Generous Justice

Posted: February 17, 2011 in books, gospel, justice, poor

Tim Keller’s newest book, Generous Justice, is an important reminder for middle-class, conservative, evangelical Christians (read chapter 1).  In a post on his blog, Keller explains the main thrust of the book:

“The main theme of my book is that the gospel of grace will turn anyone who truly believes it into a person who does justice for those in need. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but also generosity and social concern, and a willingness to live a more modest lifestyle in order to be generous to the church and to the poor. This kind of life reflects the character of God (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalm 146:7-9). We have the Biblical and spiritual resources to overcome the superficiality of our culture and become what the spiritual descendents of Abraham should be – a true blessing to our city and to the poor (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:7).”

A few months ago, Kevin DeYoung interviewed Keller about the book.  Here are a couple highlights:

You explain at the beginning of the book that you are writing for four kinds of people: those excited about doing justice, those suspicious, those who have expanded their mission to include social justice, and those who think religion poisons everything. In a sentence, what do you want to say to each group?

I hope that the 1st group gets a more sustained commitment to doing justice through growing in theological and spiritual maturity.

I hope that the 2nd group becomes aware that what Jonathan Edwards says is true, namely that there is “no command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms…than the command of giving to the poor.”

I hope that the 3rd group would be more patient with warnings to not let a justice emphasis undermine a church’s work of evangelism and making disciples. Careful balances have to be struck. (Whoops—that’s two sentences!)

I hope that the 4th group will be able to recognize that much of their understanding of rights and justice has come from the Bible, and even to critique the church they have to use standards borrowed from Christianity.

Any cautions you would give to Christians who are eager to transform the world or make the shalom of the city their church’s mission?

I believe that making disciples and doing justice relate (not exactly) but somewhat in the same way that faith and works relate to one another. We would say that faith alone is the basis for salvation, and yet true faith will always result in good works. We must not “load in” works as if they are an equal with faith as a salvation-base, but neither can we “detach” works and say that they are optional for a believer. Similarly, I would say that the first thing I need to tell people when they come to church is “believe in Jesus,” not “do justice.” Why? Because first, believing in Jesus meets a more radical need and second, because if they don’t believe in Jesus they won’t have that gospel-motivation to do justice that I talk about in the book. So there’s a priority there. On the other hand, for a church to not constantly disciple its people to “do justice” would be utterly wrong, because it is an important part of God’s will. I’m calling for an ‘asymmetrical balance’ here. It seems to me that some churches try to “load in” doing justice as if it is equally important as believing in Jesus, but others, in fear of falling into the social gospel, do not preach or disciple their people to do justice at all. Both are wrong. A Biblical church should be highly evangelistic yet known for its commitment to the poor of the city.

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