The other day I was watching a youtube video entitled “Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice.” Voddie Baucham was the speaker. And even though I disagree with him on somethings, I respect him, so I decided to watch. The title pulled me in because I don't often hear a clear explanation of Biblical Justice. Which, in and of itself, is a problem, not just for me but for the whole body. As the talk continued, Voddie mentioned the name Peggy McIntosh. She was the first one to introduce the concept of “White Privilege” in a 1988 paper called “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.” Voddie made an insightful comment about the author and her paper. After describing some of its contents, he said, “There’s not a single footnote in her paper. There's not one source in her paper. It is purely observational.” This statement was said essentially to make the point that Peggy’s perspective on white privilege is all experience with no facts. “There are no footnotes,” he would go on to say. Ironically, after watching the almost 56-minute presentation, frustrated, I asked myself a question, where are all the footnotes of Biblical Justice?
Over the last few years, the concept of Biblical Justice versus Social Justice has become a dominant theme in public theological discourse. In fact, in a blog post on August 3rd, 2018, John MacArthur said that social justice is the greatest threat to the gospel that he’s seen in his 50+ years of ministry. In my 22 years of being in the “Young Restless and Reformed” movement, I’d never heard sermons or conversations on justice apart from God sparing us his justice for our sins because of the cross. I also, up until 2018, don't remember hearing an emphasis on racism, racial dynamics in the church, and what to do about them. We all seemed to be applying Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along” speech. But time and cultural circumstances revealed that some areas needed attention. That maybe we were ignoring red flags in the relational dynamics between blacks and whites in the church. For some, social justice became the solution and or the problem that we find ourselves in today.
The dilemma, though, is not just Social Justice. It’s also Biblical Justice. What is it? Where is it? How has it played out in American Evangelical history as it relates to racist attitudes and actions? The church is split over this issue. I listen to both sides intently, trying to stay balanced, which does not mean trying to appease everyone to be liked. Stay balanced is an application of humility in the pursuit of truth because all have sinned and fall short of the glory. There is no real "side" except the one where the Roman soldier’s spear pierced Jesus. But in this racially tense, cultural moment, it’s hard not to see where choosing “sides” is missing a step. At least for the Christian.
As of now, there are far more sermons, tweets, podcasts, and forthcoming books on Social Justice and its problems. And often, like the Voddie presentation I mentioned above, social justice is contrasted as the evil opposite to biblical justice. But the issue I’m seeing is that no one is showing how to apply biblical justice sufficiently, nor how it was used in the American Evangelical History to end slavery, racism, Jim Crow, etc. The most common discourse that I hear is something like this. “That is Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, masking itself as Biblical Justice. But Social Justice is not biblical justice,” yet no explanation of biblical justice is given. It seems that we are supposed to assume that whatever social justice is, biblical justice is the opposite. But that’s insufficient. Biblical justice should defend itself both theologically and functionally in society. If the claim is going to be made that social justice is wrong, then biblical justice should be made clear and practical for us to apply in this tense racial climate. Sadly, most of the claims of biblical justice are just attacks against social justice. Actual biblical justice is nowhere in sight.
In Voddie’s talk, he named names, dates, definitions, snippets of writings, origins of ideology, and double standards in society. It was a great talk. I’ve heard others do the same. Many of us know more about how Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory came to be. We know names like Gramsci, Frankfurt School, Kimberly Crenshaw, Karl Marx, socialism, and the list goes on. But where are the words, dates, writings, moments definitions, and actions of biblical justice? Why is the defense of biblical justice primarily an attack on social justice? In the Mint, where they print US dollars, they make the employees study original dollar bills so intently that they can spot counterfeit money. They don’t study fake money. They learn the actual dollar bills so well, they can spot the fake. However, when it comes to justice, people spend so much time on the "fake" that we don’t know what the real is. It’s almost as if the ones claiming biblical justice over social justice don’t know what it is either. So the focus is on what social isn’t instead of what biblical justice is. And this is not a biblical approach.
James, Jesus’ brother, made it very clear. “But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works.” Where are the works of biblical justice in American Evangelicalism from slavery until now? Show us the fruit. Where are the footnotes of biblical justice? Jesus showed his when some disciples doubted he was the Messiah. At the end of Luke's gospel we read, “He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn't it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.” Jesus didn’t sit there and attack their doubt. He showed that there should be no doubt because he gave them the footnotes of the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection.
The Apostle Paul, when pressed by “super apostles,” showed his faith by what he did. He gave them the footnotes of his ministry in Second Corinthians 11. “Now I consider myself in no way inferior to those "super-apostles." Even if I am untrained in public speaking, I am certainly not untrained in knowledge. Indeed, we have in every way made that clear to you in everything. Or did I sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by taking pay from them to minister to you. When I was present with you and in need, I did not burden anyone since the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs. I have kept myself and will keep myself from burdening you in any way. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. Why? Because I don't love you? God knows I do!”
He continues defending himself, showing what he’s done not just attacking what the other “super apostles” haven’t done. “Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches.” Paul defends himself. Why aren’t theologians defending the church, showing what’s its done in the realm of justice? Is merely telling us that Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci invented a secular ideology sufficient? Why did they develop it? Did they just make these categories up out of the blue to overthrow Christianity? On some level, yes. But it’s always more complicated than that.
Scripture Justice Theory
I am a Bible man. I believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of scripture. I believe in the perspicuity (clarity) of scripture. I think that God breathed out scripture, inspiring men to write it for the purpose training in righteousness. I believe that scripture is the Word of God. And I believe when scripture says in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” And I believe Paul when he said to the Corinthians, “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it.” There is nothing new under the sun. Many Christians believe this. Yet many of us are acting as if what we're seeing today, ideologically, and functionally, has never been seen before.
Case in point: Postmodern Theory
“Postmodernism is a broad movement developed in the mid-to-late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from modernism. Postmodernism is generally defined by an attitude of skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism, often criticizing Enlightenment rationality and focusing on the role of ideology in maintaining political or economic power. Postmodern thinkers frequently describe knowledge claims and value systems as contingent or socially-conditioned, framing them as products of political, historical, or cultural discourses and hierarchies.” In simpler terms, Postmodern Theory is a direct attack on absolute truth. It challenges that there is no such thing. Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory fall under the umbrella of Postmodernism. But is Postmodernism really postmodern? Are these issues really a 20th century phenomenon? If Ecclesiastes is right, then there is nothing new under the sun. So, are there instances even in the Bible that highlight some of the ways people describe cultural dynamics today? I think so.
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You can't eat from any tree in the garden'?" Here is a direct assault on absolute truth found in Genesis 3:1. In fact, all temptation to sin is a direct assault on the absolute truth of God's word. The circumstances may be different in our day and age but what we call Postmodernism is the spirit of the age that has been around since Adam and Evil. In the gospel of John, chapter 18, we see a double attack on truth. In this scene, Pilate and Jesus go back and forth on the reality of absolute truth of who Jesus is.
"I'm not a Jew, am I?" Pilate replied. "Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?" "My kingdom is not of this world," said Jesus. "If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I wouldn't be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." "You are a king then?" Pilate asked. "You say that I'm a king," Jesus replied. "I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." "What is truth?" said Pilate. After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no grounds for charging him.” Pilate attacks the concept of truth and truth incarnate. This ideology is pre-modern not postmodern. There is nothing new under the sun.
In the gospel of Luke, chapter seven, we see a fantastic scene between Jesus and a woman who just lost her son. “Afterward, he was on his way to a town called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd were traveling with him. Just as he neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the town was also with her. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said, "Don't weep." Then he came up and touched the open coffin, and the pallbearers stopped. And he said, "Young man, I tell you, get up!"
Any decent commentary will give you information that will help you understand that situation a little better. “Nain was about six miles south of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Jesus’s arrival coincided with a funeral procession for the son of a widow, who was left childless and without a means of financial support. For a widow’s only son to die before she did was considered extremely tragic; it also left her dependent on public charity for support unless she had other relatives of means.” Here we have a woman, a widow, sonless, and broke. These “sections” place her in a severe state of oppression in her day and age. Her son’s death would’ve left her out on the streets with no one to care for her. Jesus cares about her situation enough to intervene. But what he does is extreme. He brings her son back to life! One of three resurrections in the Gospels and one was just so that this woman would not be left to experience the intersections of the cultural dynamics of her day.
Does this mean we should embrace the social science tenants of critical theory, social justice, or whatever you want to call it? No! But we need to stop pretending like the cultural dynamics described today from the critical theory, critical race theory, social justice ideology are somehow just a 19th/20th century Euro-American, philosophical framework. There are cultural dynamics even in our Bible that are similar to today. And God‘s response to some of those dynamics we can see in scripture. We're not talking about one-to-one's here. The woman isn't demanding that her view of oppression is the only correct view because of the intersections of who she is. But the multi-layered challenge people can face in society for various socio-economic distinctions was not made up by Kimberly Crenshaw. Even Jesus, from Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, a teacher in opposition to the status quo, and a non-militaristic leader like David, all converged together to have his hometown shun him, his disciples doubt him, and the religious leaders turn on him in order to kill him. there are other narratives like the woman at the well that present another inter-sectionalist moment.
Oppressor and Oppressed
John 11:47–48 "So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs? If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” The Pharisees are afraid of the hegemony of Rome. So much so that they went to Rome to have them kill Jesus because they were fearful of what their oppressors would do to them because of Jesus. Don’t miss this connection. They killed the Son of God because they were afraid of further oppression from Rome.
James, Jesus’ brother, speaks to the reality of oppression based on class status in Israel's community. “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Didn't God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? Yet you have dishonored the poor. Don't the rich oppress you and drag you into court?” James addresses the reality of oppression as a typical cultural dynamic in the days of Jesus. Barabbas, the insurrectionist, and Zealots also prove the hegemonic dynamic between Rome (the oppressor) and the Jews (the oppressed).
On the term Zealot, here’s what a popular bible dictionary says about them. “By the time Luke wrote, however, the title “Zealot” had become attached primarily to a militant, anti-Roman, revolutionary faction, equally religious and political in motivation. This party may have been founded in A.D. 6 following the death of Herod the Great, by Judas the Galilean and Zadduk the Pharisee. Still, the movement was rooted in Maccabean resistance to foreign rule and infiltration. Zealot, a member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities.
My point, again, is not that Christians need to defend or practice the conceptual frameworks of critical race theory and social justice. My point is that Karl Marx, Kimberly Crenshaw, and whomever else, at best, are describing cultural dynamics that today are called social justice and critical race theory, etc. These dynamics existed as long as humanity has, and God has already entered into the world and spoken directly to them. We need to stop pretending like we’re fighting against an ideology from one guy and a school of theory from a few other people. These cultural dynamics have already existed in some way, shape, or form because scripture tells us there is nothing new under the sun. And scripture tells us, no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. We are lying to one another and pretending as if what we’re seeing is something unique and new. Sure, some elements exist in our culture that we don’t see clearly in the scripture among believers. But we cannot pretend like the scripture does not have these cultural dynamics in play. I could give more examples, but there is another point I want to make that is somewhat unrelated to this point.
What are they supposed to do?
When God created humanity, in Genesis, he didn’t create Christians, he created people. When he said, "Let us make man in our own image," he wasn’t talking about Christians, but all human beings. The Cultural Mandate, to be fruitful and multiply the earth, wasn't given to Christians. It was given to humanity. One of the problems that I see, is that believers sometimes act as if the Bible and all things in it are exclusively Christian. We look at creation, marriage, being fruitful and multiplying the earth, and other biblical commands as explicitly for Christians. But the reality is, these are mandates for humanity. Marriage is not a Christian ordinance but a creation ordinance. Justice is not a Christian ordinance but part of what it means to be made in God's image. God and his common grace, allow non-Christians to do good things. But believers, we tend to see people as suppressors of the truth more than neighbors that we are supposed to love.
We view unbelievers in the most negative biblical light, however, that does not bode well with our responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves, and fulfill the law of Christ. Unbelievers are still image bearers. And even though, they don't have the Holy Spirit, they still care about justice, mercy, goodness, and the effects of evil. Think of all of the unbelieving doctors who do surgeries and save lives daily. The firemen who risk their lives, running into a blaze of fire to save someone's dog. Police officers, patrolling our communities. Risking their lives at every moment because they believe in justice, morality, and some measure of right and wrong. They want do defend what is good. Counselors and AA sponsors who enter into the most challenging moments of people's lives to help them cope with their tragedies and addictions. None of them are Christians. But they are image bearers and still care about injustice in the world. So, what are they supposed to do when they see evil in the world? How are they supposed to make sense of it and try to make the world a better place?
These are important questions to ask because we tend to criticize the non-Christian ways they approach trying to be decent people in society. We judge their efforts as weak and in competition with scripture. We call out their ideologies and describe them as wicked and trying to overthrow the gospel. But I ask, what are they supposed to do? What are Karl Marx, Kimberly Crenshaw, and Peggy Mcintosh supposed to do when they see evil play itself out in society? What if Karl Marx is trying call out the deeds of darkness that Ephesians 5 says believers are supposed to do? What if their unbiblical ideologies are simply trying to understand how sin is playing out in a fallen world? And even though we do not agree with some of their analysis or conclusions, can we not recognize that in the common grace of God they're at least trying to call out evil as they see it? What if social justice is actually critiquing biblical justice because people have seen the church be complicit for hundreds of years in sin that does not honor the Lord?
The American Evangelical church cannot, in good conscience, say we have been a faithful bride to Jesus. Why would people look to the church for solutions when the church has been a large part pf the problem? Don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that we should embrace any conceptual framework that does not have god's glory as it's aim. Even though politics, science, philosophy, and many other things govern us and have nothing to do with Christ, we shouldn't embrace things easily or without discernment. What we should do, is ask if God is allowing things like social justice to hit the church because it has not applied biblical justice faithfully? And if it has, where are the footnotes? Why do we do podcasts, twitter threads, conferences, and write books on biblical justice but spend all the time focusing on social justice and its ailments?
We critique the world so much that you would think that 1 Corinthians 5 isn't the bible. "I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don't you judge those who are inside? God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you." We're not even supposed to pay attention to the world that much. Unless we're applying the instruction that Paul left for Timothy in 2 Timothy 2. "But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, because you know that they breed quarrels. The Lord's servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." Unbelievers have been taken captive to do the devil's will. And even then, they become doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, etc., hoping to make society a better place. They are image bearers, even if we don't agree with their ideologies. To be honest, it saddens me that in many ways the example of the church is one people can't follow, especially in America. Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, made this statement.
"By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung…But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage" The italics in the post are all mine. And the one in Spurgeon's words are the most damning. He says the church was the reason slavery existed, not the unbelieving world. When non-believers try to make sense of the world, and call out evil, sadly it is also calling out the church. Yet, we stand with our theological chests out not realizing that God uses unbiblical entities (like MLK, some say he wasn't a Christian) to shame the church for its failure to act biblical towards image bearers.
The reason why the question, "Where are all the Biblical Justice footnotes" is important is because people in every age of systemic racism, Jim Crow, and any other kind of complaint about racism are often met with the same response. That the person who’s proclaiming racism is wrong, and is either a communist, a Marxist, or race baiting. At this point, people are tired of those kinds of excuses. And the people who are making those statements, are often in the church. With no track record to show how biblical justice should play out in this discourse on contemporary racism. If we are boldly saying justice should be done biblically then show us how. And show us where the history is of doing biblical justice? Or, at the very least, explain to us how we deal with racism and injustice in our midst. Most people will say we know injustice, and racism, exist. But we get nothing, no clear direction on how to go about it, except avoid social justice.
It's time we show our faith by what we do, instead of just being wise about what they do. There's tons of footnotes on social justice, you know why? Because the people who subscribe to it try to act on what they think are the problems and solutions of living in a fallen world. And even though I disagree with a lot of it, I respect their hustle. Because they, not the church, brought racism to the forefront of the church. More conversations have been had about racism in the church these last few years than the previous twenty. And while it may look like a mess now, I believe God is exposing things so that we can have some footnotes of biblical justice.
You can’t handle this truth! But you should still share it with others.
My next post will be another Rethinking Sexuality where questions like:
Why does God make Eve instead of Steve?
What does it mean that Eve was taken out of Adam’s body?
If God is Spirit why did he make man flesh?
What does any of this have to do with being gay?
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