Top Menu

Veritas: What is Social Justice?

By Craig Branch – The short version of the mission statement for the Apologetics Resource Center is “to equip the Church to understand, live, defend, and advance the Christian gospel and worldview.” The full version is “to reach the minds and hearts of people with the message and truth claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to equip Christians with a culturally relevant apologetic, enabling them to have a deeper level of personal faith, contend for the faith, and to enter arenas of resistance and reclaim ground lost to skepticism, secularism, and other alien philosophies. We seek to impact anyone, on whatever territory they may be, including thinkers, leaders, law and opinion makers, with the eternal truths of God’s word, so that all hearts and minds are in tune with the heart and mind of God.”

I know it is wordy, but slowly, thoughtfully, read it again to digest the scope and implications for you personally and for His Church corporately. The statement fleshes out the full meaning of the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36-40), the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20), and it captures the meaning of 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5 as Paul describes the battle we are all called into: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Our calling (and warning if we neglect it), found in Matthew 5:13-16, is for us to be the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” The application goes beyond just our personal contact with people. It includes the “cultural mandate” begun in Genesis (1: 28-30; 2:15). The warning given is that if the salt loses its saltiness and our light is hidden, darkness will spread. And it has.

In our second issue of Areopagus Journal (then called Radix), the focus was on a fundamental aspect of our calling, “Building a Christian Worldview.” I began my Veritas column by saying that the concept of “worldview” may have a vague perception of meaning. I quote, again, an excellent description of a biblical worldview:

Underlying all that we think, say, or do are basic assumptions that form what we call a “worldview.” A person’s worldview is the collection of all his presuppositions or convictions about reality, which present his total outlook on life. Nobody is without such fundamental beliefs, yet many people go through life unaware of their presuppositions. Operating at the unconscious level, their presuppositions remain unidentified and unexamined. The result is that people generally fail to recognize how their worldviews govern every dimension of their lives.1

Because the Church has generally neglected an understanding of how a Biblical worldview applies to the formation or redemption of cultural values and institutions, and how to take individual and collective steps to shape and impact those institutions, we are experiencing a significant decline in the moral fabric of western culture. The late “prophet” Francis Schaeffer warned us 26 years ago, “Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation. The evangelical church has accommodated the world spirit of this age.”2

And what evidence do we find which supports this serious challenge? Christian pollster George Barna released a summary of his 2010 research. He found that (1) the “church is becoming less theologically literate; (2) that Christians were more cloistered and less outreach oriented; (3) Christians are less interested in Biblical principles while more interested in lifestyle comfort, success and personal achievement; (4) that Biblical illiteracy has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices and stands, for fear of being labeled judgmental by relativists; (5) the influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.”3 As a result of this long trend, the spread of darkness is marked by things like the legalization of abortion, the growing acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the growing acceptance and display of pornography, a rising divorce rate, a growing move toward socialism in health care, the welfare system, and other areas.

How Did We Get Here?

The slow but escalating erosion of values, social justice and governmental structures began notably in the late 19th century and early 20th century in America. America became more culturally and socially diverse. We became more religiously and culturally pluralistic—more industrial, more economically integrated, and less hospitable to conservative Protestant ideological leadership. The status of evangelical Protestants was further weakened by the growing academic prestige of Darwinism and the evolvement of social Darwinism. This led to its infiltration and dominance in many seminaries with the advent of “higher biblical criticism” and its resulting denial of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

This trend led to various humanistic moral theologies. The two prominent forms these took were the “social gospel” and “liberation theology.” Salvation was redefined as liberation from poverty and discrimination. These processes involved reshaping political structures and focus. Evangelicals began to retreat from social activity for fear of becoming liberal. But fortunately a number of evangelical leaders like Carl Henry, Vernon Grounds, and Bernard Ramm recognized the need for evangelicals to take the callings of Amos and Jeremiah as part of the Great Commission. They began a clarion call for evangelicals to confront the world with a Christian apologetic that was intellectually respectable, socially responsible, and biblical. Loving our neighbor meant more than sharing the words of the gospel. It also meant to redeem the physical needs of victims.

One response to that call came from the “religious right,” led by Christian leaders Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and others through the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council. They set out to help make America a Christian nation again. Some of the religious right were not just confronting specific societal ills but were also striving to save America from Armageddon, based on their end-time theology.

But Christian activists like Ralph Reed and Mark Noll focused on the need for the Church to understand that Christian politics that forgets the cross, that neglects the realities of redemption that assumes a god-like theocratic stance, has abandoned Christ and His calling. Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington writes,

Evangelicals of every perspective should no longer need convincing that political and social concern is an important part of Christian discipleship. It should be a settled issue that ‘the least of these’ among us must be treated with both charity and justice. The debate centers now on prudent questions regarding which policies are in fact the most effective in meeting the normal standards of justice…. But it is worth noting that as conservative Christians are gathering momentum to have influence in the political arena, many of the seemingly intractable problems facing American society are cultural in nature and not best affected by political solutions.4

Where Do We Go From Here?

As I began this Veritas, our goal is to stimulate and equip you and the Church to redemptively engage people and the culture. There are numerous aspects of this goal that previous issues of Areopagus Journal have addressed. We have expounded on biblical truth applying to abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, cloning, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the environment, alternative medicine, and war. Now this issue of Areopagus Journal focuses on our call to bring our faith into the public square regarding the issues of social justice, limited government, private property, and a free economy.

Dr. Paul Cleveland, part-time staff member of the Apologetics Resource Center and Professor of Economics at Birmingham Southern College, begins this series of articles with “Social Justice: Neither Social Nor Just.” His article presents an overview of the meaning, theory, and history of the social justice movement in America. He exposes the progressive moves toward socialism based on its flawed underlying liberal worldview.

Next is an article by Michael DeBow, “Social Justice: Reasons for Skepticism.” DeBow is a law professor at Samford University’s Cumberland Law School. He takes aim at the virulent progress of the currently dominant strain of so-called “social justice” in the U.S. He also brings into focus how the more liberal Church begins with good motives, but whose lack of sound theology drives their efforts in wrong directions.

The third article, “The Scriptural Case for Private Property and a Free Economy” is written by Economics professor Shawn Ritenour of Grove City College. He shows that the Bible teaches the concept of private property, and argues that government taxation to address social problems through wealth redistribution is a violation of private property rights.

Pilate asked Jesus before his crucifixion if He was a King. Jesus answered that He was indeed a King but His Kingdom was not of this world. He also responded that His Kingship mission was to bear witness of the truth. He had already previously taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven (John 18:36-37; Matt. 6:10). To be a “Christian America” is not a call to be like a Muslim theocracy. But we are to personally and collectively bear witness of His truth, and to engage people in need. Government has an important but limited role in a free society. There is that which belongs to Caesar and that which belongs to God. Politics is a subsidiary of the higher more important sphere of civil society. Christians must permeate society, live with integrity, and make distinctive redemptive contributions to the social, scientific, artistic, educational and political life of the nation. Remember that all legislation is someone’s morality.

I believe you will find that the articles in this journal are most consistent with the teachings and applications of Scripture on this vital topic. However, there are indeed several differing perspectives held by Christians on social justice, economics and the role of civil government. I encourage the reader to go even deeper with the list of recommend books listed in which the differing positions are explained and defended.

Craig Branch is the director of the Apologetics Resource Center, Birmingham, Alabama. He is also the co-author (with John Ankerberg and John Weldon) of the book, Public Schools: The Sorcerer’s New Apprentice?

Notes

1 W. Andrew Hoffecker, ed., Building a Christian Worldview, vol. 1: God, Man, and Knowledge, (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986), ix.

2 Francis Schaffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester IL: Crossway Books, 1984), 37.

3 See “Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Research in 2010”, accessed at www.barna.org.

4 David Gushee, ed., Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 27.

2376 Lakeside Drive
Birmingham, AL 35244
205-552-5597
x