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Social Justice


Dr. E. Calvin Beisner is a founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. After studying at the University of Southern California, International College, Los Angeles, and the University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland (Ph.D.), Beisner taught at Covenant College and Knox Theological Seminary. Minister, teacher and author, Dr. Beisner has served as a Presbyterian elder (PCA and OPC) (see full bio). These edited excerpts are from his biblical worldview abstract on "Social Justice."

Why does the Bible speak so much of doing justice for the poor? Scripture forbids partiality either in favor of or against the poor (Ex 23:3, 6; Lev 19:15). Yet, it also frequently associates help for the poor with justice (Ps 72:2, 4; 82:3; 140:12; Pr 29:14; 31:9). Why? Because the poor are particularly vulnerable to injustice in ways others aren't… Many Hebrew words translated "poor" often emphasize not material destitution but vulnerability to oppression... We should administer justice for rich and poor alike… but focus on justice for the poor because they are so often victims of injustice… We are to exercise charity, or grace, toward them simply because they are poor.

While justice, then, is never partial to the poor (Ex 23:3), it recognizes that the poor are often vulnerable to injustice. Justice is therefore particularly apt to come to their aid in vindication, justification, or salvation from oppressors (see also Ps 140:12; Pr 29:7, 14; 31:9; Ecc 5:8; Is 3:14; 10:2; 11:4; 32:7; Jer 5:28; 22:16; Eze 18:17; Amos 5:12).

But aren't we supposed to help the poor? Does this make it wrong to try to mitigate inequalities? No. It only makes it wrong to try to do so through force of government. Voluntary efforts are good and do no injustice. The reason for this distinction is that what is voluntary is a matter of grace (charity), not of justice. The Bible clearly teaches that we should "remember the poor" (Gal 2:10) and share with those who are in need (Dt 15:7--11; Eph 4:28).

But what the Bible never does is put responsibility for charity into the hands of the civil government. While it prescribes civil penalties for murder, adultery, theft, and false witness, it never hints at civil penalties for failure to give to the poor. Why? Because God ordained the state to dispense justice, and the church to dispense grace (Jn 1:17)… Granting unearned benefits… is not justice. When the state—the legal monopoly of force—gives benefits to some as "rights," it must take them, by force if necessary, from others. Such a forceful removal violates their rights.

This distinction is fundamental to the gospel. Blurring it undermines the gospel. If care for the needy is made a matter of justice, then grace becomes law. Then, the needy—or those who merely profess to be needy—may claim the benefits of grace as their due justice. They look to the state for enforcement… leading to stultifying effects of wealth redistribution via the coercive power of the state. It blinds the poor to their deepest need: the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When God commands justice, we are to do justice, and the state is to enforce it. When He commands grace, we are to exercise grace. But it is precisely because grace is not justice, and because God ordained the state to enforce justice, but never to enforce grace. Indeed, "forced grace"—the real meaning of Progressive "social justice"—is a contradiction in terms. (See Beisner, Social Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel; Download free at FRC; read Rob Schwarzwalder's introductory Blog).

Rev. Pierre Bynum