“Social Justice is not optional for the Christian… The Bible is crystal clear: ‘God does not suggest, He commands that we do justice.’”
So says Thaddeus Williams at the start of this crucial book. He then goes on to highlight Jeremiah 22:3, Micah 6:8, Isaiah 58:6, Isaiah 58:8, Jeremiah 22:16, and Isaiah 1:15-17 as evidence.
Not only is it Biblically required of us, even the secular world around us assumes that social justice is the calling of humanity. The call for social justice is everywhere, extending far beyond law courts and charities it is assumed that this is the case. It is part of the air we breathe. What philosopher Charles Taylor calls the ‘social imaginary’ – the way we perceive the world to be. We should do social justice.
And yet, there is lots of debate. People clash and disagree. ‘Culture wars’ are seen across the Western world. And at the centre of it all is a debate about social justice. What is it? What does it mean to do social justice?
This is the exact problem identified by the journalist Jonah Goldberg.
“I put on my prospector’s helmet and mined the literature for an agreed-upon definition of social justice. What I found was one deposit after another of fool’s gold. From labor unions to countless universities to gay rights groups to even the American Nazi Party, everyone insisted they were champions of social justice.”
Such divergent groups all claiming to champion social justice should be a source of much concern for us. It cannot be meaningful to march under the banner of social justice without first identifying what it is. Moreover, we cannot and should not pursue social justice alongside some of these groups due to their inherently sinful ideology and methodology, most obviously the case with the inclusion of the American Nazi Party here.
Williams recognises the dilemma raised by the term. “When many brothers and sisters hear the words social and justice put together, [the work of Wilberforce, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman etc.] that’s the kind of stuff they think about. They aren’t wrong. But for many brothers and sisters, the identical configuration of thirteen letters [social justice] is packed with altogether non-Christian and often explicitly anti-Christian meanings. They aren’t wrong either.”
Social justice has become imbued with the philosophies and ideologies of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, Foucault and Derrida’s deconstructionism, and Judith Butler’s gender and queer theory. All ideas Christians, Williams proposes, should be wary of and therefore be aware of “the fact that not everything branded social justice is social justice.”
Pursuing social justice all of a sudden looks much more complicated. Much more of a dangerous task. Where do we go from here?
William’s begins by usurping the very term itself. The banner of our age ‘social justice’ is defunct. All justice is necessarily social.
“God designed us as social creatures made for community… All injustice affects others, so talking about injustice that isn’t social is like talking about water that isn’t wet or a square with no right angles.”
The point being, the world hasn’t discovered some new type of justice and left Christians behind. No, the language of justice belongs to and is rooted in the Christian faith. With this in mind, how does the Bible tell us to pursue justice?
Williams, citing Jeremiah 7:15, notes “we aren’t commanded to merely execute justice but to ‘truly execute justice’”. Truth, he argues therefore is at the centre of any pursuit of justice. He goes on to categorise the various attempts at establishing justice as follows…
Biblically compatible justice-seeking is known as “Social Justice A” and visions of justice that conflict with the Biblical view of reality as “Social Justice B”.
Biblical truth is vital. As we approach social justice, therefore, we must think critically. We must go beyond the labels and slogans thrown around by our 240-character Tweet-based society. We must ask questions.
But what questions are we to ask?
Williams gives us twelve, falling under 4 separate categories. Does our vision of social justice fit with a Biblical understanding of worship, community, salvation, and knowledge?
The danger should we fail to ask questions is that “we shirk God’s commands and hurt his image-bearers when we unwittingly allow unbiblical worldview assumptions to shape our approach to justice.”
Ideas have real consequences for real people, and so Williams sets out to attack bad ideas due to the damage they cause to real people, people we are called to love as Christians. Crucially, in what can be a hard-hitting and provocative book, Williams is at pains to stress his work sets out to attack “ideas, not people” rather than comply with our cultural moment and its self-righteous and dehumanizing tribalism, instead, we must “be genuinely concerned that fellow image-bearers, made to know and enjoy God, have been taken in by bad ideas.”
William’s twelve questions are followed by twelve testimonies of the ways God has worked through the lives of Christians seeking justice. As you hear from each of their voices, some who are activists, some who are victims, the transforming power of the gospel is brought to light as they outline the ways the Spirit of God was at work in ending their pursuit of ‘Social Justice B’ for the more Biblical and powerful ‘Social Justice A’.
Not mere theory or theology, Williams adds seven appendixes, each tackling a major justice issue. From abortion to racism, poverty to sexuality, Williams’ theology is applied helping us to understand what ‘Social Justice A’ might look like in some of the flashpoints of the justice conversation.
The book begins with a recognition that the human stance towards God is crucial to any discussion.
“Theistic justice – bowing down to something that is worth bowing down to – is not a justice issue; it is the justice issue from which all other justice blooms”
And this is no mere lip service, as some discussions on justice are, proclaiming Christian hope and yet being profoundly secular once you dig beneath the Christian veneer. The gospel stands as central to William’s conception of justice and transformation. In fact, he argues, “if we make social justice our first thing, we will lose not only the real first thing – the gospel – we will lose social justice too.”
Salvation depends on Jesus alone is the rallying cry of this piece; “It is the blood of Jesus and the blood of Jesus alone that sinners from every skin tone find justification in the eyes of God, and true equality in his kingdom, both here and for eternity.”
It is this salvation that forms the bedrock for fighting injustice. As “there is a qualitative difference between fighting the injustice of [in this case] slavery to become saved versus fighting the injustice of slavery because you are saved.”
Whether Christians fight injustice or not is not the debate here. Christians are to fight against injustice. Rather the debate is of definitions, of precision, of methodology.
The fight for justice depends on getting our stories and understanding of the world right. When we fall for stories other than God’s we end up with a distorted view of the world, a distorted view of God, a distorted view of one another, and instead of wonderful technicolor, God’s world appears “to us in monochrome.”
And it is because of God’s wonderful gospel that we can have confidence in the fight for justice. Confidence that justice is possible, confidence that justice should be pursued, confidence that Jesus alone holds the key to both.
‘Social Justice B’ is flawed and broken. It divides and embitters. It contributes to further injustice. It is our duty to instead hold out the hope and restoration of ‘Social Justice A’ knowing the alternatives cannot bring about the change we long to see.
It is therefore rather fitting that Williams ends with this quote from T.S. Eliot:
“The world is trying the experiment of attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse; meanwhile redeeming the time: so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the World from suicide.”
This is surely the task entrusted to us...
 Thaddeus Williams, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Michigan 2020), pp.1-2.
 Ibid, pp.2-3.
 FIND REFERENCE
 Williams, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth, p.4.
 Ibid, p.5.
 Ibid, p.5.
 Ibid, p.3.
 Ibid, pp.4-5.
 Ibid, ‘Contents’.
 Ibid, p.7.
 Ibid, p.11. See also p.95.
 Ibid, p.11.
 Ibid, p.111.
 Ibid, p.107.
 Ibid, p.113.
 Ibid, p.128.