Aaron Ross: Welcome to Everyday Theology where we don’t tell you what to believe or why to believe it, but rather explore our Christian beliefs and why they matter for us in relation to God, to creation, and to others. My name is Aaron Ross.
Aaron: Well today on Everyday Theology I’ve got a good friend of mine his name is Dan Morrison. Dan and I met at the Society for Pentecostal Studies, a conference that we go to every year, and I’m super excited to have Dan with us. So Dan thank you so much for being here today.
Dan Morrison: Thanks for having me.
Aaron: Dan if you wouldn’t mind letting our listeners get to know you a little bit, tell us something about your story especially as it relates to our topic for today; which is biblical justice.
Dan: Okay, well I think that when I stop and look back at my story, my story has been one related to the topic of biblical justice dare I say throughout my entire life. I mean, I grew up in the south in a single-parent home and I was privileged to attend a private school throughout my early childhood, so I grew up as a Pentecostal. I was, you know, three generations of my family at least were involved within the classical Pentecostal Church, but at the same time, I attended a Roman Catholic school for 10 years so from the time I was four until the time I was about 13. I was actually in Catholic school, so I learned a lot about the framework of justice between living it out in my day-to-day life and then seeing how it was implemented and hearing about it in theology classes in my catholic school. So I would say that those two things mesh together to form me early in life. Well about the time I got into high school I’m interacting now with a lot more people. I left this… think about it small catholic school and now I am in a pretty selective but still a good high school that has a diverse population. So now I’m meeting people from all walks of life that sort of helped shape and mold me regarding how I interact with others when it pertains to justice because this is what I began to learn, it is my obligation to love all the people with whom I come in contact no matter what their positions are, no matter what their background is, and that laid a firm foundation with me for biblical justice. When I moved into my undergrad that was fine, so did my master’s degree. I think that there were some issues where I began to question okay is biblical justice really a good thing? Is seeking justice worth it? And then I started my doctorate and somehow as I was going through the book of Revelation I consistently I mean literally throughout my entire doctorate every paper I wrote I tried to somehow weave in Revelation. I couldn’t do it in my Synoptic Gospels class, everything else worked, but it’s there that I found out justice was throughout the entire book. And then I began to look back at scripture and I found it even more. I think for me in the same vein biblical justice definitely is something that once you start seeing it you can’t not see it. I think the hard part is a lot of people just choose to not kind of pull on that thread, because once you pull on that thread all of a sudden you start pulling into areas you never expected to pull into.
Aaron: But maybe to help us out Dan. Would you mind kind of giving a a definition like how would you define biblical justice? And then why do you think some people hesitate to talk about biblical justice?
Dan: That’s a big one right? Yeah I like the second question a lot. I would say as far as defining biblical justice I think that we really need to go back to a picture of creation and that’s where I lay the foundation and the framework for understanding biblical justice because when I look in Genesis 1, I find that humanity was created in the image of God. Yes male and female God created them and because of that we see that there is equity amongst humans and that’s the foundation the idea of biblical justice requires that there be equity amongst human beings because after they’re created God tells them hey have dominion, fill the Earth, subdue it and it’s not like anybody had more power than the other individual. That’s where biblical justice comes in. I think that people don’t talk about biblical justice as much because of what we see happening in Genesis 3. I consistently tell people that the first sin was actually power abuse. And they’re like how do you get there? And I said wait let’s stop and look. God gives humanity all of the vegetation to eat except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They have access to everything. They have dominion. They possess authority, and what ends up happening is there is a misuse and abuse of the authority that they have when they partake of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I was actually having a conversation with someone the other day about this and I explained that they believed a lie; they were already created in God’s image and likeness but the serpent says but you’ll be like God. They were already like God; they were seeking power in the process more power than what they had already been given, and so as a result of that we find that there’s now a break in the justice system.
Aaron: I think I often talk about that passage and I and and compare it quite literally to this like Lucifer passage we find later on in in the old testament of wanting to be like God. Not being content or satisfied with the ways in which God has already created and made people in the image of God but wanting to actually put yourself in the place of God as if as if you no longer need God. Which is part of the the question or part of the the temptation there right you’ll no longer need God really, And I think that’s a great way to start thinking about that as a power abuse really should I hope help people start to think how am I abusing my own power but I don’t know too many people that get there right?
Dan: Right and I think here’s the issue when we look at what happens after humans rebel against God I think it comes out most clearly in the human relationship between the man and the woman. In so many ways I see the woman as a victim of circumstance. Let me explain that just a bit when God confronts all the characters in Genesis 3 he speaks to the serpent and he says because you have done this and gives the results when he gets to the man because you have done this because you have listened to the voice of your wife and not obeyed my voice this is what’s going to happen. But when it gets to the woman she does not get a because you have done this it’s almost as if you’re here, you’re a victim of circumstance, and because of this power abuse here’s what’s going to happen: I’ll multiply your pain and childbearing and in pain you shall bring forth children. Then we find the perpetuation of power abuse. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you. All of a sudden the person who was to rule with him is now being ruled by him. This is why people do not want to look at biblical justice because when you stop and you say okay wait a minute; this is a result of humans rebellion against God and we are called as people who follow afterJesus and people who are who have been given the Holy Spirit we are called to actually aim to live in a manner that is to fulfill the kingdom of God. And the disparity of power and the disparity that we find within all different forms of society as a means of exercising said power is actually antithetical to living in accordance with God’s kingdom. That means that if I am abusing power I am called as a follower ofJesus to stop it and to use my power and share my power with other individuals and that is where people run into an issue with justice. I might have to give something up, or I’m afraid that in their shared power they might try to dominate me, and therefore I must maintain dominance over them.
Aaron: Yeah it is kind of fear-based, this reality that we’re afraid that the very thing that we have to control and shape our lives by controlling and shaping others could actually be weaponized against us. I honestly think that works out in almost all spheres of our life right? That works in our workplace scenarios, that works in our family scenarios, or works in the racial tensions that we still have in the US. This idea of as soon as I actually allow someone else their freedoms it might actually impinge on my own, or they could use it to impinge on my freedoms. And because we’re so already at fault for doing it we’re afraid that they’re going to be at fault for doing it too. It’s just the hurt hurting the hurt and keeping that cycle going. I mean I think in some ways there’s a lot of people who when they hear the term biblical justice they think of social justice they think of they think of the Social Gospel. Why is it that Christians are so afraid of these things?
Dan: That’s a great question. Why are people afraid? I do think it’s because people feel as if they are going to lose something. At the same time this just came to me when you look at the story of Moses in Number 11 where he is like going before God and it’s like why am I doing all this stuff? And God’s like hey I can take off the spirit that’s on you and put it on other people as well. So Moses has this encounter and when it takes place the power of God on Moses is not diminished in any way because God multiplies his activity and his work amongst the people. It’s not like because God is infinite and we are finite he’s like hey I can just give some more of my spirit and more people can work with you. Moses still had power but here’s what we do. We look and we say okay social justice. My question is this what is wrong with social justice? I think that many people are like wait well here’s the problem. Well because now you have social justice you have the Social Gospel and it doesn’t have its foundation as it needs to. Now I will admit this, I intentionally don’t use the term social justice because I recognize that people will not receive the terminology particularly within some Christian circles. But then when I say biblical justice, they’re like wait what’s that? It’s weird because yes the Bible speaks of justice, and I said the problem is this when you look at social justice movements that take place outside of the church they do not always have a biblical foundation even though what they’re aiming for might be biblically based. So the pushback that I would give to some people within social justice movements, and this is not across the board, but when you look at some social justice movements the ends justify the means. Within the framework of biblical justice the ends do not justify the means because you still have to follow the mandates and the decrees of God as to how you get to your end goal. That’s the distinction that I would make between the two. One social justice can be done by anyone. Biblical justice can be done by people who maintain a biblical, notice I didn’t say Christian, a biblical world view.
Aaron: I agree with you. For some reason I feel that very so like if I ever say the word social gospel which social gospel is definitely loaded right with a 20th century kind of notion but if I say social justice it’s it’s almost as if social justice is the devil. I don’t know what else to say it right? It’s almost as if it itself is evil. When I think what you said Dan was really good there the idea that a lot of the aims of social justice are actually the aims of biblical justice that don’t have the same terminology. When we think about freedom for all people, that’s a very biblical notion at times. I know crazy. And yet if you say hey we should be working on the social justice issue of the freedom of all people, I’ve encountered very many Christians that just go oh no that’s social justice stuff. And usually it’s that’s liberal that’s progressive that’s that’s like it’s usually let’s throw a moniker on it so that way I can easily demonize it and then I don’t have to engage with it.
Dan: Precisely here’s one of the things that I have heard people say and I’m going to paraphrase it to fit within this paradigm. God wants to use the church to exercise biblical justice, but because the church has failed to do that he has raised up those outside of his church who will exercise and aim to achieve social justice, even though they do not have the biblical framework and background by which to do it.
Aaron: Which is going to be a real black eye on the church right and I think we’re actually starting to see that. And in one area I’ve seen it and I’d love to hear from from you in some areas you’ve seen it but one area I’ve recently seen at the time of this recording I’ve been seeing church people quote unquote Christian people going to political like going to their commission meetings and so on and so forth fighting and screaming against wearing a mask because it takes away their freedom, and they use the Bible to say why wearing a mask is wrong. Where in a time where we’re asking people to wear masks actually not to protect themselves, but to protect others somehow scripture gets used because it’s a social justice issue of saying hey let’s take care of our neighbor and let’s put on a mask. Hey you may be required to do that for a time. It all of a sudden becomes negative, where if we actually look at the reality ofJesus and we look at the reality of laying down one’s life for the other or laying down one’s freedoms for the other it’s actually a very biblical thing to say hey if me wearing a mask is going to protect my neighbor then I’m going to wear a mask and it’s just that simple.
Dan: It’s so difficult to live biblically. I mean and I understand there are struggles there are sin struggles but when it comes to certain things it’s like okay wearing a mask how is that hurting you? I mean I i know of people who were hospitalized for weeks on end because they were exposed. I know someone who just had a death in their family yesterday, and I’m thinking to myself if me wearing a mask could have prevented this person from dying, do I care so much about what I’m perceiving as a violation of my rights that I’m not going to do that which is best for the greater good and of all people?
Aaron: I think that’s where and and this is probably I would say especially just being in America, a very uniquely American Christian problem, especially when it comes to masks. But I know that there are more and so Dan maybe walk us through what are some areas that you see that kind of biblical justice aligns with social justice without the biblical backing and ways that the church may need to rethink their understanding of justice and how they engage with biblical justice in their churches.
Dan: I would say three major areas that immediately come to my mind are race, gender, and economics. I mean think about it. We’re created in the image and likeness of God because we have been created in God’s image and likeness. For me to exercise racism against someone means that I am actually sinning against God’s intent and I’m sinning against and denying the idea of the Imago Dei. I’m denying the image of God in another individual and if I devalue the image of God in another individual I automatically devalue the image of God in myself. I mean issue number one, issue number two with gender is the same principle. Remember God created humanity in God’s own image male and female they were created, and as a result it goes back to that whole framework of the image of God being disrespected or distorted in one person’s view for the sake of power. Notice racism is a power issue, sexism or genderism it’s a power issue, economics is yet another power issue. I remember I heard a pastor say this one time and I stopped them in the midst of a conversation. This pastor said what you need to do is always try to find the person who will do the most work for the least amount possible. I stopped and said wait wait wait wait wait so what do you do with Saint Paul’s statement where he quotes the Old Testament and says that a servant is worthy of their hire? What about fair wages that are talked about in scripture? And wait let’s let’s combine some. There’s some intersectionality going on here so let’s look at pay equity amongst people of different ethnicities, let’s look at pay equity amongst people of different genders, because there’s been a ton of research that demonstrates that certain groups get paid more money for the exact same job. Why? Which then leads to distinctions not only in racial or gender, but also in economic power that then perpetuates the systems in which we live, highlighting even more so the disparity between different groups.
Aaron: It’s just more thinking about the church at large. It’s the weird structures I think sometimes even within churches where I know youth pastors who are paid pennies on the dollar who do an incredible amount of work and are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week and get paid little. And then I see senior pastors of certain churches with multi-million dollar homes and then I see interns working at churches who go who get paid nothing, or some who pay to be a part of the ministry. It’s almost as if the economy of the ministry has kind of just fallen in line with the economy of the world. We’ve failed to recognize the economy of ministry should actually be the standard by which the economy of the world should look to and say that seems to be a really good model, but like the pastor in that conversation said, no we tend to fall in line with the economy of the world that says hey get the most amount of people as you can use them as much as possible and pay them the least amount that you can so you can maximize your profits. And when our profits actually are about buildings and our profits are about growth and our profits are not about people, it’s really easy to abuse everybody all the time. I think it just gets worse than especially what you were talking about with race, then it just gets worse. Whenever we see that kind of disparity happening racially, because as bad as I have it as a white man, I’ve seen it much worse for others because they’re not white. I think it’s a heavy topic, but it’s one that’s really important. How does the church kind of renegotiate itself in those three areas to say how do we better? Actually serve biblical justice in those three areas that you talked about.
Dan: it’s as difficult as living biblically. There are so many examples that I see in scripture but it’s funny because I find that there are people who especially when it comes to ideas of biblical justice or social justice, when you appeal to scripture people are like well that’s in the Old Testament so we’re not going to deal with that. That’s in the Old Testament. I’m like wow that scripture applies now, but when you want to get on your hobby horse, but when the same text speaks to something that you’re not a fan of then well it’s I don’t read that Testament okay? Understood, but for a lot of things here is what I look at and I initially discussed this passage along racial terms, but I think that it really speaks to more than just race. It speaks to gender, it speaks to virtually every disparity that we see. It’s found in Acts chapter 6 and there’s this interesting thing where there’s a daily distribution and somehow there’s a complaint by the Hellenists or the the Greek-speaking Jewish widows against the Hebrews who are also widows, because it seems that the the Hellenists were being neglected in the daily distribution. Now here’s what happens. I think the first thing that has to happen is people need to listen. There is a complaint that was raised, so the complaint is heard apparently and then the 12 Apostles, they summon and they call together all the disciples and are like hey we’re going to have a meeting about this. What’s going on? Here is what they say. It’s not like hey this is too little for us but they say hey we understand and we recognize that we have a job to do and so it’s not right that we give up preaching the word in order to serve tables. Now here’s the thing, they’re not saying that serving tables is less than what they’re doing, they’re just saying this is what we were called to do. So somebody else needs to come in to do this. I think more churches need to actually recognize that it’s not a one-person show.
Aaron: And I think the really important and clear distinction you made there Dan was that one is not more important than the other. And I think it’s so easy for people to think about the idea of the pastor’s job being the most important job in the church, which then just leads us to a reality that says well then whatever we give the most important like the most worth or value to is what we’re going to fall the most money into, the most time, the most resources everything into. I think and I don’t remember which commentator it was. I think it might have been Fowl in his commentary on Acts he actually mentions about that Acts six story that the apostles and he he was pretty strong with it he said the apostles actually failed. And he said they failed because it not because they weren’t trying to do their calling but because they they didn’t think it was worthy of their time, which is I think a really interesting argument that kind of plays into what you’re talking about Dan is when we give value to something we might actually engage in that thing. I think about my upbringing of churches with food banks. If we talk about daily distribution I don’t know too many churches anymore that have food banks so there are some but it seems much less than when I was a kid when like every church had a food bank.
Dan: I think you’re right about that and it’s one of those things of us asking okay what are we doing with our resources and our time? I hear the whole thing about the apostles failing but I think that they did come up with a good plan yeah and here’s where I think it turned into a success even if it wasn’t a success in the eyes of some. The people come together they pick out from among themselves seven people who have a good reputation full of the spirit and wisdom and then the apostles appointed them to the duty. Now here is what catches my attention. When you look at the names of these seven people, it would seem likely that the majority, if not all of them, had come from the marginalized group. You have Stephen, Phillip, Prochorus, Niconor, Timon, Parmanus, and Nikolaus was actually a proselyte so he was a straight-up Gentile who had converted to Judaism. That’s fascinating and so all of a sudden and see this is where I see the success of this story, you have a marginalized group who bring a complaint within the church. The church hears the complaint and they work together to find a solution. There is not a situation where all of a sudden the Hebrews are not saying well if you just pulled yourself up by your bootstraps you wouldn’t need this daily distribution.If you would just be more like us well if you would as a woman just stay home and raise your children you wouldn’t have to fight for equal pay. You don’t see those things coming about. What you see is them actually attempting to resolve the issue that has been addressed. There is not deflection to another issue, you don’t hear people trying to explain it away. They come together to find a solution. And here’s what happens if the church did that today, and I understand and I would say this passage describes what took place and I’m not saying that this would be the exact same result, but I believe that it would be in verse six of that passage it says and the word of God continued to increase so the apostles are still doing their thing of preaching and teaching and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. I do not believe it was exclusively because of the teaching that was going on, because we can be good at giving lip service, but when you see people who are actually looking at what is taking place and they say wait a minute, this is an opportunity that the church could have fallen apart based on some kind of power play, based on some kind of cultural division, or fill in the blank with whatever else you want to put it in. In this case it was a cultural issue. What we find is that people are seeing how the church is functioning and as a result people were coming to the faith because they’re hearing the word of God and they’re seeing people live out and practice that which was being preached.
Aaron: Yeah and I think I think we get that with so many of those stories in the book of Acts like I think of Acts 15, it’s a very big one that kind of pops my head all the time. Paul and Barnabas, they bring these stories of Gentiles who are actually becoming part of the faith without following any of the Torah law, and the interesting thing is if we’re following what you just said there Dan in that model, they didn’t go back to scripture. Like they didn’t go back to Torah and say what does Torah tell us about this? Because the answer wouldn’t have been there.
Dan: In some ways, I would give a little bit of pushback. Peter’s there and Peter speaks from experience, Paul and Barnabus are there and they speak from experience, but we always forget about the last person who spoke: Saint James the Bishop of Jerusalem. He appealed to scripture, he didn’t appeal to Torah, he appealed to the prophets, but there is still this going back to scripture and interpreting what was taking place based on what was seen in scripture and oddly enough it is a little-known passage in the book of Amos that talks about the rebuilding of the fallen tent of David that in order that people might come in. And I think that that’s the whole framework, because James recognized scripture actually speaks to this and maybe we didn’t recognize this, but now that we are seeing people come in we understand this passage because he says after this I will return and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen. I will rebuild its ruins and I will restore it so that the remnant of humanity may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by my name says the Lord who makes these things known from old. So you actually see Gentiles coming in and in the midst of the testimony and the experiences of Peter and Paul and Barnabus. James says wait this fulfills the words of God that were given to us through the prophet Amos.
Aaron: And I think that’s kind of where I was going. It was the experience of Paul and Barnabus and I hesitate to say this because I think so many people might hear it wrongly, but it was the experience of Paul and Barnabas that was helping clarify scripture, not the other way around that we sometimes think it like pedantically has to be every time, and in which case then what’s beautiful about accepting is that it’s the community having the discussion, listening to those experiences, and then of course this kind of prayer moment and it seems good to the Spirit and to us. The actual moment of the community saying it seems good to us and to the Spirit to not burden them and I love that because I think we’re pairing that with with Acts chapter six we start to get this kind of vision of what it really should look like maybe today when we talk about kind of the people who are bringing up issues of race in the church. That what we actually should be saying is well let’s talk to those who have the issue right and let’s hear their experiences and see if we see this experience in scripture in the same way that Acts 6 and Acts 15 do and actually communally and with the Spirit engage in these ideas. But that always is going to attack the power structure and I think I was going to say it’s beautiful because it actually addresses the sin issue of power abuse that we find. But the problem is this. Am I as a follower of Jesus really going to be willing to give up the power that I possess in the name of living biblically? Because remember Jesus will forgive me of my sins and this is just one of those sins that I might need him to forgive me of. But then we have to remember where sin abounds grace much more abounds. Saint Paul says but at the same time he asks shall we continue in sin wherefore grace would much more abound and he says certainly not!
Aaron: How do we get to a place again where the people of the church are ready to lay down that power and ready to actually engage in that idea of biblical justice?
Dan: It’s funny that you asked that question because a lot of people I’ve heard especially within Pentecostal and charismatic circles have discussed issues of a revival amongst the people of God. Every summer there was for my revival week. I don’t think that such a revival is going to have the same types of manifestations that people have sought for the past number of decades or should I say the past century basically. I think that the move of God will mandate repentance, forgiveness, and a coming together of the people within the church in unity. And I think that that will actually enable and empower the people in the church to walk alongside people who are in the world and where they can find agreement. I mean the fact that the Bible speaks to these issues should be the motivating factor for the church walking alongside these people and what hey let’s do this in this way or let’s work together to aim to to meet this goa,l and that way there’s not compromise on the part of the believer regarding how they are approaching the end goal, and it may also demonstrate to the people outside of the church wait there are issues like this that are addressed in scripture. Okay maybe I can get on board this Christianity thing.
Aaron: I kind of wish we could get there but we don’t have time this idea of like evangelism in the 21st century and in the church today is so much more about coming alongside of people and actually showing people the things that actually caring and taking care of, much less it’s that old paradigm preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words. It’s an old paradigm but it still holds true and I think I think there’s a lot more that the church does by marching with somebody, by marching with a group of people in protest right how racism then on a Sunday morning just having a service as the status quo.
Dan: you mean you’re actually going out into the hedges and highways and compelling people to come in?
Aaron: I would hope that that would be the vision. I would hope that we would actually see the fact that the best way that we can actually preach the gospel is by going out to people and not that of course not the street corner you’re going to hell sign holders. I saw that I thought they were a dead breed but they’re back. Dan this has been really good and and I hope it’s a conversation that we can keep having in the future. Because I would love to keep keep thinking about this issue and keep thinking about new ways that we can actually talk about biblical justice that unfortunately what’s needed is the people in the church need to hear it more than the people outside the church need to hear it. Which is an odd situation that I think we find ourselves in. But how can people if they want to keep up with what you’re doing or connect with you how can people do that so they can kind of engage more with your thought and thinking as you’re going on this journey?
Dan: I think my social media would be the best route to go I actually have a new page that I recently started on facebook which is just @danielimorrison. The account is @DocDanMo. That’s also my Twitter and Instagram handle and those would be the easiest ways to get in contact with me and I’ll be more than willing to connect and have discussions.
Aaron: Dan thank you so much for being with us, it’s really challenged my thinking helping me kind of renegotiate some ideas in my own head. Dan so thanks so much for being with us.
Dan: Thank you Aaron it’s been a pleasure hopefully we’ll talk soon.