Thinking Carefully about Social Justice

Possibly the dominant issue in the Western culture today is social justice and all of the sociological, political, and philosophical fallout that comes with it. Some of the most culturally significant books and public thinkers right now are detailing one view of social justice or another, or analyzing the shape of our culture as it wrestles with what it all means.

If it is nothing else, it is an emotionally charged and passionately felt issue, no matter an individual’s point of view. One person may feel fully comfortable in the rising/dominant view of social justice, and thus feel a kind of vindication in being part of a majority position. Others, who differ from the dominant view, feel a sense of hesitancy about expressing their views for fear of social approbation or outright censorship.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, and as someone who disagrees profoundly with much of the dominant view, I have a growing appreciation for people who can wisely and critically deal with the issue of social justice while maintaining a deep commitment to justice itself. I believe the case can and should be made that our current vision of social justice is not the same as justice proper, or justice as it is presented in Scripture.

I believe the case can and should be made that our current vision of social justice is not the same as justice proper, or justice as it is presented in Scripture.

Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth” by Thaddeus Williams is a wonderful and helpful entry in the conversation. I would argue that anyone who is interested in taking an honest look at social justice and has only read Kendi, DiAngelo, and others like them, read William’s book. It has been common in my circles – pastors and churches – for people to recommend only one kind of book with only one take on social justice and racism. William’s book not only brings balance to the conversation, but a withering critical analysis of views that do not comport with reason or orthodox Christian theology.

The book is structured around twelve questions about social justice, each one at the heart of the public conversation. Asking questions like, “Does our vision of social justice take seriously the godhood of God?” and “Does our vision of social justice promote racial strife?”, Williams frames the issue in such a way as to deal honestly with what passes for social justice right now and critically address its arguments. There is no more powerful way to peel back the veneer of social justice than to cite their authors, analyze their claims, and use their own words and ideas at every turn. “Confronting Injustice” is full of citations, data, and honest evaluation.

Early in the book, Williams provides two descriptions of social justice. “Social Justice A” is a biblically faithful sense of justice. “Social Justice B” is a type that “conflicts with a biblical view of reality.” From gender to race issues, and from political and economic utopias to theological positions, Williams makes a clear case that most of what passes for social justice right now is Social Justice B. Not only does it conflict with a biblical view of reality, it fails to live up to criticism or the ever-important test of reality.

One of the dynamics in this conversation right now is that any opposition to the popular view of social justice (type B) is met with immediate censure. Several social justice thinkers have hard-baked dismissal into their own systems. DiAngelo, for instance, not only argues that all whites are racists and fragile, but she adds that when a white disagrees with that, it proves her case. This is what Williams calls at one point, “self-exempting leftist narratives.” It is a sign of ideological weakness. In order to address this kind of knee-jerk dismissal to the positions he puts forward, he finishes each chapter with a short section he calls, “The Newman effect”.

The Newman effect comes from a relatively famous interview between Jordan Peterson and a young journalist, Cathy Newman. In that interview, Newman actively turned what Peterson was saying into the most unflattering light possible. She would interrupt him by saying, “So what I hear you saying is…” and proceed to misconstrue what he said. So, at the end of each chapter Williams addresses the “So what I hear you saying is…” misinterpretations of what he has argued up to that point.

Another unique and powerful feature of the book is that each chapter ends with a personal story written by someone whose life has been touched by the destructive power of Social Justice B. They are moving insights from people who were led astray by the false promises of Social Justice B, or whose lives were harmed by it, but who found their way out of it. Many of them continue to pursue their passion for justice, but now with a much better grasp of what it means and a better understanding of the relationship between justice and the character of God.

Despite its cultural dominance right now, Social Justice B is full of misunderstandings, division, and cultural destruction. The issues it wants to solve are real and most people want to be kind and loving, so a lot of people are ready to jump on any bandwagon that promises to solve problems like racism and economic disparity. But good intentions and emotionally loaded vocabulary (“Anti-racism”, “Black Lives Matter”, etc.) are not enough. Anyone genuinely interested in making progress needs to know what is behind the labels given to ideas. What do they really mean? Do they have any real connection to the truth and reality? Do they get the human condition right? Do they comport with Christian theology, the cross of Christ, and God’s reality?

Books like “Confronting Injustice” help us get at real solutions to real problems.

Good intentions and emotionally loaded vocabulary are not enough. Anyone genuinely interested in making progress needs to know what is behind the labels given to ideas.

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