The Scriptures call God’s people to do works of justice. The prophet Micah declared, “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).
The prophet Jeremiah adds, “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow…” (Jer. 22:3).
Then quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus declared his assignment “to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18-19).
Social Justice or Biblical Justice: aren’t they the same?
Social justice and Biblical justice desire the same end—the hungry fed, orphans rescued, racism banished, injustice eliminated, oppression ended.
While these two ideologies may desire the same outcome, the beliefs undergirding them could not be more different. These differences have massive implications to one’s worldview, even resulting in devotion to a false gospel.
With any false gospel(s) in mind, the Apostle Paul declared, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
I’m a pastor of a church that has done much social justice work in our community and beyond, and given hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet desperate needs locally and globally. I’ve sought to live my life and pastor our church in light of the Biblical worldview which brings the best hope for justice. I’m convinced the Biblical worldview guides us to true justice and is the only hope for humanity.
Yet it is absolutely critical to understand the difference between doing social justice ministry and adhering to “Social Justice ideology.” The former is simply being the hands and feet of Jesus, even living as a prophetic witness in our culture. The latter is embracing teaching contrary to the Biblical Gospel itself.
Context and Terms
Where social justice and Biblical justice part ways is when justice is “undertaken from a framework that is not compatible with the Bible, [thereby] hurting the very people we seek to help” (Dr. Thaddeus Williams).
Within the unbiblical framework of Social Justice ideology, you’ll find liberation theology, wokeism, and critical theory to name a few. You’ll hear terms like “identity politics,” “political correctness,” and others.
Ideologies that are unbiblical yet make up much of the social justice worldview/ideology today often fall into the “Critical Theory” category. This includes Race Theory, Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Intersectionality, and more.
In its simplest form, the unbiblical framework comes down to works-based salvation. In other words, true Christianity is social justice (instead of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ). Salvation then is the deliverance of the oppressed from or overthrow of an oppressor. Put another way, salvation by revolution.
It all comes down to ideology and worldview—the social justice ideology (worldview) versus the Biblical worldview. How do we discern and discover the true gospel?
I recently came across an interview with Sean McDowell and Dr. Thaddeus Williams that explores the topic of Social Justice and Biblical Justice. I encourage you to check it out here.
In this article, I’ll hit the highlights and statements from their interview and include my additional thoughts. However, I encourage you to read the original post. You’ll find it helpful.
Here are seven ways to discern between the social justice ideology/worldview and the Biblical justice worldview (taken and adapted from Dr. Thaddeus Williams):
1. The Social Justice ideology blames all evil on external systems of oppression while ignoring Scripture’s assertion that all human hearts are filled with sin and evil (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
The Biblical worldview agrees that there will inevitably be injustice in specific systems that must be confronted and eradicated (Jer. 22:3). But there’s more. Sinful hearts created injustice in systems (Gen. 6:5; Prov. 14:12; Jer. 7:24). The evil and madness of the human heart is the problem (Ecc. 9:3; Mark 7:20-23). Social justice activism will not cure it. Therefore, any justice will not last unless human hearts are redeemed, transformed, and lavished with the love of God through the gospel (Eph. 2:8-10).
2. The Social Justice ideology deconstructs relationships into hierarchies and “power differentials.” Justice, then, is to expose all hierarchies as evil and do away with all power differentials in the name of equality.
The Biblical worldview fully condemns abuse of power (Ex. 22:21; Pro. 16:12; Jer. 22:3). However, human abuse in these areas should not warrant destroying relationships outright. In an imperfect and chaotic world, order and leadership are needed, making “power differentials” part and parcel of reality and human flourishing (2 Sam 23:3-4; Rom. 13:1-6). The same can be said for hierarchies. In Scripture we see hierarchies of parent and child, teacher and student, pastor and congregation, boss and employee, and more, as part of God’s design for order and flourishing (Acts 6:1-15; 1 Tim. 5:1; Eph. 6:1-9).
3. The Social Justice ideology sees all truth and reason in light of group identity (i.e., race, gender, sexuality, etc.). Truth and reason outside of group identity are deemed constructs of the oppressive class, thus making views valid, accepted, or dismissed strictly based on one’s skin color, gender, and/or sexual orientation.
The Biblical worldview holds that our identity is in Christ alone (Gal. 2:20). We are a people redeemed to be one family from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language (Rev. 7:9). In Christ there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Moreover, our thinking is anchored in loving the Lord our God with all our mind (Matt. 22:36-40). We are to have a mind transformed by Christ and not conformed to the pattern of this world (Rom. 12:1-2), that evaluates ideas and stances based on their Biblical legitimacy and truth-value, and not based on group identity (2 Cor. 10:5).
4. Social Justice ideology is motivated by rage and resentment toward specific groups of people.
The Biblical worldview calls us to love our enemies (Matt 5:44), pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44), overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21), not retaliate when insulted, or threaten revenge (Is. 53:7; 1 Peter 2:23). Rage and resentment rarely change anyone’s mind or anything else, but rather entrenches prejudices. If there is any change, it tends to be unhealthy and unsustainable because it was gained through emotion and tone, and not dignity and truth.
5. Social Justice ideology divides people into group identities, breeding a spirit of suspicion, hostility, offense, labeling, victimhood, and obsession with one’s feelings and desires.
The Biblical worldview champions Biblical love. It is a love that holds Biblical truth above subjective feelings (Eph. 4:15; Phil 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5). A love that unites through patience and longsuffering (1 Cor. 13:4-7); and by rejoicing in the truth and not wrongdoing (1 Cor. 13:6). A love that bears the fruit of the Spirit—joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
6. The Social Justice ideology seeks to force behavior modification through different tactics such as pressure and intimidation, speech codes (speech that is disagreeable or contrary to the group identity), and a demand to be re-educated to ideologically align with the offended or outraged group.
The Biblical worldview seeks heart redemption and life transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), Scriptural truth (John 8:32; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), and the local church community (Acts 2:42, 44, 46; 2 Cor. 10:5). Instead of seeking behavior modification as the hope for human flourishing in our world, the mission of the Biblical worldview is for believers to be salt in the world to preserve society from rotting away into evil (Matt. 5:13), and light in the world to expose injustice and bring hope (Matt. 5:14-16), and to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to reach the world for His glory and the joy of all people (Matt. 16:18-20).
7. The Social Justice ideology holds that one’s meaning and purpose is defined by himself/herself, thereby making anyone who differs an oppressor.
The Biblical worldview teaches that one’s meaning and purpose is defined by our Creator God (Gen. 1:26-28; Gen. 2:24; Phil. 2:12-13; Rom. 8:28). The refusal to live according to God’s meaning and purpose actually falls back on us bringing oppression, bondage, confusion, and chaos upon our lives and the lives of those around us (Gen. 3; Prov. 14:12; Rom. 8:5-12; Rom 1:18-32; Eph. 2:1-3). Ultimate reality is not defining ourselves and following our desires. Instead, God (through His Word) defines us and gives us His heart to follow. It means dying to ourselves and carrying our crosses (Matt. 16:24-26). God brings true liberation and authenticity into our lives.
True justice is Biblical justice. Any other ideology and/or worldview will ultimately fail to bring justice and joy to all people, especially to the oppressed. In fact, instead of freedom, comes bondage; instead of justice, comes chaos.
Compared to the Social Justice ideology/worldview, the Biblical worldview is dignifying and respectable; glorious and beautiful. And powerful. The Biblical worldview ultimately brings the freedom, healing, and flourishing that we long for (Psalm 1; Num. 6:24-26).