Got a Theology of Justice?
“What’s your theology of justice?” he asked at the beginning of the class, which was met with blank but curious stares.
Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing, more than any other book besides the Bible, has shaped my theological understanding of justice. Authors Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice develop a Christ-centered, Scripture-shaped, journey-oriented theology of justice reconciliation.
The authors urge that we slow down and take the time that is needed for true reconciliation—as a journey—to take hold. A question that permeates the book is, “Reconciliation toward what?” Katongole and Rice are aware that “reconciliation” calls to mind various “prevailing visions,” many of which lack theological rootedness in the Biblical story of God saving his people.
Reconciliation is, they suggest, a God-given gift to the world and the ultimate goal of the “journey with God from old toward new.” They write,
The journey of reconciliation hangs or falls on seeing Jesus. …For Christians, the compass for the journey of reconciliation is always pointing toward Jesus Christ.
Katongole and Rice make heavy use of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (II Corinthians 5:18-20, TNIV)
Seen as a gift, then, reconciliation becomes something that is “not for experts only,” but something that God calls all his children to. To equip us for the journey God gives us gifts: a cloud of witnesses, communion, peace and harmony, Sabbath, and the gift of Scripture, which is to shape us as God’s story in the world.
Midway through the book the authors arrive at a biblically understood definition of justice:
Justice is an aspect of God’s shalom, a notion that carries with it the idea of completeness, soundness, well-being and prosperity, and includes every aspect of life—personal, relational and national.
Justice, they say, is to include the interpersonal, relational aspect; yet it must also attend to structural considerations. To speak about justice so holistically, against dichotomies that might otherwise render our work ineffective, is wise and instructive for our journey toward reconciliation.
Although written by a black, Catholic, African academician and a white, Protestant, American practitioner, the book does not specify what issues in reconciliation may occur between any two specific groups and how those groups (or individuals) might think about moving forward. The authors do give helpful anecdotal evidence of reconciliation that bridges and heals divides of race, class, and ethnicity. But the reader wanting, for example, to mend and redress the brokenness in black-white relations in the United States may have to look to supplemental reading for more practical hints.
However, in its development of a fairly robust theology of reconciliation and justice, Reconciling All Things lays the important groundwork on top of which such future work can be built. Its chapters on lament (“The Discipline of Lament”) and leadership (“The Heart, Spirit, and Life of Leadership”) are profound in their call for Christians to slow down, locate themselves (emotionally and physically) among the broken places of the world, and to mourn and lament in those places, together with those who mourn and lament.
The one who would lead, then, is less concerned with specific techniques, tools, and strategies, and more concerned with seeing a gap, being deeply moved in response, and belonging to the gap, long before she or he would make proposals to initiate change and issue directives. In laying this groundwork, Katongole and Rice actually leave the work of developing techniques and specific reconciliation “skills” to the reader.
In the end, “You find that God has surprised you and your companions over and over with all that you needed to go on….” The assurance of this ongoing gift of God’s provision gives the Christian who would practice reconciliation all she needs to begin discerning her role in practicing reconciliation in everyday life.