Must Reads: Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Journey Toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South is a marvelous encapsulation of his work. Wolterstorff writes as a first-rate philosopher on the basis of his own experiences in South Africa, the Holy Land, and Honduras, combining a thorough grounding in scripture with a lucid style. He argues that justice doesn’t make sense without a robust view of rights: those in need have certain morally binding rights on those with the ability to help. Highlighting the priority that justice enjoys in the Bible, he debunks attempts to mute its demands by showing how integrally it is connected to love, mercy, beauty, and peace.
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider has become a modern classic in Christian social responsibility. Rightly so: the book is a creative synthesis of biblical, social, and practical commentary that convicts and inspires at the same time. It’s indispensable for anyone who wants to know what the Bible teaches about justice and the poor and is willing to take a hard look at his or her own life. Sider pulls no punches in his call for concrete action, yet he also thoughtfully addresses complex realities such as structural injustice, international debt, multilateral corporations, and global warming. Though the statistics in the fifth edition (2005) are outdated, the wisdom and passion of Rich Christians remain as relevant as ever.
Eberhard Arnold’s God’s Revolution: Justice, Community, and the Coming Kingdom is a powder keg – a collection of short readings that spell out what it means to live out the justice of God’s kingdom. The author situates the demands of God’s justice within the context of practical, shared community that foreshadows the coming future of God. In this way, justice is more than a moral requirement or ethical ideal; it is a re-envisioning of our world and the church in accordance with the gospel. An introduction by John Howard Yoder places Arnold’s work and life (1883–1935) in their historical context.
Recommended: While Wolterstorff, Sider, and Arnold give broad treatments of justice, Charles Avila’s Ownership: Early Christian Teaching has a tighter focus: wealth as understood by the early church. Avila surveys what ownership meant in the Roman world before turning to the thought of Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Augustine. In gathering together extracts from their sermons and writings addressing wealth, Avila arrives at some startling conclusions. For a start, his survey demolishes the common assumption that Christianity views private property as a natural or absolute right. Simply as a collection of quotations from the church fathers on a crucial topic, this excellent and provocative book deserves careful reading.
The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s people, yet nearly 25 percent of its incarcerated population. Beyond Retribution, by Christopher Marshall, and Changing Lenses, by Howard Zehr, are two books that explore how this happened and what we can do about it. Marshall’s book is a scholarly treatment of biblical teaching on justice and retribution, whereas Zehr’s lays out a new, truly Christian approach to criminal justice practice. Both authors see God’s justice less as a matter of punishing evildoers and more as long-suffering love that overcomes evil with good, repairs the damage done by sin, and restores human relationships.