Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part II

The non-Christian world does justice from very different motivations and pursuant to a very different framework than the Christian

Imprisoned afro-american man looking at barbed wire, refugee camp, hopelessness


Jesus came to proclaim the gospel, which he described as “good news to the poor”, and he came to set the oppressed free. If we are to follow Jesus, the Gospel and justice go hand in hand. I wrote about the way Gospel and justice go together right from the start of the ministry of Jesus in Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I.

Among some evangelicals, though, we tend to see these things as almost diametrically opposed. Gospel and “justice” are almost viewed as the difference between orthodoxy and heresy, conservatism and liberalism. We have allowed a separation to creep in between the Gospel and Justice. And I dare say we have become unbalanced.

Of course, the same thing has happened in reverse. A “social justice” has developed that denies the gospel and is disassociated from the gospel. This, perhaps, explains the reaction of the orthodox church to the term “social justice”. 

I will try to make sense of this divorce of Justice from the Gospel in evangelical circles, and the divorce of the Gospel from Justice among non-evangelicals, in this blog post.

Continue reading “Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part II”

Distinguishing Biblical Justice from Social Justice I

Self portrait of beautiful girl in shanty town.

As Board member of the predominantly evangelical ministry, Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid organization, I am concerned for Justice. That’s what the ministry is about.

Some skepticism is apparent among evangelicals and other conservative (or orthodox) Christians, however, about the biblical propriety of justice. To be more accurate, the concerns lie with the idea and movement that is labeled “social justice”, but the caution bleeds over into a focus on justice, itself.

Forgetting, for the moment, that a form of justice has been promoted that is divorced and disassociated from orthodox, conservative Christianity, is there any question that our God is a just God.

“His work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14).

God is intimately and preeminently concerned about justice and expects us to “do justice”.

“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, and please the widow’s cause,” (Isaiah 1:17)

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

And this biblical sense of justice isn’t just limited to the exhortations of prophets in the Old Testament. Jesus was very clear in His view of justice when he said,

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others….” (Luke 11:42)

Lest we risk being counted among the Pharisees, we need to take his words to heart. We should not neglect to do justice. We should get about doing the justice God commands us to do.[i]

At the same time, the phrase, “social justice”, carries with it connotations that we rightfully consider with caution. Though we can agree on many of the evils that are the targets of social justice – hunger, poverty, human trafficking, abuse of the elderly and so on – there are some key differences we should recognize between mere “social justice” and biblical justice.

For one thing, secular social justice focuses only on the here and now; whereas biblical justice focuses both on the here and now and eternity. The secular notion of social justice that is based on “civil rights” and “human dignity” has its roots in the idea that all people are made in the image of God, but it has been severed from those roots.

Social justice divorced from the idea of a just God is “grounded” in a currently persuasive social construct created by people that is not rooted to an eternal or timeless truth. That means there is no assurance that the same construct will be continue to be persuasive in 500 years, or 100 years, or even 50 years.

But it goes deeper than that. I am not going to attempt a definitive treatise of the differences. I am going to highlight some basic differences with the help of J. Warner Wallace[ii] with the hope of bringing a little clarity that will help Christians take seriously God’s call for us to do justice without getting “off the path” into the secular weeds.

Continue reading “Distinguishing Biblical Justice from Social Justice I”

Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I

Jesus and the early church focused on preaching the Gospel and doing justice

alone sad child on a street

I am involved in a faith-based, legal aid organization that provides legal services and holistic help to people who live on the margins of our society. We call it “Gospel justice”, which is the title of a book written by Bruce Strom, the founder of the organization, Administer Justice. (See Gospel Justice)

I am aware of the skepticism with which Christians, and conservatives, generally, view “social justice”. While many Christians of the more liberal stripe (and liberals generally) embrace social justice, more conservative and orthodox Christians have learned to disassociate from social justice.

Labels, however, aren’t ultimately we are very helpful when it comes to nuanced understanding. We also have to be careful here that we don’t mix politics and the faith to the determent of the Gospel. This is true on both sides of the political aisle. Our politics shouldn’t define our faith.

We follow Jesus on what turns out to be a rather narrow road that doesn’t often follow the paths the world has beaten. Thus, I have been thinking for months about writing on the topic of social justice. I guess it’s time I do.

Continue reading “Social Justice and Gospel Justice, Part I”

The Borderlines: A Place Called Earth

When we stand at the borderline and understand the limitations and futility of our lives, we have begun to see as God intended for us to see.

Oh, how I long for heaven in a place called earth
Where every son and daughter will know their worth
Where all the streets resound with thunderous joy
Oh how I long for heaven in a place called earth

Song writers have common themes and images that run through their work. Jon Forman is one of my favorite song writers because he resonates with a theme that has run through my thinking over the last decade: the transience of this life and the transcendence of the life to come.

In the song, A Place Called Earth, he focuses on the “borderlines” between the transience of our lives and the longing for transcendence. It’s an age-old theme. It’s a theme that has been the subject of some of the greatest writers in the history of world from the author of Ecclesiastes to Shakespeare.

The video embedded above was a recent live performance of this song off the new EP, Departures. Linked below is the studio recording of A Place Called Earth that was written by Jon Foreman with his brother, Tim, and Lauren Daigle. I encourage you to listen to it in all of its orchestral fullness.

The hope of the Christ follower is the longing for heaven, a place where everyone knows their worth through the eyes of Jesus who will greet us face to face. We have this hope, however, this treasure, in earthen vessels. (2 Corinthians 4:7) We long for heaven in a place called earth.

Oh, the wars we haven’t won
Oh, the songs we’ve left unsung
Oh, the dreams we haven’t seen
The borderlines

Jon Foreman’s plaintive voice captures the angst of these lines perfectly. We try to notch our belts with victories, but what of all the defeats? The songs we have left unsung? The great dreams we dared to dream that we haven’t seen?

All our victories are hollow trophies at the end of our days. Memories of them begin to fade from the moment of victory. Like the entropy to which our universe is subjected (Romans 8:20), those memories will fade into utter obscurity long after we have taken our last breaths.

We see this on the borderlines. On the borderlines, where we peer out over an endless expanse yawning out into a far distant future, and beyond it into an eternity we can’t even fathom, we realize our utter insignificance…. if we can see that far.

Continue reading “The Borderlines: A Place Called Earth”

Is Saul Among the Prophets? On Prophecy and a Heart for God

Anything that we rely on, trust in, and dream about and pour ourselves into more than God, Himself, can become a stumbling block and an idol to us.

These things all happened as Samuel said. When he arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him. The Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. ‘What is this that has happened to the son of Kish?’ people asked, ‘Is Saul now a prophet?’ – Slide 16

The question – is Saul among the prophets? – must have been a big deal in Israel in the 11th Century BCE, which is when King Saul lived according to the biblical timeline. It was such a big deal it became known as a proverb. (1 Samuel 10:12)

What is it with this question? How and why did it become a “proverb”? What is the back story?

Twice Saul prophesied with the prophets, but the question that became a proverb was not a compliment. It was a puzzlement, because Saul was an unlikely prophet. He also was an unlikely king. In fact, he was pretty much a failure as king.

Saul, of course, was the first king of Israel, but he wasn’t known for his leadership or his spirituality. He was just the kind of person God often chooses – an unlikely candidate – but Saul didn’t rise to the challenge.

Saul’s story begins while he is searching for his father’s lost sheep. His path leads him to the prophet, Samuel. Before they meet, God tells Samuel He is choosing Saul as Israel’s king. Samuel orchestrates a big dinner and anoints Saul to be the future king in a small group of people. (You can read a good summary of the details here.)

Saul was just looking for some lost donkeys, so the turn of events was likely a bit unsettling. Saul wasn’t ready to be a king. Even after Samuel predicts three signs meant to convince Saul of the authenticity of the kingly anointing, Saul is not willing to embrace it.

Two of the signs Samuel gave him come true, but Saul doesn’t grasp what he is supposed to do. The third sign comes true when Saul encounters some prophets: “[T]he Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them”. (1 Samuel 10:11)

Saul still seems clueless, though. When he gets back home, he doesn’t tell his uncle that Samuel said he would be king or about the anointing. He doesn’t talk about signs, all of which came true on his way home.

When Samuel finally comes to “seal the deal, to declare Saul publicly the King of Israel, Saul is nowhere to be found. Saul is hiding among some baggage!

Given Saul’s less than hardy reaction to the declaration that he would be king, we know that Saul didn’t “playing along” or fake it when he prophesied. At best, he was a reluctant participant. He might have even been an unwilling vessel!  

Thus, the question – Is Saul among the prophets? Saul was not known to be a prophet. Saul wasn’t a particularly spiritual man.

This wasn’t the only time, though, that Saul prophesied with the prophets. The second time was even more “out of character”. I have been puzzling on these things in light of more current events – the prophesies about Donald Trump and a certain emphasis on prophecy in a segment of the church today.

Continue reading “Is Saul Among the Prophets? On Prophecy and a Heart for God”