Several years ago, I was speaking with the pastor of an all-black church in the state of Georgia. His church was located just one mile from an all-white church of the same denomination. Both churches held to the same confession of faith. Apart from a few very minor cultural differences, the two churches were identical.
I asked this pastor whether or not the churches ever considered joining together. Both congregations were relatively small, so joining the churches would have likely had some practical benefits. Plus, there were no disagreements or animosity between them. In fact, the churches came together for a special joint meeting at least once every year. So, why not meet together every week?
Frankly, this brother told me what I already knew. He said, “The United States has a long history of segregation especially in the South. People settled into their traditions long ago, and people don’t like to break tradition.” He, then, threw in a joke about how white people are kind of boring when they worship. Having attended a few black services, I won’t argue with him.
Near the end of the conversation, this pastor made a comment that has stuck with me. He said, “Whenever the two churches meet together for worship, I can’t help but look around the room and think to myself, This is what heaven will be like.” And I believe he’s right.
The biblical worldview
Today, we’re considering the matter of social justice. Before I attempt to even define that somewhat nebulous term, I would like to firmly establish the biblical worldview regarding not only justice, but also several other relevant issues including a few we’ve discussed in previous weeks. I have seven points to make before we specifically talk about social justice.
The Bible is our authority
First of all, let me once again stress that the Bible is our inerrant, infallible, and final authority for determining what is true and right. If any idea proves inconsistent with Scripture, we should never allow it to influence our beliefs or behavior. Keep in mind, some ideas are based on truth, but not necessarily the whole truth. For example, I’ve heard some very unbiblical ideas built on the truth that God is love (1Jn 4:8). Yes, God is love, but he is also holy, righteous, and just.
We are all image-bearers of God
Second, everyone has been created by God and for God. We all have value and dignity because we bear his image. Socioeconomic status, ethnicity, skin color, religion, sex, age, physical ability, or any other characteristic we may possess can neither negate nor contribute to our worth as a human being. We are all image-bearers of God and have value and dignity by virtue of creation.
We must always pursue justice
Third, God demands justice. It is not optional. It is absolutely imperative. In Isaiah 1, God tells the people of Jerusalem what they must do to cleanse themselves and remove their evil deeds (Isa 1:16). He says to them, “Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause” (Isa 1:17).
Similarly, in Micah 6, the prophet tells the people of Judah:
What should I bring before the LORD
when I come to bow before God on high?
Should I come before him with burnt offerings,
with year-old calves?
Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams
or with ten thousand streams of oil?
Should I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the offspring of my body for my own sin?
Mankind, he has told each of you what is good
and what it is the LORD requires of you:
to act justly,
to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:6-8)
If we were to rank good works by degrees of importance, according to Micah, acting justly or pursuing justice would sit higher on the list than offering thousands upon thousands of sacrifices in devotion to God. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course, because we are image-bearers of God, and God is a just God. He created us to be a reflection of himself, so he demands that we be a just people.
Before we move on, though, let’s be clear about what justice means. When we say God is just, we mean he is perfectly righteous specifically in the ways he treats people. For instance, he does not show partiality. In Acts 10, Peter says, “I truly understand that God doesn’t show favoritism” (Ac 10:34). When he deals with us, he does not consider those characteristics I mentioned before—ethnicity, skin color, religion, sex, and so on. He considers only the facts of the case, if you will, and he never shows partiality based on irrelevant characteristics of the people in question.
When we say God is just, we’re also referring to his prohibition of unfairly mistreating people. In Zechariah 7, he says, “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the resident alien or the poor, and do not plot evil in your hearts against one another” (Zec 7:10). Obviously, the groups mentioned in that verse have more than enough disadvantages already, yet those disadvantages make them all the more susceptible to abuse. They’re easy to take advantage of, and God warns, “Don’t even think about it.”
Why not? Because God is just, and his justice will prevail in the end. To the oppressors, he says, “It is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to give relief to you who are afflicted” (2Th 1:6, 7). And to those who help and defend the oppressed, he says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you demonstrated for his name by serving the saints” (Heb 6:10).
In short, justice is the righteous application of God’s law. God is just, and as his image-bearers, he demands we, too, be just. And this justice he demands is defined by his holy law. Scripture is our final authority, which means we cannot define justice according to our own terms. No matter how fair, righteous, or just an idea may seem, if the Bible does not define it as just, it isn’t justice.
So, (1) the Bible is our authority, (2) God created us to bear his image, and (3) justice is imperative.
God’s law is our standard for righteousness
Fourth, God’s law is the only standard of unchanging righteousness. I’m primarily speaking about the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, which Jesus summarized by saying:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. (Matthew 22:37-40)
This point about God’s law is necessary to make because people have a bad habit of inventing and imposing new laws—laws that don’t exist in Scripture. We may present them as biblical truth, and we may even derive them from the Bible, as misguided as our interpretations may be, but they are not biblical. They are not God’s commandments, so we have no right to impose them on others or require repentance from people who violate those laws we’ve invented.
We are all sinners
Fifth, we are all sinners. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Ro 3:23). Every last one of us is guilty of violating God’s law. Ever since Adam fell into sin, the entire world has been corrupted by sin and its consequences. Everything from our personal relationships to our institutions are affected by sin. In other words, we will not find a perfect person, perfect relationship, or perfect institution anywhere.
Even so, the universality of sin doesn’t mean each person has committed every sin. It also doesn’t mean we are necessarily predisposed to particular sins. And it doesn’t mean we are morally culpable for someone else’s sins—previous generations, for instance. Yes, we are sinners because we are children of Adam, but we are also sinners because we personally sin.
Consider Ezekiel 18. When confronted with their guilt, the people of Israel were quick to say, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Eze 18:2). In other words, the father ate the sour grapes, but it’s the children who taste the sourness. That was their proverbial way of saying, “Don’t blame us for the sins of previous generations.”
And how does God respond?
“As I live” — this is the declaration of the Lord GOD — “you will no longer use this proverb in Israel. Look, every life belongs to me. The life of the father is like the life of the son — both belong to me. The person who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:3, 4)
While the sins of previous generations may very well have consequences affecting subsequent generations, we are accountable to God for our own sins. We can’t repent for our parents or grandparents. Furthermore, we may collectively sin as a group or nation, but we are ultimately responsible for our own personal, individual sins, which brings us to my sixth point.
The gospel is an offer of salvation to everyone
Sixth, the promise of the gospel is that Christ will save anyone and everyone who genuinely turns from sin and trusts in him alone for salvation. The apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Ro 1:16). Later, he quotes the prophet Joel, saying, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Ro 10:13).
It doesn’t matter who you are—Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free, young, old, black, white. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says:
Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Never mind who you are or what you’ve done. If you are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God, even your connection to Adam becomes a moot point (1Co 6:11). Just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1Co 15:22).
In other words, we can’t possess a characteristic or commit a particular sin that would make us unredeemable. While that may seem like an obvious point to make, we see even in Scripture people who struggled to believe that. Think of the Pharisees, who scoffed at Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Mk 2:16). They had no care or compassion for those sinners and tax collectors because, in their heart of hearts, they didn’t believe those people could be saved.
Think of Jonah, who witnessed the surprising repentance of the wicked citizens of Nineveh. According to Jonah 4, Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious when he saw that God relented from the disaster he had threatened them with (Jhn 4:1; 3:10).
Just when we think someone is unredeemable and all hope is lost for that person, God comes along and says, “I’ll show you.” God is able to raise up children for Abraham from stones if he sovereignly wills (Mt 3:9). You are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8, 9). If we come to the cross for salvation, we must come empty-handed because we have nothing to offer.
More to the point, no one has anything to offer. Again, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the way to salvation is the same for everyone (Ro 3:23).
Those united to Christ are united to one another
My seventh and final point is that salvation unites us to Christ as well as fellow believers. Paul says:
There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope at your calling — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Regarding the body of Christ, or the church, unity is a significant theme throughout the New Testament. It has also been one of our greatest challenges within the church and has been from the beginning.
Initially, the primary source of tension was between Jewish and Gentile believers. Keep in mind that prior to their conversions, the religious, cultural, even political divides between Jews and Gentiles were massive. For the Jews, in particular, they had been taught for many, many generations that everything about Gentiles was unclean and unholy. I’ve seen people divided over much less. So, what happens when you bring these two groups together into the body of Christ? Old habits die hard, and you have a potential recipe for division.
Perhaps you remember the story of Paul confronting Peter in Antioch. He tells the story in Galatians 2 and says:
When Cephas, or Peter, came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)
Peter was effectively dividing the church by ethnicity, which Paul argues is a deviation from the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:14). Though it may not be obvious at first glance, such a division in the church is, in fact, a gospel issue because it undermines what Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection.
Let me show you. In Ephesians 2, Paul says to Gentile believers:
Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:11-19)
The gospel says Christ has united all believers together. Any distinctions that may exist lose their meaning, and any attempt to restore meaning to those distinctions undermines the gospel itself.
To be clear, we can recognize distinctions between us, and I believe we should. God made us different. He gave us a variety of hair colors, eye colors, skin colors, sizes, and geographical origins. Just as we praise God for the beauty of various kinds of flowers, we should praise him for the beauty of our distinct features. Regarding skin color, for instance, I don’t believe it honors God to act as though we’re color blind. One person is beautiful because he or she is an image-bearer of God with dark skin. Another is beautiful because he or she is an image-bearer of God with light skin.
The problem is not that we recognize distinctions. The problem arises when we use those distinctions to create divisions in the church. We may actually segregate the people, or perhaps we apply different standards to different groups. Regardless, what God has joined together, let not man separate (Mk 10:9).
I know seven points is a lot to remember, so let me summarize them.
- The Bible is our authority.
- We are all image-bearers of God.
- We must always pursue justice.
- God’s law is our standard for righteousness.
- We are all sinners.
- The gospel is an offer of salvation to everyone without discrimination.
- Those united to Christ are united to one another.
With these points in mind, let’s compare the biblical worldview with the ideology of social justice.
What is social justice?
As I said before, social justice is a somewhat nebulous term. You can read a hundred articles on the subject and never find a clear definition of the term itself, which causes a pretty big problem. Lots of people are talking about social justice without necessarily understanding what it is. Naturally, we hear the word justice, especially those of us in the church, and we assume social justice—whatever it is—must be a good thing because justice is a good thing. The truth is, however, social justice has very little to do with justice.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines social justice this way: “Social justice, a noun, chiefly politics and philosophy, justice at the level of society or State as regards the possession of wealth, commodities, opportunities, and privileges. See also distributive justice.”
I’ll provide one more from an academic, who believes in and espouses this ideology. So, this definition does not come from an opponent of social justice. It comes from an expert on the subject, who teaches it. He says, “Social justice has evolved to generally mean State redistribution of advantages and resources to disadvantaged groups to satisfy their right to social and economic equality.”
A few years ago, I was talking with a young man about this subject, and I read those definitions to him. He listened, then sat back in his chair and said, “Huh. I expected there to be some mention of racism.” While victims of racism may be implied, he’s right. There isn’t any explicit mention of racism or even oppression. Yet, if we were to ask any one of the many Christians who have joined the social justice movement over the past several years, I suspect his or her reason would have everything to do with racism and oppression. The church, after all, loves justice and hates injustice. So, if you offer the church a movement that seems to fight for justice, you are likely to gain quite a few supporters.
The problem is, social justice has only the appearance of biblical justice. They are not the same. If they were, we wouldn’t need the term social justice. We would simply call it justice. Furthermore, if we think the social justice movement is really about racism or the historic oppression of black people in this country, we are looking only at this ideology’s most recent iteration.
For example, Black Lives Matter is probably the best-known organization to emerge from the social justice movement. The name says it all, right? Black Lives Matter is all about fighting against systemic racism, right? Let me read from the original mission statement published on their website back in 2019. It says, “Our continued commitment to liberation for all Black people means we are continuing the work of our ancestors and fighting for our collective freedom because it is our duty.” And that is precisely what we would expect to read.
Skipping down, however, the statement takes a surprising turn. A bit later, it says, “We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.”
In case you’re not familiar with the term cisgender, it refers to someone who identifies as his or her biological sex.
Perhaps that part of the statement doesn’t raise any red flags for unbelievers, but it gives the Christian every reason to take a step back and think, Maybe I should examine this movement a bit deeper before I give it my support.
The statement continues. Not only does it want to “dismantle cisgender privilege,” but it also goes on to say, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children.”
“Disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure—” that is, one man, one woman, married, living together, raising children. When I first read that sentence three years ago, I knew there was a problem. More to the point, I knew Black Lives Matter, not to mention the fundamental ideology behind the entire social justice movement, was not primarily about racism and legitimate oppression. That may be the form it takes now, and that may be the reason so many Christians have been tempted by it, but there is more to this movement than meets the eye.
I will attempt to simplify without oversimplifying the various ideas behind social justice. I will describe the building blocks, if you will.
The history of social justice
You are likely familiar with the name Karl Marx. Marx developed an idea known as Conflict Theory. First of all, it’s crucial to understand that the word theory in this context is not an abstract noun. It’s not “I have a theory.” In Conflict Theory, the word theory is a proper noun and refers to an entire set of ideas, ethics, and methods. It’s the entire framework for understanding how one thinks and acts. In short, it’s a worldview.
In the case of Conflict Theory, Marx suggested we should view all of society as one big power struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Every social class is competing for a limited supply of resources and privileges. Unsurprisingly, then, he adamantly opposed everything from capitalism to Christianity. He saw it all as divisive and oppressive.
As time passed, proponents of Marxism realized that capitalism continued to thrive despite previous assumptions that it was doomed for failure. Marxists believed it was only a matter of time before the oppressed have-nots would rise up and remake the system. When that failed to happen, many Marxists went back to the drawing board, and Critical Theory was born.
Critical Theory took Marx’s Conflict Theory, which was already unbiblical on its own, and attempted to add practical means for tearing down the current system. If Conflict Theory addressed the problem, Critical Theory defined the problem with more specificity and offered a so-called solution—namely, revolution. Critical Theory does not believe in reform. It believes the only way to fix the system is to utterly destroy the system and build a better system in its place.
Worse yet, Critical Theory doesn’t believe in objective truth. In her book, Is Everyone Really Equal?, Robin DiAngelo says, “An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that objectivity is desirable or even possible.” And that is a core component of this worldview. Objective truth is the enemy of Critical Theory.
Building upon Critical Theory, perhaps you have heard of Critical Race Theory, or CRT. CRT essentially takes the worldview I’ve already described and adds a racial component. Briefly stated, CRT believes racism exists even when individual racists don’t exist. The system itself is inherently racist, and consequently, white people benefit. It also very openly questions the legitimacy of Western liberalism, legal reasoning, and Constitutional law.
I know I’m covering a lot of ground in a short span of time, so let me summarize.
The Marxist, Critical Theory worldview believes all of society is involved in one big power struggle. Capitalism, for instance, is a problem because some people work harder than others. Some people have more money and resources than others. A constitutional republic is a problem because it perpetuates a ruling class. Someone has to be in charge. Christianity is a problem because it lends itself to these other ideas and further keeps the so-called oppressed in bondage by encouraging blind submission to the Bible’s teachings. CRT sees whiteness as a problem because white people have historically been the evil capitalists, politicians, pastors, and of course, slaveowners in this country.
What’s the solution? The Marxist, Critical Theory worldview says revolution is the only solution. If we are to achieve what it believes to be a utopian society, we must burn the current system to the ground. Reform won’t cut it. That is why we haven’t heard calls to reform, for example, the police. No, it’s defund or abolish the police. That is why mobs are allowed to wreak havoc on city streets, destroying private property, hurting people, and violating the rights of others, all in the name of so-called justice.
Out of all of this comes another layer we call intersectionality. Almost everyone is a victim. Almost everyone belongs to an oppressed group. If you’re black, for instance, you have one victim point. If you’re a woman, you have a victim point. If you’re gay, you have a victim point. If you’re transgender, you have a victim point. If you’re disabled, you have a victim point. If you’re not especially good-looking, you have a victim point. If you’re poor, and so on. The more points you have, the more oppressed you are under the current system.
Do you remember what I read from Black Lives Matter? The reason they are pro-LGBTQ and anti-nuclear family is not because they are fighting against genuine injustice, but because they see the world through a Marxist, Critical Theory, CRT, intersectionality lens, and the only solution is to destroy the current system. Furthermore, they know the best ways to do this are (1) destroy the nuclear family, which is the very foundation of human civilization, and (2) wrap the entire movement in something as virtuous as justice.
The biblical worldview versus social justice
Once again, I’ll read the definition of social justice. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “Social justice [is] justice at the level of society or State as regards the possession of wealth, commodities, opportunities, and privileges.” William Young says, “Social justice [is] State redistribution of advantages and resources to disadvantaged groups to satisfy their right to social and economic equality.”
So, social justice isn’t about the just treatment of individuals. It’s not an extension of Martin Luther King’s dream where he longed to see a day when his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Social justice is not about equal rights. It’s about equal stuff. It’s about the forceful redistribution of stuff based on an arbitrary view of oppression.
Worse yet, this unbiblical ideology has crept into many churches. Ironically enough, the movement claims to seek equality while promoting segregation within the body of Christ. It effectively rebuilds the dividing wall of hostility, which Christ destroyed, by drawing a supposedly meaningful distinction between black and white Christians (Eph 2:14).
Social justice says white people are sinful by virtue of their skin color. It says one can be guilty of sins he may have never committed. And though God has already forgiven him, it says he must seek forgiveness not from God necessarily, but from his black brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, the Marxist, CRT unbelievers outside of the church watch and eagerly wait for the church to collapse under the strain.
The Bible is our authority, but social justice has developed its own extra-biblical canon.
We are all image-bearers of God, but social justice wants to undo the progress we’ve made in this country by reestablishing distinctions between our inherent worths.
We must always pursue justice, but social justice isn’t interested in biblical justice. It isn’t fighting for equality. It demands equity.
God’s law is our standard for righteousness, but social justice has invented its own commandments and ideas about what’s right.
We are all sinners, but social justice says some people are worse sinners while others deserve a pass.
The gospel is an offer of salvation to everyone without discrimination, but social justice promotes discrimination. Once again, it attempts to undo the progress we’ve made in this country by swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.
Lastly, those united to Christ are united to one another, but social justice is tearing us apart. That isn’t the intention of Christians who have succumbed to the movement’s temptations, but it is the inevitable result. In fact, division is the intent of those who started and continue to lead the movement.
I realize this subject can be terribly confusing, but I hope I’ve provided at least some clarity.