Building a Justice Framework


I’ve been thinking a bunch about frameworks lately. When it comes to all this “justice stuff” it’s hard to nail down specifics, but there are philosophical and Biblical underpinnings that help me move towards justice. I’ve come across one particularly helpful framework put together by pastor Tim Keller (Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything). Tim looks at the whole Biblical picture of justice and he breaks down what he finds into three categories, relief, development, and reform. These three categories help me maintain a more holistic picture of justice and clarify how different “focuses” fit into the whole scheme of things. His description is excellent, so I’ll share it in full, followed by my own example of an organization to partner with in each category.


This is direct aid to meet physical/material/social needs. The good Samaritan provides physical protection, emergency medical treatment, and a rent subsidy for the man he finds beaten and half-dead in the street (Luke 10:29-37). Relief includes helping at temporary shelters or food pantries or clothing closets for the homeless, providing medical services or crisis counseling, and so on.


This is more about what is needed to bring a person or community to self-sufficiency. In the Old Testament, when a slave’s debt was erased and he was released, God directed that his former master send him out with grain, tools, and resources for a new, self-sufficient economic life (Deut. 15:12-14). Development includes, for example, providing education, job creation and training, housing development and home ownership, and so on in a community.


This is about changing social conditions and structures that aggravate or cause poverty and dependency. Job tells us that he not only clothed the naked, but he “broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth” (Job 29:17). The prophets denounced unfair wages (Jer. 22:13), corrupt business practices (Amos 8:6), legal systems weighted in favor of the rich and influential (Deut. 24:17; Lev. 19:15), and a system of lending capital that gouges the person of modest means (Ex. 22:25-27). Reform includes, for example, working for a particular community to receive better police protection, fairer banking practices, better laws, and so on.


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