Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book Review - Generous Justice

Tim Keller’s most recent book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, is a short, helpful book on the area of social justice. In this book, Keller examines the connection between the grace of God and the resulting justice exhibited by those who are his.  “A true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ,” he argues, “inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.”  When he says this, Keller uses the term justice to essentially mean “care for those who are vulnerable.” 

He argues that just as Christ Jesus did not give us what we deserved, but rather poured out his mercy on us, so too we must not condition our “justice” on whether a person (in our eyes) deserves it.  In fact, the thrust is that I must not consider primarily what I’ve earned a situation, but rather must consider first and foremost the dignity that is owed to all as those who are created in the image of God.

Though I sometimes disagree with how Keller gets there, I almost always appreciate where he ends up.  This is certainly the case with this book.  He challenges my notions of individualism and instead calls me to think in communal terms.  “The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks.”

While Keller focuses this book on deeds of mercy, he is careful not to conflate them with gospel proclamation, saying that both are necessary in the church.  But he does make the point, “People who strongly believe in the doctrine of justification by faith alone will have this high regard for God’s law and justice.  They will be passionate about seeeing God’s justice honored in the world.”

And this is, essentially, the challenge Keller presents:  “If you are a Christian, and you refrain from committing adultery or using profanity  or missing church, but you don’t do the hard work of thinking through how to do justice in every area of life – you are failing to live justly and righteously.”


jbboren said...

My experience with Christians on the left talking about 'social justice' is that they are usually talking about 'social fairness' instead. And the definition of 'fairness' is often very different than the definition of 'justice', especially justice in light of the holiness of God and the gospel.

I'd be curious at to your take on Keller's definition of 'social justice', and his approach to the social problems he engages.

Pete Scribner said...

Dr. Boren -

I'm definitely not "on the left," but I appreciate Keller's view as it challenges me to really think through some things. I think that the biggest problem many (including myself, historically) have with more liberal economic/social views is that they think that they are undeserved handouts which serve as a disincentive to change the behavior that originally put the recipient in such a needy position.

And yet we find the Gospel (a completely undeserved handout if ever there was) to not only provide immediate help, but to serve as the best motivator for changed behavior. I don't know that Keller actually says quite this in the book, but it's the kind of thoughts he caused me to have.

It is worth noting that Keller does state at one point that the Church can't do all things for all people, and that our primary diaconal duty is to those within our congregation, while we should support or help create entities that will oversee helping others at large.

jbboren said...

Very interesting thoughts. There's probably a sermon or three in there...the American ideal of no handouts (which is good, in the right context) and how it affects the theology of Americans (hard-core Arminianism to Pelagianism, which is bad in any context, IMO). In this part of the country, with its emphasis on agriculture and ranching, there aren't many political liberals to be found. And the idea of using one's bootstraps for everything is pretty common, including using them for salvation. I imagine the two are intertwined somewhere.