Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

When is Social Justice Just?

Social justice is the name of the game today for the progressive evangelical. The new heroes include writers like Ronald Sider and Jim Wallis, Christian Smith and Michael Emerson. But, so it seems to me, few are asking the right question: what is social justice for the Christian?

For most Christians, when they enter the public fray, often called the Public Forum, the definition of “justice” is determined by the US Constitution. And the US Constitution, even if only hazily read or understood, is understood in terms of John Stuart Mill. And this means this: justice is what enables me and others to have freedom, and that means enables me to have rights, and when I get freedom and rights, I will be happy because I will be able to do whatever I want as long as I do not hurt another. In other words, justice is defined as freedom to do what I want (with very few restrictions).


Is this, however, what a Christian means by a biblical sense of justice? Far from it. Justice, as defined by the Bible, is determined not by what I want, or by my own freedom and rights, but by the will of God. What is “just” is what conforms to the will of God. Anything less is morally deficient and anything else is not Christian. Now, let us suggest, as I do in my new book, The Jesus Creed, that the ultimate and final will of God is that humans love God and that humans love others. This definition is as solid as the Cappadocians and Jonathan Edwards, to connect it to two powerful theological movements.

Social justice, then, is only truly just for the Christian when it leads humans to love God and to love others.

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Bob Robinson

posted April 13, 2005 at 10:55 am

Thanks for the thoughts on social justice. I hope you’ll engage the thoughts of Wallis and Sider more often in the future on your blog!I’m an old student of yours back in the TEDS days. I’m excited to see you blogging!

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Scot McKnight

posted April 13, 2005 at 11:05 am

Now that you’ve asked…I’ve read most of what Wallis has written, though I’ve not read Sojourners consistently except one year. I really like his Faith Works book, but I find his newest one to be too much about “what I’ve done, see isn’t it good?” and not enough about the big issues.I find I agree with Wallis, though, on most political angles.Of all the people I’ve read over the years, I think he’s got good insight on the pressing social issues in how they should be viewed for Christians.I do think his biblical foundation is a bit thin: he reads very literally, rarely asks about historical context, but then lives right off that literal reading. E.g., are the poor of ancient Israel the same as the poor at the time of Jesus and are they the same as the poor in our world? Doubtful. We need to be a little more nuanced.On Sider, I’ve always read him, and I like him too. He challenges me deeply on materialism, but I think his last book was a bit of “scandal of a cranky evangelical.”

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Scot McKnight

posted April 13, 2005 at 11:06 am

Bob, How did you find my blogsite?

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Bob Robinson

posted April 13, 2005 at 11:27 am

I found you when you commented at Stephen Shields’ blog. He’s one of those blogs I check out a few times a week.I said, “Hey! Scot McKnight! I wonder if he has a blog?!” And there you were.I’ve linked this post on my blog, vanguardchurch. Maybe the “emergent church” people who regularly read it will follow the link (they like NT Wright a lot, so maybe some of them are already familiar with your writings).I’d love to hear you flesh out your criticism of Wallis’ hermeneutics. Maybe a blog entry for you in the future?

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