Our top 5 commonly asked questions about justice.
- What is justice? Is there a difference between justice, social justice, and biblical justice?
- Are social justice and biblical justice at odds with each other?
- Why is there often a disconnect between people when they talk about justice?
- As a Christian, must I pursue justice?
- How can I help? How can I pursue justice?
1. What is justice? Is there a difference between justice, social justice, and biblical justice?
Sunday to Saturday: We believe there is not a distinction between the three because all justice comes from knowing the character of God who advocates for the poor, the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan. At the same time, we want to recognize that many Christian and non-Christians are confused about what justice is, or they do not center their understanding of justice on God. This leads to many varying definitions.
“Justice is the objective foundation of all reality. This justice is known, not primarily through philosophical speculation, but through observing God’s actions to liberate the oppressed and through heeding God’s word in the Law and the Prophets to protect and care for the weak. This means that our knowledge of justice springs ultimately from our knowledge of God, and that there can be no true knowledge of God without an appreciation of God’s own unfailing dedication to justice.” Chris Marshall, The Little Book of Biblical Justice (New York: Good Books, 2005), 25.
“Justice is a divine act of reparation where breached relationships are renewed and victims, offenders, and communities are restored. Justice, therefore, is about relationships and our conduct within them. Justice asks, “How is righteousness embodied and exuded in how I live in relation to God, neighbor, and creation?” In fact, Scripture could be read as the narrative of God’s restorative justice unfolding in the world.” Dominique DuBois Gilliard, Rethinking Incarceration (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 2018 ) 139.
2. Is biblical justice and social justice at odds with each other?
Sunday to Saturday: No, we believe biblical justice and social justice are the same. In fact, we believe the Bible clearly states that biblical justice entails social justice i.e., to care for the widow, the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable.
“The Bible does not put those two (social and biblical justice) into separate categories…The Bible does not make these artificial distinctions between what we are doing privately, personally, and communally.” Russel Moore. “Episode 317: Social Justice & the Gospel with Russell Moore” The Holy Post, 12 Aug 2018, https://open.spotify.com/episode/4YyRqcjGeVftzOmxodGpBQ
“In his inaugural hometown sermon, Jesus preached from the prophet Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free’ (Luke 4:18; citing Isaiah 61:1 and 58:6). The gospel that Jesus preached was in fact inseparable from concerns about ‘social justice’ ― which is to say, about care for the poor, for the prisoner, for the disabled, for all those who find themselves oppressed by society’s laws and institutions. Is there a different, better gospel than the one Jesus preached?” Kent Dunnington and Ken Wayman, “How Christians should ― and should not ― respond to Black Lives Matter” ABC Religion and Ethics, 3 June 2019. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/how-should-christians-respond-to-black-lives-matter/11173976
“The language of social justice is actually Catholic in origin from the mid 1800’s. In the broad Christian tradition that is our term. Even there, if you try to assign (social justice) to a secular academy, you are doing something that is ahistorical.” Thabiti Anyabwile. ” MacArthur’s Statement on Social Justice is Aggravating Evangelicals.” Quick to Listen from Christianity Today. 12 September 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/september-web-only/john-macarthur-statement-social-justice-gospel-thabiti.html
3. Why is there often a disconnect between people when they talk about justice?
Sunday to Saturday: Everyone believes they know what justice is and that they are on the right side of it. That simply cannot be true. As sinful people, we will inevitably err and do an injustice to another human being. This should give us pause to proceed with humility and grace when engaging in conversations about justice.
“Nearly everyone thinks they are on justice’s side. Both pro-life and pro-choice partisans frame their position as the one that is on the side of justice. Both opponents and proponents of affirmative action insist that their way is the way of equity and the other side is perpetuating unfairness. But underneath all the name calling are sharp differences of opinion about what justice actually is.” Tim Keller, Generous Justice (New York: Penguin Books, 2012 ) 150.
“The fact is, the word ‘justice’ does not have a definition in our culture that we can all agree on. So, we just use it as a bludgeon. We self-righteously imply that those on the other side know they are simply being unjust. But they don’t.” Tim Keller, Generous Justice (New York: Penguin Books, 2012 ) 150.
“No political system or economic order can ever be regarded as the full, or even as an adequate, realization of justice…Every human attempt to create justice, when measured against the perfect justice of God’s coming kingdom, is inescapably partial and limited.” Chris Marshall, The Little Book of Biblical Justice (New York: Good Books, 2005), 28.
4. As a Christian must I pursue justice?
Sunday to Saturday: Yes, the Bible is explicit to advocate for what Nicholas Wolterstorff calls, “the quartet of the vulnerable (widows, the poor, orphans, and immigrants).” Isaiah 29:21, Isaiah 58, and Deuteronomy 10 along with Mark 12:38-40, Luke 11 and James 2 are examples from the Bible.
“Our duty is more than not perpetuating injustice. We have an affirmative obligation to proactively assert God’s will through acts of justice. To contend otherwise hedges on biblical illiteracy since God continually repeats this requirement (Isa. 59:15–16; Mic. 6:8; Amos 5:23–24; Luke 4:18; 10:25–37). Justice isn’t a lack of injustice. It’s an active affirmative with form and substance of its own.” Justin Giboney, “The Absence of Injustice is Not Justice.” Christianity Today, 11 September 2020. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/september-web-only/absence-of-injustice-is-not-justice.html
“Biblical justice calls us to make reconciliation tangible, costly, and personal. It is asking us to begin the process of forgiving those who have hurt or wronged us just as we have been forgiven by God.” Dominique DuBois Gilliard, Rethinking Incarceration (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 2018 ) 163.
“A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” Tim Keller, Generous Justice (New York: Penguin Books, 2012 ) 189.
“Present injustices must never simply be tolerated or accepted as inevitable. We are not meant to resign ourselves to the evils of the world while waiting passively for God’s coming to sweep them away. Instead, we are to work tirelessly in partnership with God for the greater attainment of justice here and now, knowing that God shall ultimately bring our efforts to fruition in the renewal of creation. God’s coming justice is the culmination of, not a substitute for, human striving for greater justice here and now.” Chris Marshall, The Little Book of Biblical Justice (New York: Good Books, 2005), 29.
“Justice is not a static ideal; it is not the maintenance of some steady state in society. The accent in biblical justice falls on positive action, the exercising of power to resist the oppressor and set the oppressed free. This is why Amos pictures justice as a thundering river then, as in the Western tradition, a neatly balanced set of scales [Amos 5:21-24].” Chris Marshall, The Little Book of Biblical Justice (New York: Good Books, 2005), 32.
5. How can I help? How can I pursue justice?
Sunday to Saturday: Educate yourself. Lament. Pray. This is what Sunday to Saturday is attempting to facilitate. See our framework for a pathway to engagement and our curated content to jumpstart your learning.
“In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to “do justice” means to go places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it.” Tim Keller, Generous Justice (New York: Penguin Books, 2012 ) 177.
“Biblical justice is not easy or simplistic. It is not contained within the four walls of the church or constrained within the homogeneity of our friendships or congregations. Biblical justice summons followers of Christ to consider what right relationships entail across lines of difference — racial, ethnic, class, gender, human sexuality, national origin, and so forth.” Dominique DuBois Gilliard, Rethinking Incarceration (Downers Grove:InterVarsity Press, 2018 ) 165.
More curated resources on justice:
BOOK: Jesus and the Disinherited
When a major cultural event, such as George Floyd’s murder, shifts the focus of a country, it is easy to assume that critiques of the American church and racism are a recent phenomenon. Oftentimes we are simply unaware of prophetic voices from the the past such as Howard Thurman and his quintessential Jesus and the…Read more
SERMON: Justice and God’s Story
A thought provoking and challenging three-part series that shows, but never in a heavy-handed way, how important justice is to God.Read more
SERMON: Preach Justice as True Worship
Simply put — to do justice is to worship God. Many in the American evangelical church have lost sight of that fact. Referencing Micah 6, Amos 5, Isaiah 1 and a host of other scriptures pastor Thabiti Anyabwile of Anacostia River Church (Washington, DC) implores the church to recognize that God’s character is righteous and…Read more