Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Generous Justice BOOK CLUB

Generous JusticeGenerous Justice by Tim Keller Book Club

In the recommended reading for developing a vision for your life section of Matt Perman’s excellent book What’s Best Next, Matt suggested Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. I have read the book before but with the reminder from Matt, and in light of the recent decisions about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Tammy and I have decided to read and discuss this 2010 book again at this time.

Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s love for the entire nation of Israel, but we also see Him reaching out to individuals–the widows, orphans, and sojourners. His instructions to His people included a charge to show mercy and bring justice to the needy. In the New Testament we see this played out in Jesus’ life as well. Like a great revolving door of grace, God has been in the business of loving, saving, and equipping His people so they can love and save others throughout the whole of Scripture. In Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church Tim Keller, explores the connection between when believers in Christ receive grace, and how that impacts the world around them. He argues that the Bible is a trustworthy guide for living a life of justice. Sharing examples from the lives of believers around him, and giving support from the Bible, Keller outlines a hopeful manifesto for all who seek to show God’s mercy to the world.

This week we look at the Introduction.


  • Most people know that Jesus came to bring forgiveness and grace. Less well known is the Biblical teaching that a true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.
  • There are four kinds of people who I hope will read this book. There is a host of young Christian believers who respond with joy to the call to care for the needy.
  • While many young adults have a Christian faith, and also a desire to help people in need, these two things are not actually connected to each other in their lives. They have not thought out the implications of Jesus’s gospel for doing justice in all aspects of life. That connection I will attempt to make in this book.
  • Another kind of person who I hope will read this book approaches the subject of “doing justice” with suspicion.
  • In the mind of many orthodox Christians, therefore, “doing justice” is inextricably linked with the loss of sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism.
  • Edwards argued that you did not have to change the classic Biblical doctrine of salvation to do ministry to the poor. On the contrary, such ministry flows directly out of historic evangelical teaching. He saw involvement with the poor and classic Biblical doctrine as indissolubly intertwined. That combination is relatively rare today, but it shouldn’t be. I am writing this book for people who don’t see yet what Edwards saw, namely, that when the Spirit enables us to understand what Christ has done for us, the result is a life poured out in deeds of justice and compassion for the poor.
  • Others who I hope will give this book a hearing are the younger evangelicals who have “expanded their mission” to include social justice along with evangelism.
  • The most traditional formulation of evangelical doctrine, rightly understood, should lead its proponents to a life of doing justice in the world.
  • There is a fourth group of people who should find this book of interest. Recently there has been a rise in books and blogs charging that religion, to quote Christopher Hitchens, “poisons everything.”8 In their view religion, and especially the Christian church, is a primary force promoting injustice and violence on our planet. To such people the idea that belief in the Biblical God necessarily entails commitment to justice is absurd. But, as we will see, the Bible is a book devoted to justice in the world from first to last. And the Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need—motivation, guidance, inner joy, and power—to live a just life.
  • I have identified four groups of readers who seem at first glance to be very different, but they are not. They all fail at some level to see that the Biblical gospel of Jesus necessarily and powerfully leads to a passion for justice in the world. A concern for justice in all aspects of life is neither an artificial add-on nor a contradiction to the message of the Bible.
  • I was amazed that something as unjust as segregation could have been so easily rationalized by an entire society. It marked the first time I realized that most older white adults in my life were telling me things that were dead wrong.
  • Why, I wondered, did the nonreligious believe so passionately in equal rights and justice, while the religious people I knew could not have cared less? A breakthrough came when I discovered a small but thoughtful group of devout Christian believers who were integrating their faith with every kind of justice in society.
  • When I went to seminary to prepare for the ministry, I met an African-American student, Elward Ellis, who befriended both my future wife, Kathy Kristy, and me. He gave us gracious but bare-knuckled mentoring about the realities of injustice in American culture. “You’re a racist, you know,” he once said at our kitchen table. “Oh, you don’t mean to be, and you don’t want to be, but you are. You can’t really help it.” He said, for example, “When black people do things in a certain way, you say, ‘Well, that’s your culture.’ But when white people do things in a certain way, you say, ‘That’s just the right way to do things.’ You don’t realize you really have a culture. You are blind to how many of your beliefs and practices are cultural.” We began to see how, in so many ways, we made our cultural biases into moral principles and then judged people of other races as being inferior. His case was so strong and fair that, to our surprise, we agreed with him.
  • There are many great differences between the small southern town of Hopewell, Virginia, and the giant metropolis of New York. But there was one thing that was exactly the same. To my surprise, there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor. In both settings, as I preached the classic message that God does not give us justice but saves us by free grace, I discovered that those most affected by the message became the most sensitive to the social inequities around them.
  • This book, then, is both for believers who find the Bible a trustworthy guide and for those who wonder if Christianity is a positive influence in the world. I want the orthodox to see how central to the Scripture’s message is justice for the poor and marginalized. I also want to challenge those who do not believe in Christianity to see the Bible not as a repressive text, but as the basis for the modern understanding of human rights. Throughout this book, I will begin each chapter with a call to justice taken directly from the Bible and show how these words can become the foundation of a just, generous human community.

Chapter 1: What is Doing Justice?

  • The term for “mercy” is the Hebrew word chesedh, God’s unconditional grace and compassion. The word for “justice” is the Hebrew term mishpat. In Micah 6:8, “mishpat puts the emphasis on the action, chesedh puts it on the attitude [or motive] behind the action.”18 To walk with God, then, we must do justice, out of merciful love. Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.
  • Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor—those who have been called “the quartet of the vulnerable.”
  • The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity, but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to “do justice.”
  • Realize, then, how significant it is that the Biblical writers introduce God as “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Psalm 68:4-5). This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause.
  • So, from ancient times, the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor.
  • In short, since most of the people who are downtrodden by abusive power are those who had little power to begin with, God gives them particular attention and has a special place in his heart for them.
  • If God’s character includes a zeal for justice that leads him to have the tenderest love and closest involvement with the socially weak, then what should God’s people be like? They must be people who are likewise passionately concerned for the weak and vulnerable.
  • This is why God can say that if we dishonor the poor we insult him, and when we are generous to the poor we honor him (Proverbs 14:31).
  • We must have a strong concern for the poor, but there is more to the Biblical idea of justice than that. We get more insight when we consider a second Hebrew word that can be translated as “being just,” though it usually translated as “being righteous.” The word is tzadeqah, and it refers to a life of right relationships.
  • Rectifying justice is mishpat. It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment. Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else.
  • When these two words, tzadeqah and mishpat, are tied together, as they are over three dozen times, the English expression that best conveys the meaning is “social justice.”
  • Many readers may be asking at this point why we are calling private giving to the poor “justice.” Some Christians believe that justice is strictly mishpat—the punishment of wrongdoing, period. This does not mean that they think that believers should be indifferent to the plight of the poor, but they would insist that helping the needy through generous giving should be called mercy, compassion, or charity, not justice. In English, however, the word “charity” conveys a good but optional activity. Charity cannot be a requirement, for then it would not be charity. But this view does not fit in with the strength or balance of the Biblical teaching.
  • In the Scripture, gifts to the poor are called “acts of righteousness,” as in Matthew 6:1-2. Not giving generously, then, is not stinginess, but unrighteousness, a violation of God’s law.
  • The implication is that if you do not actively and generously share your resources with the poor, you are a robber. You are not living justly.
  • The just person lives a life of honesty, equity, and generosity in every aspect of his or her life.

We do justice when we give all human beings their due as creations of God. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable. This kind of life reflects the character of God. It consists of a broad range of activities, from simple fair and honest dealings with people in daily life, to regular, radically generous giving of your time and resources, to activism that seeks to end particular forms of injustice, violence, and oppression.
Generous Justice Book Club

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

This week we look at a video of Tim Keller discussing the book which gives a good summary of the content in 30 minutes.

He points out how “many who are concerned about justice are not concerned about justification by faith alone; many who are concerned about justification by faith alone are not concerned about justice.” One of Luther’s own burdens was to establish that “Christian ethics…is grounded in justification by faith alone.”

Keller shows what that means.

Tim Keller speaks about his book Generous Justice.

Chapter 2: Justice and the Old Testament

  • Are the laws of the Old Testament binding on Christians today? Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg points out, “Every command [from the Old Testament] reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians (2 Timothy 3:16).”
  • Even the parts of the Old Testament that are now fulfilled in Christ still have some abiding validity. For example, the principle of offering God sacrifices still remains in force, though changed by Christ’s work. We are now required to offer God our entire lives as sacrifices (Romans 12:1- 2), as well as the sacrifices of worship to God and the sharing of our resources with others (Hebrews 13:5).
  • So the coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid.
  • However, our concern here is not the ceremonial laws of Moses. What about the “civil” laws, the laws of social justice that have to do with the forgiving of debts, the freeing of slaves, and the redistribution of wealth?
  • The church is not a government that rewards virtue and punishes evildoers with coercive force.
  • We should be wary of simply saying, “These things don’t apply anymore,” because the Mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God’s character, and that never changes.
  • God often tells the Israelites to lend to the poor without interest and to distribute goods to the needy and to defend the fatherless, because “the LORD your God . . . defends the cause [mishpat] of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). If this is true of God, we who believe in him must always find some way of expressing it our own practices, even if believers now live in a new stage in the history of God’s redemption.
  • Just as Israel was a “community of justice,” so the church is to reflect these same concerns for the poor.
  • But even if we can apply the social legislation of Old Testament Israel in some ways to the New Testament church, can we apply it to our society at large?
  • It is clearly God’s will that all societies reflect his concern for justice for the weak and vulnerable.
  • The poor person cannot afford to offer incentives to lawmakers and judges to decide matters for his benefit, but the rich and powerful can do this, and this is why bribery is so heinous to God. It marginalizes the poor from power.
  • How can business owners follow the same principles today? They should not squeeze every penny of profit out of their businesses for themselves by charging the highest possible fees and prices to customers and paying the lowest possible wages to workers. Instead, they should be willing to pay higher wages and charge lower prices that in effect share the corporate profits with employees and customers, with the community around them. This always creates a more vibrant, strong human community. How could a government follow the gleaning principle? It would do so by always favoring programs that encourage work and self-sufficiency rather than dependency.
  • Therefore, the money you make must be shared to build up community. So wealthier believers must share with poorer ones, not only within a congregation but also across congregations and borders. (See 2 Corinthians 8:15 and its context.)
  • The Bible has many very direct and clear ethical prescriptions for human life. But when we come to the Old Testament social legislation, the application must be done with care and it will always be subject to debate.
  • One of the main reasons we cannot fit the Bible’s approach into a liberal or conservative economic model is the Scripture’s highly nuanced understanding of the causes of poverty.
  • The causes of poverty as put forth in the Bible are remarkably balanced. The Bible gives us a matrix of causes.
  • Poverty, therefore, is seen in the Bible as a very complex phenomenon. Several factors are usually intertwined.
  • Multiple factors are usually interactively present in the life of a poor family.
  • The problems of the poor are so much more complex than any one theory can accommodate. What it takes to rebuild a poor neighborhood goes well beyond public policy or social programs. It takes the rebuilding of families and communities and individual lives.
  • The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure.
  • In our own country, the weak educational system that society provides for inner city youth sets them up for failure. But when we add personal wrongdoing and crime to the larger forces of exclusion and oppression, we have a potent mixture that locks people into poverty. Taken in isolation no one factor—government programs, public policy, calls to personal responsibility, or private charity—is sufficient to address the problem.
  • God directs that each person should bring what they can, and if their heart is right, that will give them access to his grace. For indeed, grace is the key to it all. It is not our lavish good deeds that procure salvation, but God’s lavish love and mercy. That is why the poor are as acceptable before God as the rich. It is the generosity of God, the freeness of his salvation that lays the foundation for the society of justice for all.

Next week we’ll look at chapter 3. Won’t you read along with us?

Chapter 3: What Did Jesus Say about Justice?

  • When we study the gospels we find that Jesus has not “moved on” at all from the Old Testament’s concern for justice. In fact, Jesus has an intense interest in and love for the same kinds of vulnerable people. Nor can it be argued that this concern is a lower priority for Jesus.
  • Jesus, in his incarnation, “moved in” with the poor. He lived with, ate with, and associated with the socially ostracized (Matt 9:13).
  • Yet Jesus also showed true justice by opening his arms to several classes of people who were not just poor. In Luke 14, he challenged people to routinely open their homes and purses to the poor, the blind, and the maimed.
  • Rather—to put this in a more modern context—he is saying that we should spend far more of our money and wealth on the poor than we do on our own entertainment, or on vacations, or on eating out and socializing with important peers.
  • What is Jesus’s point, then, in these exhortations? It must be at least this—that his believers should not see any of their money as their own, and they should be profoundly involved with and generous to the poor.
  • Jesus not only shared the Old Testament’s zeal for the cause of the vulnerable, he also adopted the prophets’ penetrating use of justice as heart-analysis, the sign of true faith.
  • At first glance, no two things can seem more opposed than grace and justice. Grace is giving benefits that are not deserved, while justice is giving people exactly what they do deserve. In Christ we receive grace, unmerited favor. Nevertheless, in the mind of the Old Testament prophets as well as the teaching of Jesus, an encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice.
  • Justice is not just one more thing that needs to be added to the people’s portfolio of religious behavior. A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers’ hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observance are just filled with self and pride.
  • But there is something even more startling about this discourse of Jesus. Jesus did not say that all this done for the poor was a means of getting salvation, but rather it was the sign that you already had salvation, that true, saving faith was already present.
  • He tells the sheep, “When you embraced the poor, you embraced me,” and to the goats he says, “When you ignored the poor, you ignored me.” This meant that one’s heart attitude toward the poor reveals one’s heart attitude toward Christ.
  • Anyone who has truly been touched by the grace of God will be vigorous in helping the poor.
  • In both the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus delivers a famous discourse, which is usually called the Sermon on the Mount. For centuries readers have acknowledged the beauty of its high ethical standards. What is not noticed very often is how Jesus weaves into a whole cloth what we would today call private morality and social justice.
  • In fact, each of America’s two main political parties has built its platform on one of these sets of ethical prescriptions to the near exclusion of the other. Conservatism stresses the importance of personal morality, especially the importance of traditional sexual mores and hard work, and feels that liberal charges of racism and social injustice are overblown. On the other hand, liberalism stresses social justice, and considers conservative emphases on moral virtue to be prudish and psychologically harmful. Each side, of course, thinks the other side is smug and self-righteous.
  • Conservative churches tend to concentrate on one set of sins, while liberal ones concentrate on another set. Jesus, like the Old Testament prophets, does not see two categories of morality.
  • The early church responded to Jesus’s calls for justice and mercy. The apostle Paul viewed ministry to the poor as so important that it was one of the last things he admonished the Ephesian church to do before he left them for the last time.
  • Though the church was no longer a nation-state like Israel, the New Testament writers recognized the concern for justice and mercy in the Mosaic legislation and applied it to the church community in a variety of ways.
  • From the law of “Jubilee” (Leviticus 25) to the rules for gathering manna in Exodus 16, the principle was to increase “equality.”
  • When Paul wrote the Corinthian church to ask for an offering to relieve starving Christians in Palestine, he quoted Exodus 16:18 and then said, “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14).
  • Because of this radical generosity,   there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
  • Remember the key Old Testament text, Deuteronomy 15, in which God declared that if his people obeyed him as they should, no permanent poverty could exist in their midst. “There should be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4). Acts 4:34 is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 15:4.
  • In Deuteronomy, believers were called to open their hands to the needy as far as there was need, until they were self-sufficient. The New Testament calls Christians to do the same (1 John 3:16-17; cf. Deuteronomy 15:7-8).
  • Our first responsibility is to our own families and relations (1 Timothy 5:8), and our second responsibility is to other members of the community of faith (Galatians 6:10).
  • However, the Bible is clear that Christians’ practical love, their generous justice, is not to be confined to only those who believe as we do.
  • Helping “all people” is not optional, it is a command.

Chapter Four – Justice and Your Neighbor

    • The text that most informs Christians’ relationships with their neighbors is the parable of the Good Samaritan.
    • Do you love God with every fiber of your being every minute of the day? Do you meet the needs of your neighbor with all the joy, energy, and fastidiousness with which you meet your own needs? That is the kind of life you owe your God and your fellow human beings.
    • “Surely,” he implied, “you don’t mean I have to love and meet the needs of everyone!” The Good Samaritan In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.
    • What was Jesus doing with this story? He was giving a radical answer to the question, What does it mean to love your neighbor? What is the definition of “love”? Jesus answered that by depicting a man meeting material, physical, and economic needs through deeds. Caring for people’s material and economic needs is not an option for Jesus. He refused to allow the law expert to limit the implications of this command to love. He said it meant being sacrificially involved with the vulnerable, just as the Samaritan risked his life by stopping on the road. But Jesus refuses to let us limit not only how we love, but who we love.
    • By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need—regardless of race, politics, class, and religion—is your neighbor.
    • I have preached this parable over the years, and it always raises a host of questions and objections, many of which sound like the kind of questions that the law expert would have asked. No one has helped me answer these questions more than Jonathan Edwards,
    • In 1733 he preached a sermon entitled “The Duty of Charity to the Poor.” The word “neighbor” is found in the sermon nearly sixty times, and the discourse stands as one of the most thoroughgoing applications of the parable of the Good Samaritan to a body of believers that can be found anywhere. The heart of the sermon is a set of answers to a series of common objections Edwards always heard whenever he preached or spoke about the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor.
    • We don’t wait until we are in “extremity” before doing something about our condition, he argued, so why should we wait until our neighbor is literally starving before we help?
    • We ought to have such a spirit of love to him that we should be afflicted with him in his affliction.”
    • Another objection comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone,” you usually mean, “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But, Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Biblical love requires.
    • In dealing with the objection that many of the poor do not have upright, moral characters, he counters that we did not either, and yet Christ put himself out for us.
    • When answering the objection that the poor have often contributed to their condition, Edwards is remarkably balanced yet insistently generous. He points out that it is possible some people simply do not have “a natural faculty to manage affairs to advantage.” In other words, some people persistently make sincere but very bad decisions about money and possessions.
    • But what if their economic plight is more directly the result of selfish, indolent, or violent behavior?
    • Christ found us in the same condition. Our spiritual bankruptcy was due to our own sin, yet he came and gave us what we needed.
    • Edwards says that we should not continue to aid a poor person if that person continues to act “viciously” and to persist in the same behavior. Yet Edwards has a final blow to strike. What about the rest of the person’s family? Sometimes, he says, we will need to give aid to families even when the parents act irresponsibly, for the children’s sake.
    • Your neighbor is anyone in need.
    • Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points. Before you can give this neighbor-love, you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbor-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbors that the Bible calls us to be.

Chapter 5: Why Should We Do Justice?

  • You could make a good argument that our problem in society today is not that people don’t know they should share with others and help the poor. Most people do know and believe this. The real problem is that, while knowing it, they are insufficiently motivated to actually do it. Therefore, there is no greater question than how to motivate people to do what they ought for the hungry and poor of the world.
  • The Bible gives believers two basic motivations—joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.
  • Human beings are not accidents, but creations. Without a belief in creation, we are forced to face the implication that ultimately there is no good reason to treat human beings as having dignity.
  • What is it about us that resembles or reflects God? Over the years thinkers have pointed to human rationality, personality, and creativity, or to our moral and aesthetic sense and our deep need for and ability to give love in relationships.
  • Every human life is sacred and every human being has dignity.
  • The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated or harmed. All human beings have this right, this worth, according to the Bible.
  • Regardless of their record or character, all human beings have an irreducible glory and significance to them. So we must treasure each and every human being as a way of showing due respect for the majesty of their owner and Creator.
  • The image of God, then, is the first great motivation for living lives of generous justice, serving the needs and guarding the rights of those around us.
  • There is another important way in which the doctrine of creation motivates Christians toward sharing their resources with others. If God is the Creator and author of all things that means everything we have in life belongs to God.
  • Therefore, just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly theirs and no one else’s.
  • When you are harvesting your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it. It is for the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow. . . . Deuteronomy 24:14, 17, 19.
  • If the owner did not limit his profits and provide the poor with an opportunity to work for their own benefit in the fields, he did not simply deprive the poor of charity but of justice, of their right. Why? A lack of generosity refuses to acknowledge that your assets are not really yours, but God’s.
  • Therefore, if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, and it is injustice.
  • The most frequently cited Biblical motivation for doing justice is the grace of God in redemption.
  • The Israelites had been poor, racial outsiders in Egypt. How then, Moses asks, could they be callous to the poor, racial outsiders in their own midst?
  • “Israel, you were liberated by me. You did not accomplish it—I performed it for you, by my grace. Now do the same for others. Untie the yoke, unlock the shackles, feed and clothe them, as I did for you.”
  • If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.
  • Fasting should be a symbol of a pervasive change across the whole face of one’s life. People changed by grace should go, as it were, on a permanent fast. Self-indulgence and materialism should be given up and replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need. They should spend not only their money but “themselves” (verse 10) on others. What is this permanent fasting? It is to work against injustice, to share food, clothing, and home with the hungry and the homeless. That is the real proof that you believe your sins have been atoned for, and that you have truly been humbled by that knowledge and are now living a life submitted to God and shaped by knowledge of him.
  • If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God’s grace.
  • Many religions teach that if you live as you ought, then God will accept and bless you. But Paul taught that if you receive God’s acceptance and blessing as a free gift through Jesus Christ, then you can and will live as you ought.
  • He is saying that a life poured out in deeds of service to the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true, justifying, gospel-faith. Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.
  • My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.
  • To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.
  • When Christians who understand the gospel see a poor person, they realize they are looking into a mirror. Their hearts must go out to him or her without an ounce of superiority or indifference.
  • The doctrine of justification by grace contains untapped resources for healing.
  • In a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievement.
  • But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count; even more that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve.
  • Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to “justify” by grace those declared “unjust” by a society’s implacable law of achievement.
  • 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.
  • Be like Christ: give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving.

 Chapter 6: How Should We Do Justice?

Doing justice is an important part of living the Christian life in the world. What I have wrestled with for many years since is the question of how to practically answer this call today.

  • God does not want us to merely give the poor perfunctory help, but to ponder long and hard about how to improve their entire situation.
  • Doing justice, then, requires constant, sustained reflection and circumspection.
  • 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.
  • Vulnerable people need multiple levels of help. We will call these layers relief, development, and social reform. Relief is direct aid to meet immediate physical, material, and economic needs.
  • The next level is development. This means giving an individual, family, or entire community what they need to move beyond dependency on relief into a condition of economic self-sufficiency.
  • Wright then lays out a good list of what is entailed in helping a poor family or individual climb out of a state of constant dependency. It includes education, job creation and training, job search skills, and financial counseling as well as helping a family into home ownership.
  • When John Perkins explained his philosophy of ministry, he always named three basic factors. One he called “relocation,” though others have called it “reneighboring a community.” Perkins advocated that those helping the neighborhood live in it. Perkins also spoke of “redistribution,” something others have called “reweaving a community.”
  • There is a third important factor in John Perkins’s strategy for rebuilding poor communities. He names it “racial reconciliation.”
  • What is best for the poor community—a nonpaternalistic partnership of people from different races and social locations—was also one of the gifts that the gospel makes possible.
  • We must not miss the profound message of this account—that human pride and lust for power leads to racial and national division, strife, and hatred.
  • Partnership and friendship across racial barriers within the church is one of the signs of the presence and power of the gospel.
  • Racial prejudice is wrong because it is a denial of the very principle that all human beings are equally sinful and saved by only the grace of God.
  • Social reform moves beyond the relief of immediate needs and dependency and seeks to change the conditions and social structures that aggravate or cause that dependency.
  • Many Christians resist the idea that social systems need to be dealt with directly. They prefer the idea that “society is changed one heart at a time,” and so they concentrate on only evangelism and individual social work. This is naïve.
  • Doing justice in poor communities includes direct relief, individual development, community development, racial reconciliation, and social reform.
  • Churches in poor neighborhoods can serve as healing communities.
  • Christians can form organizations that serve as healers of communities.
  • Finally, churches encourage people to be organizers for just communities.
  • What should you do if you and your church are not in located in areas of poverty or dire need? You or your church should begin by discovering the needs in your locale. Another thing that your church can do is to make a connection to churches and ministries that are resident and effective in poorer neighborhoods and poorer countries.
  • You can’t love people in word only (cf. 1 John 3:16-17) and therefore you can’t love people as you are doing evangelism and discipleship without meeting practical and material needs through deeds.
  • As soon as a church engages in holistic ministry, however, it will run up against a number of practical policy issues. Often people with the same basic vision for justice will disagree on the specific answers to the following questions:
  1. How much should we help?
  2. Whom should we help?
  3. Under what conditions does your help proceed or end?
  4. In what way do we help?
  5. From where should we help?
  • As Christians do justice, they must face the important practical issue of how justice relates to their other duties as believers. In particular, what is the relationship between the call to help the needy and the Biblical command to evangelize?
  • I propose a different way to understand evangelism and social justice. They should exist in an asymmetrical, inseparable relationship.
  • Deeds of mercy and justice should be done out of love, not simply as a means to the end of evangelism. And yet there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice.
  • Doing justice necessitates a striking a series of balances. It means ministering in both word and deed, through the local church and as individual agents dispersed throughout the world. It means engaging in relief, and development, and reform.


  • When believers seek to do justice in the world, they often find it both necessary and desirable to work with others who do not share their faith.
  • Our society is deeply divided over the very definition of justice. Nearly everyone thinks they are on justice’s side.
  • When we appeal to the principle of freedom we usually mean that people should be free to live as they choose, as long as they don’t harm or diminish the freedom of others. The problem with this seemingly simple idea is that it assumes we all agree on what harm is.
  • So freedom is indeed something of an “empty” concept, as Klarman said, because the causes for which freedom is invoked are always matters of deeply held beliefs, rooted in particular views of human nature and happiness and right and wrong that are matters of faith. We all agree that freedom should be curtailed if it harms people, but we can’t agree on what harm is, because we have different views of what healthy, flourishing human life looks like.
  • Sandel lays out three current views of justice, which he calls “maximizing welfare,” “respecting freedom,” and “promoting virtue.” According to one framework, the most just action is that which brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people. According to the second, the most just action is that which respects the freedom and rights of each individual to live as he or she chooses. According to the last view, justice is served when people are acting as they ought to, in accord with morality and virtue. These views lead to sharply different conclusions about what is just in particular cases.
  • Underneath all notions of justice is a set of faith assumptions that are essentially religious, and these are often not acknowledged.
  • To use a simple example, it is often argued that corporal punishment violates the rights and human dignity of a child, and therefore should be illegal. Smith reminds us, however, that there is no secular, scientific basis for the idea of human dignity, or that human beings are valuable and inviolable.
  • The rules of secular discourse lead us to smuggle moral value judgments into our reasoning about justice without admitting it to others or even to ourselves.
  • Why did we not give people the freedom to own slaves or not? It was because as a society we made the moral determination that members of all races were fully human. So if our society gives women the freedom to have abortions, it is because we also have made a moral determination.
  • How should Christians proceed to do justice in this kind of environment? I propose that Christians’ work for justice should be characterized by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation.
  • In other words, according to the Bible, virtue, rights, and the common good are all crucial aspects of justice.
  • God reveals much of his will to human consciences through what has been called “the light of nature.”
  • The Bible warns us not to think that only Bible-believing people care about justice or are willing to sacrifice in order to bring it about.
  • Christians should identify themselves as believers as they seek justice, welcoming and treating all who work beside them as equals. Believers should let their coworkers know of how the gospel is motivating them, yet also, as Myers says, they should appeal to common values as much as possible.
  • What we are laying out here is a balance. On the one hand there are Christians who want to work for social reforms, citing only Biblical reasons, and speaking aggressively against those who do not share their religious beliefs. On the other hand there are those who counsel Christians to not seek social justice at all, predicting that such efforts only make Christians more like the world. Instead, they say, Christians should concentrate on only bringing individuals to faith in Christ and building up the church. The former group is too triumphalist, while the latter group is too pessimistic about the possibilities of cultural change and social reform.
  • We should agree that, according to the Bible, all the various views of justice out there in our society are partly right. But they are also partly wrong.
  • No current political framework can fully convey the comprehensive Biblical vision of justice, and Christians should never identify too closely with a particular political party or philosophy.
  • Sandel has shown that the ideal of “liberal neutrality,” which has dominated modern law and jurisprudence for decades—namely that “we should never bring moral or religious convictions to bear in public discourse about justice and rights” —is actually an impossibility.
  • Justice is not only about the right way to distribute things. It is also about the right way to value things. And “valuing things” is always based on beliefs about the purposes of life, human nature, right and wrong—all of which are moral and religious.
  • How do we determine what is good or evil human behavior? Aristotle and his followers answer: Unless you can determine what human beings are here for, you can’t answer that.
  • The idea of human rights has its origin in the concept of “human sacredness,” which was born in religious traditions.
  • It makes an enormous difference to how one lives in the world if you see human beings as accidental beings rather than a sacred creation and gift of God.
  • This in no way means that nonreligious people cannot believe in human dignity and human rights. Millions of them can and do. But any such belief is, in itself, essentially religious in nature.
  • The pursuit of justice in society is never morally neutral, but is always based on understandings of reality that are essentially religious in nature. Christians should not be strident and condemning in their language or attitude, but neither should they be silent about the Biblical roots of their passion for justice.

Chapter 8 ~Peace, Beauty and Justice

  • “Shalom” is usually translated “peace” in English Bibles, but it means far more than what our English word conveys. It means complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension—physical, emotional, social, and spiritual—because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.
  • When the society disintegrates, when there is crime, poverty, and family breakdown, there is no shalom. However, when people share their resources with each other, and work together so that shared public services work, the environment is safe and beautiful, the schools educate, and the businesses flourish, then that community is experiencing social shalom. When people with advantages invest them in those who have fewer, the community experiences civic prosperity or social shalom.
  • But the world is not, by and large, characterized by shalom.
  • The beginning of the book of Genesis tells us how in the Garden of Eden, humanity walked with God and served him. Under his rule and authority, it was paradise. All that ended, however, when humanity turned away from God, rejecting his rule and kingdom.
  • When we lost our relationship with God, the whole world stopped “working right.” The world is filled with hunger, sickness, aging, and physical death. Because our relationship with God has broken down, shalom is gone—spiritually, psychologically, socially, and physically.
  • Now we are in a position to see even more clearly what the Bible means when it speaks of justice. In general, to “do justice” means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to “do justice” means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor.
  • Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others.
  • The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks.
  • Edwards taught that if, through an experience of God’s grace, you come to find him beautiful, then you do not serve the poor because you want to think well of yourself, or in order to get a good reputation, or because you think it will be good for your business, or even because it will pay off for your family in creating a better city to live in. You do it because serving the poor honors and pleases God, and honoring and pleasing God is a delight to you in and of itself.
  • Proverbs 19:7 and 14:31 are texts that sum up a great deal of Scriptural material. The first text says that if you are kind to the poor, God takes it as if you are being kind to him. The second gives us the flip side; namely, that if you show contempt for the poor it means you are showing contempt for him.
  • But there’s a deeper principle at work here. If you insult the poor, you insult God. The principle is that God personally identifies very closely with the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant, the most powerless and vulnerable members of society.
  • In Jesus Christ God identified not only with the poor, but also with those who are denied justice.
  • This was the ultimate instance of God’s identification with the poor. He not only became one of the actually poor and marginalized, he stood in the place of all those of us in spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.
  • The God of the Bible says, as it were, “I am the poor on your step. Your attitude toward them reveals what your true attitude is toward me.” A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.
  • The term “justice” here has to do with the Old Testament concept of loving and defending the vulnerable.
  • So this is a call to create a believing community in which the well-off and middle class are sacrificially giving their resources away and deeply, personally involved in the lives of the many weak and vulnerable in their midst.

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