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 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.

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Critical Race Theory from a Christian Perspective


I have been writing to encourage the evangelical church, in particular, to speak up and get involved in doing justice as God would have us do it. (Here and here.) We have been champions of proclaiming the Gospel, but we haven’t exactly been champions of doing justice.

My goal isn’t to shame anyone into jumping onto a cultural bandwagon, but to focus on God’s heart that is characterized by justice and our role in participating in God’s purposes. If we want to be involved in following Jesus as he followed the Father, I think we need to do justice.

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

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but God calls us to do justice.

At the same time, we need to be mindful, always, of truth. Biblical justice has a vertical element and a horizontal element: man to God and man to man. We need to be aligned in both directions with God and His character.

Critical race theory has become a viable contender in the modern cultural arena for defining injustice and prescribing how to fight it. Critical race theory, by its very nature, attempts to control the discussion. As Christians, though, we need to keep our focus on the Gospel as we wade into the fray.

In this article, I summarize a conversation between Alisa Childers and Monique Duson on Race, Injustice, and the Gospel of Critical Race Theory. (The full interview is embedded at the end of this article.) I have been meaning to write on the subject of the difference between Gospel justice and social justice (which often devolves into justice without the Gospel), for well over a year. This, I think, is a helpful introduction to the subject.

I will address critical race theory (CRT) here, and I will follow with some thoughts on need for the evangelical church to be actively involved in doing true (biblical) justice.

Background.

Monique Duson grew up with critical race theory in south LA. The ideas that drive critical race theory (CRT) were her frame of reference before she even had a label for them. She was nurtured and educated by it. Her world was defined by an us-against-them orientation: whites against blacks.

She didn’t really know the philosophy or the foundations that under-girded that framework until she attended college at Biola University, a Christian institution. Even there, she recalls, she really didn’t question it or put it into a Gospel perspective.

In fact, she had always assumed “the Gospel” in the United States of America was a white concept that was part of the oppression of white power structures. She didn’t realize this construct comes from CRT, and she didn’t realize the historical Gospel isn’t “white” until after college when she was challenged to research it.

As she learned that Jesus wasn’t white and the culture in which the Gospel first introduced wasn’t white, Monique came to realize, “The Gospel we have perceived isn’t white Protestantism.” The Gospel predated the European influences that eventually spread the Gospel to the New World.

Because of Monique’s background and personal experience with critical race theory, she is uniquely able to identify where CRT and biblical notions of justice and the cure for injustice diverge. The rest of this article focuses on CRT as another gospel that is different than the true Gospel that Jesus preached.

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Comments on Freedom and the Clash of Ideas

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.


“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”  (Lady Bird Johnson)

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, bring born at the very end of 1959. My young, impressionable mind recalls the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching the riots during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Kent State protest and shooting, the footage of the Vietnam War and the Nixon impeachment on the nightly news.

The world seemed a chaotic place, no less than it does today, on this 4th day of July, 2020.

In the 1960’s, the dissident voice championed First Amendment rights that included the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. I remember that freedom cry as a child superimposed over news footage of a burning US flag. The patriot in my young heart was equally repulsed by the flag burning and impressed of the necessity of the freedom that allowed that flag to burn.

In law school, I learned the nuances of the jurisprudence that grows out of our US Constitution in which the First Amendment is enshrined. The clash of ideas is so sacred in our constitutional framework that it allows even the idea of abolishing that very framework to be heard.

In the 21st Century, many things have changed, while somethings have remained the same. Many of the dissident ideas from the 1960’s have become mainstream, and more “conservative” voices have become dissident. I am no longer repulsed by the burning of the flag (and, perhaps, the point of burning a flag is no longer poignant for the same reason).

The angst of the 1960’s of my youth has been replaced by the angst of the 21st Century of my middle age. The reasons for may angst are much different, yet very much the same at their core. I have grown and changed in my views, but the emotional strain of the human condition remains.

I fear, at times, that the framework that protected the freedom to burn US flags in the 1960’s might, itself, be destroyed in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children, by the fire of ideas that are antithetical to that freedom.

The ideas in colleges and universities around the country that seem to predominate promotes the silencing of dissident voices. Speaker engagements are canceled as the loudest voices want not even a whisper to be heard in opposition. Dissident speakers that are allowed on campus are shouted down.

These social, philosophical and political theories are built on the foundation of the idea that certain voices should be silenced, while other voices should be magnified – a kind of totalitarianism of ideas. This worldview would destroy the marketplace of ideas along with the idea of capitalism from which the idea of a marketplace of ideas is derived.

I am repulsed by this worldview as I was once repulsed by the burning of a US flag. The repulsion stems not from the evils in society this worldview aims to address, as I find some common ground in those concerns. I am concerned that the proposed remedy involves weakening the most fundamental freedom that protects freedom itself – the freedom of ideas and the right to express them.

The idea of “hate speech”, as wholesome and reasonable as it sounds, is inimical to a framework of freedom that protects the clash of ideas. Nowhere is freedom more necessary to be protected, than at the intersection of ideas and the right to express them. One person’s hate speech is another person’s ideas.

If we allow the idea of hate speech into the fabric of First Amendment jurisprudence, we threaten its very foundation. What we characterize as “hate” today is subject to change with changing societal norms tomorrow. No speech is safe from the label of “hate”.

While such a worldview has some appeal, seeking to right real wrongs and has laudable goals, it does so with the threat of  abolition of freedom of speech. Yet, freedom, real freedom, protects these even those ideas that are antithetical to freedom and demands that they be heard.

As repulsed as I was in my naive youth to watch the US flag burn in the streets of America, I understood the importance of allowing that expression to be heard. That I am no longer repulsed by that expression is of no consequence. In fact, freedom of speech is nowhere more vital than the protection of speech that is offensive. Favored speech doesn’t need protection. 

If any speech or expression is deemed unworthy of protection on the basis of its content, no speech or expression is safe.

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