Eric Chappell's Reviews > Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just

Generous Justice by Timothy J. Keller
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's review
Jan 25, 2012

really liked it
Read in January, 2011

Summary: Helpful. I find Keller's writing engaging, convincingly argued, humbly expressed, and biblically-thoughtful. This book is no exception. Keller writes to 4 groups:

Those Who are Concerned with Social Justice.

Those Who are Skeptical of Social Justice.

Those Who have incorporated Social Justice to the Neglect of Traditional Doctrine.

Those Who Believe that Religion (esp Christianity) Promotes Injustice.


Book is for believers and non-believers (xx)

What is Doing Justice? Justice is Care for the Vulnerable (Mic 6:8); "mishpat puts the emphasis on the action, chesedh puts it on the attitude behind the action" (3). Justice Reflects the Character of God; it is significant that God introduces Himself as "a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows." Acc to Vinoth Ramachandra, OT justice was "scandalous justice" to the ancient world (6). Justice is Right Relationships--Job 29:12-17; 31:13-28. Keller argues that when tzadeqah and mishpat are tied together, the best translation is "social justice" cf. Psalm 33:5; Jer 9:23-24. Justice Includes Generosity: Ezek 18:5, 7-8; Deut 10:18-19; Isa 58:6-7. "The just person lives a life of honesty, equity, and generosity in every aspect of his or her life (17).

Many Christians become concerned when they hear the term "doing justice." "Often that term is just a slogan being used to recruit listeners to jump on some political bandwagon. Nevertheless, if you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable. 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 (18).

Justice and the Old Testament: Do ceremonial laws of OT apply to Christians? The coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid (21). What about the civil laws? Israel constituted a theocratic kingdom-state, NT church does not, but exists as international community of local assemblies in every nation and culture. The church is not the state (22). Be careful of saying, 'These things don't apply anymore.' Mosaic laws of social justice are grounded in God's character which never changes. Keller thinks there are some biblical applications we can make. Can we apply it to society at large? This requires caution. These laws were given and meant for believers. Yet, there is some evidence of believers calling non-believers to justice, Daniel 4:27, Amos 1:3-2:3. Keller is cautious to just make straight applications from OT Israel to modern society, yet does glean principles that should guide, see p. 30-31--"the application must be done with care and it will always be subject to debate" (31). What causes poverty? The Bible is neither liberal nor conservative. It gives a matrix of causes: Oppression, Natural Disasters, Personal Moral Failures. Interesting peek at Leviticus 5, "if he cannot afford" (39).

What did Jesus say about Justice? Good survey of Gospels for Jesus' concern with poor and vulnerable. In His incarnation, He "moved in" with the poor. Did Jesus teach that everyone should sell every possession? (48ff) No. But He does teach 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 (49). Should practical love and generous justice be confined only to the church? Gal 6:10 and the Prophets' concern for the immigrant and the Good Samaritan (Lk 10) all suggest that generous justice extends the walls of the church (61).

Justice and Your Neighbor: Basically a sermon the Good Samaritan (Lk 10). [Jesus] came to us and saves us, not merely at the risk of his life, as in the case of the Samaritan, but at the cost of his life. On the cross he paid a debt we could never have paid ourselves. Jesus is the Great Samaritan to whom the Good Samaritan points (77).

Why Should we do Justice? Two motivations: joyful awe before the goodness of God's creation and the experience of God's grace in redemption (82). This chapter was basically about the importance of the image of God concept and how grace motivates people to be just. Good bit at the end of chapter on how we often try to motivate people by making them feel guilty. Sermon by Robert Murray McCheyne on Acts 20:35.

How Should we do Justice? Daily concern, Job 31:16-19. Keller observes three layers, level of help: Relief, Development, and Social Reform (113). Relief is direct aid to meet immediate physical, material, and economic needs. Development is giving an individual, family, or entire community what they need to move beyond dependency on relief into a condition of economic self-sufficiency (114). John Perkins three factors to ministry: relocation (reneighboring a community), redistribution (reweaving a community), racial reconciliation. Is a culture-less, culture-free way of making decisions possible (125)? Social reform: Imagine Good Samaritan sequel in which every time he makes trip to Jerusalem he finds another man beaten on the road, asks "How do we stop the violence?" Social reform is instituting a new social arrangement that stops the flow of victims because of a changes in social conditions (126). Keller responds to those who think that society is changed "one heart at a time." That is naive (127). Churches can serve as healing communities. Christians can form organizations that serve as healers of communities. Churches can encourage people to be organizers for just communities (132). Questions to ask your public city servants: What are the needs here that you and the community feel are both chronic and acute? What could we do that would make this neighborhood a better place to live in? (134). Let THEM tell YOU. Questions when working with people in need: How much should we help? Under what conditions does your help proceed or end? In what way do we help? From where should we help? Keller wrestles through issue of doing justice and preaching grace. What is relationship between the call to help the needy and the command to evangelize? Keller says they should exist in asymmetrical, inseparable relationship. Evangelism is the most basic, most radical ministry possible. But doing justice is inseparably connected b/c the gospel produces a concern for the poor and deeds of justice gain credibility for the preaching of the gospel. Justification by faith leads to doing justice, and doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith (140). Keller ends with reflection on Kuyper's church as institute and organism and spheres of justice.

Doing justice in the Public Square? This was a more apologetic chapter, I thought. Keller says that Christians' public work for justice should be characterized by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation (158).

Peace, Beauty, and Justice: to 'do justice' means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish (177). God in the Face of the Poor (184) Keller has a couple really good pages on how deep the poverty of God went in the person of Jesus--reflecting on Matt 25:35-40:

On Judgment Day, don't say to the Lord, "When did we see you thirsty, naked, and captive?" Because the answer is--on the cross! There we see how far God was willing to go to identify with the oppressed of the world. And he was doing it all for us! There Jesus, who deserved acquittal and freedom, got condemnation--so that we who deserve condemnation for our sins can receive acquittal...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 and paid our debt (188).

Further Research: Harvie Conn, Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (1982); Timothy Keller, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (1986); Mark Gornik, To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City (2002); Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (1973); Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (2008); Christopher Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (2004); Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (1999); Miroslav Volf, Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities (2010); Richard Mouw, He Shines in All That's Fair: Culture and Common Grace (2010); Daniel Strange, "Evangelical Public Theology: What on Earth? Why on Earth? How on Earth?" in A Higher Throne: Evangelical Public Theology, ed. Chris Green (2008);
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