Journey toward Justice

Personal Encounters in the Global South

series: Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity

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Christianity's demographics, vitality, and influence have tipped markedly toward the global South and East. Addressing this seismic shift, one of today's leading Christian scholars reflects on what he has learned about justice through his encounters with world Christianity.

Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff's experiences in South Africa, the Middle East, and Honduras have shaped his views on justice through the years. In this book he offers readers an autobiographical tour, distilling the essence of his thoughts on the topic. After describing how he came to think about justice as he does and reviewing the theory of justice he developed in earlier writings, Wolterstorff shows how deeply embedded justice is in Christian Scripture. He reflects on the difficult struggle to right injustice and examines the necessity of just punishment. Finally, he explores the relationship between justice and beauty and between justice and hope.

This book is the first in the Turning South series, which offers reflections by eminent Christian scholars who have turned their attention and commitments toward the global South and East.


Series Preface
Series Editor's Foreword
Part 1: Awakening
1. Two Awakening Experiences
2. An Evening in Amman
3. Questions about Starting from the Wronged
4. One Difference That Starting from the Wronged Made
5. Another Difference That Starting from the Wronged Made
Part 2: Justice and Rights
6. Opposition to Rights-Talk
7. What Are Rights?
8. Rights Grounded in Worth
9. Why Rights-Talk Is Important
10. Is Rights-Talk for Expressing Possessive Individualism?
Part 3: Justice in Scripture
11. Natural Rights in Three Church Fathers
12. Justice in the Old Testament
13. On the Claim That Justice Is Supplanted in the New Testament
14. Justice in the New Testament
15. On English Translations of the New Testament
16. More about Justice in the New Testament
17. Justice and Love
18. Justice, Love, and Shalom
19. Does Scripture Imply a Right Order Conception of Justice?
Part 4: Righting Injustice
20. Human Rights
21. Six Days in South Africa
22. Art in the Struggle to Right Injustice
23. On the Blocking of Empathy and the Hardening of Hearts
24. The Structure of Social Justice Movements
Part 5: Just Punishment
25. A Visit to Honduras
26. St. Paul's Rejection of Retributive Punishment
27. What Paul Said about the Task and Authority of the State
28. Justice, Forgiveness, and Punishment
Part 6: Beauty, Hope, and Justice
29. Justice and Beauty
30. Hope
31. Recap


"Drawing on his experience of being confronted by those who have suffered injustice, Wolterstorff helps us understand why and how such experiences should make a difference for how justice is understood. His reflections on the relations of beauty, hope, and justice are profound and moving."

Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School; author of many books, including With the Grain of the Universe and Hannah's Child

"I have been so deeply grateful, over many years, for the gift of rigorous scholarship Dr. Wolterstorff has brought to the body of Christ. Now my gratitude expands all the more with his newest gift: his work on biblical justice made accessible for even wider audiences and, most of all, the sharing of his personal journey. This is a book that I will use in many settings for years to come."

Bethany H. Hoang, director, IJM Institute for Biblical Justice

"I first started learning from Nick Wolterstorff when I became his Calvin College colleague in 1968. Now, in reading this pilgrimage narrative, I have learned even more from him. Journey toward Justice is not only a fine primer in the basics of Christian political thought--which it surely is. More important, it is an inspiring testimony about what it means to seek the shalom that God intends for the creation, narrated in firsthand encounters with the realities of human suffering."

Richard Mouw, professor of faith and public life, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Nicholas Wolterstorff's Journey toward Justice is far more than his personal story of how his encounters with suffering people shaped his thinking (and life) around an active concern for justice. The book combines this story with deep and clear thinking, centered in the biblical revelation, about how Christians should think about justice and about the implications of a biblical concern for justice in the contemporary world."

C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities, Baylor University

"If you have not read Wolterstorff's great books on justice, you should. This book--accessible and profound--is the easiest place to start."

Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale Divinity School; founder and director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture; author of A Public Faith

"Nick Wolterstorff is one of my 'heroes of the faith'--not just because he is a brilliant philosopher (although he is that), and not just because he is a careful and attentive reader of Scripture (although he is that too), but because he is an advocate for justice. His concern with justice is a lived concern, not just a theoretical one. His encounters with people who had been treated unjustly decisively shaped his life and re-formed both his analysis of the concept of justice and his reading of Scripture. I hope this book is widely read. It just may prompt others to listen both to the oppressed and to God--and to hunger for justice."

Allen Verhey, Robert E. Cushman Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School

"Nicholas Wolterstorff has earned our respect and stirred our minds in his long career as a Christian philosopher. He has demanded our attention and struck our conscience in his more recent turn to the theory and practice of justice. Here he captures our imaginations and moves our souls as he tells the story of his journey toward justice--a journey that leads him from wisdom to witness."

Samuel Wells, vicar, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square; visiting professor of Christian ethics, King's College, London, England

"Ideas have consequences, the philosophers tell us. And they are right. But every idea also has a story. This is the tale of how one of American Christianity's most careful thinkers got justice deep down in his soul. Journey toward Justice is nothing if it is not clear. But it is more: by telling the story of how people suffering injustice touched him, Wolterstorff has also made his case deeply compelling. I put this book alongside Lament for a Son as his best writing for the church."

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door

"Nicholas Wolterstorff here explores various ways we humans have come to think about issues of justice. But rather than offer us an anatomy of viewpoints, he asks himself and us what might move us from worldview to engagement. And what moved this philosopher accustomed to canvassing and assessing 'theories' was encountering those suffering the throes of injustice yet enduring them with hope, including black South Africans, Palestinians, and Hondurans--as well as those from the societies dominating them who had come to stand with them. Here is a philosophical inquiry that is imbued with life."

David Burrell, CSC, Hesburgh Professor emeritus, University of Notre Dame

The Author

  1. Nicholas P. Wolterstorff

    Nicholas P. Wolterstorff

    Nicholas P. Wolterstorff (PhD, Harvard University) is Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia. He is the author of numerous books,...

    Continue reading about Nicholas P. Wolterstorff


"Nicholas Wolterstorff is one of the great thinkers of our time. . . . He has been a leading Christian philosophical voice both in the academy and the church. . . . This is a must-read book. . . . It is a carefully honed analysis of justice within a Christian framework. Read in this way, it is a truly great book. Wolterstorff has given the issue of justice considerable attention in recent years. . . . Journey toward Justice is an outstanding, accessible summary of his entire argument this is desperately needed because his argument is both correct and pivotal for a Christian engagement with the world. . . . This book is an extraordinary gift to the church, an invitation into an understanding of the Christian drama that is focused on advocacy for those who are being denied their fundamental value as human beings. Accessible yet demanding, it is a powerful contribution to the literature."

Ian S. Markham,

Christian Century

"I recommend [this book] highly."

John Wilson,

Books & Culture

"It is . . . the interweaving of human stories and broader philosophical reflections, rooted in Wolterstorff's powerful reminiscences, which make this 'autobiographical tour' so compelling. . . . It is precisely in the retelling of situations he faced personally that their influence on his intellectual concerns becomes apparent."

Christopher Landau,


"This book unites the right scholar at the right stage in his career with the right series. . . . The result is an erudite, concise, and accessible review of [Wolterstorff's] major scholarly projects that integrates retrospective and biographical explanations of moments that motivated a life of philosophical inquiry. . . . The strengths of this book are many. The intellectual territory that Wolterstorff covers is admirable. The depth and responsibility of each discussion is also impressive. Readers will enjoy the skillful weaving of biographical narrative into the scholarly inquiry. The prose sparkles with clarity. . . . This book is an engaging overview of Wolterstorff's major intellectual concerns. It communicates his arguments powerfully and concisely. It is appropriate reading for scholars and graduate students, as well as undergraduates in courses on philosophical and theological ethics, biblical studies, and global justice issues. Instructors who teach such courses should consider incorporating selections from this book into their syllabi."

Daniel A. Morris,

Biblical Theology Bulletin

"A rich philosophical and theological account of moral responsibility to the oppressed--one part intellectual autobiography, one part ethical manifesto. Eminently readable, this volume serves as a wonderful introduction to Wolterstorff's other writings in moral philosophy. . . . In addition to serving as a primer on Wolterstorff's work, Journey toward Justice provides an elegant example of how moral philosophy and theology can be written effectively for the non-expert. Wolterstorff models how ethics can and should be done in reflective conversation with the experiences of real persons most in need of moral representation."

James Calvin Davis,


"Wolterstorff connects a lifetime of scholarship and reflection to personal experiences of injustice in the Global South, cast not in the form of an abstract and systematic rumination (he has done that elsewhere), but a story at once autobiographical and accessible. The result is a gift for the reader. This is no mere application of philosophical and theological theory to data, but an account of how one man awoke from his 'slumber.'. . . Accessible, interesting, and rewarding, Wolterstorff's work is an excellent primer for the lay readers seeking to engage the concept of justice on a substantive level."

Clinton Wilson,

Living Church

"Some of the clearest contemporary thinking and writing about the theory and practice of justice has come from Nicholas Wolterstorff. . . . Wolterstorff combines careful theory-building with real-world applications and examples, and always with an undertone conveying the urgency and imperativeness of working for justice. Journey toward Justice displays these same characteristics, but weaves in an autobiographical thread. . . . Wolterstorff has always been very skilled at (and insistent about) connecting his so-called abstractions to concrete situations--that is, at uniting theory and praxis. . . . Journey toward Justice is, for the most part, an engaging introduction to Wolterstorff's theory of justice and the experiences that shaped it. . . . [It] displays the clarity and passion that characterize all of his writings."

Marilyn Matevia,

Englewood Review of Books

"Readers of any part of Wolterstorff's substantial and still growing corpus find a philosophical discourse distinguished for its penetrating analyses, relentless reasoning, and clear writing. Journey toward Justice is classic Wolterstorff with a bit of a twist: This time his philosophizing is woven into a personal narrative highlighting a series of life-shaping encounters with sufferers of injustice in the global south (mostly). . . . He is a trailblazer in philosophical theology who has made significant contributions in epistemology, aesthetics, Christian education, ethics, and political theology. As a trailblazer, he has often shown his readers a better way, as I think he does in much of the present volume. Hacking his way through tangles of unclear thinking, he leads readers to greener pastures and up rough philosophical crags to new vistas. New readers will find Journey to be a stimulating introduction to the man and his theory of justice; Wolterstorff students will value the humanizing context it offers. All readers, as always, will find the trail he blazes, wherever it may lead, clearly marked."

Bruce P. Baugus,

Journal of Markets & Morality

"[Wolterstorff] serves as a paragon of scholarly engagement in the Global South, and an example of the fruits such engagement can bear. . . . Journey toward Justice has much to recommend it. . . . For any reader interested in an introduction to Wolterstorff's thoughts on political philosophy and theological politics, Journey toward Justice is a wonderful inlet to that sea of scholarship. Journey toward Justice also provides a living example of Wolterstorff's method of theorizing. . . . Any Christian scholar--and for that matter any Christian--will benefit greatly from observing and emulating this type of methodological engagement. . . . Wolterstorff contributes another articulate, powerful, and promising aspect of the Christian vision in the 21st century. We are all the beneficiaries of Nicholas Wolterstorff's achievements in philosophy and theology, and owe him a great deal of gratitude."

Dan Dake,

Asbury Journal

"A marvelous encapsulation of [Wolterstorff's] work. Wolterstorff writes as a first-rate philosopher on the basis of his own experiences in South Africa, the Holy Land, and Honduras, combining a thorough grounding in scripture with a lucid style. . . . Highlighting the priority that justice enjoys in the Bible, he debunks attempts to mute its demands by showing how integrally it is connected to love, mercy, beauty, and peace."

Plough Quarterly

"The book is threaded throughout by a genuinely engaging autobiographical narrative of one man's journey toward justice, with a goal toward inspiring others to pursue similar journeys as part of their Christian calling. . . . The real strength of this work lies in its ability to be both intellectually stimulating and at the same time empathetic to real-world injustices. . . . This to me, brings a much needed dimension that is often lost in discussions of this topic. . . . Especially helpful are several areas of Biblical faith that have often been misinterpreted or misapplied in arguing against Christian involvement in justice issues. . . . Wolterstorff helps the reader think through these issues in an intellectually rigorous manner, and provides a solid theological defense of his approach in a highly readable narrative style. This text would make a great resource for any graduate or postgraduate program that addresses these or any related issues, and I heartily recommend it."

Jerry Ireland,


"This is [Wolterstorff] a bit more accessible, sharing his own heart, of how his encounters with injustice--most notably in Palestine and in apartheid era South Africa--affected his faith and, more so, his own scholarly vocation. . . . What an honor to carry such a book by an esteemed Reformed scholar, narrating firsthand how the realities of human suffering color his work as a political philosopher, an academic, professor, and human being. Not to be missed."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds Books blog

"This is extraordinary, truly extraordinary: a world-renowned Christian philosopher telling his own story of ways in which coming face to face with those oppressed in the global south influenced his thinking and shaped the direction and character of his work (towards political philosophy). . . . It is outstanding for any number of profound reasons, but also for this: for those who don't quite see the value of such (philosophical) reasoning, this helps keep the discipline grounded, and shows the 'so what' nature of the good call to philosophizing. . . . The book deserves our highest honors. . . . Big thanks to Wolterstorff for sharing his heart, for offering this lucid intro to his work, and to those who came up with the engaging [Turning South] series."

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds Books blog