Social Justice circa 2009

If you read some people, you might get the impression that the gospel and social justice are synonymous. But words change meanings, even if some people have trouble understanding that a reference to “race” in the 1930s is not the same as one in the 1880s or the 1980s.

Consider how only a decade ago, the Gospel Allies were talking about social justice in ways that no one could use after Michael Brown, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter. For instance, Kevin DeYoung wrote a series on social justice in Scripture that found almost no reference to race. Here is how he summarized it last year (even!):

Several years ago, I worked my way through the major justice passages in the Bible: Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4. My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice. On the one hand, there is a lot in the Bible about God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. There are also plenty of warnings against treating the helpless with cruelty and disrespect. On the other hand, justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. Doing justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing, not swindling, not taking bribes, and not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you.

So for simplicity sake, let’s take biblical “social justice” to mean something like “treating people equitably, working for systems and structures that are fair, and looking out for the weak and the vulnerable.” If that’s what we mean, is social justice a gospel issue?

Even Thabiti Anyabwile seemed to be persuaded:

We seem to put social justice at odds with gospel proclamation. Many today don’t think these can easily coexist. They think that to fight for justice as the Christian church inevitably means the abandonment of the gospel. They may be correct. For since the Civil Rights Movement, the gospel has been thoroughly confused by too many in the African American church with liberation and justice itself.

To be sure, Anyabwile went on to question those who make too strong a contrast between the gospel and social justice:

to preach the gospel and have no concern and take no action in the cause of justice is as much an abandonment of the gospel as mistaken the gospel. How can a faithful gospel preacher preach the gospel before slaves and never wince at the gross barbarity of that peculiar institution? How can a man claim to live the gospel with fellow brothers in Christ and yet uphold laws that disenfranchise, marginalize, and oppress those same brothers?

Well, what exactly counts as taking action? Is it tweeting? Writing a post for a parachurch website? Calling a legislature? Standing outside an office with a placard?

What also is “upholding” laws that disenfranchise? If someone says nothing are they guilty of upholding existing laws? Or is it a case of speaking out or “taking action” against some laws but not others?

Abandonment of the gospel is a tad strong for a condition — “taking no action” — that is so arbitrary and inexact.

At the same time, once upon a time Anyabwile fully endorsed DeYoung’s point that Christians should stop using the phrase social justice:

Stop Using the Term “Social Justice”!

Not even John MacArthur and fellow signers went that far.

Something changed between 2009 and 2019. It could be that history clarified all the ambiguity (even if it did not change what the Bible — a fixed set of texts — says. Or it could be people have changed their minds. If Ferguson is the turning point, it sure would help to hear some reflection on ways in which a country that has persistently practiced racism only in 2014 became so egregious that now some people had to build up word counts and twitter followers.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “Social Justice circa 2009

  1. DeYoung’s book on social justice is good. Kind of surprised that Thabiti endorsed DeYoung’s view on things once upon a time, but one gets the sense that he wasn’t sure what he was endorsing. There’s a lot that one can fit into this: “How can a man claim to live the gospel with fellow brothers in Christ and yet uphold laws that disenfranchise, marginalize, and oppress those same brothers?”

    Like

  2. Jemar Tisby’s is really the new text to answer, given it’s fresh, it’s written by an African-American and not some Dutch white guy, it contains all the new PCA talking points, and it was just endorsed wholesale in a CT review (the mag that hosts “her:meneutics”!). My takeaway is that corporate repentance and the equivalent of Church busing are now regarded pretty much as essentials of discipleship now, no matter what was said written ten years ago. It’s all daunting if you belong to a normal AME Zion or Freewill Baptist Church and have till now been oblivious of your group sin.

    Like

  3. I agree with this: “Well, what exactly counts as taking action? Is it tweeting? Writing a post for a parachurch website? Calling a legislature? Standing outside an office with a placard?”

    While I understand the need for “social justice,” and appreciate the concern for it, especially in the Church, I have never understood what “take action” means. It’s one thing to rail against social injustice – I think we all agree with that. But chastising the Church for “inaction” seems vague and borderline moralistic.

    Like

  4. “My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice.”

    The Bible has alot to say about justice, since: all his ways are justice; (Deut 32:4); righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne; (Psalm 89:14); and He establishs and uphold His kingdom with justice and righteousness forevermore.(Isa 9:7)

    Since the Lord seeks hearts who want to do what is right and those ones will reign with Him, (Rev 22:4-6), it behooves us to know and teach our children rightly what He has told us.

    Like

  5. After the recent New York promotion of children murder, these social justice, Galatian heresy nuts just need to shut their ugly traps.

    Like

  6. They’re such ingrates, after having been pandered to by white Reformed folks who have bent over backwards to try to welcome them in.

    Anthony Bradley was the same way a decade ago, as Tisby and Thabiti. So is Lecrae. Haven’t yet encountered a prominent one of their ilk who doesn’t go on about race just like secular leftist Democrat idiots.

    No good deed goes unpunished, as the French say.

    Listen, then, those who have ears…

    Like

  7. Once again, I’m glad I’m Canadian. We don’t have many prominent chip-on-shoulder-Americans in our Reformed churches here in the Great White North.

    Like

  8. Will S – nothing wrong with calling out social injustice in society, and especially the Church. The problem I have is knowing what “action” to take. For example, are there (unintended) biases in the justice system? Probably. But what exactly am I supposed to do about that? There’s a lot of fire-breathing without much pastoral guidance on these issues.

    Like

  9. Vae – the only intention is to demean people other than Democrats and give all power to Democrats. It’s easy to overthink it, but that’s the only thread that runs through it all. If it weren’t such an ill-defined concept, you wouldn’t have to look your betters in politics or Hollywood to understand. That’s the point.

    The rest of us think that justice is a reasonable alternative to social justice. Then you don’t need twitter to determine what’s the social justice cause of the day.

    Like

  10. Joel – “the only intention is to demean people other than Democrats and give all power to Democrats.”

    That’s the ONLY intention? Really? Look, social justice people go too far at times: certainly seems everyone who is not a white, heterosexual male is “oppressed” or “marginalized,” which is ridiculous. The case can certainly be overstated. But I’m not going to question the motives of those who want racial, economic, and sexual justice – those are all good ends in themselves, even if I don’t always agree with the means of attaining them or the extent of the problem.

    DGH – “you mean Tim Keller didn’t tell you how to pursue justice?”

    Like

  11. vv, you said it well:

    nothing wrong with calling out social injustice in society, and especially the Church. The problem I have is knowing what “action” to take.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.