Some Brief Thoughts on the Nature and Ethics of Justice: Social Justice vs Biblical Justice (Part I)

Some Brief Thoughts on the Nature and Ethics of Justice: Social Justice vs Biblical Justice (Part I)

What are the guiding criteria, protocols, and boundary-markers to differentiate social justice issues and biblical justice issues? Are there any? Are there any common or shared values between biblical justice and social justice?

In this brief post, I will define biblical justice as revelatory issues distinctively from God to humanity; whereas social justice issues represent a human-value system. I will also suggest that the divine justice theory aims at achieving human flourishing and the common good for all of God’s creation– to the glory of God in Christ Jesus. On the other hand, because human beings are created in the Imago Dei, the social justice theory somewhat may reveal and communicate certain aspects of God’s theory of justice.

While the biblical notion of justice is rooted in the very character of God & counter-culture largely, we should not dismiss quickly those who are crying & yearning for the triumph of social justice in our culture. Christians have a lot to learn from this country’s Social Justice Movements–both past and contemporary. I’m not sure if it is possible to preach the Gospel authentically and champion the ethics of Jesus in the public sphere without moving by compassion and empathy toward those suffering by the social injustices of our contemporary political system and cultural ideologies.

The God of the Bible states bluntly that “I, the Lord, love justice.” Since this is the case, the idea of justice, from a biblical perspective, is linked to the very nature, character, and action of the biblical God. (We can rightly argue the concept of divine injustice is not a biblical category since there is no injustice in and from God, as attested by God Himself and the biblical writers; by contrast, both social justice and social injustice are justifiable expressions. Nonetheless, divine justice could be channelled through our social justice system.) Thus, any form of social injustice that is an antithesis to the biblical justice challenges God’s character and work.

Yet, if a social injustice is a sin, as it is alligned with the biblical definition of divine transgression or as conceived as so by God Himself, this issue could be well classified as a matter of biblical (in) justice. By contrast, from the perspective of biblical justice which is sometines goes against the value and grain of the culture, not all social injustice issues should be interpreted as sinful, as these social justice matters may be classified as so by the virtue of their legality, or they may be shaped by the political system, or some forms of cultural desire, cultural order or cultural adaptation that do not exhibit the heart of biblical justice. (One should remember that legality does not mean biblical or not all that is lawlful is also biblical. In other words, while some of our contemporary legal codes may be a reflection or an outcome of “The divine law,” not all legal codes, legislations or amendments have a divine impulse.)

For example, in the era of slavery, many believed that, unfortunately among both Christians and non-Christians, slavery as a human system was good for the society, and that for many Americans the institution of slavery was a legal and social justice issue. Racism or racial discrimination, many individuals would argue, is a social justice issue. In our contemporary society, for many individuals, same-sex marriage/transgender is not only a legal/political matter, it is also a social justice issue that promotes both individual freedom and citizen rights and freedom of choice and expression.

On the other hand, most Evangelical Christians and a lot of people in our culture would argue that 1) racism is wrong because it denies the Image of God in the person subject to racist treatment and discrimination; 2) slavery (contemporary human trafficking) is/was wrong because everyone is created equal, and that no one should enslave another person or sell human flesh for the sake of economic gain or financial stability and wealth; and 3) abortion is wrong, unbiblical, and sinful because it is murder, undermines the sacredness of life, and that it is the annihilation of one’s life; 4) ethnic cleansing is ungodly because it advances the notion one ethnic group is far superior than another ethnic group, and that it denies the equality of all ethnic groups and people, as created by God; and 5) finally, same sex marriage is unbiblical, unnatural, and sinful because it is contrary to God’s plan for the family and for man and woman in marriage. All of these issues fall under the category of “divine justice.”

While certain issues in our contemporary sociey may be deemed social justice, they do not, however, fall under the category of biblical justice. Certain Biblical justice issues are countercultural and do not represent the value of our contemporary culture.

Not all biblical justice issues are social justice issues. In the same way, not all biblical justice issues represent the value of our contemporary culture nor do they correctly demonstrate the plan and will of God for the family, society, government, and humanity.

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Haiti 🇭🇹, je me souviens!

Haiti 🇭🇹, je me souviens!

Whenever I visit Haiti, I’m always disturbed or distracted by five cultural realities:

1. the constant struggle of poor families to survive & see another day;

2. mass healthcare dysfunctionality in the country’s countryside;

3. the constant cry of the Haitian people to find shalom, dignity, & work;

4. the longing of the country’s younger population (i.e. the young people, the millennial generation) to achieve their dreams and life goals; and

5. the hope of Haiti’s high school students to make it to the nation’s few and government-funded universities, and correspondingly, the struggle of Haiti’s university students to finish their academic year without any social unrest or political interruption, as well as their struggle to survive economically and financially in the university environment.

On the other hand, in my regular visits to 🇭🇹 Haiti, I’m also encouraged by five cultural realities:

1. the spirituality (their hunger & thirst for the Gospel, and their longing for God’s righteousness to be made evident in their lives) of the Haitian people and their openness to Christianity;

2. their courage to say no to life defeats, oppression, and political assault and injustice;

3. their struggle for social justice, political stability, and holistic righteousness in a corrupt and politically-bankrupt nation-state;

4. the disturbing face of poverty, misery, and suffering, which the Haitian people abhor;

5. and the encouraging spirit & hospitality of the Haitian people.

“Jesus and the Blessedness of the Poor.”

“Jesus and the Blessedness of the Poor.”

Tomorrow morning (Sunday, August 12) at Jesus Center Community Church, I will be teaching Part two of a new teaching series (“Jesus, Our Righteousness”) based on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

I will explore the first three beatitudes (blessings) found in Matthew 5:3-5, which I have called “Jesus and the Blessedness of the Poor.”

Please come join us in corporate worship and the exaltation of Jesus through expository preaching at 10:00 am. Bring a friend with you.

***Breakfast will be served at 10:00 a.m.

Blessings and Peace,
Pastor Joseph

“2. And he (Jesus) opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” — Matthew 5: 2-5

Near the Cross…

As I continue to observe in our culture the fallen and decline of influential (Evangelical) pastors and ministers to sexual sin and greed (i.e. money, wealth), one of my greatest fears as a pastor is not to bring shame to the Gospel and more importantly to not belittle the preciousness and the glorious worth of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord, through my actions.

O Lord, keep me near the cross!
Help me to pursue what you desire.
Grant me the passion to hunger more after Thee!

Tenure and Promotion at IRSC

Tenure and Promotion at IRSC

I am pleased to announce that I have received tenure and promotion to Associate Professor at Indian River States College.

I work with some of the most brilliant, generous, and student-centered colleagues in the Department of English, Modern Languages, and Communication at IRSC.

I thank Jesus for his faithfulness toward me during these five years of teaching at IRSC. He is my Resting Place!

I’m grateful to my supporting wife Katia Laurent-Joseph and our amazing children for their patience and kindness toward daddy. You are my Rock and Joy!

I’m thankful to my IRSC colleagues and administration. You are amazing!

I have so many friends who have supported and encouraged me as a young professor and scholar–during these past five years. You know who you are. I will not list your names. You are wonderful! 🙂

#GOIRSC!
#TOGODBETHEGLORY

“The Whole Gospel and the Human Condition”

“The Whole Gospel and the Human Condition”

The Christian Gospel is a distinctive and life-changing message that encompasses the whole life, the reality of human actions and thought, and pervades all lfe situations. It grieves me when some contemporary Evangelical leaders and Christian ministers deceptively label the very work of the Gospel and the duty of Christian church–such as feeding the hungry, improving the life of the poor and single mothers, caring for the sick and the widow, sheltering the homeless and the orphan, welcoming the immigrant and the homeless, visiting prisoners and the abused, and campaigning for greater social justice projects & uplift social programs on behalf of the vulnerable and the economically-disavantaged population and class– “social Gospel” or “social salvation.”

While followers of Jeus Christ should priotize the spiritual salvation and freedom of the lost and the glorious redemption of Christ and God’s relentless love and abundant grace in Christ for all people, social salvation by performing good works to the needy and the marginalized in our city and nation and the Christian responsibility to ameliorate the human condition in our community and in the world is integral to the very message of the Gospel. The biblical call to embody the Gospel in real life situations is a comprehensive Christian mission, empowered by the Spirit of grace and liberation.

If your Gospel consists of only the proclamation of the Word of God and not the concrete and tangible demonstration of the transformative power and deeds of the Word to people, your version of the Gospel is incomplete.

If your understanding of the Gospel accentuates only spiritual freedom from sin, and not servant evangelism, your idea of the Gospel does not do justice to the “whole Gospel.”

If your definition of the Gospel is about preparing people on earth for heaven while neglecting the liberative thrust of the Kingdom of God on earth, your Gospel does not promote or honor God’s holistic plan to redeem the whole humanity and his creation.

Because the Gospel matters for the whole life and in all life situations and circumstances, whether be it in the spiritual sphere, the intellectual life, the cultural sphere, or in the political realm, the Gospel must be seen and interpreted as a life reality like the breath of life that is necessary for the progression of human life and existence.

The Gospel is not just an idea or concept, it is a person: God Himself.

The Gospel is not just a message, it is Jesus Christ, the very content and definition of that message. His person/work (both in its spiritual aspect and tangible activities) is that Message.

The Gospel is not just about a transformative power, the Holy Spirit is that very Power of the Gospel.

The Gospel is not about how to find life in Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is Life himself.

“The Death of Evangelical Ethics and Political Theology”

“The Death of Evangelical Ethics and Political Theology”

The moral compass of the American politics and ethical worldview of America’s geopolitical hegemony in the world is the antithesis of the Gospel culture and challenges the liberating ethics of Jesus that accentuates human flourishing and God’s salvation for humanity, especially the oppressed, the weak, and the vulnerable in our culture and in the world.

The contemporary Evangelical community has placed too much faith in American politics and politicians to make moral choices and ethical decisions for the church and the nation at large. Christian identity is christocentric, and not Americancentric, and the governing rules and values that shape both identities and their end contradict each other.

The political values of American Evangelicalism cannot be said, at the moment, to be a discourse of contrast, in view of the political ideals of contemporary American culture. In the same line of thought, contemporary American Evangelicalism has not fostered a clear and specific theo-ethical system, grounded on a political theology of care for the poor and the marginalized, that interrogates the socio-political habitus of the dominant class and powerful American elite group.

It seems to me American politics is regulating the norms and contours of Evangelical ethics and moral framework. (In fact, this has been an Evangelical tradition, which has crippled the public witness of Christianity in culture.)
This trend is happening/has been occuring in the Evangelical world because American Evangelicalism has never articulated a robust political theology of social justice and divine sovereignty that prioritizes the Kingdom of God above the Kingdom of America.

Perhaps, this is a new era for Evangelical thinkers and leaders to look for guidance and wisdom from the Word of God, not from the realm of partisan and ideological politics, and to reread with fresh insights and new lenses the political theology and theocentric kingdom-message of the book of Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation.

As long as Christians in America and American Evangelicals continue to prize the American kingdom and sovereignty, the kingdom of God will be subservient to American politics and cultural ideologies, and the public witness of the Christian Church in America will be just a footnote in the American experience and future.