Women’s ministry hosted the most delightful autumn Firepit evening. The weather was crisp which made the fire all the more delightful. The steaming crockpots of chili, soft cornbread and good cookies made everything welcoming. There were three speakers, who each told stories of their experiences engaging with Buddhist friends and family. Their stories of their personal encounters with truth - head truth and heart truth, were engaging.
As I headed home, I felt a strange sadness about all that I had heard. I turned off the car radio and drove in silence, kind of asking the Lord why I was feeling sad after such a refreshing evening. The thing was, each of the women, in very different ways, had shared an encounter with the Lord that was visceral, and tangible. One of the women shared how she had a time in her life when she was seeking God to show her that her faith had truly moved from cognitive understanding to her heart. She had gone to sit by a quiet dirty pond she had frequented because she knew no one would bother her there because no one liked that pond. She stayed there for hours until the moment came when God showed up and she knew in her heart that her belief was not just mental assent. So she got up and went home.
Another woman shared how she was awakened in the morning with a dream of an ugly evil face – right in her face. She described how it wasn’t so much the frightening face, but the utter darkness and blackness behind the face that overwhelmed her. The depth of blackness and the abyss behind the darkness was so deep. She spoke with intensity about the expansive dark.
The last story was about a conversation the speaker had with a friend who was seeking to know God. He was a bird watcher who was bragging about the multitude of varieties in the area. He did lament that even though there were owls in the area, he had only ever seen one a long time ago. The speaker said that she whispered a plea to God and then told her friend that she would pray to her God and ask for an owl to show up. She did just that, out loud, with her friend. They rounded a corner in the park where they were walking and there sat two owls on a wall!! Not one, but two. Oh my, God did show off a bit.
So why did this all end up making me sad as I drove home? Was it spiritual envy? Did I need something special like that from God?
And then just as clearly as you please, I heard my heavenly Father say to me, "And if I don't show up with special encounters, am I enough? Is knowing me enough?"
The rest of the way home, I told Him that dirty ponds, deep darkness and two owls was plenty!
I would give this book an unequivocal thumbs up as a thoughtful balanced look at the subject of social justice. Thaddeus Williams, while a white male, himself, is a close friend of John Perkins, a black leader, with whom he has discussed and worked through so many of the ideas in this book. That kind of Christian cooperation and community makes what is written more authentic and honest.
Williams begins by stating that “the gospel is the foundation for social justice.” Social justice, like any other value can be approached from a Christian or a secular world view. When Williams tackles the hot topics of racism, sexuality, socialism, abortion, critical theory and identity politics, he argues that while social justice is not the gospel, it is not optional for Christians. Williams also affirms that the starting place for doing justice must be worship.
But what kind of social justice?
For the believer, justice is not just for justice’s sake, it is for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Like love – it’s an action verb. “DO JUSTICE.”
From the outset, Williams defines social justice in two categories – Social Justice A and Social Justice B. These categories help throughout the rest of the book. When Antifa and the American Nazi Party both consider themselves to be seeking social justice, we can agree that this is not what we’re seeking! So what are we seeking and what are the boundaries?
Williams organizes this book with 12 questions under four categories:
Not one of us is ever going to say, “I’m anti-justice.” So what divides us?
Williams believes that social justice is both biblically required and socially necessary. But he also believes it’s “threatened by an unhealthy imitation that’s biblically false and socially destructive. The former he calls “Social Justice A” (as in “awesome”) and the latter “Social Justice B” (as in “bad”). “
Perhaps Williams’s greatest contribution is to remind us that justice is vertical as well as horizontal – it is practiced in worship and in community.
Social Justice A sees human identity as fundamentally either fallen in Adam or redeemed in Christ. Because we’re saved by grace alone, we have no room for self-righteous boasting over any other person, regardless of race, class, or gender. Because our fellow men are made in God’s image, it’s a heinous sin to wrong or oppress any of them. This is why practitioners of Social Justice A have historically rescued babies from trash heaps, hidden Jews from Nazis, and abolished slavery and widow-burning—because “God does not suggest, he commands that we do justice.”
Social Justice B, however, is what many people think of first. It leans to the left in the academy and the arts, political activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a philosophy Williams thinks is dangerous both for the church and society.
It’s not that Social Justice B contains no truth, but that it represents a different worldview. God is often marginal or absent. Rather than understanding human beings fundamentally as either sinners in Adam or saints in Christ, it tends to classify people as either oppressed or oppressors (44), often allowing the oppressed to demonize their opponents and avoid self-examination.
Scripture recognizes that oppression exists, and strongly condemns it. The problem with Social Justice B is that it tends to both unduly expand and oversimplify the definition of oppression. Specifically, it oversimplifies oppression by grouping people into the oppressor/oppressed category based on identity groups like race. A more thoughtful perspective would be to recognize it’s possible for the same person to be both oppressed and oppressor.
Williams continues not only to admonish us to start with God and worship, but he also reminds us that we are all in the Imago Dei. “Size, shade, sex or status,” –all in the image of God. If we either exalt these things above God, or seek to destroy them, we are making idols out of them. “Idolatry then, is the first injustice and the carcinogenic source of every other injustice.” (pg.22).
Does our vision of social justice make an idol out of our social beliefs and ideologies? Williams looks at the things we make as our idols in our discussion of social justice.
“The comparison with When Helping Hurts is a good place to conclude. Like Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Thaddeus Williams loves the oppressed and wants to help them. He appreciates the good intentions of many Christians trying to fulfill the biblical mandate to do justice. But that is precisely why, like Corbett and Fikkert, he feels compelled to oppose so much of what flies under the banner of social justice. He’s convinced that not only will it not help the oppressed, but it will consume limited time and resources that could have been spent alleviating oppression. “Is it possible that the Social Justice B story can have an unintended dream-crushing effect on the very communities it seeks to uplift? So first, let’s do no harm; the only thing worse than hurting the oppressed is doing so in the name of Jesus. Let’s work smart at doing justice as well as working hard. Let us be quick to hear, slow to speak, and cultivate a love that hopes all things. And in all our justice, let us “start with God.” Because as Dr. Perkins observes, “If we don’t start with him first, whatever we’re seeking, it ain’t justice” (xv).
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.