Book Review: Generous Justice by Timothy Keller

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“There is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor.” (p. xix)

On a recent trip to Memphis, I was inspired by the network of organizations that have arisen from the ministry of a particular church in that city. The leaders spoke about justice and the gospel in a way that was sophisticated in understanding, yet simple and passionate in language. I believe in justice as a core facet of the gospel, but I left that trip energized to strengthen my own foundation and dream new ways to lead my own congregation in reaching our community with God’s ministry of justice.

Yet while both this young generation and many of our not-so-young church members resonate with practical compassion offered to those in need, there is a challenge. Most Christians joyfully participate in clothing and food drives, funds for short-term emergency assistance, and “Angel Tree” opportunities to provide Christmas gifts for children in need. But adding ministries of justice to our ministries of compassion can be difficult.

Let me speak in broad brush strokes. We find Christians who champion justice ministries and root their efforts in the Old Testament prophets. And we find Christians who articulate well the availability of personal reconciliation with God through the forgiveness of Christ. It is more rare, but needed, for Christians to see, articulate, and live out the robust biblical gospel—the center of which is Jesus’ cross and resurrection—in which God’s grace works for both personal and societal redemption.

The Big Idea

“Before you can give this neighbor-love, 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. Once we receive this ultimate, radical neighbor-love through Jesus, we can start to be the neighbors that the Bible calls us to be.” (p. 77)

Keller’s central conviction in Generous Justice is that righteousness and justice are fused in Scripture so that God’s grace in Jesus Christ reconciles us to the God whose heart is for the poor and victims of injustice. When we receive the gift of forgiveness and justifying grace, thereby becoming reconciled to God personally, we are reunited with One who desires justice for all humanity. When we have come to love him, can we help but love what he loves?

Keller works this out for the reader beginning with the biblical underpinnings of justice in the Old and New Testaments, then presses on to engage the question of why and how to do justice today. He unfolds his presentation this way.

  • Offers a biblical definition of what doing justice is: “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.” (p. 18)
  • Surveys of justice in the Old Testament and in the teaching of Jesus, including the parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • Grounds a Christian motivation for justice in the “goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.” (p. 82)
  • Tackles practical issues of how to do justice and work in the public square in a way that offers a balanced engagement of various ideologies and sources (Christian and secular, “liberal” and “conservative”) in order to reach a distinctively Christian view.

The Take Home

Whether you are exploring the ministry of justice as a part of your own faith journey or looking for help articulating God’s desire for justice from the Scriptures, Generous Justice makes an able companion. In his signature way, Keller combines exposition of biblical texts with reflection on the Christian tradition and the modern Western context. Preachers looking for help in their sermons, bible studies, and even conversations in committees will appreciate the foundation that Generous Justice provides. Do not be surprised when you are inspired to a more robust, challenging, and exhilarating walk with Christ yourself. After all, “the Biblical idea of justice is comprehensive and practical, but it is also high and wonderful.” (p. 170)

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Guy Williams is Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Temple in Port
Arthur, Texas. A graduate of Texas A&M University and Asbury Seminary,
he is married with three children. Follow him on twitter @guymwilliams
or find him online at guymwilliams.net.