Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review: Generous Justice

When I first heard the statistic that over one billion people don't have access to clean drinking water, it floored me. When I see pictures or videos of the ponds and ditches that people use for drinking, cooking, and bathing, it breaks my heart. A resource that is found in incredible abundance--a necessity that I use nearly constantly without a second thought--is not even available to people? It doesn't seem fair.

It isn't. There's a lack of justice happening here, and we as Christians are called to respond. But how? What does it mean to follow Micah 6:8 and "do justice?" What exactly is justice? What is the source of injustice? And, most importantly, why does God seem to care so much about justice? These are the questions that pastor and author Tim Keller addresses in his insightful new book, Generous Justice.

Keller explains in the introduction that he is trying to transcend a few false dichotomies and ideas about the God of the Bible. God's justice goes beyond evangelism vs. social justice, conservative vs. liberal, Old Testament vs. New Testament, and individual responsibility vs. systemic injustice. Going right to the heart of the matter, Keller explains that justice is intrinsically connected to the gospel, and that our own experience with grace should inspire us to seek justice in our world. If we truly understand the gift of grace that God has bestowed upon us in Jesus Christ, if we recognize that He became poor so that we might become rich in His grace, then we necessarily must be moved to compassionate action. In an explanation of a passage in Deuteronomy, Keller writes:
The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God's grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn't live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God's grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn't care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn't understand the grace he has experience, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just. (pg. 93-94, emphasis mine)
Generous Justice gives a balanced and informative view on both why we should do justice (God's grace in our lives) and how we should do justice (addressing both individual and systemic problems based on the wisdom of Scripture). The chapter on doing justice in the public square reveals that our politics and legislation have inherent foundations in one's faith and beliefs, that we cannot help but bring our spirituality into the public arena, yet also cannot beat the Bible over society's head and expect cultural change. Our arguments for justice must be both Biblically sound and intellectually coherent. Keller writes:
The rules of public discourse will not allow us to talk about such matters, since, it is feared, discussions of religious beliefs will lead to endless public disagreement. However, we are already locked in endless disagreement, largely because we live with the illusion that we can achieve moral and religious neutrality. And because we can't talk about our real differences, we simply make power plays to weaken and marginalize our opponents, not persuade them. We have to change these rules and this climate of discourse. (pg. 168, emphasis his)
Keller's writing style also transcends a common dichotomy: the two audiences of academia and the everyman. Keller achieves what few authors can--a perfect blend of profundity and simplicity. His writing is both intellectual and accessible, theologically robust and deeply practical. He's clearly well-read and a deep thinker, yet communicates his thoughts in ways that anyone can grasp. The style also connotes a humility; Keller provides clear and, at times, convicting ideas about justice while also straying from being abrasive or condemning in his tone. He's a pastor who is striving to live out the ideas in this book

I've read a number of books on justice, and I blog about it quite often. It's a personal passion that stems from a desire to see God's shalom in our world. I'm convinced that this is the best book on God's justice that I have read thus far. Biblically-sound, strictly apolitical, and driven by the message of the gospel, Generous Justice offers a balanced and hopeful twenty-first century vision of the words of Isaiah:

Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
Stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

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