So far David Fitch, in his provocative book, The Great Giveaway, has taken on the pillars of evangelical church life: success, evangelism, leadership, experience, and preaching. He will also address spiritual formation and moral education. But, I’m particularly happy he has devoted a chapter to “justice” because most evangelical books about the Church simply don’t have such a category central enough to appear on the radar. That justice does not appear is a sure-sign that evangelical ecclesiology is not biblically-informed but historically-shaped by the ecclesial concerns of the Western capitalist church in the last century. So, Fitch goes at it. My question for you is this: Where would you put “justice” in the Church’s mission? Central or peripheral? Be honest.
What is his point? Fitch’s point is one I’ve made on this blog before: evangelicals are more than happy to help with justice elsewhere, but the establishment of justice within their own communities is not a central concern. Fitch contends that many evangelicals have a sense of justice that comes from “America’s own liberal democracy and capitalism” (154). Bingo!
Justice, Fitch contends, begins in the local church and works out, and if it does not begin there it is not proper. Our definition of social justice, in other words, [these are my words] derives from the US Constitution rather than the Bible. Largely, it means charity. Salvation, then, wanders away from social justice. Fitch challenges the local church to become a society of justice (a kingdom society). Justice is more than charity and it is more than activism: it is a vision for a local community of faith. Holy cow!, as Harry Caray the famous baseball announcer always said, Fitch has a home run here.
Now Fitch blames it on modernism: individualism, voluntarism, conversion — each an aspect of a modernistic reframing of the gospel. Most esp: by divorcing social justice from salvation, social justice ministries became something we do for the secular community and not something we do within the community of faith. [I can’t say how often I’ve seen this preposterous assumption at work; Fitch rightly points to Ronald Sider’s works here; Sider got it right — long ago.] Here is the giveaway: we have given the meaning and ministry of justice over to the government.
Postmodernity sees justice as power: it is the powerful who determine what is right and what is wrong. (If you haven’t heard of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, Whose Justice?, this is a good place to discover it. He deconstructs our views of justice. In other words, what many of us think is right and good (justice) is advantageous only to our kind. It is perceived as oppression by others. (This deserves careful thinking, but for now, the point has been made.) Democratic liberalism, and now he brings Hauerwas to the table, is a form of government that favors those who are free, and have enough money, and who have enough education, to make the system work for them. Its fundamental basis is self-determination and self-sufficiency. When Christians practice true justice in the local community, the world becomes seen for what it is: the world. And justice is seen for what it is: God’s perfect will for all.
Other ways: Ronald Sider (you can chase down his books) defining justice too often by capitalistic categories; a megachurch pastor who helped an individual get back on his feet financially (Fitch is critical here; the story sounds like one I’ve heard about Bill Hybels); and public policy agitation is often support for capitalistic democracy rooted in self-interest.
He now defines “justice” (same word as “righteousness” often) biblically: relationship with God and others and world. It is fundamentally relational. (He appeals to J.D.G. Dunn; he calls him “James Dunn” and Jimmy [my professor] never goes by “James.” It is either “Jimmy” or “J.D.G.”.) Justice is to be seen as restorative. Fitch turns now to capitalism: it pervades the evangelical churches. He calls for being a community “in” but not “of” capitalism. (He depends here on Sider’s liability and availability themes.)
He calls for a reinvigoration of the benevolence fund at Lord’s Supper: those who can give, and those who need can take. Sometimes there is distribution of funds and sometimes there are more creative resolutions.