I’ve encountered resistance from Christians in speaking about Paul’s conception of churches as communities of justice. I think that fears of a “social gospel” have made many readers of Paul’s texts blind to the sorts of social behaviors and intentionally-cultivated community dynamics to which Paul calls his churches.
In his new book, Becoming the Gospel, which I’m having a difficult time putting down, Michael Gorman addresses this crucial aspect of Paul’s vision:
The theme of justice has become increasingly central to my interpretation of Paul. Some readers, however, become nervous when they hear “justice” language associated with the apostle Paul. They fear that he is being turned into an advocate of nonpersonal, nonspiritual, progressive, or “liberal” theology that detracts from Paul’s true intentions. …[S]uch fears are misplaced. Paul’s theology and spirituality are a legitimate and substantive continuation of the prophetic ministry and message of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus. This does not make him “unspiritual” – or anything else one might fear – but rather interprets him properly as fully and covenantally spiritual: passionate about love of God and love of neighbor, filled with the Spirit of justice who filled Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, and Jesus. But Paul expresses this Spirit-filled prophetic reality in new ways in light of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, cruciformity and justice are inseparable from each other. The same can be said of peacemaking and reconciliation, which are related in the Bible (and specifically in Paul) not only to justice but also to love – all components of the Bible’s grand vision of shalom. These interrelated practices constitute the several sides, so to speak, of one coin, the missional identity of those who are in Christ (p. 9, n. 21).