Social Justice is a hot button topic within Christianity today. Many younger evangelicals believe the church needs to take part more in social justice issues like feeding the needy, stopping sex-trafficking, and opposing the greed of big business. The younger generation desires to focus on these issues, which are more widely accepted by the culture, while knowing or unknowingly suggesting we should tone down our rhetoric on traditional justice issues such as abortion and being “anti-gay marriage.” While all of the above areas certainly deserve a sharp and pointed response from the Church we need to be careful on how we approach the issue of justice. There are no fewer than two things which cause me great concern in this movement.
First, it is paramount that the church be primarily about the Gospel of Jesus Christ not primarily social issues whether it is poverty or abortion. We are the Church of Christ and our mission is clearly set out in the Great Commission to make disciples of every nation. Of course, the Gospel has major implications on many social justice issues but these issues must not become primary, Christ is primary and he will not relinquish that spot. This of course does not mean we do nothing but we must not become defined by our social action. Second, if we are not careful as we follow these issues which have become “hip” to the world we can unknowingly adopt their flawed definition of justice.
In, The Dark Knight Rises, there is a great example of this confusion about how to define justice. Christopher Nolan did an excellent job weaving together many political and philosophical themes in this trilogy. Bane, the villain of the movie, seeks to overthrow Gotham by a message he constantly refers to as “true justice.” Batman and the Police Commissioner had in the previous movie orchestrated a lie in order to preserve the image of the District Attorney so that all the criminals locked up by him would remain in prison. The lie of course catches up with them in the form of Bane. Their justice had good outcomes but was built on a lie. Bane’s version of justice though is far worse and it is anything but true justice. His version of justice is really a representation of an odd mixture of socialism and anarchy. Bane claims that he is giving Gotham back to “the people” yet he rules with an iron fist and a nuclear bomb. He promises war on the “oppressors” who are none other than the “rich” and the “powerful” his chief enemies. Bane engages in class warfare. Bane promises essentially a redistribution of wealth and power yet all along he is pulling the strings and holds all of the power and control. Bane promises freedom and life but really is offering slavery and death. Nolan doesn’t pull any punches as he critiques everything from unchecked capitalism to socialism, communism, and anarchy. The heroes in the movie are not spotless, but the villain is clearly worse.
What does any of this have to do with us? Well, the current change in focus regarding social justice in evangelicalism can be dangerous if we abandon those issues of the old regime for the wrong reasons and if we place an issue at the center of Christianity that is not Christ and his Kingdom. Many younger evangelicals are tired of defending traditional evangelical issues like being pro-life or anti-gay marriage and instead have found new expressions of “true justice.” Why is this so? It is because we are subtly accepting the agenda of the world and its definition of “justice.” We are allowing Bane to tell us what is just and what is unjust. In the process our enemy gets to define “true justice” for us and it is nothing more than a diversion as the world seeks our utter destruction. We must avoid yielding the definition of justice to the world and allowing them to set our agenda. Rather we need to turn to Scripture for our direction and definitions.
So the question is, “What is a biblical definition of justice?” Let’s start with the world’s definition. The world increasingly defines equality and justice as equality of outcome. Everyone should have the same stuff. Their definition is not that everyone should have the same opportunity, but rather everyone should have the same outcome. It’s not fair that a CEO get paid so much! If you have more than me then that is not “fair” and is therefore unjust. Is this not what is behind the Occupy Wall Street movement?
In their book, What is the Mission of the Church, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert engage the issue of a biblical definition of justice as well as arguing for a Great Commission-centered mission of the Church. They write these words after exegeting many of the most famous “social justice” passages in the Bible:
“So here’s the point for us: Christians who do not cheat, swindle, rob, murder, accept bribes, defraud, and hold back agreed-upon wages are probably doing justice. Christians guilty of these things are probably not Christians at all.”
DeYoung and Gilbert are correct in that the Bible never prescribes equality of outcome or equality of lifestyles as a definition of justice. Rather, justice is about equality under the law and under God. This also means we must not defraud or cheat others. The Bible asserts there will never be equality of outcome before Christ returns. Any attempt by man to force a fake equality will only end up in more oppression. This world is fallen. But we can strive to treat everyone fairly under the law and under God realizing that our individual circumstances and lives will be vastly different but this difference is not itself injustice.
You see the center of Christianity, of justice and mercy in the universe, is displayed on the cross of Christ. Romans 3:26 reads, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” The cross proves God to be just, he would not and could not ignore the sin of the world, and it also shows him to the one who brings about justice because it was him who bore that sin and punishment that he required. This is justice and this is the heart of the Church. As Christians we long for the return of Christ and his just reign on this Earth. Then and only then will true justice reign.