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Generous Justice

September 21, 2011

I bought this book to see what a well known pastor would have to say about the growing buzz around the word “justice.” I seem to encounter this theme in less doctrinally conservative authors and churches, so it was a delight to hear from Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City on this important generational issue.

The book seeks to address 4 categories of people: the suspicious, the young-disenfranchised from the church-activist, the concerned-stymied-church goer, and the bitter non-believer who thinks God is not about justice. I’m not sure where I fit, but that’s not the point! I don’t think the book was written for someone like me, already convinced of God’s heart for the poor and my responsibility towards them as well as the unique call on the church to respond to injustice.

It’s a great primer on God’s view of justice with a tangible bit of application for a church body. He touches on the Old Testament view of justice, as well as Jesus’ view, and even throws in some reasons for extreme poverty today! He brushes over community development and “reneighboring” (versus relocation) as he quotes from urban ministry experts, Gornik and Perkins. What did I say? It’s a primer. And it’s refreshing to ground ourselves in scripture’s handling of justice in the midst of the various approaches out there.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Keller responds to the question of how most people hear justice and think HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, etc: “My definition of justice is giving humans their due as people in the image of God. We all agree that everyone deserves not to be enslaved, beaten, raped, or killed. We are not just talking about helping the poor but helping people whose rights are being violated. What people are due is not an easy thing to determine from the Bible. I’m urging Christians not to be so certain that they know how the Bible translates into public policy.”

Keller challenges the reader, as I sense he himself has been challenged. At one point he says that Jesus taught, “a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.” And, I appreciate his thoughts found in another interview about this book: “I read the Bible and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of Biblical material that expresses concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. My main gifting is evangelism and I’ve never had extensive experience in a poor community or country. So I reason—if I can see all of this in the Bible, despite the fact that I’m not especially oriented to do so—it must be important to God. I’m passionate about it because I’m passionate to be shaped by the Bible.”

Altogether, a challenging, yet refreshing book on God’s heart for the marginalized.

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