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Faith & Religion

The church and social justice

I read Duncan Forrester’s essay “Social Justice and Welfare” this week. (In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Robin Gill, 195-208. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.) While reading it I was struck by two passaged he quoted. The first was American Lutheran theologian Ronald Thiemann,

Because we know that God will remain faithful to his promises, we are liberated from the devastating fear that the accomplishment of justice in the world depends solely upon our efforts. The primacy and priority of God’s grace frees us from the self-defeating effort of seeking our salvation in the quest for justice. Since our salvation has been secured by Christ’s death and resurrection, we are now free to seek justice for the neighbor in need…We seek justice freely, because we have been freely justified.

and the second from Methodist Stanley Hauerwas,

The task of the church [is] to pioneer those institutions and practices that the wider society has not learned as forms of justice. (At times it is also possible that the church can learn from society more just ways of forming life.) The church, therefore, must act as a paradigmatic community in the hope of providing some indication of what the world can be but is not…The church does not have, but rather is, a social ethic. That is, she is a social ethic inasmuch as she functions as a criteriological institution – that is, an institutions that has learned to embody the form of truth that is charity as revealed in the person and work of Christ.

Forrester asks the following questions which I’ve been mulling over as I think about my own church community.

But how is the church a social ethic, how does it ‘pioneer new institutions and practices’, how does it function as ‘a paradigmatic community’ demonstrating and exemplifying the justice of God?

Still thinking about these questions and will be for a long time, I think.

Forrester also has an interesting essay online “Politics and Vision” where he talks about the nature of social visions within a pluralistic society, the importance of symbolism and Christian engagement with and appropriation of visions. (PDF | Word)


  1. Mark

    Very stimulating, thanks, Stephen.

  2. Stephen,I echo Mark’s comments. I especially liked Ronald Thiemann’s statement. Have just been listening (on the drive into work)to Tom Wright and James Dunn talking about Paul – Thiemann’s statement “We seek justice freely, because we have been freely justified” would have sat well in that conversation. And I’ve printed off Forrester’s essay and look forward to reading it. Thanks for the link.

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