The first is the view of the Deuteronomistic history (Joshua - II Kings). In the DH, the primary theology states that if you do good God will bless you and if you do bad God will curse you (see Deuteronomy 30:15-18). A corollary to this view is that if you a wealthy and/or prosperous God has blessed you because you are righteous, and if you are poor and afflicted, God has done this due to some disobedience on your part.
A second view, one that directly challenges that of the DH is that view of the prophets and their call for justice and a privileging of the poor and outcasts of society. Amos rails against unjust business practices and the exploitation of the poor. Micah calls for a person to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Jeremiah calls for justice and righteousness and a privileging of the alien, orphan, and widow (Jeremiah 22:3). The Lukan Jesus proclaims that his purpose is to "bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free" (Luke 4:18-19). These outcasts of society, according to the DH, would be in their position precisely because of some sin, yet in the prophetic view, they are in their position because of some injustice, and they become those whom God favors.
The book of Job is also a profound challenge to the theology of the DH as the main character is afflicted because of no fault of his own, and his "friends," who are portrayed as perfect DH apologists, are actually in the wrong.
At the end of the 19th century, with the rise of the industrial revolution, this prophetic view of wealth and society was reclaimed by those who would be the champions of the poor, of the victims of the industrialization of the West. Thinkers such as Walter Rauschenbusch and General William Booth of the Salvation Army latched on to this prophetic view and sought to relieve the ills of the underprivileged in society.
Also influenced by this prophetic view, and in many ways taking up the mantle of the social gospelers, were the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, made this call for justice: "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Coming out of the civil rights movement came another term, that of "social justice."
So, what is social justice and how is it related to the prophetic view of wealth and prosperity found in the Bible? There are several definitions. For example:
"The mission of the [Catholic] Office for Social Justice is to serve those most in need by calling for Justice."Thus, the primary goal of that office is "justice." Or there is this quote from the National Association of Social workers:
Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.Justice and opportunity also seems to be at the heart of this definition. Then there is this motto from the Centre for Social Justice:
Narrowing the Gap in income, wealth and power.This last one does not have justice at its core, but rather an agenda to "narrow the gap" in the economic and political realms.
As Christians, we are called to do Justice, to protect those who can't protect themselves, to serve those in need. How does the teaching of the Bible and the history of both the social gospel and social justice movements impact our lives and actions. What say you?