on 17 December 2010
Timothy Keller is popularly known as the CS Lewis of the 21st Century. Anyone familiar with his books knows how easy to read his books are, and how enjoyable and enriching they are to digest. In his latest volume he tackles the idea of Christian Justice.
He starts off his book by talking about why he wrote it. The reasons he gives are, firstly, that certain Christians have become too focused about their message and not focused on their actions enough. The second reason is to answer sceptics like Christopher Hitchens who describes the Abrahamic God as a moral monster.
The first four chapters basically look at how the bible describes justice. It looks at how the bible as a whole defines justice (many quotes given along with historical interpretations), how the bible defines justice according to the Old Testament, whether this changes in the New Testament and finally to whom justice should apply (this is done by examining the Parable of the Good Samaritan).
Chapters five and six, ask the question why we should do justice and how justice can be done in the broader sphere. The central focus on why we should do justice is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the salvation/atonement theology of Christ - or in laymen's terms - if God could love you and die for you then the least you can do is respond to his love by helping others. The question of how is a bit more complex. The central argument is that justice is not easy and requires a lot of work, there are no easy fixes. Keller offers 5 core points which must be addressed in order to help achieve universal justice (namely direct relief, individual development, community development, racial conciliation and social reform).
Chapter seven is interesting. It basically argues that it is not ok to exclude a person's faith/beliefs from their public/political discourses/opinions. This is clearly a response to modern secularism. However, where it gets interesting is that he argues that it is also not good enough to simply quote scripture to people and say that that justifies your position. Going one step further, he even advocates getting churches out of politics. How he reunifies his thesis is to say that a person's faith is able to prompt them to interact with society and push justice (for e.g. Martin Luther King). In such instances the arguments given must be given in a secular nature (i.e. a non-believer would still be able to understand them). Nevertheless, the cause of your drive (your faith) should not be ignored either - after all, if you're a good Christian then acting justly is a sign of your faith. In this way evangelism and secular reform are both progressed, and therefore everyone goes home happy.
Finally the eighth chapter is an argument that we can get a degree of peace and beauty by pursuing the biblical definition of justice. Keller concludes that it is actually beneficial to the whole community to respond to justice in this way. To prove his point he offers an example of where this has happened in a small community which attempted to follow it, and how doing so improved all their lives.
Overall, I would have to say that I enjoyed the book. However, I've read practically every book that Timothy Keller has ever written and I must say that they are all excellent reads - this book is no exception. Once again Keller left me thinking about the way I conduct myself, and whether I am actually being faithful to myself. I thoroughly recommend this book, like Keller, to Atheists who don't trust the biblical concept of justice, and also to (and more importantly) to Christians who wish to evaluate their own concepts of justice and how to engage in political/social, reform/works.
I'd also recommend Keller's other book - Counterfeit Gods - which is also an enjoyable and highly relevant read.
on 11 June 2011
New York pastor Tim Keller tries to address a wide range of audiences in his latest book, Generous Justice - suspicious orthodox Christians, passionate younger evangelicals, agnostics. To all he tries to make the case that the Bible is devoted to promoting justice and therefore is a key part of the Christian faith.
At points in the book Keller is too ambitious in trying to address all the concerns of these audiences. But upon finishing the book it would be hard for any reader to not be convinced of God's concern for the poor as laid out in the Bible, and his commands for his followers to live Christ-like, sacrificial lives for those less fortunate.
"Defend the poor and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and needy." -- Psalm 83:3 (NKJV)
If you would like to come to a better understanding of what Christians should be doing for our neighbors, it's hard for me to imagine a better resource than Generous Justice.
Generous Justice is one of those helpful Christian books that starts with the Bible in advocating a position about what the Lord's followers should do. Rather than trying to "construct" an argument in favor of a pre-existing position, Pastor Keller seeks what the Bible tells us and strives to make that wonderful Word more accessible to those who haven't done much to apply It to social justice issues. But this is a faith-based book, as well as a Bible-based one, that's well furnished with descriptions about how fully receiving and appreciating God's grace as redeemed repentant believers opens hearts to serving those who need help with loving hands and arms.
The book begins by explaining the Old Testament concept of Earthly justice ("mishpat"), combining both punishment and care . . . as called for in providing what was due to a person. Next, "being just" or "being righteous" is considered in terms of "right relationships" through the word "tzadeqah," which is viewed as conducting all day-to-day relationships with fairness, generosity, and equity. If tzadeqah were universal, mishpat would not be needed to remedy failings in human relations. Job is upheld as an Old Testament example of both concepts.
The book points out the many examples in the Old Testament of the rich needing to be restrained from oppressing the poor as well as the ways that misbehavior can lead to poverty. Needy peoples' circumstances are often complicated. They often need education, encouragement, a helping hand, and some money. The part of the book that most convicted me to rethink how to be of help was a story about the difficulties met in helping a church's poor neighbor. Given funds to pay her bills, the neighbor decided to spend the money on fun for the family. Both the "helpers" and the "helped" had a lot to learn before the neighbor was truly helped.
The book's most compelling passages come in simply describing what Jesus did and how the disciples were directed to act, both from Jesus and from their own spirits.