In this booklet, Dr. Beisner does not start with ideas from the Social Justice Movement and move from there to God and His Word. Instead, he first understands Scripture as sufficient and authoritative, and uses it to evaluate the Social Justice Movement. In that way, he accurately shows what God and His Word say about the Social Justice Movement, avoiding what the Social Justice Movement says about God and His Word.
In 2018, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner published Social Justice vs. Biblical Justice: How Good Intentions Undermine Justice and Gospel. In his usual scholarly fashion, Beisner analyzes the arguments of the social justice movement that have become especially popular in the last decade.
After Beisner covers what some Christians say is a Biblical principle on wealth redistribution and equalization, with short sections on The Sabbatical Year Law (p. 12), The Jubilee Year Law (14), the sharing of goods at the church in Jerusalem (15), and the Pauline collections for believers who were suffering famine (17), Beisner gives the Biblical definition of justice and the Biblical way it is to be carried out.
Dr. Beisner is especially careful to avoid eisegesis, “making Scripture align with his own thoughts,” and exegetes, “making his own thoughts align with Scripture,” what the Bible says about justice. He shows four Biblical criteria for justice (20-23).
- Justice requires impartiality and equal application.
- Justice requires rendering to each his due.
- Justice requires proportionality between acts and rewards or punishments.
- Justice requires conformity to the standard God set forth in His law.
These four things imply that a person has rights. Beisner distinguishes negative “rights against harm” from positive “rights to certain benefits” (23). “Properly understood, rights are not guarantees that something will be provided for us but guarantees that what is ours will not be unjustly taken from us. That is, properly speaking, rights are not positive but negative” (24-25). That means, in the case of a positive right, there is no way of knowing what a person has any right to. Different eras and different geographic locations present differing needs. If a person has a right to food and clothing, how much food would a person have a right to? And what kind of clothes? And if a person has such “positive rights,” how can those rights be provided for without violating another person’s “negative rights”? A person’s right not to have their possessions taken from them, whether it be food, clothing, or money to buy things, must be trampled upon if other persons have positive rights. Beisner shows that “positive rights” are not Biblical rights.
In the next section Beisner gives the Biblical prescription for five types of justice: Commercial, vindicative, retributive, punitive, and remedial.