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).
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