In a rather silly display, I’ve seen many “anti-social-justice-warriors” make statements effectively decrying the use of extra-Biblical adjectives. Proclamations along the lines of “we don’t need social-justice because we have justice!” and “the Bible doesn’t qualify justice” are all over blogs and social media. Not only is this bold anti-adjective stance nonsensical, but it is also wholly hypocritical for anyone who has ever cracked open a systematic theology and appreciated its contents.
I do not know if “social justice” is the best term, but I am in favor of adjectives clarifying kinds of justice. God’s people use adjectives to make distinctions. Sometimes these distinctions are clearly made in scripture with adjectives and qualifying terms, but most often important distinctions are made by context and not terminology. For Christians to have meaningful dialogues, adjectives such as “social” can be the difference between understanding and all meaning getting lost in ambiguity.
How often do we hear from Reformed Pulpits that God cares about justice and mercy? The honest answer is often. I’d even say more often lately. Many mention justice because they have Christlike care for people. They mention and preach about the importance of justice and mercy because Scripture speaks of justice and mercy. Considering the current climate, however, I get the feeling that many are sure to “touch on” justice and mercy In order to assure listeners that they are not throwing the justice baby out with the liberal bathwater.
This reminds me of the famous “shocking” Paul Washer sermon. He was speaking very harshly and passionately. He was calling on the Church to repent and become serious about Christ. He was preaching on the sinfulness of the world and those who are nominally “Christian.” The crowd claps. The crowd cheers. Then he points to the crowd. He is talking about the crowd. The crowd is silenced. No more clapping.
Ambiguity is met with the shrugging-off of responsibility. Specificity confronts. Specificity is difficult to dodge. This is a sort of spiritual diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is a sociopsychological phenomenon wherein individuals fail to take responsibility because of a perception that others will take responsibility for them. When all of Christendom receives an exhortation, it becomes psychologically easy for Christians to believe that the exhortation was meant for others.
Thousands of sermons mention justice and talk about justice. We consume so many sermons, podcasts, and books that readily admit that justice and mercy are important. These products are not controversial. Everyone claps. Everyone “likes” and shares.
How many of these sermons are specific? How many name specific areas of justice and mercy for which the Bride of Christ should engage in striving? There are many good sermons and books with which I heartily agree, including their broad recognition of the importance of justice. It is too easy and safe, however, to give an ambiguous recognition of justice while failing to give examples and call out particular areas of injustice. No feathers are rustled when a pastor says the Bible speaks on justice, but he fails to speak on how justice is relevant today. No boat is rocked when a blogger insists he cares about justice when he only writes about it in the abstract.
Abstract justice is something everyone can get behind. Atheists, Roman Catholics, conservative, liberals, capitalists, and socialists will all pat you on the back and offer up their support of “justice.” But what about the injustice of humanistic school systems that are built on theft? What about the injustice of the criminal “justice” system? What about the injustice of constant and murderous military interventionism? What about the injustice of the standard conservative regulationism that is passed off as caring about the preborn? When we begin to apply God’s Word, we will begin to receive some pushback. That is when the crowd will be silenced. That is when the clapping and pats on the back will cease.
Justification is a core doctrine of orthodox Christianity. Understanding and believing in justification by faith alone is not only important, but it is also vital. I do not want to diminish this doctrine a bit, however, far too many Reformed Christians have hyper-spiritualized their view of Christianity so as to forget that Scripture speaks a great deal about forensic justice as a human duty, not just justice as a soteriological reality. Again, because of the ambiguous use of the word “justice,” many are only giving lip service to justice in the here-and-now while only teaching specifically on soteriological justice. This is a reductionistic and truncated justice. There should be teaching on both justification and social justice. I don’t care if we call it “civil justice” or “social justice,” but the distinction should be made in order not to lose one or the other.
This means the qualifications and adjectives should not stop. Christians should be quick to define what they mean by civil or social justice, and Christians should be quick to listen to these definitions. Being concerned about justice within society and desiring to make a distinction between soteriological and societal justice does not mean one subscribes to Socialism any more than using social media means you’re a Socialist. “Social” should not be a scare-word, even if it has been used in ways Christians should not support. That is why listening is important. Some Christians have ceded the terminological high ground and ceded social justice over to the pagan hordes. Others have not.
Recently much has been written about being opposed to “social justice” while seemingly clinging to “Biblical justice” or just unqualified “justice.” I give a hearty amen to Biblical Justice. What I will not give a hearty amen to, however, is an exclusively abstract and safe justice. Biblical justice will bring conflict and clashing of worldviews. What I will not give a hearty amen to is a kind of justice that falls perfectly in line with the Republican Party or Democratic Party. What I will not give a hearty amen to is a form of justice that condemns Marxism in the abstract but is silent on the collectivistic ownership of national borders for the “general good” and ignores wealth distribution in the name of mass nationalized education.
What I will not get behind is an idea of justice that remains exclusively in the clouds but refuses to be applied to our lives. Biblical justice, whether you call it justice, civil justice, or social justice, is not safe and is not going to get you a million Twitter followers—or statement signers.