Can anyone dispute the unimpeachable character revealed in this observation: James Kaplan, who wrote for TV Guide, once said this of Mr. Fred Rogers: “Fred Rogers is more Mister Rogers than Mister Rogers.” Recently read the splendid memoir of her meetings and correspondence with Fred Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth. I’ve had my wonders about Mr. Rogers over the years, assigning him to the shelf of self-esteem gospelers, but after reading “The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers,” I’ve changed my mind and come to the conclusion that his theology was (1) for children and (2) quite Christian at the center.
The End, in its technical sense, for which one lives shapes one’s entire life. If one’s End is the Final Judgment, one will become holy. If one’s End is the needs of others, one will become compassionate. Bunyan, Edwards, even Dante, had the Final Judgment as their End. Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, and Jim Wallis focus on the needs of others. Is anything more formative for life than one’s End, and is anything more difficult to find than a life that maintains a proper balance? What are other Ends which shape us?
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.