Not all “Christian” books are created equal, nor do they all meet the same need. While my personal cataloguing style might not be as academic as that of the library, I do have my own filing system that determines what I read and when I read it. There are the “biographies and personal insight books,” “books of encouragement,” and “make room for growth” books.
Then there are the “challenge-my-thinking-kill-my-flesh-make-me-realize-how-little-I-know-about-God-and-His-ways-and-how-much-I-want-to-resist-Him” books. Some recognizable titles that get tucked away here? “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards and “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to name a couple.
I have recently added a new book to this category. “False Justice: Unveiling the Truth About Social Justice” by Stuart Greaves joins the ranks of books that are controversial in their content and uncomfortable to talk about. It is precisely for these reasons that I would recommend it to any Christian who wants to grow in his her understanding of both the gospel and the character of Christ. But be forewarned: Your paradigm of the love of God and your thoughts about His ways will be challenged.
In “False Justice,” Greaves discusses what Biblical justice is and is not, and then details God’s plan to establish justice on the earth through Christ—both in the present and eternally. First, he addresses the difference in the gospel message that is often taught today versus the one that Christ Himself preached. We often hear a message of personal salvation that promises us eternal security and even internal transformation, but doesn’t have much to say about the implications for the external world around us.
But Jesus preached about the coming of the Kingdom of God, not just eternally, but in the temporal world as well. Our salvation and sanctification are strongly linked to seeing true social justice take shape and take hold in the world around us.
Holiness is an inward disposition of our hearts, and justice is when that holiness is expressed through us into all the spheres of life and society. . . . We never have to choose between the gospel and social justice, because the gospel, as Jesus and His apostles preached it, is profoundly social in its implications. The gospel is the theology of justice. We will find ourselves as the light of the world and the salt of the earth—walking in personal holiness—which should, and will, translate to the way we impact society (Greaves, 39).
Failing to address this connection can cause people to do one of two things: Choose a morally driven, heaven-centered life while ignoring the needs of the world around them; or choose a justice-driven, others-focused way of life at the expense of personal obedience and allegiance to Christ alone. “We have embraced a Jesus who addresses our personal issues and not the issues of society, resulting in two camps. One camp emphasizes personal transformation at the expense of social justice, and another camp emphasizes justice at the expense of personal transformation” (57).
It is for this reason that secular messages that preach a type of false justice become appealing to many people—even those who sincerely want to follow Christ.
The emphasis (of false justice messages) is on the social sin at the expense of our personal sin, while failing to recognize that the fundamental cause of social sin is individual depravity. . . . By the time our communities or nations are facing social sin, personal depravity has already become full-blown. Social sin is the summation of expressed personal depravity (43).
Greaves makes it clear that, in light of this connection between our personal obedience and holiness to the establishment of justice, true justice will only be established through Jesus and “the finished work of the cross.” It is this gospel message that is truly good news to the poor and marginalized in the world because “it contains information about God’s plan to bring inward transformation, as well as His plan to bring social justice to the earth,” (103). But Greaves is also emphatic: while this is truly a message of good news and hope, apart from Christ, there is no such thing as justice.
Outside of faith in Christ Jesus, all our humanitarian aid has no eternal value. It does not matter how well intentioned someone is. . . . If they are outside of faith in Christ, their works do not have lasting power to establish the justice on the earth that Jesus desires. (108-109, emphasis added)
Statements such as this one made for many pages of intensive reading, where both my biblical understanding and my personal sensibilities were greatly challenged. “False Justice” deals with not one but two topics that are both difficult to digest and whose content is often contested. The End Times and the return of Christ are surrounded by just as many, if not more, viewpoints, interpretations, and doctrines than the subject of social justice.
Throughout the book, and particularly in the last few chapters, Greaves discusses the return of Christ specifically as it relates to social justice. Between the abundance of Scripture references and the nature and details of the information addressed, I found myself wishing that the topic could have been separated into its own book. But, as Greaves notes throughout, the true justice of God is directly related to His eternal plan—and that cannot be separated from the return of Christ.
It is never easy to read books like “False Justice.” The ripples they create and issues they raise can rarely be contained to one aspect or area of our lives. “False Justice” is not a book you can quickly read and easily reshelf. But then again, most of books on the “make-me-realize-how-little-I-understand-God-and-how-much-I-want-to-resist-Him” shelf aren’t. (Which is probably why it tends to be a very small shelf.)
But understanding the more difficult aspects of our faith is necessary to both our personal maturation and our witness to those around us. We are exhorted: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). The reason for our hope is found in the gospel of Christ—good news not just of His promise of salvation or the presence of His Spirit, but of His plan to reconcile the earth and all that is in it to God (Col. 1:19-23).
The gospel is the message of God’s plan for justice. It is good news to the poor and the oppressed, because even as it includes transformation . . . it is the message of the complete and glorious justice which God will bring to the earth . . . it gives assurance of God’s will coming to pass. It is a message of future hope, with profound bearing on their lives today, that can sustain the poor in the midst of their plight (143-144).
A message of eternal hope that has power to sustain us today. It is a message we all need, no matter our place or position; it is a message worth understanding, no matter how difficult that process might be.
Image courtesy of TOHH Christian Wallpapers.
Annie Provencher is a writer in Northern Virginia.