Friday, July 4, 2014

"Generous Justice" by Tim Keller: A Review

One of the big debates among conservative and progressive Christians regards the question of justice and the gospel.  Recall if you will the Glenn Beck social justice flap from a few years ago.  Beck warned his radio listeners to run from any church whose gospel is nothing more than the liberal social gospel.  Jim Wallis was furious and told his readers to boycott Glenn Beck while other progressives were accusing Beck of hating Jesus.  Both sides were clearly speaking past one another.

So what about justice?  That's the question raised from a biblical and gospel perspective by best-selling writer Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just. In brief, I must say that no other book deals with this issue so thoroughly all the while offering pastoral care and application all without falling for the many traps involved. The problem with this issue is that many see this issue as an either/or.  Either I preach Jesus only seeking to save souls or doing justice is the gospel.  Both are dangerous in their own right and Keller balances them.

The best part of the book is how he makes his argument not just from the Bible (which critiques both conservative and liberal arguments for poverty and other social issues), but was centered on the gospel. He rightly argues that if we understand the gospel we will become concerned for the poor and victims of society all the while motivated to meet their physical and spiritual needs. In fact, the gospel is holistic in that it deals with both.  Consider for example the following quotes:
I believe, however, when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this pushes the button down deep in believers' souls, and they begin to wake up. (107)

Evangelism is the most basic and radical ministry possible to a human being.  this is true not because the spiritual is more important than the physical, but because the eternal is more important than the temporal. (139)

In other words, justification by faith leads to doing justice, and doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith. (141)
This is the great thing about Keller, at the end of the day, everything comes down to the gospel. What one believes about the gospel will determine what they believe and how they respond to everything else. Keller rightly sees the two connected. Justification leads to justice.

Likewise, and still deeply connected with the gospel, is Keller's argument that justice ought to be rooted in what we believe about creation.  He writes, Without a belief in creation, we are forced to face the obligation that ultimately there is no good reason to treat human beings as having dignity (82). He's right. A strictly Darwinian view of origins downplays the need and demand for justice when its logic unfolds. Many who hold dearly to evolution and yet seek justice do so out of assumed principles taken from Christianity and other faiths inherent in the culture, but when they step back and live strictly in accordance to evolution doctrine, justice goes out the window. There are winners and losers and it is mother nature and the survival of the fittest that determines that. Eliminate the poor, the weak, the elderly, the handicap, and the unwanted is the history of evolution (just think about the purposes of eugenics, euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, etc.).

I cannot emphasize this book enough.  For those wanting a Christian perspective on this issue, start here. Keller critiques both sides of the aisle and shows both biblical and practically how we are to think and how we are to do justice.  I must admit that I was nervous reading this book but am glad that I did.  Keller is a great writer and thinker and it would do the church good to invest in him and his arguments.


For more:
"25 Years in Manhatten" Documentary
Tim Keller on Political Idolatry

Counterintuitive Calvinism: Tim Keller on Calvin's Institutes

"The Theology of the Cross and Walking with a Limp": A Sermon Preached by Tim Keller 

The Gospel: The A to Z of Christianity

The Gospel Coalition Explains Recent Changes
For Valentine's Day | "After All, We'll Never Be the Right One Either": Stonestreet on "The Right One" Fairy Tale
For Valentines Day | The Gospel & Marriage: Keller on Love, Forgiveness, & the Example of Christ
For Valentine's Day | "The Meaning of Marriage" by Timothy Keller
Tim Keller on Cohabitation and Marriage
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