Social Justice … Is It Biblical?

And Why This Is Such An Important Question That No One Has Adequately or Properly Defined…

Unless you have been in a cave, under a rock or a hermit in a cave and under a rock, you might not be aware of the fact that there is a controversy brewing in the Evangelical world regarding the phrase “Social Justice.” On the one side you have such Evangelical stalwarts as John MacArthur decrying the phrase and its advocates as tools of George Soros and his neo-Marxist plan to take over Christianity and the world. On the other side, you have such Evangelical and SBC stalwarts as Russell Moore advocating the idea that in order to have a relevant place in the world today you must be aware of the need to be both evangelistic and care for the least of these. So who is right? Who is wrong?

And here is where I am going to jump head first into the pool and provide my $0.02 cents because I truly believe no one has adequately or properly defined what is and what is not Social Justice from an Evangelical Biblical perspective.

As a former college professor in Speech Communications (among many other subjects — as I taught at a small Baptist college!), one of the first and primary lessons I taught my students is that in order for good communication to occur is that terms must be defined by the speaker so that the listener can know and understand what is being said. This is not happening. Both sides want to define each other instead of seeking a mutually agreed upon definition. This is tragic and causes division instead of reconciliation.

The second lesson that I expected my FRESHMAN speech students to do well and one that I believe is also being overlooked by all parties involved today because cross-communication is occurring — It is not the responsibility of the listener/reader to know what is being communicated by the speaker/writer — it is the job of the speaker/writer to communicate well enough so that confusion will not be reigning rampant in this debate. And, sadly, I fear that those in this debate are talking past each other and not to each other. They are using the language of attack rhetoric (i.e., no one is going to listen if you call someone a Marxist and conversely the same is true if you pull out the Racist word) instead of seeking to meet at the table of brotherhood.

Therefore, and because I have studied this topic for my own edification, I want to provide what appears to be three common definitions for how people define the concept of Social Justice today:

  1. In 2006, the United Nations International Forum for Social Development defined Social Justice as “Social Justice derives from equality of rights for all peoples and the possibility for all human beings, without discrimination, to benefit from the economic and social progress disseminated and secured through international cooperation.” This is the form of Marxist thought that MacArthur and others decry but nowhere have I seen the Evangelical proponents of SJ push this agenda. They need to provide evidentiary proof to illustrate such examples and until they do — they need to cease and desist with the name-calling as this is non-Christian.
  2. The Center for Economic and Social Justice provides this nice little illustration below for how they define Social Justice:I I graphic-3econjustprinciples-2013This scale lends itself to extreme capitalism which many will love and some will hate but again no one in MacArthur’s camp would advocate such extreme capitalism and so my last sentence from #1 holds true here as well.
  3. Biblical Social Justice is defined by the following verses that you can look up in your favorite translation — Isaiah 1:17; James 1:26-27; 1 John 3:17-18. Scripture puts no preconditions on the how or who should receive help; Scripture only calls on believers to help people who are in need and Scripture has no expectation on input or output. So … our only question in my perspective as churches and believers in Jesus is are we doing enough to help those in need?

Now … I know that many would argue based on #3 that we should just drop the term “Social” from the concept and go with the idea of “Biblical Justice” and that is an option; however, there is a problem with this approach. What does “Biblical Justice” mean to the world we are currently trying to reach? Think about it?

We have to deal with a world in which we have already sent conflicting messages to for many years. We have abandoned to the world the concept of the Music and Theater and Arts. We have abandoned to the world the words of Creativity, Gay, Marriage, etc., etc.. Must we abandon to the world the concept/definition of Social Justice as well?

I would argue that we should not only take back the concept but also REDEFINE and DEFINE again from a Biblical concept? Social Justice is a Biblical term. Let us return it to what it means and show the world what it means from a God- and Biblically-centered focus.

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