Friday, October 26, 2012

Book review: The Just Church

You can't read the Old Testament without noticing God's distinct preference for justice over injustice (Isaiah 1:17). This interest isn't limited to requiring justice from pagan rulers in regard to the freedoms and rights of His people.

God's expectations run the other way most times. His people should impartial in their actions toward others -- including aliens, strangers, foreigners. Those who rule in His name are to ensure that all people -- rich and poor, small and great -- receive fair hearings of their grievances and that impartial judgments are rendered (Dt. 16:18-20, Prov. 31:4-9Lev. 19:15, James 2:1-13). Radical stuff.

So why is justice uninteresting to some segments of Christianity? Why does it seem to be the "property" of the Christian Left? Did God's demand for it go away with the New Testament? Was Paul unconcerned with justice? What does justice mean? Is it limited to judicial matters, or is it about creating level playing fields and ensuring equal access to resources?

Those questions would make for a fascinating discussion, but I'm not prepared to answer them here. My purpose is to suggest a jumping-off point -- a recent book by Jim Martin called The Just Church. (A complimentary copy was supplied to this reviewer by Tyndale House.)

In challenging readers to move from apathy to action, Martin places seeking justice within the context of disciple-making. "Through the pursuit of justice we find our way to deep intimacy with a God who loves us and calls us into his work not only for the good of others, but for our own good as well. The work of justice, therefore, is as much about discipleship as it is about mission."

So here's another question: Is working for justice truly an element of a Christian's growth?

The book is separated into two sections. The first half talks about what social justice is and why we should care about it. He talks about our faith being like a muscle, it needs to be stretched, exercised, and even brought to the breaking point so it can grow. He writes about maturing faith coming through testing, enduring and then leading to ministry.

The second half is the how: how to think through and engage social justice on a personal and church level. He points out that this is not a quick process, we must consider if we are really ready and willing to pay the cost. Truly engaging the work of social justice will exact a toll -- emotionally, financially, and possibly even physically. He says:
My primary interest is to tell the story of how and why the church is engaging in the fight against injustice. The how of the story is inspiring and compelling, and it is my hope that it will propel many more churches to engage while offering helpful, concrete models for that engagement. The why of the church’s engagement may be surprising. While the statistics, the need, and the call of God are often the primary impetus for my friends around the world who are taking risks to engage, there is another benefit that few of us expected when we began this journey. What we've found is that the work of justice is some of the most fertile ground for discipleship that we've ever experienced. The places of violent oppression and abuse that may seem utterly God-forsaken are in fact the places where we have most deeply experienced the presence and power of God.
The author specifies that this journey will be different for everyone. This process must be undertaken with a heart open to the Holy Spirit’s leading and permeated with prayer. The Just Church should challenge you to think deeply about the issue of social justice and what is the Church's role in pursuing it, and one's own personal role.

One criticism would be that this book seems most concerned about justice in terms of poverty, hunger, human trafficking, and the like. Of course, as a ministry working toward justice for the unborn, we find it sad the author makes no mention of the importance of giving them voice (Prov. 24:10-12). Abortion represents lethal power unleashed against the smallest and weakest members of society. Perhaps conservative churches would do well to think and speak of abortion in terms of justice.

Thanks to Jenni Bancino for help with this review.

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