I have already admitted that I have a Mt. Rushmore of theologians and writers that I cannot get enough of. I will be the first one that scoops up whatever they write. Timothy Keller, preacher at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church, is one of those writers.
Tim Keller wrote the widely acclaimed book, The Reason for God a few years ago. This is not a review for that book, but let me say that it IS the best apologetic work that I have ever read. It is one of those books that I would hand to someone who was doubting or was sceptical about the Christian religion. If you do not own this book, do not waste any time and go get it, now. I had to have that tangent, sorry.
Generous Justice takles an issue that has become incredibly important to many younger Christians, biblical justice. For many of us in the United States, our views of justice center around popular TV crime dramas or books by writers such as John Grisham. Many of these tackle thorny legal issues or stories where justice, in a legal sense, is served or perverted. Justice is also an area that sparks intense moral debates such as how should criminals/prisoners be treated, whether to use or abandon the death penalty, and how much punishment is fair for particular crimes. For us, the main word used alongside justice is punishment. But this is not all the Bible calls justice, or being just. Keller’s book shows us this in a convincing and practical way.
The core of biblical justice is recognizing the individual worth of each person. No matter what person looks like or where they come from, everyone has value and is considered important in the eyes of God. The group that God himself focuses on when it comes to making sure they are treated “justly” is the poor and marginalized. From the beginning of the Bible to its end, you cannot help but notice that God has commanded us to care for the poor. It is this idea of caring for the poor and marginalized that Tim Keller has written about in Generous Justice.
Keller begins with a description of what biblical justice look like. He says that justice is “giving people their rights” or “giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care” (pg.3-4). This comes from the Hebrew word mishpat, which is found more than 200 times in the Old Testament. Doing justly is one of the key components to living a godly life (Micah 6:8). If we think back to biblical times, we see that there were many who would have been left without any means to take care of themselves. It was these people who were to be cared for by those with the abilities and goods. You find this all throughout the Bible, whether it be the gifts given to support the Levites, widows, and orphans in the Old Testament or the early church giving out of their means to support one another and those in their communities (Acts 2:45). Think about what James say about true religion in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” The Bible commands us to be just and it shows us how to carry it out.
No one does more to show us true justice than Jesus Christ. And here is where Generous Justice and Keller hit a great homerun. Keller states that all justice is derived from God himself, and no one does a better job of living justice to the fullest than God’s Son, Jesus. Jesus shows us all the facets of justice, in the forms of right relationships, how to treat the poor, and being generous. Passages such as Matthew 11:4-5, where Jesus shows John’s disciples his ministry, and Luke 14:12-13, where Jesus tells us who to celebrate with, show that Jesus is incredibly concerned for those that are without, whatever that without may be. Keller confronts us with these thoughts, and many more, that show how we as Christians are not living up to our end of the blessings God has given to us.
Generous Justice goes from the biblical facts to answer the questions of why and how to do biblical justice. There is too much to try to say here, but it gives us practical strategies for reaching out to those that are marginalized in our communities and around the world. In our global context today, justice is not just something that needs to be confined to our particular area, though there is more than enough to do there. We also have a responsiblity to share what we have with others around the world that are much, much worse off than most in the U.S. Keller’s book gives us many truths to wrestle with when it comes to all these areas.
So, I recommend Generous Justice if you are interested in reading a sensible yet challenging book on biblical justice. It is a topic that is being discussed in the greater religious world, and I believe we need to join the conversation.