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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.
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2010
I have been waiting for years for someone to write this book. And so I'm hugely grateful to Tim Keller. He's clearly the man for the job - his years of ministerial experience, academic ability and personal integrity well qualify him to write of the crying need for Evangelicals to engage with issues of justice and poverty. He's done it before in his celebrated MINISTRIES OF MERCY PB, but this book seems to have a greater apologetic edge.

And he knows his audience. Or rather his audiences. For he is well-aware, no doubt from heated interactions, that there are various groups out there who are profoundly sceptical of this passion. The problem is that they come from such conflicting starting positions; so it takes a masterly lightness of touch to engage each without alienating another.

But part of the approach is to identify his interlocutors from the start (from page xi) and then interact with each as he goes along - I've tried summarise them like this:

- The Instinctive Advocate: those Christians with the gut feeling that poverty and justice are important but who have never been able to integrate that with their faith. To them, Keller seeks to give a thought through, biblical rationale for why this instinct is god-given.

- The Sceptical Evangelist: those who fear any journey down this road will inevitably lead to doctrinal compromise and the `social gospel'. We're here just to evangelise, aren't we? To which Keller challenges by articulating both Old & New Testament motivations and commands to love the poor, and to question what a reluctance to such love might indicate about their ministerial context and personal spirituality. He doesn't think they are the same thing - and this is important to what he goes on to say - but he does argue that we can't have one without the other:
"... to consider deeds of mercy and justice to be identical to gospel proclamation is a fatal confusion. I propose a different way to understand evangelism and social justice. They should exist in an asymmetrical, inseparable relationship." (p139)
"It is also impossible to separate word and deed ministry from each other in ministry because human beings are integrated wholes - body and soul. When some Christians say, `Caring for physical needs will detract from evangelism', they must be thinking of only doing evangelism among people who are comfortable and well-off." (p141-142)

- The Revisionist Campaigner: frustrated by evangelicals' sluggish or avoided engagement, these go further than Instinctive Advocates and blame what they perceive as the `individualism' of protestant orthodoxy. Their solution is to water down or distance themselves from it. To them, Keller is resounding in his appeal to evangelical orthodoxy - not just because he seeks to prove its biblical faithfulness, but also because he sees it as the fundamental bridge to a changed life and ethical behaviour, when it is properly understood. This quotation could serve as a summary of a point that he frequently returns to:
"But as we have seen, doing justice is inseparably connected to preaching grace. This is true in two ways. One way is that the gospel produces a concern for the poor. The other is that deeds of justice gain credibility for the preaching of the gospel. In other words justification by faith leads to doing justice, and doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith." (p140)

- The Atheist Accuser: those who follow the likes of Christopher Hitchens by claiming that `religion poisons everything'. Keller has interacted with such issues before, most notably in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism. But the focus is narrower here. His approach is to question the ethical basis for human rights in the forbidding frigidity of a godless universe, and then to suggest that talk of human dignity is an inevitable corollary of divine creation and redemption. He even seems to have Derrida on his side on that point! (p167) It is a trenchant argument - proving that far from being poisonous, religion, and Christianity in particular, is pivotal for the protection of the vulnerable and the weak. This is, of course, why it is such an affront and scandal when Christians don't do that.

I suppose for a number of years I fell very much into the first camp - troubled by the world's injustices, but unable to articulate an integrated theological response. Many friends, whom I hugely respect, were in the second - and part of the problem, I think, is that they would not read or engage with many who think differently on this issue (because of their lack of orthodoxy in other areas). What is so refreshing therefore about Keller's approach is that he is explicitly and deliberately approaching the question from the vantage point of the classic reformed doctrines of creation, substitutionary atonement, justification, sanctification and so on. Some attack him because his social involvement leads to suspicions that he has gone soft on these. But Keller retorts by saying that it is precisely this gospel that drives him to it. And he enjoys great precedents in reformed luminaries as diverse as Jonathan Edwards, Murray M'Cheyne and Abraham Kuyper (all of whom he quotes at various points).

Having lived in the two-thirds world for a number of years, it was impossible to ignore the appalling conditions and social realities of people's lives. It would have been callous to do so. That, in part, is why very few African friends understand the western church's hang up on social action and evangelism. It's a non-question for them. But in Generous Justice, Keller convincingly argues in a coherent, accessible and readable way why it should be non-question for us all. I sensed when we lived in Uganda, and I sense all the more strongly having read this book, that one mistake is to get lost in the intricacies of working out theoretical priorities (a necessary activity, of course). You start pitting this life against the next life and ... well ... it seems no contest.

But suppose we take the concern for justice out of the mission equation, just for a moment (don't panic - I do think that it is an integral part of what God is doing on earth, which is why we should be involved. But bear with me just for a moment.) Instead, place justice and poverty in matters of holiness and discipleship and suddenly the landscape changes. It's not then primarily a question of priorities. It's a question of godliness. We don't ask, `is it more important to be honest, humble or generous?' That would be ludicrous. We shouldn't expect to have to choose - we should strive after all three.

So it is with seeking justice and loving the poor. And as that is God's heartbeat, so it should be ours. As Keller points out, it's fascinating that God introduces himself as "a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows' (Ps 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." (p6) To be like God is to do the same thing - to care for what has been called the "quartet of the vulnerable" (the widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor cf. Zech 7:10-11). (p4)

The thrust of this book's argument is that grace is the heart of everything. And so Keller returns to the well-worn but crucial paths on the dangerous road to Jericho. His earlier book MINISTRIES OF MERCY PB was subtitled the Call of the Jericho Road. And here he is very clear why we should:
"Before you can give this neighbour-love [e.g. as the Samaritan does], 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." (p77)

This is why the gospel of grace is absolutely pivotal - both for motivating and modelling an all-round holistic ministry, and for reminding us of our own deep needs and equality with those we serve and love.

This book is not ivory-towered or remote. He cites plenty of examples from his own ministry and that of friends. Fans of The Wire: Complete HBO Season 1-5 [DVD] [2002] will be thrilled to learn of a ministry in inner-city Baltimore being pioneered by a friend of Keller, for example. And he is deliberately and carefully non partisan politically - much of the time showing why both sides of the USA political debate are missing the big picture. But the reason is simple - the Bible's big picture on these issues is huge and all-encompassing (for more than any contemporary political creed or philosophy).

So i can only hope and pray that this book has its desired effect - to galvanise the sluggish, to win over the sceptics, and to live out God's heartbeat of love for the poor and the vulnerable.
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on 8 November 2014
I was after an introduction to issues of social justice from a Christian perspective and found this very readable and challenging. I don't know how it compares to other books on the topic but it's made me want to read more.
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on 20 August 2013
I enjoyed this book which I was reading to prepare for a talk on the subject. Tim Keller outlines the issues, the theology and gives ideas about how Christians can get involved in taking action to combat injustice. Well worth reading
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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.
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I read this book after a speaker at my church recommended it. In this book Timothy Keller sets out God's manifesto for social justice and helping the poor. He clearly outlines many passages from the bible which give God's commands to take care of the poor. Although many of these are from the Old Testament, Keller, also shows us where this is continued in the New Testament. Although many of the old testament laws were no longer required following Jesus death, Jesus himself said that this is one law which we as Christians should continue to follow. This is a challenging book which made me radically rethink my attitude to social justice. The reason I Have given it 4 rather than 5 stars is that Although many historical examples of social justice were given I would also have liked a few more modern ones. Other than this I think this is an excellent book which every Christian should read.
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"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.
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on 8 September 2011
A very thought provoking book which repaid the time spent in reading it, and gave some new insights into the relationship of the church with justice.
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on 3 February 2013
This gives a very convincing argument as to how Christians should match up to the requirements of the Old Testament in terms of care for the vulnerable in society. Particularly relevant in the present recession.
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on 26 April 2014
The book was very interesting, and I learned a lot about Divine Justice from it. All Rev. Keller's books are good it seems.
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