Integrated Justice and Equality - A Review

Social justice is a contentious topic among Christians these days. A large reason for that is that the term has many and varied definitions. While the term was originally used to discuss ensuring actual justice within society, it has come to be interpreted as a means to privilege some ideological groups over others, to justify inherently unjust economic systems, and to excuse violence for certain, approved causes.

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 The corruption of the term has led it to be a polarizing phrase between theological stripes of Christians. Progressives who claim faith in Christ recoil when conservatives attempt to use the term to describe their efforts. Sometimes the affirmation of “social justice” leads Progressives to advocate for causes that undermine true justice. Those on the right often repudiate the term, even when the term is meant appropriately. Often the negative reaction to the term “social justice” leads conservatives to reject important works that are biblically warranted.

 In his book, Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works, John Addison Teevan sets out “to encourage the good works of compassion that Christians want to do to make the gospel while differentiating between good works and social justice.” He notes that in order to do that, he must begin by disambiguating his terms. Throughout the text, Teevan is arguing for what he calls integrated justice, which is justice built on a traditional, biblical understanding of justice.

 In Chapter One, Teevan argues toward a biblical notion of justice, which is often significantly different than many perceive. Through historical argument, Teeven establishes his position that social justice is a term that originated outside of the church by those who found the work of the social gospel attractive, but liked even the traces of gospel that were left in the movement. He surveys the recent historical discussion, interacting critically with contemporary, conservative Christians. Chapter Two provides a survey in greater detail of understandings of justice, especially in those traditions that have impacted Western culture. In the third chapter, Teevan outlines the historical evolution of social justice, which he argues is largely rooted in Rawl’s understanding of politics. He also develops his critiques of social justice with the notion of a biblical, integrated justice. These two chapters provide the foundation for the rest of the volume.

 The remaining three chapters offer critiques of social justice, arguing it tends to undermine true justice, and bring the book to a close. In Chapter Four, Teevan critiques the notion that economic inequality is inherently unjust through practical examples of perfectly just inequality and the problems associated with attempts to create equal outcomes. The fifth chapter argues against redistributive economic systems designed for “fairness,” which often do not accomplish their stated goals. At the same time, Teevan is critical of capitalism, because he recognizes the limits of the economic system. All economic systems rely upon the virtue of the people. The final chapter brings together the concepts of the earlier chapters to outline specific warnings, conclusions, and practical applications for the reader. What he produces is a call to activism, but an activism grounded and controlled by the norms of Scripture and a traditional understanding of justice.

 This is a volume much more likely to convince the uncertain that to lead to converts. Those longing for a better society but who are repulsed by the gross depravity of much of the social justice movement will find an outlet to pursue true justice in this volume.

 At the same time, Teevan appears to concede the term social justice too quickly. Notably absent from his volume is a discussion of the development of the early Roman Catholic use of the term social justice, which was much more biblical than present parlance. It may be possible yet to redeem the term and turn it to good use.

 Overall, this is a much needed, accessible volume that is both biblically informed and economically accurate. Teevan provides a helpful critique of the social justice and gives a sound justification for his newly coined term. His critiques are honest and forthright. He does not demean, mock, or dismiss, which make this book a useful resource for the church. Additionally, Teevan moves beyond his critique into encouraging practical application, which is necessary to move conservative Christians from theory to action.

A Few Things Happened at Acton University

Last week I spent four days in Grand Rapids, Michigan at Acton University. If you look for Acton University on the map you won’t find it because it is a conference, not a formal institution of higher education. However, the content is so broad and educational the creators began to call it a university.

 Acton Institute is a think tank and non-profit organization that exists “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.” They are known as free market advocates, but there is a lot more to it than that.

 The ethos is profoundly Christian, but also wholesomely ecumenical. By that I mean that the experience is ecumenical in that we were talking about our differences and enriching our common faith without negating the real, and sometimes deep, differences in our understandings of the Eucharist, role of clergy, and polity. These differences remain, but an authentic dialog between Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various stripes of Protestants (including a significant Baptist contingent) was made possible due to a commitment not to be contentious about the faith and a common interest in the topic at hand.

 The conference is interdenominational, intergenerational, intercultural, and interdisciplinary.

 One example of this was the informative discussion I had with an Orthodox priest about Alexander Solzhenitsyn. There were many points of difference, but I came away with a deepened perspective on the Russian Orthodox author. Of course, there were points where there was a lack of understanding as one Roman Catholic presenter noted that Catholics have the Nicene Creed while the Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession. The fundamental error in his statement went unnoticed by many, but I saw a number of folks shift uneasily as they decided to let it pass. The intent was good, so the conversation continued.

 One night I sat at supper with the president of a private, classical school in Chicago. We had a great discussion on transitioning into classical education from conventional schooling. We also talked about environmental ethics, alternative energy, and the quality of the food. He is a retired journalist, so he shared some of his reporting experience, which spanned several decades. Another night I had a long conversation with a retired efficiency expert who had consulted with companies throughout the world. He was Dutch, but had recently become an American citizen.

 Another night, I shared a table with some Nigerian pastors. They were amazed that we Americans could eat meat every night and cheesecake, too. Then, the bespectacled pastor asked me how he could get a pair of rimless glasses like mine, so we explored the wonders of online optical stores on a smartphone. His phone was nicer than mine. This was an international experience.

 Then there were philosophers, historians, lawyers, engineers, housewives, pastors, firemen, soldiers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Actually, I didn’t see any of the last three, but they may have been there. It was a profoundly interdisciplinary event.

 The highlights of the meeting was getting to meet Michael Novak, a well-known economist. Actually, I think the high point was when he asked me to get him some potato chips from the lunch line, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

 The best lecture I went to was by Peter Kreeft. The formerly Evangelical, now Catholic philosopher from Boston College. He is an expert on Aquinas and the Inklings. His talk on Truth, Beauty and Goodness in C.S. Lewis was true, beautiful and good on its own. It was a pleasure to hear him masterfully unfold his topic and answer questions with such depth, breadth, and clarity.

 There were amazing conversations wherever you turned. People were talking about poverty alleviation efforts in their local cities, starting businesses, and funding charities. There was a fermenting energy bursting from every corner. It really is a wonderful thing.

 Everywhere capitalists, yet everywhere there was concern for human dignity and the rule of law. There is an energy in the movement. A synergistic momentum that propels attendees out of the meeting looking for a hill to take and a person to help.

 If you have a chance, you should go. It's an exciting place to meet people and consider future possibilities, and you never know where the road might take you.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles

For the Life of The World: Letters to the Exiles is a recent video series produced by the Acton Institute. The purpose of the series is to help Christians answer the question: “What is our salvation actually for?" This is a question that is vitally important as Christians consider how to engage the culture in an increasing post-Christian world.

The production is comprised of seven distinct episodes, which could be watched in close succession like a feature film or in distinct units as part of a study. Each episode is in the neighborhood of twenty minutes, with a total runtime of about two hours. The episodes pick up distinct pieces of the answer to the central question of why Christians remain on the earth after being saved.

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