Darrow Miller and Friends

Why So Much Heat Around Discussions of Social Justice?

All people of good will, who have a heart of the poor and vulnerable, who are appalled by the corruption and injustice they see, who are aghast at the slaughtering of females on the scale of a holocaust, who grieve to watch sex-slavery replace black slavery … all such people want to do something to stand for justice.

But how we are to work for social justice, what policies and programs are needed, is hotly debated. The heat is actually generated, though, at a level much deeper than pragmatic considerations such as policies and programs.

Policies and programs are not suspended in air; they are the logical consequences of principles and paradigms. Our sacred belief systems ultimately determine how we understand the issues of social justice and how those issues are to be solved. The discussions may be at the level of policy and programs, but the people in the discussions get hot under the collar because their sacred belief systems, which they may hold unconsciously, are being challenged.

We need to realize that people who have a heart for social justice may be working from differing paradigms or worldviews. These different paradigms establish very different principles, policies and programs. What assumptions underlie the sometimes bitter discussions over poverty and social injustice?

A simple way of diagramming shows how Paradigms drive Principles which drive Policies which drive Programs.

Or, to say it differently politics and economics are downstream from culture and culture is downstream from cult – worship. Or, Worldview leads to Values which shape Behavior which drives Consequences. In this post, we will use the four P diagram above.

The way one defines a problem will determine how one solves the problem. Many may be motivated by compassion to help the poor: they have a worthy goal of reducing and working towards the end of poverty and injustice. But different paradigms will lead to very different solutions.

Wherever we can, we need to work together. Yet at the same time, where we have real differences in our approach to solving problems of poverty, we must avoid minimizing those differences. We need to speak about and treat others who are working with the poor in civil fashion, even when we disagree on how best to solve the problems our communities and nations face.

Most people who speak of social justice do so because they believe the universe has a moral dimension. That is, there is evil in the universe and it manifests itself in three distinct ways: moral evil, natural evil and institutional evil. It is the responsibility of those who seek justice to fight evil in all of its manifestations, to do that which is right and oppose that which is wrong. Because the universe is moral, we have a responsibility to relate ethically and justly to other human beings and to the creation.  We are our brother’s keeper! We have a responsibility to steward the creation. We have responsibility for ourselves, our families, and the larger community, including people who are economically and politically marginalized.

To seek justice in a fallen world is not easy, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s story so powerfully illustrates.

As darkness grew in Europe during the rise of the Third Reich, the young pastor Bonheoffer understood that the church needed to stand against the injustice being perpetuated on the Jews. He challenged the church to engage on three levels, each, in succession, more difficult and dangerous.

First he called the church to advocacy – to speak out on behalf of Jewish people. Second he called the church to compassion – to “come alongside in passion,” opening their communities and homes to shelter and hide the Jews who were being persecuted. The book by Corrie ten Boom and the diary of Anne Frank are testimony to the hardship and cost to those who provided a “hiding place.”

Third, Bonheoffer called the church to live out justice, in this case to throw a wrench in the Nazi killing machine. He called the church to stand against the unjust legal authority and do all in her power to stop it. Each successive call found more and more Christians abandoning the cry for justice. And Bonheoffer ended up paying with his life.

–          Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).


  1. Jon Davis Jr.

    February 16, 2012 - 7:23 am

    One thing I like about reading Darrow Miller (and friends) is that he is usually discussing worldview from a relief and development point of view rather than a political one. Not that I think discussing worldview on politics (civil government) is a bad idea! It is just refreshing to see Miller’s emphasis.

    So… Thank you Darrow Miller. 🙂

    I do wish, however, that in this article he would have addressed this question: “what is ‘social’ justice and how does it differ from just ‘justice’?”

    Almost every time I’ve discussed “social” justice with someone the emphasis is on “fixing” income equality as opposed to helping the poor STOP being poor.

    Ok. So I could go off into starting to generate “heat” on this topic now. 🙂

    But I really would like to hear more thoughts that clarify if there is any such valid thing as “social” justice that is any different from “regular” justice.

    Jon D.

  2. Jon Davis Jr.

    February 16, 2012 - 9:32 am

    Very strange. I received a reply to my comment by email but when I arrived here the response is not here and my comment is still awaiting moderation?

    Here is the comment response that the email referred to: “Jon, Thanks very much for your response. I wonder if you have read our earlier posts on this subject? I think you will find there some of the thoughts you are wanting to hear. – Gary Brumbelow”

    Thanks for encouraging me to look further Gary! I did find this article (as well as a few others):


    That was helpful to know where you all are coming from at this site.