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Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice | What’s the Difference & Why Does It Matter?

Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly | Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice

Article by: Sarah Koontz

Last fall, I was able to attend a Biblical Justice conference at my local church. The speaker at this conference was Scott David Allen, the president of the Disciple Nations Alliance.

Scott has written and co-written a number of books, including the Kingdom Lifestyle Bible Study Series and As the Family Goes, so Goes the Nation.

He recently published a book entitled, “Why Social Justice is not Biblical Justice.” The content in this book was the topic of our conference, and I am so grateful I was able to hear him speak out on this issue.

Here is a brief synopsis of the content covered in Allen’s book and the Biblical Justice Conference at my church:

“In recent years, a set of ideas rooted in postmodernism and neo-Marxist critical theory have merged into a comprehensive worldview. Labeled “social justice” by its advocates, it has radically redefined the popular understanding of justice. It purports to value equality and diversity and to champion the cause of the oppressed. Yet far too many Christians have little knowledge of this ideology, and consequently, don’t see the danger. Many evangelical leaders confuse ideological social justice with biblical justice. Of course, justice is a deeply biblical idea, but this new ideology is far from biblical. It is imperative that Christ-followers, tasked with blessing their nations, wake up to the danger, and carefully discern the difference between Biblical justice and its destructive counterfeit.”

Scott David Allen

I chose to attend this conference because the topic was relevant and timely. I felt like it would be a good opportunity for me to learn more about a movement that is sweeping our nation.

I took careful notes because I wanted to be able to articulate the most valuable lessons I learned in this blog post.

Although I will never consider myself an expert on this subject, nor will I engage in public debate on the matter, I feel it is absolutely necessary for me to attempt to educate myself and others on the dangers of the social justice movement from a biblical perspective.

If you would like to watch all four conference sessions with Mr. Scott Allen, they are available on YouTube.

It is imperative that Christ-followers carefully discern the difference between Biblical justice and its destructive counterfeit. -Scott David Allen Click to Tweet
the term justice being erased from a blackboard

What is Social Justice?

“It’s no good having the same vocabulary if we are using different dictionaries.” -John Stonestreet

The United Nations defines social justice as, “the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” The San Diego Foundation defines social justice as “equal rights and equitable opportunities for all, ” and lists three commonalities in the formal definitions of social justice. They are as follows,

  1. Equal Rights
  2. Equal Opportunities
  3. Equal Treatment

Scott David Allen categorizes social justice as a worldview or ideology. He views it as a comprehensive set of ideas that provide a framework for understanding all of reality.

In an effort to establish social justice, proponents of this value system seek to tear down traditional structures and systems they deem to be oppressive and redistribute power and resources in the pursuit of equality of outcome.

Although the concept of justice is biblical, the term has been redefined by the world to mean something entirely new.

The world’s redefinition of justice makes no mention of God.

What happens when you eliminate God from the concept of justice? You still have a sense of good and evil, but no absolute authority to set that standard.

Whoever can amass the power gets to impose their definitions on other people.

Andrew Sullivan summarizes it in this manner, “Ideological social justice fills a religious vacuum in the post-Christian west. Social justice ideology does everything a religion should by providing a set of principles to resist and reverse the interlocking web of oppression.”

What happens when you eliminate God from the concept of justice? You still have a sense of good and evil, but no absolute authority to set that standard. Click to Tweet
an open bible with a gavel sitting on top of it | Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice

What is Biblical Justice?

“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Biblical justice is based on the eternal fixed standard of goodness and rightness found in the character of God.

Biblical justice is rooted in Imago Dei (Gn 1:26). God is the only perfect, eternal, immovable standard for justice (Dt 32:4, Ps9:1-2).

All people are made in God’s image, with dignity and immeasurable worth. All people have immutable, God-given rights to life and liberty.

Biblical justice is simply treating people in a manner worthy of God’s standards because God loves righteousness hates injustice (Rm 1:8, Ps 45:6-7).

God communicates His righteous standard with us through our conscience, the Scriptures, and His Son.

Biblical justice entails a duty towards the vulnerable (Is 1:17, Dt 15:7-8) without robbing them of their dignity (Gn 2:15, 2 Th 3:10).

Today’s social justice movement is unjust because it has separated itself from the truth of God’s Word.

Biblical justice demands the truth; when truth dies, justice is buried with it.

The truth is this: Jesus took the punishment for our transgressions upon himself in order to uphold the righteous requirement of God’s justice (Rm 3:22-26, 1 Pt 3:18), and to show us a form of mercy we could never earn on our own.

True, biblical justice is always tempered with mercy.

Biblical justice demands the truth; when truth dies, justice is buried with it. Today’s social justice movement is unjust because it has separated itself from the truth of God's Word. Click to Tweet
black sign that says "we demand justice"

What’s the Difference between Biblical Justice and Social Justice?

“Our worldview governs our thinking when—or especially when—we are unaware of it.” – Phillip Johnson

According to Allen, social justice is “deconstructing traditional systems and structures deemed to be oppressive, and redistributing power and resources from oppressors to their victims in the pursuit of equality of outcome.”

Social justice seeks to find justice apart from God, devoid of objective truth, and without morality.

Ideological Social Justice Says:

  • The human mind defines what is ultimately real; God doesn’t exist.
  • Truth is subjective/it’s personal/there’s no objective truth.
  • Our identity is socially determined—humans are products of their race, sex, and gender identity.
  • Our fundamental problem is oppression.
  • Victims are morally innocent and do not require salvation. Oppressors can never be fully pardoned, but partial salvation is available if they confess their complicity in oppression and support the revolution.
  • The notions of objective truth, reason, logic, evidence, and argument are discredited tools that oppressors employ to maintain their power. We gain knowledge of truth through victims, who based on their lived experience of oppression, have greater insight than oppressors.

If you are defined solely by your status (race, sex, gender, class), then you have no connection or shared reality with people of a different status (race, sex, gender, class).

Nancy Pearcey clarifies, “Social justice reduces individuals to puppets of social forces, powerless to rise above the communities to which they belong.”

Social justice seeks to find justice apart from God, devoid of objective truth, and without morality. Click to Tweet

Allen defines biblical justice as, “conformity to God’s moral standards as revealed in the Ten Commandments and the Royal Law: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Biblical Justice says:

  • God creates and defines reality and gives meaning to all (Gn 1:10).
  • God is the source of absolute truth.
  • Humans are image bearers of a good, holy, loving God with inherent dignity and immeasurable worth.
  • Our fundamental problem is rebellion against God.
  • The Lord saves and pardons everyone who calls on His name.
  • God’s word and God’s revelation through creation are our source of absolute truth.

The pursuit of equality is a key component of the social justice movement.

Social justice seeks equality of outcome. It demands that there are no disparities or differences between groups. Its goal is sameness, uniformity, and interchangeability.

The Bible teaches us that all humans are equally valuable in the sight of God because all humans were created to reflect His image. Biblically speaking, the goal is not uniformity – rather, it is unity in diversity.

woman holding a globe with an open bible sitting beside her | Biblical Justice vs. Social Justice

Why Does It Matter?

“Cultural engagement without cultural discernment leads to cultural captivity.” – Ken Meyers

Allen writes, “The crying need today, as it was in the early twentieth century, is to recover a biblical, orthodox approach to justice and cultural engagement. At the same time, we must speak out against unbiblical social justice ideology. We need to rediscover and champion a deeply biblical approach to cultural engagement, in ways that lead to greater justice and human flourishing, and not to abandon these things as a distraction from our ‘core mission.'”

In 2018, a small coalition of leading evangelicals came together to compile a “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

Concerned by the cultural values creeping into the church and undermining a biblical worldview, these men chose to create a succinct theological statment in response to the social justice movement.

I highly recommend that you take the time to read all thirteen affirmations and denials included in the statment (and the Scriptures referenced throughout).

Cultural engagement without cultural discernment leads to cultural captivity. - Ken Meyers Click to Tweet

To conclude today’s article, I’d like to share three of the most relevant and essential theological positions clarified in this statement:

Article VIII: The Church

We affirm that the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost. We deny that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church (Mt 28:16-20, Rm 13:1-7, 1 Tim 2:1-3).

Article XIII: Culture

We affirm that whatever evil influences to which we have been subjected via our culture can be—and must be—overcome through conversion and the training of both mind and heart through biblical truth. We deny that individuals and subgroups in any culture are unable, by God’s grace, to rise above whatever moral defects or spiritual deficiencies have been engendered or encouraged by their respective cultures (Rm 1:18-32, Ep 4:17-24, Col 3:5-11).

Article XIV: Racism

We affirm that racism is a sin rooted in pride and malice which must be condemned and renounced by all who would honor the image of God in all people. We deny that treating people with sinful partiality or prejudice is consistent with biblical Christianity (Dt 10:17, Act 10:34, Rm 2:11).

God’s Word has the power to transform our culture, but we must know the truth before we can irradicate the lies.

There will be a high price to pay if the church fails to uphold biblical ideas and Christians fail to fight for biblical values.

We are stewards and defenders of biblical concepts and terms—like justice and equality.

The most effective, biblical response to the social justice movement is to offer a better alternative!

The most effective, biblical response to the social justice movement is to offer a better alternative! Click to Tweet

“The best way to drive out a bad worldview is by offering a good one, and Christians need to move beyond criticizing culture to creating culture. That is the task God originally created humans to do, and in the process of sanctification we are meant to recover the task.” – Nancy Pearcey

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Picture of About the Author: Sarah Koontz

About the Author: Sarah Koontz

Sarah Koontz is the founder of Living by Design Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to deliver free Bible Studies to inboxes around the world. She is a passionate storyteller who enjoys using illustrations to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sarah and her husband Ryan live on thirteen acres in the heart of the Black Hills, SD. They have two beautiful daughters, a rowdy flock of chickens, and a house full of foster kittens. Sarah is an avid gardener, a faithful coffee drinker, lover of one-pot-dinners, an unexpected homeschooler, and a Dallas Seminary student.

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