Sunday, February 10, 2019

Defining “Social Justice”

I’ve watched most of the videos from the recent G3 conference, but this one, “Defining Social Justice” by Dr. Voddie Baucham was clearly the best. “I do not think [that phrase, ‘social justice’] means what you think it means”, he says. “The biggest problem with the terminology ‘social justice’ is that it doesn’t mean what we think it means”.

“Those who have decided to go ahead and use the terminology, they want first for the terminology to be understood according to their [own] intentions”.

He unpacks the term in a variety of ways.

“The biggest problem with the term ‘social justice’”, he said, “is that there is a ‘social justice’ ‘movement’ and that ‘movement’ has a ‘mission’.” It is a mission that is not consonant with Biblical Christianity.

He cites this article from Kevin DeYoung: Is Social Justice a Gospel Issue? -- in which DeYoung clearly seems to miss the boat on what he is talking about.

The primary division, according to Dr. Baucham, is whether “justice” is being intended at an individual level (wherein God Himself works for justice for individuals) or for “groups” (and this is where the modifier “justice” comes into play – in the sense that “social” justice requires an arbiter – usually the state – to provide “justice” not for individuals, but for aggrieved “groups” (in the Marxist “oppressor/oppressed” paradigm).

The larger point is, we need to understand what our political opponents are talking about, specifically in the form of the language they use. Because those individuals who ought to be on our side, unwittingly find themselves advocating things that they normally would not advocate, if it were the case that they actually knew that they were using what I’ll call here, pre-loaded terminology.

As an analogy for this kind of confusion, one of the most frequently confused terms, I think, involves the various uses of “begging the question”. In a world that has some intelligent interactions with philosophy, “begging the question” is a technical term that means “petitio principii”, essentially using the premises of an argument to define its conclusion. However, at a more popular level, many people use that phrase in the sense that what has come to mean “raises a question” or “invites a question to be asked”. But for philosophers and those speaking in the philosophical sense, it decidedly does not mean that.

In the case of the term “social justice”, its usage by Christians is problematic, because, first, God demands justice. Injustice is sin. So if ‘social justice’ is truly justice, then disagreement is sin.

But that is not the case at all. As Dr. Baucham points out, the “social justice” movement is not about Biblical, Godly justice.

In short, the mission of the “social justice” movement sees its mission as one to facilitate “state distribution of advantages and resources to disadvantaged groups to satisfy their right to social and economic equality”

So as it is used on the left, the “social justice movement” is about societal (governmental) redistribution of virtually everything in society – not only goods and services, but all kinds of “advantages and resources”, including such things as access to education (through “affirmative action” programs), “reparations” for “slavery”, even such intangibles as prestige, ideology (weighted through “intersectionality” to provide advantages to those who can claim the most “oppression” in terms of the number of “oppressed groups” that they can claim membership in) and on and on.

So for “the political left”, the phrase “social justice” connotes their own use of the term with all the “Critical Theory” espoused by the “Frankfurt School”, otherwise known for its “Cultural Marxism” and the “Intersectionality” that goes along with it.

When Christians ask “is social justice a Gospel issue”, the phrase “social justice” does not imply actual justice. It is a “technical term”, a “code word” or even, say, a “dog whistle” for something far more well-defined and far more insidious.

Neil Shenvi has provided some helpful quotes from leading thinkers on the political left, illustrating how and why this is so.

We must not be afraid to confront our political opponents “on their own terms” and “in their own terms”. But we must also not be afraid to call a thing what it is, to say what it really is.


  1. Just for clarification :
    The sessions on “the social gospel” ( and related issues like intersectionity) where the pre-conference of G3 . All of those are available as you have linked to and they were ready earlier than the rest.
    The actual G3 sessions were on the theme of missions & the mission of God and those videos are not yet available but they are working on them and should be available soon .

  2. You did a good job of summarizing Voddie Baucham’s session and how it relates to issues today in politics and culture and society especially in the west .