The Taser's Edge

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just (Dutton, 2010)
By Timothy Keller

I’ll lay out the summary review first: this is a great book, and I’d highly recommend it for a wide range of churches, book studies, or reading groups who are trying to understand better what the Christian call to social justice is about.  It’s especially apt for those Christians who must be shown an explicit Scriptural reference for everything they do, as Keller is a great Bible teacher.

Keller pastors the enormous Redeemer Presbyterian (PCA) in NYC, which he planted there in 1989.  From his own evangelical background, I began reading this book expecting to be deeply and repeatedly bothered by him.  Instead, I was greatly surprised and blessed.  Keller is often grouped into the recent resurgence of neo-Calvinism, but if that’s the case, he at least does it a lot differently than some of those folks (although yes, the sentiment “How God’s Grace Makes Us Just” is as Calvinish as all get out).  What I mean by doing it differently is that Keller is extremely intelligent, extremely well read, and he has a gift for understanding culture, to which he adds a deeply pastoral heart which guides his public theology.

What ‘works’ best in this book is the biblical theology work which Keller does in the first four to five chapters, ably showing the continuity of God’s desires for humanity and the rest of the world from Pentateuch to Prophets to New Testament to the contemporary church.  I came to this book from a place in which I am currently desiring to figure out how the church is called to be a monkey wrench (or perhaps just a mangled monkey) in the grinding machine of global free market capitalism, so my idea of what the call to social justice means is a bit out there from what I expect in evangelical circles.

That being said, Keller actually lays out the texts that have shaped me to believe the way that I do.  He calls for Christian engagement in works of empowerment of the powerless and social reform of unjust systems.  He’s definitely walking a fine line here (and I know, as I wrote a sermon on Micah 6’s call to Christian political engagement a couple weeks ago for my own evangelical church home), and sometimes he doesn’t really take it far enough, but it is a brilliant start to a needed conversation in the church.  I would love a follow-up where this leaves off.  As for this particular book, like I said, the first four to five chapters are great, there’s a lull for a couple chapters as he struggles but doesn’t quite succeed at shaking off middle-class American assumptions about who political systems serve and who they damage.  Then the book starts gaining momentum again but abruptly ends.

By the way, the closest comparative text to this which I have read is Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, and it is nowhere near as direct, approachable, or pastoral in its Scriptural exegesis, even if its practical ideas push the envelope further than Keller.  Between the two, Keller’s book is simply better, because the audience for both books needs something clear and Biblical in order to get their eyes, ears, and heart cleaned, bored, and softened to receive the Gospel momentum to justice in the world.

I’ve got plenty of friends who pastor or are some form of leader in churches which need to learn from a book like this in order to heed God’s call to love the world.  If you are reading this, friend, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.

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