Book Reviews

Confronting Injustice without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask about Social Justice

Thaddeus J. Williams

Zondervan Academic: 2020, 144pp

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““Seek justice” is a clarion call of Scripture, and those who plug their ears to that call are simply not living by the Book. But the Bible’s call to seek justice is not a call to superficial, knee-jerk activism. We aren’t commanded to merely execute justice but to “truly execute justice.” That presupposes there are untrue ways to execute justice, ways of trying to make the world a better place that aren’t in sync with reality and end up unleashing more havoc in the universe.” [3]

In Context

The Bible, foundational to Western civilisation, speaks of justice all throughout. As the Christian revolution in the ancient world unfolded, women were seen as equal to men, slaves were set free and slavery decried as unjust in itself, the sick were cared for, and the poor were helped. It is difficult to underestimate the difference made in the world as justice was reinterpreted along humanitarian lines based on the biblical teaching that all people are made in God’s image, but that the pursuit of social improvement also had to acknowledge the limits imposed on improvement by the reality of human sin. Christianity gave civilisation a justification for universal human justice, but a realist appreciation of the limits of what could be done through government intervention. Unlike with Marxist social justice, Christian social justice knows nothing of brutally forcing people to be sinless.

Over the past generation Western society has been confronted, even violently in 2020, with the accusation of systemic, widespread injustice. Almost every day in the media, on television, on posters, in classrooms, and in music lyrics we are getting the message that society is little more than a brutal arena in which oppression is rife. The oppressors are most typically white, heterosexual men, while the oppressed are women, gays and lesbians, trans-identifying people, non-whites, and many more. If Karl Marx and his communist heirs called for the abolition of capitalism to usher in a communist utopia, modern social justice seems to call for the abolition – “cancelling” – of Western civilisation for an “inclusive” utopia.

Big Ideas

  • Social Justice A (biblical justice) teaches that all people bear God’s image; all people are equally flawed by sin; grace and forgiveness must complement justice; and not all injustice can be attributed to forces outside of the agent (personal responsibility)
  • Social Justice B (critical theory/wokeism) teaches that we are corrupted not by internal sin but by external institutions; that white people and particularly white, heterosexual men are especially guilty; and that all disparities are because of discrimination
  • According to Social Justice B non-whites cannot be racist because racism is “prejudice plus power”, thus only white people can be racist because only white people have power
  • When the evidence is scrutinized, most claims of modern systemic injustice are best explained via demographic facts and the breakdown of the family, among other factors
  • No approach to social justice that rejects grace and forgiveness will result in anything other than perpetual social conflict

Social Justice A and B

Williams divides approaches to social justice into two types, A and B.

Social Justice A is the approach to social justice derived from the Bible and the Christian tradition more broadly [4-5].

It is based on the idea that all people are equal because all people are created by God and bear God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). It seeks to realise our human dignity in our social relations while at the same time affirming that all people – rich, poor, black, white, male, female – are equally flawed by sin and capable of great injustice. Policy approaches to injustice must therefore take into account the imperfection inherent in our fallen human nature [17]. Forgiveness and reconciliation are also crucial to this approach to social justice. Historical advocates of Social Justice A include William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, among many others.

Social Justice B is a more recent development in human history, primarily arising in the twentieth century and inspired by the neo-Marxist critical theory of the 1960s and 1970s as well as postmodern claims that all relationships are power relationships [4-5].

Social Justice B tends to divide society up into oppressors and oppressed, and the oppressors tend to be white, heterosexual males, and the oppressed include women, non-whites, and LGBT, among others. The more oppressed attributes an individual has – a black, lesbian, trans, woman, for example – the more he/she can claim victimhood. Whereas Karl Marx saw capitalism as inherently exploitative and called for its overthrow, Social Justice B sees Western civilisation as inherently oppressive and calls for a cultural revolution against its institutions, mores, and traditions. Forgiveness has no prominent role to play in Social Justice B. Social Justice B has been theorised by Marxist Antonio Gramsci, postmodern philosophers Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, and has most recently been embodied in Black Lives Matter.

Loving our neighbour?

Christ’s two great commandments were to “love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind”, and “love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Social Justice A is ultimately premised on both of these commandments: we love God, and in loving God we love our neighbours – all those who bear His image – and therefore we will want to promote a just society for our neighbours to enjoy [55].

Love for our neighbours means that we will follow a social justice model that actually results in their wellbeing, not in their destruction and misery. This means that the two approaches to social justice, A and B, must be evaluated in terms of how they ask us to see one another and in terms of their real-world consequences or fruits. A model of social justice that turns us against one another and who’s fruits are misery and destruction is no true model of social justice, for it couldn’t possibly flow from our love of God or of neighbour.

Williams offers an example of Social Justice B from one of the most widely read critical race theorists, bell hooks, in her essay “A Killing Rage”. The essay begins, “I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.” What caused this killing rage? A mix-up on a commercial flight in which hook’s friend had to relocate from first class to economy, with a white man now taking the first-class seat next to hooks. In response to the man’s apologies for the inconvenience hooks says, “I wanted to stab him softly, to shoot him with the gun I wish I had in my purse. And as I watched his pain, I would say to him tenderly “racism hurts.” [67]

Williams glosses, “Racism and sexism aren’t conclusions that necessarily follow from her [hook’s] experience but premises that necessarily frame her experience.” [67, italics original] In line with social justice theory B, hooks assumes that because the man she’d never met was white that therefore he must have been motivated by sexism and racism. He goes on, “There is little room in hook’s account for anything resembling grace, kindness, forgiveness, or peacemaking.” [68]. Hook’s “killing rage” is a far cry from the Apostle Paul’s injunction to “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all (Romans 12:17).”

Sadly a key premise of Social Justice B and critical race theory is that white males are, by virtue of being white and male, both racist and sexist. They are thus by definition the enemy, and Social Justice B knows nothing of Christ’s command to “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). Williams points out that it is tragic that hooks’ “Killing Rage” is a model of social justice taught widely across universities, as opposed to Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boon’s account of forgiving an SS officer who was responsible for killing her sister at a concentration camp. [63-65, 69]

The rage that drives much of Social Justice B spilled out of the pages of critical race theory texts and onto the streets with the Black Lives Matter protests and riots of 2020, in which the businesses of both African Americans and non-African Americans were destroyed, as well as the lives of blacks and non-blacks lost. Destructive riots also occurred in England. No approach to social justice that bears such fruit can flow from neighbour love.

Is discrimination the only explanation for disparities?

The most common claim of Social Justice B is that all disparities or inequalities must be the result of discrimination. Williams quotes critical race historian Ibram X. Kendi, “racial disparities must be the result of racial discrimination.” [81] In other words, people are never responsible for their own bad situation, it’s a result of oppression, either by individuals or social institutions.

But as Williams says, this is totally at odds not only with human experience – people do willingly engage in risky behaviour that sets back their own long-term interests – and it is also at odds with the Bible’s teaching about justice, which warns us against cultivating the sorts of bad habits that will lead to a life of hardship (Proverbs 10:4; 14:23; 20:4; 24:3-4).

Williams affirms the reality of systemic racism, at least in the past: slavery, segregation, preventing non-whites from buying homes in white areas (redlining) have occurred and their effects are no doubt still with us. In one of the best sections of the book, Williams goes into detailed analysis of some of the most common accusations of present-day systemic racism in America only to show that they are not plausible.

For example, Williams shows how accusations of racial profiling for speeding offences are explained not by race but by age demographics. He finds that accusations of racist discrimination by banks against African Americans don’t take into account that black-owned banks actually turn down black loan applicants at higher rates than other banks, not to mention that whites are turned down at higher rates than Asians and Hawaiians. He shows how Asian Americans are more likely to get into Ivy League universities than white Americans. He shows that the accusation that police are more likely to kill unarmed black men is simply myth once we look at the shooting statistics. He also shows how average income disparities between blacks and whites narrows once we take into account broken families and age demographics [81-82, 95-97]. In other words, disparities do not necessarily mean discrimination.

Williams concludes, “When we automatically assume damning explanations for unequal outcomes, we not only lock ourselves in a prison of never-ending rage but also dull our senses to the point that we will be useless for the sacred task of recognizing and resisting the real racism, real sexism, and other real vicious isms around us.” [84]


Ultimately, “Social Justice B and Social Justice A are not two different political persuasions; they are two fundamentally different religions.” [162] Williams offers a critique of modern social justice or “wokeness” that is both incisive but at the same time compassionate. Throughout the book there are first-person accounts of the harm of Social Justice B thinking, and testimonies to the redemptive and reconciling tendencies of Social Justice A, which is based on compassion for the disadvantaged, but a compassion grounded in truth about the human condition and the complexity of the causes of apparent social injustice.

Invaluable are the appendices at the end of the book that deal in summary but pithy fashion with questions relating to LGBT oppression, capitalism, abortion, and poverty. Overall Thaddeus Williams’ book is a comprehensive and well-researched Christian response to the new religion of woke social justice. Williams’ book shows that there is an alternative to woke activism, and one that has proven to be historically successful time and time again, from the abolition of slavery, to the improvement of conditions of the poor and the working class, to the abolition of segregation and apartheid – justice grounded in the Gospel of God’s justice and love as demonstrated in the crucifixion (and resurrection) of his son Jesus.


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