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Four Types of People Who Would Benefit from Keller’s “Generous Justice”

September 26, 2011

In the introduction to Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Tim Keller notes that there are four types of people who he hopes will read his book:

1. People who have a concern for social justice and have been involved in the volunteerism movement, but who do not let their social concern affect their personal lives.

[This concern] does not influence how they spend money on themselves, how they conduct their careers, the way they choose and live in neighbhorhoods, or whom they seek as friends. Also, many lose enthusiasm for volunteering over time.

From their youth culture they have imbibed not only an emotional resonance for social justice but also a consumerism that undermines self-denial and delayed gratification. Popular youth culture in Western countries cannot bring about the broad change of life in us that is required if we are to make a difference for the poor and marginalized. While many young adults have a Christian faith, and also 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. (xi)

2. The person who approaches the subject of “doing justice” with suspicion.

In the twentieth century the American church divided between the liberal mainline that stressed social justice and the fundamentalist churches that emphasized personal salvation. One of the founders of the Social Gospel movement was Walter Rauschenbusch, a German Baptist minister whose first pastorate was on the edge of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen in the 1880s. His firsthand acquaintance with the terrible poverty of his neighborhood led him to question traditional evangelism, which took pains to save people’s souls but did nothing about the social systems locking them into poverty. Rauschenbusch began to minister to “both soul and body,” but in tandem with this shift in method came a shift in theology. He rejected the traditional doctrines of Scripture and atonement. He taught that Jesus did not need to satisfy the justice of God, and therefore he died only to be an example of unselfishness.

In the mind of many orthodox Christians, therefore, “doing justice” is inextricably linked with the loss of sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism. However, Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth-century author of the sermons “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was a staunch Calvinist and hardly anyone’s idea of a “liberal.” Yet in his discourse on “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” he concluded, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?” (xi-xii)

3. The younger evangelicals who have “expanded their missions” to include social justice along with evangelism, but who may have dropped attention to important theology. 

Many of them have not only turned away from older forms of ministry, but also from traditional evangelical doctrines of Jesus’s substitutionary atonement and of justification by faith alone, which are seem as too “individualistic.” These authors usually argue that changes in theological emphasis–or perhaps outright changes in theological doctrine–are necessary if the church is going to be more engaged in the pursuit of social justice. The scope of the present volume prevents us from looking at these debates about atonement and justification. However, one of its main purposes is to show that such reengineering of doctrine is not only mistaken in itself, but also unnecessary. The most traditional formulation of evangelical doctrine, rightly understood, should lead its proponents to a life of doing justice in the world. (xiii-xiv)

4. Those who charge that religion “poisons everything” and see Christianity in opposition to social justice. 

Recently there has been a rise in books and blogs charging that religion, to quote Christiopher Hitchens, “poisons everything.”

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. (xiv)

Keller connects these four seemingly different groups as he concludes this portion of his introduction (emphasis mine):

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. (xiv)


January February 2011 Reading 
Encouragement from the Dead and the Living.

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