THE JUSTICE CALLING: WHERE PASSION MEETS PERSEVERANCE
BETHANY HANKE HOANG,
KRISTEN DEEDE JOHNSON
BRAZOS PRESS, 2017
Two thousand years after the greatest act of injustice, when the only truly innocent man was crucified, modern day Christians are still debating the call to do justice in the local and catholic church. To say that The Justice Calling is a timely gift to the contemporary church is a profound understatement.
Why? The Justice Calling lifts up a cogent and theologically orthodox case for justice-seeking for the sake of the Gospel and the good of God’s creation. While it is likely that this book is largely preaching to the choir, it is as a helpful resource for the ever-divided American church and for those Christians who believe that Micah’s exhortation to “do justice” is simply a thing of the past. Justice Calling makes loving steady acts and prayers for justice and reconciliation as rudimentary to the Christian ethic as church attendance or Bible study.
Social justice apart from Christ’s spirit, mission and enablement is constrained, vain and fleeting.
The book begins with a thoughtful exposition of key scriptural texts, weaving together a biblically grounded case for social concern and activism. The reader is left with little wiggle-room to relegate justice-seeking to some fringe Christian idea but rather must see it as an expression of God’s attribute of righteousness. Yet the argument that links justice to righteousness leaves the Christian not obligated but rather empowered to bear witness to broken systems and serve practically as salt and light.
RECONCILING AS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Take for example, Amos 2:6-7 which articulates the prophet’s rebuke of the self-serving actions of the Israelites towards the poor and needy. The righteous in this text are not just the righteous by right standing with God (as in justification) but also are those who seek to make things right. In other words, the righteous are reconcilers. Ultimately, the righteous reconcilers are looking to God to bind up wounds and provide grace by exacting justice. The poor, the widowed, the imprisoned, the sojourner and the marginalized are given a special place in the prioritization of service, and the Christian in right standing with God sees them as worthy of advocacy and justice.
The Justice Calling goes on to make a case for the role of God’s Law in serving the goal of justice for one’s neighbor. In this interpretation, God’s law serves both the aims of holiness and justice. The writers aptly argue that the law, among other things, is “offered to the people after the exodus to help them live the way of justice and righteousness, in turn enabling them to bless others.”
Grounded in the truth that social justice apart from Christ’s spirit, mission and enablement is constrained, vain and fleeting, The Justice Calling makes clear that justice is God’s thing. Without Jesus in both his personhood and divinity, the authors say, “the Christian would not know what God’s justice, righteousness, and shalom look like.” King Jesus’ authority holds a power to call out brokenness and heal it. Christ the victor has won the battle over brokenness, but until Christ’s return we live within the tension of the already, not yet. Our eschatological reality shapes our present-day circumstance and provides the strength to stay on the battlefield. Because we are in Christ, we join in his mighty work of reconciling all things. But have no doubt about it, justice is God’s work and to God’s glory alone. God’s plan will and is coming to pass; therefore, we can remove our superhero capes and find a sense of shalom even now and Sabbath rest in the midst of our reconciling work.
Hoang and Johnson remind us that the strength to persevere as we see and encounter injustice is afforded to us by the Holy Spirit: We need not avoid injustice like an accident on the side of the road but can bear witness with hope, knowing God has worked it out.
WHAT ABOUT OUR COMPLICITY?
What is missing, though, from Justice Calling – or perhaps it’s for another work – is a treatment of our own complicity in unjust systems whether as individual Christians or the communal church. In Chapter 6, Hoang and Johnson lift the life of John Newton before the reader as an example of the progressive sanctification of God’s people. Newton is described as reflecting on the wonder of God as he walks the deck of slave ships carrying kidnapped and tortured people made in the image of God.
Here is where I would have appreciated reflection on how our social and economic benefits coming from other people’s oppression can prevent us from justice-seeking. In other words, charity and mercy often come from our excess, but justice leaves us to also confront how we seemingly benefit from that which is broken. The example of Newton’s connection to the transatlantic slave trade begged for an honest assessment of how we choose or neglect certain social-justice issues. What’s missing is the question of how I benefit from this person’s oppression and whether I will resist my own complacency, apathy and minimization. It seems fitting that the injustices that we long to see made right might first come from our own sin, implicit and explicitly. For example, take Zaccheus, the New Testament tax collector, in Luke 19:1-10. After his encounter with Jesus, we find a man compelled to serve the poor wholeheartedly (mercy) and to directly make fourfold reparations (justice) to those he personally oppressed and cheated. His ability to see Jesus rightly affects how he sees himself and his disenfranchised neighbor. It is true that the clock of sanctification rests in God’s hands alone, but even with Newton, we eventually see a repentance that points to the systems that represent the eradication of the very sin and injustice that produced his earthly wealth.
I highly recommend this book for these three groups:
- Those who think justice-seeking is some “liberal conspiracy” and that contemporary Christians are given a holy pass on this topic. You will find a grace-filled rebuke and empowerment by this book’s sound biblical exposition.
- Those who need to be reminded that justice is God’s idea and completed work through Jesus on the cross. More so than the fields of sociology or politics, Christianity has something profound to say about justice, and we must not neglect drinking from the well of Scripture.
- By resting heavily on the comforting doctrine of God’s sovereign authority, Justice Calling provides a helpful reminder to those zealous for justice, who will no doubt experience disillusionment, frustration and burnout, that justice is God’s idea and ultimately God’s work. You will find through God’s word, nourishment, encouragement, community and boundaries for the journey.
Christina Edmondson is dean for intercultural student development at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.