What does the Bible teach about social justice?


(Candace foster) #1

Below is a quote from a well known Christian author. I am curious as to any reactions to this. Personally, I disagree…Jesus came to rescue sinners of all types-not just the oppressed.
I Have been reading some info on both sides of the debate about social justice and Christianity, most recently with reactions to the Dallas statement. I have studied a good bit of philosophy and am detecting the socialist leanings of some of the Christian social justice advocates. Interested in your thoughts…

‘But when Jesus suffered with us he was identifying with the oppressed of the world, not with their oppressors… God himself would come down off his ultimate throne and suffer with the oppressed so that they might be lifted up.’

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalised’.[17]


(Warner Joseph Miller) #2

Hey there, Candace!! I appreciate your question and am even more thankful that you put it out there and asked it. I’ll give it a go and humbly submit this:

So, I think firstly, the “oppressed” has to be defined. Seeing as though I didn’t author the original quote, I won’t assume to know what he/she meant. I will say, tho, that biblically, “the oppressed” were those who were bound by sin. Sin oppressed mankind. Sin corrupted man and caused man to commit all sorts of oppressive behaviors, including those mentioned above. God wants all of mankind freed from sin’s oppression, and in order to make that happen He sent Christ Jesus, to destroy sin. Jesus Himself said in Luke 4:18-19,

“The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives (pardon, forgiveness) and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity], To proclaim the accepted and acceptable year of the Lord [the day when salvation and the free favors of God abound greatly]. [Isa. 61:1, 2.]” ~ AMPLIFIED

Contextually, that passage of scripture not only speaks of the spiritual but also the physical. For example, “recovery of sight to the blind” was not just a spiritual sight restored, but also a physical sight restored. “Preaching to the poor” not only meant those who were economically empoverished but also the “poor in spirit”. Poverty isn’t just a physical condition, but also a spiritual one. Similarly, “oppression” here has double implications: oppressed by sin as well as natural, physical and perhaps even social oppression…which ultimately is an outworking of sin. Nothing in this passage of scripture nor of Jesus’ character would lead me to believe that He didn’t care or was unbothered by oppression in whatever form. It wasn’t either/or but both/and…body AND spirit; physical AND spiritual. Sure, the spiritual held preeminence but not to the exclusion of the physical.

The point that I’m hopefully attempting to make is that while “the oppressed” are those who don’t know Christ for the removal of sins, Lord of their lives and redemption of their souls…the oppressed are ALSO those who are physically “downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity”. Equally true is that while preeminently, Christ’s Gospel was to reconcile man to God, it also must have within it the power to reconcile man to man (person to person). That is essentially “social justice”: reconciling man to man. That is not an “addition to the Gospel” or “another gospel” but rather the inevitable outworking of the Gospel. Again…BOTH/AND. The beauty of the Gospel is that it is holistic. Robust. All encompassing. If the Gospel _only_changes your heart and not your actions or how you see and treat your neighbor, then that is a weak…dare I say, “false” Gospel.

I’d love to to hear your feedback, Candace. And thanks, again, for asking such a great question. Cheers!:v:t6:


(Candace foster) #3

Thanks for your reply. I think it all does hinge on the definition of “oppressed”. While I agree with yours, I would add that I believe Jesus’ audience would have understood ‘the oppressed’ to be those who were under God’s judgment for their sin.

So back to my quote, the statements could not be correct using both parts of our definition, the oppressed would be all of mankind-those bound by sin and those who were under God’s judgment.

I think my initial response to the original quote is that I find ‘the oppressed’ have become a certain category of people instead of the condition of mankind before redemption. It is as though we must look to a certain demographic to find the oppressed instead of recognizing that there are people all around us who are bound by sin and afflicted by the circumstances of life. The statement leads to the ‘either/or’ mentality and not the ‘both/and’.

Although I have not read the book that the quote is from, I take any statement that an author makes about God to be one that should be able to be taken out of context and still remain true. In other words, if a statement begins with ‘I believe that we should…’, I don’t judge the author because that is clearly an opinion. I feel like God has been clear in His word that He doesn’t like those who speak ‘truths’ about Him to lead His people astray.

Thanks for your thoughts!


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

I am dropping in this conversation because I was unaware of Dallas Statement. I googled it and when down the rabbit hole and it came out here. I read the statement a couple of times and was trying to understand what all the fuss was about. This video was helpful. In a nutshell my take away is how do you view the Gospel as transformative or as converting sort of like the chicken and egg controversy. FYI the answer is lengthy almost 30 mins.


(Scott Mitchell) #5

I agree with Warner’s response here. Jesus came to deliver the oppressed of any sort. If we are indwelt with the working of the Holy Spirit we will be transformed toward good fruits. Faith should produce works, however our works should be toward anyone who is in need of Christ and his deliverance and healing. That being said we don’t want to allow deformities of language to rule the day. Social justice is Christ in all his fullness, glory, and everlasting joy for all of us. We should be reconciled together in every situation that is within our power to do so. Division of Christians is a strategy of Satan and it can come in many forms. We should beware of even strategies that, in some cases could come under the title of social justice.


(Warner Joseph Miller) #6

Heeeeey Candace!! So, full disclosure…I think I may not have used the best word when I used the word “defined”. Perhaps “understood” is more apropos. What I mean is that it isn’t that there are multiple definitions that we can choose from and in doing so make the word mean what we want it to. But rather, we would understand that Jesus’ listeners might have understood exactly what He meant when He said “oppressed”. That makes sense? So, with that, I DO believe that given the context of the passage – the time in history in which Jesus made the statement in Luke (and others); the place and people who He said it to; the social & economic climate of the day, etc – I think it’d be more than reasonable to believe that His immediate audience would have first and absolutely understood “oppressed” to be downtrodden, bruised, crushed, impoverished, and broken down by tragedy and calamity. I think the social and economic climate and context of ancient Palestine and Galilee of Jesus’ day would affirm that. Humor me just for a sec… (I promise I’m building to something, here😉).

This is an excerpt taken from Dr. Sakari Häkkinen who is a research fellow with the Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa. He writes:

The social and economic policy of the Roman Empire could well be summarised in a phrase: ‘the Roman system of inequality’ (Garnsey & Saller 1987:125). Governing the entire Mediterranean world, Rome maintained its domination through judicial institutions developing legislation concerning property ownership and labour control - and through the use of brutal force. The whole system was based heavily on the inequality of people, which was thought to be either natural or at least inevitable, in order to secure peace and stability in the society.

Most of the population of the empire lived either in rural areas or small towns. Only 10% - 15% of the population lived in cities that had more than 10 000 inhabitants. This means that some 80% - 90% got their living from agriculture and that any large-scale commercial or manufacturing activity was rare. There was no middle class at all. The majority of people in an agrarian society like the Roman Empire were peasants, living in villages that surrounded a city.

He goes on to say,

The taxes were extracted at the time of the harvest and transported to the city. In times of poor harvests this meant that the farmer was left to suffer or even starve (Garnsey & Saller 1987:97). Besides direct taxation, villagers were subject to a variety of other impositions, including forced labour and the requisitioning of carts and animals for transport.

Many peasants, already living at the margin of subsistence, were further impoverished and driven into debt by harsh annual exactions. They had to take out loans at staggering amounts of interest offered by money-lending merchants and absentee landlords. The debtors were obligated to pay back the value of the loan from the forthcoming harvest, plus the value-added interest. Repayment of loans depended on good harvests, which often failed because of drought, floods, disease and the ravages of warfare. Foreclosure on debts could force peasants into debt servitude, one-sided client relationship with their patron creditors, or outright loss of land that turned them into day labourers or beggars (Gottwald 2008:10-11).

Men and women like these were Jesus’ audience. Certainly not the only ones. Sure there were the exceptions, ie the “rich young ruler”, Zacharias, Joseph of Arimathea and others. But many were poor, struggling and and oppressed by the Roman empire. When considering passages like Matt. 11:5 or Luke 4:18 or even OT passages like Proverbs 31:8-9 says,

“Open your mouth for the mute [those unable to speak for themselves], For the rights of all who are unfortunate and defenseless; Open your mouth, judge righteously, And administer justice for the afflicted [poor] and needy.” AMPLIFIED

As with prophetic scriptures, consider Jesus’ words in light of its own setting: words said and written FOR us yet TO those immediate hearers. Consider that Jesus was indeed speaking to the natural need of the “earthly oppressed” while simultaneously inclusive of the “spiritually oppressed”. The spiritual need wasn’t prioritized over the physical. It’s in line with the passage in James that says:

“If a brother or sister is without [adequate] clothing and lacks [enough] food for each day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace [with my blessing], [keep] warm and feed yourselves’, but he does not give them the necessities for the body, what good does that do?” AMPLIFIED

Here’s one other angle. Let’s take Jesus’ interactions with children. I’ve heard it said that it seems that in the Bible, Jesus gives preference to children over adults. However, we know that Jesus didn’t love them more or better than adults. We see that #1 - children, particularly in that time and region (as well as widows, orphans, etc [James 1:27]) were more defenseless and exposed than everyone else. And #2 - with children, there was a clear example of the type of faith that adults should have. (Mark 10:15, Matt. 18:2-4). Similar can be said regarding the “earthly poor/oppressed”. They were/are far more susceptible to exploitation, disenfranchisement and abuse. Also, the “earthly oppressed” are great illustrations of what is looks like to be under the boot heel of sin.

So, to your point…

…YES, the oppressed are certainly an earthly category of people…AS WELL AS a larger spiritual condition of mankind before redemption. The two are not mutually exclusive. Jesus (as well as Paul, see Gal.2:10) did give special concern to the physically and earthly poor or oppressed. …while also, clearly, acknowledging, addressing and ultimately dying for the human condition of our spiritual poverty.


(Candace foster) #7

Warner-I would agree with you 100% except that in the Luke passage that you qouted-Jesus was speaking to presumably a Jewish only audience. So I would say that my understanding would be equally valid-that they would have understood the word oppressed as meaning those nations who were experiencing God’s judgment.

And I think my comment to a certain category is that I believe that we can’t look to a certain place or demographic to find the oppressed. For example, for many years I lived in the country in south Lousiana. There were many people in my community who were poor and because of their distance from the services that a larger city offers, several of them were what I would call disencfranchised (lack of education, lack of adequate health care, etc) But many of these people did not see themselves as ‘oppressed’ but as living the life that God had given them. so I think my point is…the poor are not always the oppressed and the rich are not always the oppressors. We could change the nouns in the sentence above and make it work for the ‘haves and have nots’ that are frequently cited in the social justice argument.

Have enjoyed the perspectives shared on this thread.


(Candace foster) #8

Division of Christians is a strategy of Satan and it can come in many forms. We should beware of even strategies that, in some cases could come under the title of social justice.

I think this may be what I am trying to say and what I felt the original quote was implying.

Thanks,


(Jimmy Sellers) #9

I am trying to connect the dots in your statement. I know that the quote is from Tim Keller’s book Reasons for God. I have the book. I have not read it and truthful, my to be read stack will likely outlive me. Having said that I did find the quote in the book and read the section that it was included in. I have included it below.

I think in the context of what the author was trying to convey it seems like sound doctrine and not a Gospel targeted for the oppressed. I am not sure I see a socialist leaning in this quote or the complete thought.

Just as a point of interest I am not one to think that the Church will usher in the Kingdom with a social justice Gospel. I do however think that we are to meet the world at its need.
My thoughts.

Therefore the Cross, when properly understood, cannot possibly be used to encourage the oppressed to simply accept violence. When Jesus suffered for us, he was honoring justice. But when Jesus suffered with us he was identifying with the oppressed of the world, not with their oppressors. All life-changing love entails an exchange, a reversal of places, but here is the Great Reversal. God, in the place of ultimate power, reverses places with the marginalized, the poor, and the oppressed. The prophets always sang songs about God as one who has “brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the poor” (Luke 1:52), but never could they have imagined that God himself would come down off his ultimate throne and suffer with the oppressed so that they might be lifted up.
This pattern of the Cross means that the world’s glorification of power, might, and status is exposed and defeated. On the Cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away. Jesus Christ turns the values of the world upside down. As N. T. Wright says:
The real enemy, after all, was not Rome but the powers of evil that stood behind human arrogance and violence.… [On the cross] the kingdom of God triumphed over the kingdoms of this world by refusing to join in their spiral of violence. [On the cross, Jesus] would love his enemies, turn the other cheek, go the second mile.
This upside-down pattern so contradicts the thinking and practice of the world that it creates an “alternate kingdom,” an alternate reality, a counterculture among those who have been transformed by it. In this peaceable kingdom there is a reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. In this new counterculture, Christians look at money as something to give away. They look at power as something to use strictly for service. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition, these normal marks of human life, are the opposite of the mindset of those who have understood and experienced the Cross. Christ creates a whole new order of life. Those who are shaped by the great reversal of the Cross no longer need self-justification through money, status, career, or pride of race and class. So the Cross creates a counterculture in which sex, money, and power cease to control us and are used in life-giving and community-building rather than destructive ways.

Keller, T. (2009). The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (pp. 203–204). New York: Riverhead Books.


(Warner Joseph Miller) #10

Hey there, Candace!! Ok, so I hear you. I do. I promise. And if that last point – the one that @smitchell109 made – was ultimately what you were trying to communicate: that Satan’s division strategies can present themselves in the guise of “social justice” – then, ok. I’ll take that. I’d absolutely agree with that. It can. However, while division can be one of Satan’s strategies, I would vigorously submit that apathy, denial and a lack of compassion/empathy can and often are in his repertoire of tactics, as well. Yes, sister…unity…particularly Christian unity is of the highest of commodities and priorities. It was during the first century church and it remains, still. However, unity for the sake of unity or rather unity that requires a sacrificing of truth; a denial of what is true OR pacifying OR silencing of the hurt and oppressed (whether they or we believe them to be oppressed or not) is fraudulent and disingenuous. Sacrificing core truths (like justice, rightness, etc) for the sake of unity is not unity at all. In fact, setting unity in opposition to rightness presumes a false dichotomy that sounds more like secular humanism than Christianity. Mature unity is the inclusion of justice, not the exclusion of justice. True peace and unity in the church is never achieved at the expense of truth but precisely because of truth. To your point, unity doesn’t mean we pedestal our differences and make more of them than they are. But unity also doesn’t mean that we obscure what makes us different, ie views of the world, perspectives on life, culture, background, etc.

Unity - of any kind - begins with understanding who we are to God and who we are to each other. Understanding, or at least, endeavoring to understand each other…our sorrows and pains as well as our joys and successes. Particularly (but not exclusively) within the Body of Christ, we ultimately NEED to see each other as the image bearers that God’s created all of us to be. Beautifully and purposefully diverse, different and unique yet unified bearers of the image of the Most High God. “Unity in diversity” I believe is the phrase that gets used. We need to be honest with each other. Admit that we may not…do not understand; that we may not see. Listen to hear rather than listen to retort. All of this inspired, motivated and cultivated by the love, grace and truth of God thru Christ Jesus.

Love and more love to you, sis! Truly. As I said at the beginning of this thread, I appreciate you asking the question and engaging with it. Sincerely


(Jonathan Romelus ) #11

I love the dialogue and thought that is taking place here. I too I’m trying to think through and find a biblical stance on the issue of social justice and the gospel. Because the world uses the same term (social justice) with a different meaning, the waters tend to get muddy when the Christian uses it. Thus, I believe this is where the divide occurs and why definitions may help bring clarity. @Warnermiller I think you have clearly defined the terms and I agree with you wholeheartedly. My question is, how do we differentiate entitlement from oppression? I think we must be able to pinpoint true oppression so that we can rightly apply biblical and Godly justice as stated in Proverb 31 8-9. Appreciate this thread. Thanks!


(Candace foster) #12

So again…Jonathan says it much better than I! Yes, how do we define social justice and distinguish entitlement from oppression?

And Warner, I would ask clarification on one point…how you can you be oppressed and not know it or not identify yourself as oppressed? It seems to me that Paul’s teaching on contentment would shed some light? I guess the question is…who gets to define or determine oppression?


(Warner Joseph Miller) #13

Hey Candace and @jromelus2014! I apologize for taking the day to respond. I usually try to be “on it”. The day just got in the way.:roll_eyes::drooling_face: So, again sorry for the delay. I’ll try to be as concise as possible. Here goes…

Right, so regarding your ask, I’m definitely for clarity of terms. For sure! So to distinguish between “oppression” and “entitlement”, I would begin by defining the two:

Oppression is the act or state of being in which a person or persons are burdened or subjected to cruel or callous physical emotional, mental, social, spiritual etc. impositions or restrainsts that, as a result, affect the person(s) physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, spiritually, etc. That’s a pretty basic, “clinical” understanding of oppression. I also got out the old concordance to see if the Greek or Hebrew would say something more nuanced or robust. Nope!:blush: Essentially the Greek rendering of [the] oppressed (especially but not exclusively from Luke 4:18) is to crush, break, shatter; to bruise or break down. Between this and the other more “official” definition, there is definitely a correlation between the two.

Entitlement, to my understanding, is essentially having or feeling like you automatically deserve or have the right to something. It is owed and expected. It is usually devoid of gratitude and appreciation. It also, many times, goes hand in hand with privilege.

So, yeah…do you see the difference? I hope that helps to distinguish the two.

With regard to what social justice is – specifically and especially for the follower of Jesus Christ – it’s simply defined by the application of biblical values, corporately.
I.e.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but
to do justice, and
to love kindness, and
to walk humbly with your God?”
(Micah 6:8)

“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
(Proverbs 31:8‭-‬9)

And the most revolutionary of all, of which all the rest are encapsulated…

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I (Jesus) have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
(John 13:34‭)

What’s interesting in that last passage is THAT is what Jesus gives to His disciples as the tell tale sign to the world of our discipleship and relationship to Him: how and that they/we love others. (v.35)

But I digress…all scriptures I referenced give description to what social justice is…at it’s core and in essence. Beyond – but absolutely not to the exclusion of – things like healthcare, wellbeing, justice, opportunity, etc…we achieve (even the possibility of) it by seeing all humanity as image bearers (Gen.1:27); ALL with inherent worth, value and sanctity. Again…THAT is social justice.

Lastly, regarding your ask, Candace:

…I’m sure you and I both know individuals - perhaps even ourselves, at one point - who were/are absolutely contented living in sin (spiritual oppression). They would rarely claim themselves to be oppressed…in fact, quite the opposite. However, despite this, they ARE bound to sin. (John 8:34, Acts 8:23, Romans 6:6, 16, 19; 7:14, 2 Peter 2:19)
However, let’s take it out of the spiritual and perhaps a more practical example. Take those who take part in habitual, deliberate risky behaviors and lifestyles. Many wouldn’t claim that they are greatly burdening their bodies or minds and inflicting cruel impositions on themselves. Yet…they are…whether they know or believe it, themselves.

So again…I hope that helps to clarify whatever was a bit muddied.


(Candace foster) #14

I appreciate your definitions and agree. My question about oppression and who gets to decide was a bit obscure but my reasoning behind it is largely informed by a book that I read several years ago.

Half the Sky by Kristoff and WuDunn is a fascinating look at humanitarian efforts in third world countries. The authors examine Christian and government programs that seek to help the oppressed. I found the book to be unbiased. Although I don’t think that the authors were Christians, they seemed to review each program or aid organization with open minds.

The fascinating part was what worked and what didn’t work. Programs that were designed by intelligent and well meaning people often changed village dynamics in a negative way because of the cultural differences that were present. The book had a profound impact on me, opening my eyes to the good and bad of humanitarian efforts.

So I suppose that is behind my question of who gets to determine who is oppressed? We very well may rightly assess their oppression but come up with a wrong solution or even create a worse sort of oppression with our efforts.


(Jonathan Romelus ) #15

@WarnerMiller I too appreciate the definitions, and you get a pass on the late response since my response is later than yours, lol. However, I wasn’t looking for definitions in particular but differentiation between the two in its context. As I said earlier because the world uses the term social justice there’ s often a connotation of entitlement, power shifting, and prerogative that is associated with it. What I want to know is what does social justice mean for the Christian. In the context of the cross, how do we apply social justice without a sense of prerogative? Are we trying to address systems or people? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the world’s view of social justice is a change of the heart. Whereas we know that the only thing that can do that is the gospel. I believe that social justice should be a by-product of the gospel. Right?

I believe that Candy brings up a good question, how can we determine who are oppressed and who feels entitled. Humanitarian work is a good example of the dichotomy between oppression and entitlement and how to balance them.

When I went to Haiti on a mission trip, the locals would often come up to us asking for money or shoes, etc. We are taught not to give in. It’s not that we don’t want to alleviate their need, but in reality, we are doing more harm than helping. One might say that they are entitled to such things,- to which I would say they are to a degree-, however, the Haitian people tend to have an inferiority complex that paralyzes them. I say this because I am Haitian and have seen and even grew up with the same complex. Because of our disposition economically and socially we tend to look at ourselves as incapable of living up to our full potential. They can’t see the image of God in them, so the posture of the people is, “I’m entitled because of my inferiority.” You see their entitlement looks completely different from people in America; we tend to have a superiority complex. Are the Haitian people social oppressed? Probably so, but the way we address that oppression is entirely different from how we would address social justice for another group.

This is why we must not just talk about social justice in theory but in application as well.


(Candace foster) #16

@jromelus2014 great reply and a much better ‘fleshing out’ of my previous post. As is so often the case when I am wrestling with questions, other avenues of study may shed light on my struggling.
I am studying the book of Genesis for a Bible study and just came across the passage in Genesis 16 where God tells Hagar to return to her oppression. There is no promise made to her by God that the oppression will cease…only that her child would survive. Just thought it was interesting.

Thanks for your thoughts and questions. I think you bring up many good points and questions that highlight the fact that this is not an easy topic or the there is a ‘one size fits all’ answer.