My friend, Ron Calhoun, is a retired missionary and educator. He served for 37 years, primarily in South Africa. Ron is a tremendous Bible scholar, missionary, and a deep Christian. He observes the contrast between the prevailing neo-Marxist model of social justice and a biblical view of justice.
"It is essential to note here that the Old Testament teaching on social justice is not compatible with the Marxist teaching on social justice. It is impossible to wed the two. The OT teaching begins with a God who loves all human persons, the rich and the poor. God promotes a revolution of love. He addresses those rich who are guilty of oppressing the poor, reminds them of his love for the poor, advises the rich that they are to love the poor as he does, and warns of his judgment if they do not treat the poor compassionately and with justice.
"Marxism, at its base, eliminates God from the equation. The pattern of history is determined by economic forces which mysteriously move forward in a dialectical manner. The capitalist-oppressor class and the oppressed-laborer class are caught up in stages of ongoing struggle until, finally, a classless society emerges.
"Marxism promotes a revolution of hate. It addresses the poor as a class, inciting them to indiscriminate violent revolution against the rich as a class. What is supposed to emerge is a society of redistributed wealth in which each individual gives according to his/her ability and each receives according to his-her need.
"Of course, the fallible, fallen persons who implement the system are the ones who determine what each person's ability is and the need each person actually has. It is a system of external compulsion, not of freely chosen love, and thus reduces persons under the system to manipulated pawns, lacking freedom and unable to build righteous character through freely chosen, right choices producing just and compassionate action toward the poor."*
Social justice has become the latest buzzword of young adults. The press, state universities, and Christian college campuses are centers for social justice.
The Bible has a great deal to say about justice and injustice. Scripture calls society and the church to practice justice. In Micah 6:8 the prophet says it as beautifully and profoundly as any other prophet, priest, or apostle: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
But is this social justice, or is it biblical justice? And what is the difference?
Social justice is an idea that historically focuses upon correcting societal evils. Great Christian leaders have called for justice. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called for Christian praxis that would rid the world of slavery. William and Catherine Booth of Salvation Army history led a spiritual war on poverty, hunger, drunkenness, and homelessness. Frances Willard rallied Christian women into the Women's Christian Temperance Union to fight the evils of alcohol.
But are these examples of social justice? Perhaps. In a pre-twentieth century world, social justice took a different tone than its language indicates today. An important philosophical shift took place in the twentieth century that made a dramatic impact.
Marxism. Nineteenth-century Marxism espoused a utopian quest for society that would end poverty and bring about a state of communism where equitable sharing was made possible. Empty promises. False hopes. Exploitation, suffering, death, murder, and totalitarianism have been its wake.
After World War II, socialist thought invaded the academy. Critical theory became the dominant socialist paradigm at the Frankfurt School in Germany. Neo-Marxism has thoroughly penetrated American universities and culture. The Marxist reasoning is that the powerful class exploits the powerless in a society. Such exploitation is the cause of poverty and all corresponding social ills. Therefore, the powerless must unite in revolution and overthrow the powerful elitists, allowing for an equitable power-sharing.
In the last 60 years, the world has been scourged with one wave of Neo-Marxist revolution after another. Radical feminism, radical civil rights elements, liberation theology which sparked revolutions in Latin America, the LGBTQ agenda to redefine marriage and human sexuality, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Black Lives Matter have each had their season of popularity. Each wave has identified some aspect of injustice. Each wave has had within it some element of truth. Each wave of revolution has brought change. Some of the changes have actually been good. Many consequences have been terribly destructive.
All of the while, the call for social justice has become louder. The Neo-Marxist line of reasoning goes like this. Social injustice exists. Only the intellectually elite are skilled at determining the injustice. Every social structure contains the identified injustice. The scholar's view of the existence of the injustice and identification of each potential issue is absolute and not to be questioned. No disproof of the injustice is possible once it is identified. "It is what it is, and it exists when and where I say it exists."
The arrogant, anti-intellectual dogmatism of the position is corrosive and exploitative. In a quest for self-referential justice, greater injustices are perpetuated. Why? Because the claims of social injustice are not based upon revealed truth, but upon the shifting sands of society's truth claims. These ever-shifting standards erode honesty, intelligent debate, and humility. Political correctness rules the day. Intimidation and arrogance dominate the discourse. Cultural decline and disintegration are inevitable.
I call the Church away from the shifting ideology of social justice, to the timeless truth of biblical justice. Truth will always light a path to change. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6). Seek truth. Know truth. Live in truth. Biblical justice will inevitably triumph over artificial standards shaped by humanity.
* From Ronald C. Calhoun (2013). Life in the Image of God: The Sermon on the Mount as a hillside holiness message. West Bow Press, p. 225-226.