The Church and Social Justice

The Church and Social Justice April 22, 2013

Poverty, homelessness, AIDS — how should the Christian help? How should the local church help? What is the “help” done by Christians to be called? (This matters to me; some don’t care what it is called.)

David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw, in Prodigal Christianity, play off of two tendencies but here is where they will end up: “Falwell and Wallis are two sides of the same coin” (138). “Wallis was arguing for a Christian nation … just as Falwell and Dobson were” (138).

Do you agree that both Falwell and Wallis are two sides of the same coin?

Now to the two tendencies:

Tim Keller contends from individual redemption to social activism, from justification to justice. Though the authors do not bring this out, Keller’s contention here  is a revision of how many in the Reformed tradition would understand justification but I think Keller’s point is in part rhetorical (good play on words). The big idea is that the new birth creates a new kind of person, the kind of person who becomes involved with others.

Brian McLaren, the authors argue, moves from social redemption to personal redemption. “… we participate in salvation by joining in with God’s work for justice in the world” (135) — this is their summary statement of McLaren’s approach. It is undeniable that Brian’s approach is liberation theology while Keller’s is evangelicalism’s classic model of personal transformation.

Fitch and Holsclaw make the important observation, largely ignored, that both the right-wing and left-wing activists have anchored their hope for a better world in the political process and in social activism. These authors think the approach ought to be the local church and local Christians living out a vision for justice in their own neighborhoods. Instead of big government they propose local church. That is, “the church itself … is never considered an entity that lives God’s justice and reconciliation before the world and in the world” (139). There is no justice if there is no Jesus (139).

This happens when justice is kept relational — instead of institutional and distant. It happens from a posture of humility, not condescending money or power. It must also be seen as the extension of Christ through the people.

Big issue for me in all this discussion: the fundamental Christian ethic is love, not justice. Justice is a manifestation of love. So, in discussions of justice, if it is not anchored in love and a theology of charity/love, then justice becomes too closely connected to laws and constitutions and secularized theories of rights. Justice in the Bible is moral behavior that conforms to the will of God (tsedeqah is always relational to the one who sets the law or will of God in place), and as Volf says, when justice runs its course it becomes love. The help Christians offer to others is called love.

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