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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

2 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.

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