Bible Interpretation Part 5: The Justice Objection 2

Rick Mattson Bible 2 Comments

Artwork courtesy of Steve Blake

So far in this set of posts regarding Bible interpretation, I’ve replied to four different objections to a traditional reading: the naturalistic, the literalistic, the pluralistic and the “justice” objection.

This is part two of the justice objection, and can be summarized as follows:

Whenever a traditional interpretation of the Bible doesn’t account for racial, sexual and gender justice, it must be opposed — adamantly so.

Examples are:  

(Okay, a refresher on what we’re talking about here:

I stand in the tradition of Bible reading and interpretation that goes back through the centuries to the early church. It’s based on what’s called “apostolic authority” — that is, rooted in the teaching of the twelve apostles.

Thus I claim a heritage that goes back through Carl Henry and C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther and John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, and eventually to the NT writers. It’s summarized in the early creeds such as the Apostles‘ and Nicene creeds.

Modern readers of the Bible object to this traditional reading in various ways, one of which is the “justice” objection. My response to this objection follows.)

My reply: There is much to affirm in this list of justice issues. But instead of responding to each item, I’d like to suggest a way forward, an overall strategy for moving toward true justice.

But first . . . you may be wondering if I’m shooting from the hip on this topic.

Not at all. I’ve been enmeshed in these issues for many years on college campuses, not only in theory, but in real relationships with people I care about deeply . . . people quite different than myself.

To respond, then: It seems to me the main conflict between justice-critics and traditional Bible readers can be distilled down to this: starting points. That is — the first premises and assumptions of the parties involved.

Thus the crucial question is whether the critic’s starting point is either Scripture or Western/progressive/secular culture.

If Cultural starting point. Reiterating from my prior post: Why think contemporary culture an authoritative source of truth and wisdom? After all, that same culture is also brimming with violence, oppression, racism — in short, injustice. 

Relativism* lurks here, reducing justice merely to the preferences of certain interest groups.

If Scriptural starting point: I say to the critic: Go ahead and make your case, biblically. I’m listening. That’s what this is about — sincere readers of the Bible respectfully discussing and debating with each other what the Bible actually teaches.

Unfortunately, on justice issues such as those listed above, respectful dialogue is rare. Sometimes even forbidden.

* * *

Note that if a critic’s source of wisdom is progressive culture and the traditional Christian’s is Scripture, the two persons will simply talk past each other. . . UNLESS . . . unless by God’s grace there is overlap, which there sometimes is. Sometimes culture aligns with Scripture.

This overlap, even if modest, can serve as a platform of common ground for an expanded discussion about justice.

Then again, the parties involved have to want it.

I know they want justice. But do they want a conversation?


*Relativism is when truth is dependent solely on context or perspective rather than being “absolute” or objective.

Comments 2

  1. “I know they want justice. But do they want a conversation?” So good! Conversation invites relationship, and relationship is the key to transformation for BOTH parties. Amen Rick!

    1. Post

      Greg, my hope is that relationships will include dialogue about these difficult questions. Unfortunately, often not. As one student said to me, “I refuse to have dialogue about certain issues.” But perhaps(?) she would open up if she knew that traditional Christians would listen well.

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