Social Justice

The Bible, Government, and Social Justice, Part 2: The "Menu" Problem in Handling Jesus’ Words

quoteboxRead part 1.

In an earlier article (Considering the Words of Jesus for Social Justice and other Applications), I asserted that Jesus’ conversations during His earthly ministry fit into four general categories: (1) dialogues—usually intended to challenge particular people to repentance (right thinking about who God was and how one could be justified by Him); (2) pre-rejection public discourses about the kingdom—usually intended for broad audiences with a view to promulgating and clarifying the details of the kingdom so that the nation would understand clearly what was at stake; (3) post-rejection public discourse about the kingdom—usually in parable form, in fulfillment of prophecy, and for the purpose of hiding the truth from those who had already rejected; and (4) preparation of the disciples—often including private instruction so that those He had chosen would be prepared for the task of founding and leading the forthcoming church (assembly).

With these contextual keys in view, let’s examine some passages often invoked to advocate for social justice. The goal here is (1) to discover what Jesus was actually advocating, and (2) whether or not government mandated social justice was on His agenda.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 6:20 and Matt. 5:3 and John 18:36).

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The Bible, Government, and Social Justice, Part 1


Earlier this year (February 2, 2012) at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama described his economic policies as being motivated (partly) by religious ideals. He identified three in particular: he cited his belief “in God’s command to ‘love thy neighbor as yourself;’” he acknowledged that his policy “coincides with Jesus’ teaching that, ‘for unto whom much is given, much is required;’” and he noted, “I am my brother’s keeper.”1

The President’s commentary is emblematic of the ideas that (1) government is responsible for ensuring fairness for everyone, and that (2) Jesus’ words may be understood to support government’s function to that end. Besides the general difficulties in defining fairness and determining its scope, there are significant problems in understanding the biblical record as supportive of such a role for government.

Three of those problems include (1) the problem of legislating morality and the scope of government, (2) the “menu” problem in handling Jesus’ words, and (3) the unsolvable problem for government. This first article will discuss the problem of legislating morality and the scope of government, and will be followed by two articles handling the other two difficulties. The goal of these articles is to consider how biblical Christianity is related (or unrelated) to government in the task of social justice, and what is a biblical perspective on social justice and on individual and collective responsibilities to that end.

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Thinking Biblically about Poverty, Part 3: Why Shouldn't the Poor Be Poor?

Poverty is a bad thing in the eyes of most people—Christians included. But why do we see poverty that way? How we answer that question influences the kinds of things we do to try to reduce or relieve poverty. The why shapes the where, when and how.

So far in this series, we’ve considered briefly what poverty is (relative vs. absolute) and surveyed the causes of poverty in Scripture. We’ve assumed that poverty is a negative that should be reduced as much as possible wherever it exists.

But not everyone sees it that way. From the days of Benedict of Nursia to today,1 Roman Catholicism has included some who take vows of poverty, and many evangelicals teach that average Christians should increase their relative poverty in order to relieve others’ absolute poverty.2 A few imply that the relatively poor (all of us, compared to those who are richer) should become much more poor so that those who are relatively poorer than we are (“the needy around us”) can become less so.3

But Scripture provides reasons to view poverty as a condition we should avoid in our own lives as well as the lives of others.

A wrong reason

Before we consider some of the best reasons to fight poverty, we need to take one faulty reason off the table. Unfortunately, it may well be the most popular reason in the American mind today. The worst reason to fight poverty is, in a word, inequality.

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