Over the past fifteen months , I’ve done a lot of reading on topics of social justice and specifically on racism. I’ve read books from Christian and nonChristian authors, books from those on the left and the right, books from white authors as well as black and Asian authors. I have read some very bad books, typically from the right, but not exclusively. When Thaddeus Williams’ book Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth was recommended to me, I was suspicious. I have, after all, just come off reading two very bad books (My reviews of Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice and Fault Lines) that critiqued the social justice movement and elements of it such as BLM.
I was so pleasantly surprised. This is an excellent book. Here’s what I loved about it:
He is clear in his writing. From the outset, Williams labors to make sure he and his readers on talking about the same thing. He distinguishes between two versions of social justice – Social Justice A and Social Justice B. Christians have, for centuries, used the language of social justice – feeding the poor, working towards emancipation of slaves, full inclusion of disenfranchised into society, etc. – that is Social Justice A. But the term ‘social justice’ as it currently being used by intellectuals and activists is a different species of justice, a species that is antithetical and hostile to the Christian faith. In addition, he labors to show how definitions have been changed and these changing definitions, because they aren’t shared by everyone, make conversations difficult and unnecessarily tense.
Related to the books clarity is its forcefulness. He does not allow the reader to treat justice as an optional element of the Christian life. “Truly execute justice” (Jeremiah 7:5) is an imperative, and similar imperatives are repeated throughout Scripture. But this phrasing from Jeremiah is important to Williams, reminding him and his reader that there are things that masquerade as justice, but aren’t “truly” justice, and it’s not enough to speak for justice or advocate for justice by changing a social media profile pic, we must “execute justice.” Similarly, Williams does not soft pedal on issues of racism or sexism – both are grotesque sins that Christians must repent of.
Williams is also clear and compelling in his defense of the gospel. Social justice is not “the gospel” or “a gospel issue.” I cringe whenever I hear that language. The gospel is clearly defined in the NT and does not include imperatives (commands). Commands are law, and law is important. We are commanded to be truthful, commanded to be loving, commanded to be faithful, and commanded to do justice. Those commands are not optional, but they are not the gospel either. If we confuse this…we have truly lost that “which is of first importance.” Keeping the first thing first not only guards the first thing (the gospel) but actually protects the ‘second things’ as well. C.S Lewis writes, “You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first” (cited, pg 110).
The book is incredibly fair. Williams treats his ideological opponents as, get this, people! He is explicit – he treats them as image bearers and his contention is not with them as people, but with their ideas. This is very refreshing. Because of this, he reads their words in the best possible light instead of the the worst possible light. That kind of generosity is becoming and Christlike. Moreover, he is willing to accept points that many others writing from the right-of-center haven’t been willing to accept. For example, Williams acknowledges that systemic injustices (systemic racism and sexism) do exist and should be corrected. He even shows from the Bible that God is opposed to those who “frame injustice with a statute” (Psalm 94:20). He does not hide from the church’s shameful activity in the past, but also celebrates the work of the church in ending slavery, in elevating women, etc. This leads to another point. Lastly, while the book is geared towards critiquing the left, it does not assume the right is without flaw and it does take aim at some problems on that side of the continuum as well. The book is not partisan. It does not, like Fault Lines did, tell the reader who to vote for, bash one party or the other. It’s a book about ideas.
As far as critiques, my only one is the style of the writing. It is actually an unfair critique at that. The book is written to be accessible to the high school/college student. At times I wished it was a bit more academic. But, in the end I am glad it is not. I will recommend this book widely, possible even lead group discussions with it. Williams has produced an excellent, winsome, insightful critique of a movement that is sweeping through western society and western churches.