Until Justice and Peace Embrace (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

This book was one of the last, true “Neo-Calvinist” manifestos and was written when Nicholas Wolterstorff was more of a neo-Calvinist than he is today. It champions the Calvinist Reformation as a “world-formative” Christianity (3). Indeed, Wolterstorff sees two types of Christianity: avertive and formative (5).

Wolterstorff defines justice:

P1: The enjoyment of one’s rights.

The early part of this book is more of a sociological essay, which, while interesting, will not be of immediate interest to the usual readers of Eerdmans publishing. However, Wolterstorff does advance several charged theses: namely, that societies also need to be redeemed. Further, if they are to be redeemed, one must also see where they are structurally flawed (or directed).

Discussion of Rights

Right to protection
Right to freedom
Right to participate in government
Right to sustenance

Classic Liberalism: do your own thing but do not interfere, positively or negatively, with your neighbor.

Sustenance Rights are basic rights–they are necessary for life (82).

Wolterstorff defines “right” as a “morally legitimate claim [to]…the actual enjoyment of a good that is socially guaranteed against ordinary, serious, and remedial threats (82).
a. A right places an obligation on others, a responsibility–and that is necessary to what it means to be human.
b. A right is the claim to the actual enjoyment of the good in question.
c. It is socially guaranteed.
d. This means that rights always involve social structures.

*Shalom as Delight-in-Justice/Beauty*

The medievals were correct that beatitudo is necessary. Yet this isn’t quite Shalom. Justice never enters the picture in the medievals’ discussions. Shalom incorporates our delight in the physical. This also means Liturgy. Looking back at Deuteronomy, we find three themes in liturgy:

*Take Heed

The book ends with suggestions to what Wolterstorff would later title his “Ethics of Belief.” As a whole his book is quite fine and occasionally inspiring. He does include a fine critique of liberation theology. Some of the sociological discussions, however, are quite technical.

Criticism and Observation

Let’s take one of his “basic rights,” sustenance. Who is to guarantee “sustenance?” He really doesn’t say, but one fears he has a candidate in mind: The Government. Okay, that raises some other questions: How does the Government determine how much sustenance one needs? By what rationality? These questions really can’t be answered, and it’s probably a good thing Wolterstorff didn’t broach them.


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