Social Justice and the Social Gospel: A Rejoinder

About a year ago I commented on Glenn Beck’s dismissal of the usage of the term “social justice” by Christians. Recently, a commenter replied with these words:

It is incorrect of the writer of this posting to say Glen Beck and Mr. Liliback are the irresponsible ones.  Although the term “Social Justice” was first coined by a conservative priest in the 1800’s, all that needs understanding is who is using the term today.  There are primarily two groups of supporters of the term.  The first, knowingly believes in the control of the individual by the government in all things. The other, i.e many in the Catholic Church, innocently believe that this government control is Christ like which ultimately, it is not.  The writter of this postingis making an excuse for semantics to avoid the obvious.

First I’d like to thank the commenter for taking the time to share their thoughts. As the author, I thought that perhaps a response to his thoughts would clarify where I’m coming from.

I believe that the issue is, as was stated, not merely to look at how the term was coined, but rather to see how the term is employed today. There we agree. I also agree with the categorization of the 2 groups who use “social justice” language, 1) statists, and 2) religious statists. Again, the commenter is correct on both counts.

My contention with the comments listed above lies in the fact that they overlook another crucial group that finds itself comfortable with “social justice” language, yet in the strongest terms eschews “social gospel” language. (There’s also another group that hasn’t been taken into consideration: Protestant statists such as Jim Wallis. Not all religious statists are Roman Catholic) As noted in my blog entry, the latter is the agenda of a Christ-less form of Christianity, while the former is seen (by the group under discussion) as a foretaste of God’s coming kingdom on earth, a demonstration of the power of God to transform hearts through the gospel of the cross-work of Christ. A good example of this group would be Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. Keller is not a statist and promotes free-market enterprise and the entrepreneurial spirit. He does not promote the idea that the church as an institution should start soup kitchens, etc. yet he does encourage Christians as individuals and as non-profit organizations to work not only for the benefit of their local church but also for the flourishing of their community. This third category is a fast-expanding group and should not be left out of this discussion.

In conclusion, my point is that we should be wary of superimposing one definition of “social justice” (statism) on all those who use the term. Instead we should listen carefully to how the term is employed, lest we denounce people on the basis of another group’s error.

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Posted on May 19, 2011, in Justice. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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