Review: Resurrecting Justice

Resurrecting Justice: Reading Romans for the Life of the World, Douglas Harink. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: An invitation to read Romans as a treatise on justice in our relationship with God, in the church, and in society.

Douglas Harink contends that in Christian discussions of justice, we have overlooked Romans, turning instead to the law, the prophets, and the gospels. A key reason for this is how we typically translate dikaiosynē. Usually, in Romans, it is rendered as “righteous” or “righteousness. The same word also may be translated as “justice” and Harink offers a reading of Romans using this translation. In doing so, he moves Christian discussions of justice from culture-shaped discussions with a veneer of Christianity to a distinctive, God-shaped justice profoundly shaped by the suffering, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Son.

One feature of this reading is not only to substitute justice for instances of righteousness, but to translate reveal as “apocalypse” and instead of speaking of Christ, to use “Messiah” and to refer to followers as “messianics.” He also elaborates the cultural understanding of words often used in Romans such as “lord,” “son of God,” “gospel,” “coming,” “savior” and other terms. One particularly significant one is faith, translating pistis. Like other contemporary commentators, he uses terms like loyalty, allegiance and faithfulness. This poses a challenge because the unfamiliar or redefined terminology involves a kind of “code-switching,” being mindful of Harink’s definitions throughout. There is a glossary at the back of the book to help with this purpose.

Against the backdrop in which the “gospel” is the glorious rule of Rome, he shows how Paul’s thesis is that the gospel is God’s saving power revealed (apocalypsed) for all who believe, both Jews and Greek through the crucified one, that the just will live by faith. Harink goes on to show how both Gentile nations have been under captivity to idolatrous political and philosophic systems and Jews to the law. The justice of God is revealed not in conflict between Jew and Gentile, but through the love of God revealed in the death of the son who liberates both from captivity to the power of sin, but reveals his power to work in those who trust in him through the resurrection. This is a justice that crucifies human control for the power of the Spirit, that begins to undo the bondage of creation, and that will triumph through all adversity, inseparable from the love of God in Christ. This will ultimately be justice for all Israel, now divided.

The conclusion of Romans deals with how the people of the Messiah live as a result of the justice revealed. One of the distinctive aspects of this reading is its understand of Romans 13:1-10. Harink calls for what he calls “messianic anarchy.” By this he does not mean lawlessness, but the recognition that the archys, the powers that be are ‘over’ us and we are ‘under’ and submitting to those powers is not upholding the state but simply not resisting the “overs” but recognizing that we are ‘under.’ We are not for or against them. They exist, they may sometimes do good things, but they are not the justice of God.

He also shows how the table instructions of Romans 14 reflect the justice of God, the solidarity between Jew and Gentile. Even the concluding greetings reflect the solidarity Paul has with Jew and Gentile, women and men.

Harink’s work presses out how the saving justice of God in the work of Christ transforms personal, church, and political relationships. Along the way in his reading, he offers questions for reflection. He shows that the work of Christ not only “justices” us with God but transforms human relationships as we live in “messianic time,” the already-not yet time” where we live in love of God and neighbor. Harink writes:

“We live in an age–probably not really unlike others–in which our gaze is constantly drawn to the ruling powers; not only the political ones but also all those powers–technology, the economy, the media, the crowd–that would grab our attention and call us to celebrate their glory and greatness. It is hard not to believe that they, rather than the lowly, have inherited the earth. It seems obvious. But the whole of the letter to the Romans draws our gaze elsewhere–to the justice of God in the crucified and risen Messiah Jesus and the power of life in the Spirit.”

Harink, p. 188.

The main question I have as I read this book is to understand how Christ’s saving work is accomplished. He speaks of the obedience of Christ, human and divine as conquering the Adamic sovereignty that is at the heart of sin, revealing the justice of God. It seem that this is an act that saves by divine fiat rather than the just one standing in our place, the obedient dying for the rebellious. As compelling as this reading is, and I do believe there is much to commend it in its understanding of the justice of God revealed in Christ and how we live under this, like many contemporary works, it seems this evades the idea of substitution. I do not believe this reading must dispense with substitution, which magnifies the obedience of the Son, and the justice and love of the Father. Perhaps this reading is just reframing. The alternate language certainly offers a fresh look at Romans. But new readings deserve careful reading, and with new insights, we must be certain that we have sacrificed old truths.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: Resurrecting Justice

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: April 2021 | Bob on Books

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