What Is Social Justice?

This is the 1st article in a series on the Social Justice Gospel

Before ascending to heaven the resurrected Jesus charged His Apostles with a mission. In His absence, they were to bring the Gospel to the world and teach converts to obey His commands:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:18-20a)

Since the Holy Spirit first stormed the Apostles’ prayer meeting[1] the Gospel has gone forth and taken the world by storm. Historically this has been known as “The Great Commission”.

These days, however, the Church is facing the possibility of being “recommissioned”. A social justice ideology has found a home in the Church and threatens to fundamentally change it from the inside-out. At first, it would seem that social justice is not only compatible with Christianity, but even a necessary outworking of it.  After all, there were the gleaning laws in the OT [2] that required landowners to leave the edges and corners of their fields unharvested for the poor to glean.  Then there are the countless verses telling us to care for the poor and seek justice for the oppressed. [3]  Perhaps most famous of all are Jesus’ own words:

“he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Lk 4:18)

A closer look, however, reveals something more is going on here.  This ideology is not really a way to be more devoted to Biblical commands concerning social responsibility.  Instead it proves to be something else entirely – something that seriously undermines “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” [4]

Now you probably are already asking, “What is social justice?”  Good question.  We ought to have at least some idea of what it is that I quite dramatically said “threatens” the Church.  Here we find definitions vary and people “in the field” tend to deny there is any consensus.  Nevertheless, we can get a good idea of what it is.  

The first definition after Googling “define social justice” was from the Oxford Language Dictionary:

justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society” [5]

“Distribution” is a word to keep in mind.  Scrolling down further that word came up again in a definition from the United Nations:

Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth [6]

There’s the word “distribution” again.  It seems distributing money and opportunity is the focus.  What does that mean?  Keeping at our search we come to the “Human Rights Careers” website and they help us out in an article called “What Does Social Justice Mean?” [7]  Four core principles of social justice are listed and it is at the fourth one, “equity”, that we are further enlightened:

Equity takes into account the effects of discrimination and aims for an equal outcome

“Equal outcome” should stand out to you.  Social Justice, based on these definitions, seems to involve the redistribution of money and resources to create equal outcomes in society.  

But why would equal outcomes across society be the goal?  To my mind, and, maybe yours, we should accept that some people have more than others because they worked harder and smarter.  We may even allow for some people getting a better headstart than others because they were born into a wealthier family or some other advantage.  Does that mean others have no chance whatsoever to get ahead in America?  God’s word tells us that He makes the rich and the poor[8], and, there is nothing anyone has that has not been given to them. [9] 

“Why,” we can ask again, “would equal outcomes across society be the goal of social justice?”   Pause a minute and remember that it is Social “Justice” we are defining here.  Justice.  This word may imply something.  We might be led to infer that social justice is the idea that current unequal outcomes in our society are due to social injustice.

Here we might be helped by Mary McClintock, who defined Social Justice as, “the elimination of all forms of social oppression”[10].  “Oppression” is an important word.  Someone in society is being oppressed – which certainly is unjust.  Voddie Baucham, a leading Evangelical who has studied this issue for years offers this definition, 

the redistribution of wealth and power from advantaged groups to disadvantaged groups.[11]

“Disadvantaged” pops out to me.  Like puzzle pieces these different definitions are coming together to give us a better idea of what people are talking about when they say “Social Justice”.  The phrase seems to refer to the idea that in our society

certain groups are oppressed and disadvantaged by some kind of injustice.  The solution is to redistribute money, power and other resources to these groups so we can achieve more equal outcomes.

Based on the definitions we’ve read so far that seems like a fair summary, don’t you think?  One way to tell is to see how consistent other definitions are with this summary.  So, for instance, when I read Wikipedia do I find it confirming or contradicting this summary?  

Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society as measured by the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges. [12]

There’s that word “distribution” again.  I don’t know about you but it seems to me to confirm what we’ve already summarized.  

At this point I think we’ve gone far enough trying to define Social Justice.  I feel confident in our summary definition.  Still, we have to ask the question:  Why would we need to study social justice?  

The answer is that this ideology is exploding in popularity within the Church, even though at its core it is at odds with the Great Commission.  Like rioters who’ve broken through and are spilling onto a property, the Social Justice idea has broken through into the Church and is found nearly everywhere (I’ll show that more in another article).  

But for now, we must see that Social Justice and the Great Commission are two different – even competing – missions.  Social Justice seeks to rebuild society to be more fair and equitable for all people in society.  In this way it is almost as if Social Justice is trying to build a man-made kingdom of God on earth.  Honestly, how could they be faulted for that?  They can, though, because doing so requires these Christians ignore  important biblical teachings:  the corruption of people and the impossibility of legislating the conditions of the kingdom of God without people becoming “new creatures”[13]; the promise of God that He Himself will bring the Kingdom at the end of the age; and the truth that building the kingdom on earth is simply not the Great Commission

Jesus didn’t leave us to work for equal outcomes in an unregenerate society, and confusion on this point leads to the Church suffering a “Messiah-complex”, imagining it can do now what the Bible says Christ will do later.  

Instead, He left us to build the Church and wait for Him to bring the kingdom.[14]  Our specific Commission is proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus to the society we live in so that those who believe will spiritually become part of the Church.  And once they are spiritually “inside” the Church they begin to live out the teachings of Jesus with the rest of us.  We, the Church, live for Jesus Christ – society has no interest in joining us.  

In this way, we really should think of the Church as a society within a society, a nation within a nation, a kingdom within a kingdom.  Our “laws” are the Scriptures, our leaders are Christ-called shepherds, our members are born-again new creatures, and our purpose is building up the society within the Church.  We’re like OT Israel in this regard:  surrounded by pagan nations while uniquely possessing and living by the words of God.

Social Justice, as we will see, redirects the Church away from it’s Christ-given identity and purpose.  Social Justice, as we will see, replaces many doctrines and ethics of our faith with new contrary doctrines and ethics.  Social Justice is a fundamental remaking and recommissioning of our Lord’s Church.  For this reason we must “test” this “spirit”[15], and we must stand ready to demolish it as an “argument” that is “set up against the knowledge of God”.[16]

If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the  loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point [17]


  1. Acts 2:3
  2. Leviticus 19:9-10
  3.  Isaiah 58:10; Jeremiah 22:3
  4. Jude 3
  5. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/social_justice
  6. https://www.sdfoundation.org/news-events/sdf-news/what-is-social-justice/
  7. https://www.humanrightscareers.com/issues/what-does-social-justice-mean/
  8. Proverbs 22:2
  9. 1 Corinthians 4:7
  10. “I could find only one explicit definition of ‘social justice’ — on page 483.  Still, it was this single definition that convinced me that ‘social justice’ was not merely a vague abstraction.  In her essay “How to Interrupt Oppressive Behavior,” Mary McClintock defines ‘social justice’ as “the elimination of all forms of social oppression” (p. 483).  (https://shenviapologetics.com/christianity-and-social-justice/)
  11. Voddie Baucham lecture, “Defining Social Justice”, https://youtu.be/YFNOP2IqwoY
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice
  13. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15
  14. Acts 3:21; Eph. 2:21-2; 4:16; Php. 3:20-1; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:1, 18; Heb 11:10, 14, 16
  15. 1 John 4:1
  16. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
  17. Attributed to Martin Luther, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/5-quotes-that-luther-didnt-actually-say/

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