On Justice

Dan Winiarski entertains some ideas about the current appeals for “justice”

Over the last few years, the term “Justice” has become far to ill-defined and confused with other virtues and ideas. Words mean things, and if we play fast and loose with their meanings, we inhibit our ability to communicate, diagnose problems, and identify the best solutions.

For example, I’ve heard justice defined subjectively and nebulously as “making things right.” What things? Right according to whom? Making them how?

He goes on to offer his own definition: “Justice is people getting what they deserve, whether good or bad, and whether we personally like the outcome or not.”

But that begs a question: Is “justice” something that can be defined? The same nit-picking used here can be applied to the preferred definition: “deserve”? what standard is that? what order? who sets the terms, etc. Or for that matter, how do we determine “good or bad”? The moment I push the concept it goes all squishy.

Rather than speak abstractly of “justice” why not biblically? Justice takes place in the presence of a wrong, thus the psalmist cries out for justice for the poor. Justice is about the ordering of our relationships so the reflect and participate in God’s interaction with us. The very care God has for the poor and weak leaves us exposed:we are sinners. This brings to the other sense of justice, that God acts to restore a relationship with us, unilaterally. That decision is profoundly displayed in the crucifixion, and vindicated on Easter morn.


Is “free enterprise capitalism” the only way?

That’s the question roughly posed at The Banner.

Is it true that the Bible endorses free enterprise capitalism? I read that this is because it assumes private property and rewards a good work ethic.

Editor Shiao Chong defers in his answer, pointing to a “perfect economic system” as a sort of goal. All rather Platonic, when you think about it.

The correct answer is that God does not “endorse” any human social arrangement, let alone envision some “perfect economic system.” Instead, what God asks for is that these arrangements in their particularlity be just. In large measure we do not get to choose the sort of system we live under, be it a parliamentary democracy, a republic or for that matter a kingdom. God can and has worked through all of these. In the same manner, the economic arrangement in society can have a wide variation.

On the specific question, “free enterprise capitalism” is a rather flexible term, meaning different things in say the sociology, the political science, and economics department. What we do know is that however defined, the result of the system must still safeguard the poor and the weak from the all too easy actions of the wealthy and powerful. This caution is spelled out over and over again in the Psalms and Prophets.

We do not pursue a perfect system, or even a perfected system, but rather a perfect, a complete obedience on our side. That at least seems more doable.


What do we take from the past?

Beer boxHank Ottens at the Banner pens an interesting, prophetic story about his dad, one of those immigrant souls who worked the farm but kept an active mind and prized his orthodoxy. Cleaning out his father’s estate, he comes across “the ark:” books by Bavinck and his father’s collection of sermons on the various themes of orthodoxy.

What to do?

He looks, reads, considers, then gets coffee. Church today is not much like that of his father’s post-war era (or his father’s defense of orthodoxy in retirement).

The brief coffee klatch gets us talking about the new “normal” in church life: praise teams, women clergy, seeker-friendly services, interfaith dialogue, acceptance of divorced and gay members. We put down our coffee cups and get down to business. The ark has become a beer box with relics of a bygone era.

Books and tapes are consigned to the curb. And at the end Ottens wonders about all this with more than a little ambivalence:

Are these reflections on the means of grace, the Heidelberg Catechism and pious living, no more important than a broken-down hobby horse or a six-pack of empties? Do those old sermon tapes at least deserve a respectful place in a preacher’s bookcase?

Well, theses certainly are reflections of grace, but appropriate for a preacher’s bookcase? Ah, no. The grace belongs to his family. In very human terms, these belong on his bookcase. The hand that pens the sermon title was the same hand that ran the farm and first took Otten’s small hand as he learned to walk. Our spirituality is not different from the rest of our lives. Some items we keep because of their testimony to a faithfulness then that has made a debtor now. Active remembrance can keep us.

This however, is not the only story available, that of an old immigrant orthodoxy thrown away. There is the story of faithfulness:  what does one do with one’s life? This was a retirement spent in keeping the mind alive, a retirement spent in caring for others, a retirement spent in a pursuit of godliness; it is  the shape of that fidelity as much as its content that is remarkable and worthy of marking.

Me? I would have kept the tapes if only as a reminder that there is more to life than travel and gardening.

Christian Schools?

Christian school principal Robert Duiker considers the public character of Christian education in The Banner, and closes by saying,

All schools—whether they are publicly funded or not—that build citizens by teaching an official language, by training in skills for the workforce, by nurturing ingenuity, by supporting physical well-being, and by teaching the government approved curriculum, are part of a system of public schools.
Whether they are funded or not, Christian schools are public schools.

Mr Duiker is right that at least some Christian schools participate in a societal public school philosophy. The heart of that philosophy is the notion that schools belong to the community (thus “public”), and historically the schools within the old Dutch settlements adopted something of this line.

Two items erode that understanding: the notion that schools are family based, and the rising tuition. The latter is especially cogent, since it begins to restrict the ability of the school to serve a wide socio-economic swath of the community (another value of “public” education). This burden of cost and tuition pushes the schools away from supporting communities and toward the sending homes. This is more individualized and far more market driven.

The family-based philosophy of the past generation further reinforces, even sanctions this move up the socio-economic ladder. From the very beginning of the public school movement in the United States, the schools were contrasted with the European and aristocratic model of family-centered education.

However if some follow a public philosophy, others do not. Short of government support (high unlikely in the U.S.) the socio-economic pressures are likely to push more and more Christian schools into a functional private school model, this independent of the desires and efforts of faculty and parents.

Lastly, the functional difference between public and private is as much about governance as it is about philosophy. A public school is one that has institutional accountability to the community at large. It is hard to see how a philosophically focused school can participate in such a system without compromise, no matter how open it is, or how well it teaches patriotism.