Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thinking Biblically about Social Justice (1)

Kevin DeYoung is posting a series of articles on the major biblical texts that shape the current debate about social justice. Because it is a very important matter I will be linking to each of Kevin's articles.

It’s no secret that social justice is a hot topic in evangelicalism, a popular pursuit and also controversial. Some see the renewed emphasis on the poor as nothing less than a rediscovery of a whole gospel. Others worry that an emphasis on social justice distracts the church from the primary role of evangelism. I’m not going to propose a third way between these two poles. I think a concern for the poor is essential to Christianity. And I think saving people from eternal suffering is more important than saving people from temporal suffering. That’s where I stand (and most evangelicals, I believe; the disagreement is in the details).

But I don’t want to settle disputes, real or imaginary. Instead, I want to examine seven major “social justice” passages over the next few weeks. (I’ll try to be concise so you will actually read the posts.) My contention is that these passages say more and less than we think, more about God’s heart for justice than some realize, and less about contemporary “social justice” than many imagine.

The seven passages are: Isaiah 1; Isaiah 58; Jeremiah 22; Amos 5; Micah 6:8; Luke 4/Isaiah 61; and Matthew 25. I know this leaves a lot out, but these seem to be the most commonly referenced sections. If you want my take on Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, the concept of moral proximity, and the term “social justice” follow the links in this sentence.
The first text Kevin deals with is Isaiah 1:

The first chapter of Isaiah begins with the Lord’s stinging rebuke of Judah and Jerusalem (1). They are rebellious children (2), lacking in understanding (3). Judah is a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (4). Because of their rebellion, God’s people have been struck down, bruised, bloodied, and besieged (5-8). Of course, God offers the hope of forgiveness and cleansing (10), but the dominant theme in the chapter is one of disappointment. God’s people have been wicked.

How so?

Well, their failure was not for lack of religious observance. They were meeting together for worship and keeping the festivals of the Lord. But the Lord was not impressed. He could no longer endure their iniquity and solemn assembly (13). He had come to hate their feasts and was burdened with their perfunctory obedience (14). The Lord would not even listen to their prayers (15).

Their problem was one that recurs often in prophetic literature: they were getting the details of religion right but not the heart of it. Outside of “church” the Israelites were doing evil, not good (16-17). In particular, they were guilty of injustice toward the fatherless and the widow, the basic categories in the Bible for the helpless and vulnerable (17).

What was the injustice? “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them” (23). It seems the Lord was angry with his people because the leaders were oppressing the weak, taking bribes to side with the rich and powerful instead of treating fairly the orphan and the widow.

As we’ll see in most of these passages, Isaiah 1 is a great example of the Bible saying more and less about social justice than we think.

Read the entire article HERE.

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