  4. Michael, I never thought of that line as being self-centered. You have a point. Let’s hope that people using that line are saying, “I’m going to stop waiting for someone else to do something. I need to step up myself.” (Defining “step up” as spreading the gospel/not waiting for the pastor to do it all.)

  5. Good article! Yes, let’s preach the gospel AND work for social justice – but the gospel HAS to come first!

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