We, as Christians, must participate in charity––not to meet the requirements of “economic justice,” but to demonstrate the grace of God in the gospel. We can’t communicate the grace of God, though, if we insist on calling it justice. In our zeal to do what’s right, we must be careful not to undermine the very purpose of what we’re doing. We must not, in the name of the gospel, gut the very essence of that gospel. We must not equate grace and justice.
Words matter. Because ideas matter. Particularly theological ideas. There are few theological words which have greater significance in the history of the church than the word, justice. It’s the root of justification––the doctrine, according to Calvin, which is the hinge upon which the faith turns. But there’s a deeper foundation to the doctrine of justification: the justice of God. This was His motive in offering His Son as a propitiation for our sins: that He would be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (Rom.3:26). With such profound theological and historical significance to the very heart of the Gospel, itself, it’s difficult to imagine that a conservative, evangelical organization called The Gospel Coalition would carelessly misuse the concept of justice. And yet that is precisely what they’ve done in the latest article by Greg Forster.
Charity = Justice?
“Economic justice,” Forster claims, was the answer from Jonathan Edwards on how to pursue truly spiritual discoveries. “Economic justice” isn’t Edward’s term, though. Edwards wasn’t as sloppy a theologian as that. No, “economic justice” is Forster’s term for what Edwards rightly called charity––aid to the economically poor. If Forster wants to inform the Church of Edwards’ position, though, why not call it charity, like Edwards does? Why use an entirely new term, which is foreign to the author whose position you are trying to present? I can’t read Mr. Forster’s motives, but I can tell you the obvious result of this term-shift, regardless of what his intentions were.
To see the danger (and remarkable theological negligence!) here, one need only consider the meaning of the term being replaced (charity), and the term replacing it (economic justice). What is charity? It is helping those in need. It’s giving to those who have not earned it. It’s a picture of the gospel. It’s grace in action, on a human level. It’s a wonderful thing. What is justice? It’s getting what one deserves. It’s balanced scales. An even transaction. Getting what one is due. So, economic justice is meant to communicate getting what one deserves, economically. It means getting the money one is due. If charity is helping the poor, and if Mr. Forster refers to helping the poor as “economic justice,” then Mr. Forster is telling us that the poor deserve the monetary help––not as a gift, but as a right. If charity is justice, then the lack of charity is unjust. If money is owed to the poor because they need it, then need––instead of property rights––is the new standard of justice; and the extent to which you do not give to those in need, is the extent to which you are a criminal, guilty of an “economic injustice”. If it sounds Marxist, that’s because it is. And this article is just the latest Marx-inspired articles on “public justice,” “social justice,” and who knows what other perversions of the concept of justice TGC can have dreamed up.