Last weekend I had the privilege to meet Ken Wytsma at the Justice Conference in LA. Ken interviewed me just before the conference. I appreciate his commitment to raising a national conversation around the theology of justice. Ken partners with World Relief in bringing a cross section of voices from around the globe who are engaged in justice from a Kingdom perspective. Those voices are broad and diverse, yet they hold Christ in the center. Ken is keen on this being a Biblical discussion of justice and not simply an action oriented justice. The speakers this year included Ken, Donald Miller, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Rick McKinley, Brian Stevenson, Lynn Hybels, Sami Awad, Marcel Serubungo, Justin Dillon, Rich Stearns, Jim Wallis, Noel Castellanos, Eugene Cho, Stephan Bauman, Gabriel Salguero, Bernice King, Bethany Hoang and via video N. T. Wright. Some of these voices you know well and others are less known. Each provides a different insight into justice.
In my own small way I have sought to join the voice of Biblical justice which is why I use the phrase “gospel justice” as opposed to “social justice”. My friend Eugene Cho is coming out with a book this year which addresses how easily “justice junkies” – as Rich Stearns referred to them – can be more enamored with the idea of justice than the sustained work of justice rooted in the call of Christ. I respect many of the leaders who spoke. Many have engaged in advancing the cause of Christ through justice for decades. My own justice journey has been 14 years which is a short time in my eyes, but long for many of the 20 somethings who attended the Justice Conference.
I believe the Bible has much to say about justice. Justice is rooted in the character of God and demonstrated through the life, teachings, and substitutionary death and resurrection of his incarnate son, Jesus Christ. I am glad to see a coming together of those who ran from the justice movement because of its early embrace of a social gospel and those who have run from the church because of its singular focus on a salvation gospel. I believe a more accurate view of the gospel and of justice demonstrate that both are about restoring relationships and righting what is wrong. We must have a right relationship with God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but this love of God MUST compel love of our neighbor. Loving our neighbor means restoring brokenness and righting wrongs as we advance the kingdom of Christ. This love of neighbor is attractive to individuals and communities in need of help and hope. This love of neighbor is attractive to a generation of young people we are losing in the church as they seek to find relevancy for faith. After all if faith is only a ticket out of Hell and if the world is only going to burn, then who wants to be engaged in that? But if the world will one day be transformed and made new and our faith is the beginning point and not the end – a launching point for acts of stewardship of creation, love of neighbor, and justice for the poor and vulnerable – well that’s something worth being engaged in.
I have a new friend, Kristina Robb-Dover, who seeks to address this growing disconnect which leads most people today to not affiliate with any particular church or denomination. She has written an interesting book entitled Grace Sticks which addresses this challenge. She interviewed me for her blog this week which regularly pursues this discussion of restlessness in the pursuit of relevancy. So kudos to Ken Wytsma and all those who are pursuing common ground where the relevancy of the life and teachings of Jesus deepen our understanding of justice and its call to get involved in advancing the Kingdom. A proper understanding of this gospel justice will root us in the saving grace of Jesus while compelling us to take action as salt and light in our world. We will love God and our neighbor. We will go and do likewise.