Over three billion people around the world use social media. That's almost half the entire world's population and almost the entire population of the globe that has access to the internet. (source: Mashable). There are more than seven times as many people on social media around the world as there are people who lack basic heath care, and almost four times as many people on social media as there are people lacking access to clean drinking water. These figures are staggering.
Though we tend to think of the concept of justification as a 'church-y' world or concept that has little relevance to the secular world, as anyone who spends any time on social media quickly figures out, people are incredibly concerned about justification. People go to great lengths on social media to receive positive judgment, affirmation, and approval of others by gaining favorites, likes, comments, etc. on their posts. Multiple popular and scientific studies show the connection between those who fail to receive approval and increased depression, anxiety, and the like.
To be blunt, we need approval. As Oswald Bayer eloquently points out in his brief but wonderful book on the subject of justification, "To be recognized and justified; to cause ourselves to be justified or to justify ourselves in attitude, thought, word, and action; to need to justify our being; or simply to be allowed to exist without needing to justify our being—all this makes for our happiness or unhappiness and it an essential part of our humanity" (Bayer, Living By Faith: Justification and Sanctification).
The problem is that we focus now on seeking that approval from fickle and fleeting sources (i.e. social media) instead of from God.
Back in 2009 I wrote a series of posts reviewing the God's Word bible translation. It was a three part review, focusing on background, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. In that series, I expressed frustration and disappointment that the translators had chosen to translate the Greek word dikaioo as 'approval' instead of the traditional 'justify.' Since then my views have changed. While I certainly think the church needs to continue to teach and preach the concept of justification as an essential part of our salvation, I no longer view 'approval' as a weakness of God's Word but as a great strength of this translation--especially in light of our innate need and craving for approval as manifested in the phenomenon of social media. For translations that steer away from traditional theological terms to speak the language of a culture that is largely ignorant of the meanings of those terms, 'approval' is a great way to bridge the gap. I much prefer it to the language of 'make right with God' that the NLT uses--honestly, this is still 'church-y' language, just in a plain, vanilla Evangelical-speak instead of the traditional terms. In my experience, the world doesn't think or speak like this. 'Approval,' however, we understand.
Some of you will doubtless disagree with my assessment. That's fine. I am traditional enough to argue that we need to retain traditional theological language as we teach the faith, and there we probably agree completely, but we must recognize that we need educate people on our rich heritage instead of continuing to assume they have a rich understanding of our language. At least among the people I live, work, and worship with, the language of approval is a perfect way to introduce and simply the wonderful gift God has given us in his approval of us, our justification by grace. We need not look to social media and our peers for something only Christ can truly give us.