Is Justice Social?

By Joe Boot / April 15, 2014

Topic Justice

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Many Christians today, especially younger evangelicals, are rightly concerned with issues of justice and compassion in our time.  In general, the evangelical conscience has lost touch with, or de-emphasized, its historic commitment to seeing God’s justice and righteousness expressed in the social order.  In the last fifty years it has often falsely equated such concerns with the ‘social gospel’ of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century liberal Christianity.  In what has been called by some missiologists ‘the great reversal,’ evangelicals, both reformed and non-reformed, have largely abandoned a robust Puritan vision of a communitarian and covenantal biblical faith, that saw the family and the church as responsible for providing for health, welfare and education in society, as well as giving clear prophetic witness to the powers that be, concerning God’s law for all areas of life.

In the last decade or more there has been a renewed interest in and concern among Christians for justice in society as our social order has been in decline and numerous social ills have arisen, including drug addiction, STDs, academic failure and dropout, suicide and poverty, largely as a result of the collapse of the family.  Once again illegitimacy and fatherless are all around us with all that this produces, but people now look to state government to cure all ills and save them with public funds, not a public faith.  However, in addressing this social malady and the evangelical forgetfulness of their heritage, the new rallying cry heard in the churches is for ‘social justice,’ which turns out to be something that looks very different from what the Bible has in mind when its speaks of justice and righteousness in the social order, and from what our evangelical forebears understood as justice. 

First, the doctrine of social justice goes hand in hand with the doctrine of social guilt.  If justice is social, not individual, then guilt is social.  Where guilt is social and not individual, you can no longer have true justice and the rule of law, but only group guilt, the victimizers and victimized, and the promotion of class warfare, envy and covetousness.  Here, certain classes and institutions are seen as the epitome of evil and oppression: the Christian family, the Bible-believing church and the wealthy employer being first among them.  Such classes are seen, by default, as patriarchal, homophobic, colonialist, sexist plunderers.  These ‘oppressors’ must become the oppressed, in order to realise social justice. 

Second, social justice is then seen as the essence of true democracy (mob rule) which demands a great levelling of all things in an egalitarian and equalitarian order where creational differences in roles, gender, sexuality, ability, privilege, wealth and power must be eliminated.  This has the effect of actually seeking to destroy the God-ordained family and church as independent, distinct and privileged spheres under God, leaving all power, wealth and authority in the hands of an elite bureaucracy, the state, with all people as wards of a state – the new great society and provider of cradle-to-grave security.   

Third, this modern doctrine of ‘social justice’ is largely the result of the abandonment of the doctrine of creation, where God defines, differentiates and ordains all things in terms of his harmonious purposes.  Especially since Darwin and Marx (and the all-pervading influence of the pagan concept of evolution), the governing assumption of our society is that the world represents, not the good creation of God sufficient for all peoples’ needs, but an unending struggle and conflict for survival.  Chance spewed man into existence and all of life is a struggle to survive in a dog-eat-dog world.   In order for human society to exist, it is thus concluded that a form of enforced socialism is inevitable and required.  With the conflict of interest being basic to modern thought, the promotion of warfare between classes, sexes, people groups and generations becomes inevitable.  As a result political life becomes the activity of highlighting of every conceivable difference between people as evil, and thus the promotion of warfare between people, maintaining a constant sense that everything will collapse without state intervention and control.  The ‘enemy’ class is indentified and then all are commanded to get the oppressor in the name of the oppressed groups.  The end result is theft, unending conflict and a culture of death. 

Scripture however assumes a harmony of interest under God.  Creation, though fallen, was made good and for God’s purposes.  The rule of God’s law is true justice, which is individual and not social, for people are not abstract classes in Scripture but differentiated human beings with an individual God-ordained dignity and worth.  All men are sinners, not just a few – rich and poor, black and white, employer and employee, husband and wife, man and woman.  No group has the monopoly on sin, but all need salvation in Jesus Christ and must obey his law to be truly blessed and find covenantal harmony with God, others and the created order.  God has created a world in which there is a basic harmony of interest when people live together in terms of his word, and we love our neighbor, as much as we love ourselves.    It is the covenant of God that brings about human flourishing and true justice, not the lawless wrath of sinful man promoting envy and conflict in the name of social justice.