The Confusion of Justice with Shalom

The conflicts beneath #crcsynod 2018 remain the conflicts within the contemporary Christendom civil war otherwise known as the culture war. Part of this is the reduction of love to kindness and shalom to justice. Let me explain.

CS Lewis eloquently challenged the reduction of love into kindness. The parent who makes this reduction harms their child and fails to love that child. The society that reduces love to kindness does similarly. See Lewis on this.

Now Shalom is reduced to Justice. Justice is an odd choice for this reduction. I suspect this choice is attributable to the loss of a full shalomic eschatology because of the loss of a life or age or world to come. Secularism feels it must rob or rescue heaven from the eschaton.

In my work on the @jordanbpeterson phenonemon I’ve concluded that if you try to rob/rescue heaven from the eschaton you will inevitably pull hell into this age as well. Miroslav Volf made the same observation in his book Exclusion and Embrace.

Traditionally Christianity (and the CRC) saw justice as a debt we could not pay and an existential threat to our future wellbeing. Justice was (per the Heidelberg Catechism) only resolved by an intervention beyond ourselves. Shalom was a gift of grace not of works.

When the word Justice replaces Shalom in the popular contemporary imaginary we become gods who by our efforts (often through the State) promise to deliver justice/shalom to history’s victims. That justice/shalom entails the use of power over the designated perps.

Justice demands judgment and without a vivid eschaton we become the judge (advocating for the sword of State) and those we declare unrighteous must be brought to justice in this age. In this drama the imagined logic of the Heidelberg Catechism is threatened.
I see in our triumphalist new language of justice to be a facile embrace of the prophetic mantle with little theological reflection on the actual content of OT prophecy nor much attention to how the NT modulates its fulfillment with respect to the state or to empire.

Not only must we own up to our confessional heritage in the confusion of Justice with Shalom but if we would appropriate OT justice imagery beyond prooftexting we must begin to understand how the Bible languages justice, empire and the eschaton in pursuit of shalom


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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1 Response to The Confusion of Justice with Shalom

  1. Jeremy Oosterhouse says:

    Three comments to add:
    1. Our pursuit of justice in this world is often discussed through the lens of advancing the kingdom of God here-and-now. Yet, we seem to elevate our own importance or necessity in advancing the kingdom and decreasing or minimizing the work of God to advance his kingdom. Is our pursuit of justice as a element of shalom essential to the coming kingdom, or simply a byproduct of it? It seems to me that both our pride and our inability to see our unimportance in life leads to a delusion of grandeur, even in our faith.
    2. I wonder if our pursuit of justice in place of shalom perhaps can also be traced back to our recognition of what we can control. We can control what we and others “do”. We can’t control their result. Thus, we pursue justice-oriented actions and ideology instead of shalom-oriented actions and ideology because there is an implicit understanding of what is within and what is beyond the bounds of human control.
    3. Your commentary on the “facile” embrace with “little theological reflection” is interesting. I wonder if conflict or disunity in the CRCNA can be traced back to a misunderstanding of our truth vs. God’s truth. When we assume (on either side) that our perspective is the right and proper interpretation of God’s truth, the result is we operate from a position of moral superiority with little desire to accommodate the perspective of the other. Perhaps a sizable dose of humility is in order as we recognize the tenuousness of our understanding of “truth”.The unity of the church would be greatly enhanced if we all approached an issue convicted by just how little we can “truly” understand the divine perspective regarding it.

    Thank you for your scholarship.

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