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.