When it comes to tackling injustice, many Christians have an impulse to push harder and faster. Eager to hit the accelerator, they don’t always pause to consider whether their zeal is prudent or proportionate.

This is one thing to commend about the measured approach taken by Thaddeus K. Williams in Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christian Should Ask About Social Justice. Williams, a theology professor at Biola University, seeks to lay a Christian foundation for programs of social justice while critiquing the excesses and extrabiblical emphases of secular “social justice.” He encourages us not to slam on the brakes but to slow down and engage in critical self-reflection before diving headfirst into the latest cause. Justice advocates often put up their defense shields when confronted with arguments like these. But Williams invites us to come and reason together, laying down our tribal and ideological weapons.

As Williams affirms at the outset, “Social justice is not optional for the Christian.” The question is, which type of social justice? Williams distinguishes between what he calls “Social Justice A” (biblical social justice) and “Social Justice B” (unbiblical social justice), and the book proposes 12 questions aimed at helping believers discern between the two rivals. For instance, does our vision of social justice take seriously the godhood of God? Does it acknowledge the image of God in all people? Does it encourage love, peace, and patience or suspicion, division, and rage?

Williams affirms the reality of racism and systemic injustice, pointing to well-documented disparities in housing and the criminal justice system as examples. But he is careful to distinguish between good and bad diagnoses and remedies that reflect the different underlying assumptions of biblical social justice and its secular counterpart. His diagnosis goes straight to the heart of the core deficiency in Social Justice B: its tendency to see evil almost exclusively in systems rather than in the sinful human heart. (Hard-line conservatives often commit the opposite error.) Only a holistic, biblical worldview can comprehend both sides of the equation.

One highlight of the book is found in chapter 9, where Williams asks arguably the most foundational question of all: Does our vision of social justice obscure the gospel? Social justice is a worthy cause, but it makes for a terrible god. It cannot save you. It cannot absolve you of your sins, no matter how many acts of penance you perform. Nor can it fix all the flaws of this world by itself. Christian social justice advocates like to wax eloquent about “the kingdom,” but we do well to remember that the kingdom will only be consummated when Christ returns in glory. In the meantime, we are called to live out the reality of that kingdom through acts of justice and mercy. This saves us from complacency and inaction while discouraging naïve hopes that ultimately lead to despair.

Williams’s attempt at evenhandedness is admirable. He recognizes that tribal thinking can prevail equally on the Right and the Left, and he cautions those on the Right against demonizing all social justice advocates as liberals or Marxists. “There is truth,” he assures readers, “to be found on both sides.” Even so, the book’s analysis remains a bit asymmetrical. For instance, while Williams rightly rejects Social Justice B standbys like socialism (and the Marxist ideology behind it), he fails to criticize the excesses of unbridled American capitalism.

While Williams acknowledges that Christians can accept insights found in social justice circles without embracing a secular worldview, he seems to fall prey to the slippery slope fallacy, implying that too much sympathy with the former invariably causes a slide toward the latter. But this discounts the many believers who explicitly champion social justice without surrendering one iota on biblical authority. Take Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, which lists “social justice” alongside “personal conversion” in its vision statement.

As I progressed through the book, I couldn’t escape the feeling that something essential was missing. Williams writes that seeking justice is a “clarion call of Scripture.” So why did I get the impression that the book’s own call for justice fell flat, ending in a whimper rather than a crescendo? Williams asks many helpful and thought-provoking questions. But I’d like to offer some alternative questions: Does our critique of social justice galvanize God’s people toward doing justice? Does it spur us toward a better form of advocacy for the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged?

My suspicion is that for the vast majority of grassroots evangelicals, the answer is no. Too many are accustomed to dismissing concerns about race, immigration, poverty, or the refugee crisis as trap doors for Social Justice B. To his credit, Williams warns readers against using his book as a “billy club” to bash fellow believers who differ in their approach to social justice. But some will inevitably use it as an excuse to remain overly comfortable with the status quo.

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I have a master’s degree in mental health counseling. My wife, who works at a low-income school, is completing her master’s degree in social work. Our community remains pretty segregated. We have seen firsthand the legacy of systemic racism as it continues to play out in low-income families and communities, enduring from generation to generation. The church needs to reckon with such realities if it is to maintain its witness in settings like these, to say nothing of society at large. Williams’s book will help Christian social justice advocates proceed more carefully and biblically. But I doubt it will do much to convict those who are not convinced there’s a problem in the first place.

Michael Agapito works for a Christian housing ministry serving the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He blogs at The Confessing Millennial.

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Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Book Title
Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice
Author
Publisher
Zondervan Academic
Release Date
December 22, 2020
Pages
288
Price
21.76
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