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The trend toward social justice through politics is growing stronger in the United States.  According to this 2008 story reported by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,.

Beau Underwood is putting his faith in politics. He’s a 22-year-old at the University of Chicago Divinity School, an active member of the Disciples of Christ and — in his spare time — he’s showing candidates that the path to political righteousness doesn’t always veer right.Underwood and a growing number of other young, left-leaning believers are entering the political arena as campaign aides, lobbyists, grass-root activists and engaged voters. They are trying to expand the focus of faith-based politics beyond the religious right’s hot-button issues of abortion and gay marriage. And they are placing social justice issues, like poverty and war, at the intersection of their moral and political decision making.

Seventeen years ago, I wrote the following review of o Ronald Nash’s book entitled, Social Justice and the Christian Church. Nash died in 2006 due to complications from a stroke, but in the 26 years since he first published this book, these issues have risen to the foreground of faith and politics in America.  Despite the fact that my own writing style and the terminology is dated, I decided to share this review as it gives some important historical perspective to the current discussion of Christian faith and social justice.

Review

Nash’s book deals with the ethical results of one of our modern political controversies; liberal politics versus conservative politics, and how these two ethical positions effect American policy and politics.

Justice is one of the key focuses of Nash’s ethical approach to government in modern society. He asserts that being a Christian does not obligate one to adopt a liberal and statist dogma in order to aid the poor. Helping the indigent is definitely a foundational Biblical ethic, however, there is also a Biblical ethic which will guide our personal polity concerning government. Justice has diverse applications within the Scripture and one must consider context before using a particular verse or verses before making a decision on what political policies to adopt.

Many liberals think that the Bible is always in support of a distributive justice. In other words, spread all the wealth around equally to everyone. Nash would argue that many of these verses are really referring to a remedial justice and not a distributive one. Exodus 23:6 warns against depriving a poor man of justice but the context is clear this justice is to be found within a court of law. Exodus 23:3 also warns against showing partiality for the poor in a court of law.

One particular example that Nash describes is the ethic of Exodus 22:26-27. This passage says that if a man gives his cloak as surety of a loan and can not pay back the loan the lender should allow this person to use the cloak in times of need. Some Biblical ethicists would argue this passage means all individuals have the right to the essential of life. Thus one would be forced to the conclusion the Bible teaches there are rights to specific economic goods which both government and individuals would be obligated to provide for every person. Nash disagrees entirely with this application of the verse. This verse puts no ethical mandate on government or individuals to redistribute wealth to the needy. It is simply an ethical obligation of a lender to return physical collateral in an emergency or time of extreme need on a temporary basis.

Nash also notes that liberal statists always emphasize the ethic of receiving and not giving. They supplant the Biblical ethics of giving with one of takes, through taxation, from those whomever the state deems wealthy and redistribute this money to the poor. Most of the liberal ethicists will at some point cite Leviticus 25:8-12, which describes the requirements of the Year of Jubilee and see it as some sort of divine enforcement of egalitarianism. However, a closer inspection of this chapter reveals this not to be the case. There are many exception to this redistribution of wealth. The ethical implication for a modern society are not clear considering the United States is no longer dealing with a culture that enforces slavery and is largely no longer agrarian.

Nash, throughout his book, contends with some very trendy and politically correct notions of equality and how individuals should be treated. Citing both New Testament and Old Testament references he reinforces an ethic of caring for the poor which in all ways reinforces Biblical principles and yet does not pander to the liberal ploy of socialistic justice as the only solution to Christian morality.

Although some of the language is outdated, Nash’s book is worth picking up if you want to get a good historical understanding of social justice, politics, and the Christian faith in America.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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