Welcome to the Book Journey of Generous Justice by Timothy Keller.
Have you read the book review and schedule for this book journey? If not, you can find it here.
Chapter Five – Why should we do justice?
Honoring the Image
To begin, Keller establishes the point that it isn’t sufficient to appeal to moral obligation as motivation to help one another or care for the poor. Nor is sentimentalism adequate. Thus, he presents the only basis that truly motivates people to do justice: the Bible. With the basis of God’s Word, it is therefore necessary to esteem human beings simply because we are made in the image of God. Keller writes, “Human beings are not accidents, but creations. Without a belief in creation, we are forced to face the implication that ultimately there is no good reason to treat human beings as having dignity…The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated or harmed.” Further, as an act of reverence and respect to the Creator, Keller states we are called to value His creation – human beings.
Recognizing God’s Ownership
This section continues on with another explanation of “why” to do justice: Because everything belongs to God, it is not ours to claim or control. While God gave humans authority over aspects of creation, He did not hand over the ownership. This concept is challenging for most Americans, writes Keller, because we “believe that if we have success in life, it is mainly the result of our own hard work, and we therefore have the right to use our money as we see fit.” Below is a thought-provoking excerpt from Keller, as he explains this concept:
“If you had been born on a mountaintop in Tibet in the thirteenth century, instead of a Western country in the twentieth century, then no matter how hard you worked, you wouldn’t have had much to show for it. If you have money, power, and status today, it is due to the century and place in which you were born, to your talents and capacities and health, none of which you earned. In short, all your resources are in the end the gift of God.”
Thus, one who refuses to be generous in terms of material goods, wealth, stewardship of power and resources, etc in effect refuses to admit the Creator’s ultimate ownership.
The remaining sections of this chapter focus on the Biblical theology of grace and its affects on the life of a believer. In short, Keller states that if one has truly experienced grace, one will do justice. Not out of obligation or sentimentalism but as an outpouring of the fruit of redemption. A person who understands just how needy and desperate he/she was without grace is willing and eager to extend it again and again. If there is no evidence of living justly or caring for the vulnerable, it “reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God.”
Keller concludes, “To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.”
“Pushing the Button”
This final section addresses the reality that many genuine Christians are not actively demonstrating much concern for the poor, the vulnerable, the outcasts. As explanation, Keller says, “I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in an Christian’s soul until it is awakened.” Keller goes on to explain that trying to guilt Christians into caring for the poor is not effective. However, “when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up.”
Chapter Six – How should we do justice?
Always Thinking of Justice
Keller opens Chapter 6 with an illustration of how Christians can practically do justice, as part of their everyday living and not an added activity. He shares an interesting story of one of his acquaintances, a Christian man who owns a chain of car dealerships. It was brought to this man’s attention, based on research done by the CEO, that the patterns of negotiation in his dealerships lacked justice. In this situation, it was found that, in general, men negotiated more persistently than women, and Anglos negotiated more persistently than African-Americans. Thus, black women, who were often less stable economically, were paying more for vehicles than those customers with more wealth. The allowance of negotiation was not illegal in any way, yet this owner decided it was taking advantage of a “class of people that needed help and protection.” In the end, the company decided to list the price clearly and no longer utilize negotiation. As Keller summarized, “…this Christian businessman was ‘considering’ the poor, and seeking to integrate the doing of justice into all aspects of his private and public life.”
Levels of Help
This section on the three levels of help provided a great deal of clarity for me. And, since entire books have been written on this section’s concept, I will only provide an extremely condensed version here:
Keller states, “…vulnerable people need multiple levels of help. We will call these layers relief, development and social reform.”
Relief is direct aid to meet immediate physical, material, and economic needs. For example, the Good Samaritan offered relief in the form of physical protection, medical attention, and rent subsidy (Luke 10:30-35). Other examples include: temporary shelters for homeless, food and clothing services, free or low-cost medical services, caring for foster children, helping individuals find legal aid, and protection from abuse and violence.
Development is different than meeting immediate needs; development seeks to provide what is needed in order for the person, family, or community in order to move past dependency on relief. Development aims for self-sufficiency. Keller provides this example: “In the Old Testament, when a slave’s debt was erased and he was released, God directed that his former master send him out with sufficient grain, tools, and resources for a new, self-sufficient life” (Deuteronomy 15:13-14). Other Biblical laws of “development” are: laws of release, gleaning, and Jubliee. Additional current examples according to Keller include: education, job creation and training, job search skills, financial counseling, and helping towards home ownership. The key here is this – “Development, of course, is far more time consuming, complex, and expensive than relief,” says Keller.
Social Reform “moves beyond the relief of immediate needs and dependency and seeks to change the conditions and social structures that aggravate or cause that dependency,” explains Keller. To illustrate this point, Keller presents an imaginary sequel to the Good Samaritan parable. Over time, he finds a beaten man in the road each time he travels to Jericho. He begins to ask, “How do we stop the violence?” The answer, says Keller, “would be some kind of social reform – instituting a new social arrangement that stops the flow of victims because of a change of social conditions.” Maybe more police, or a network of clergy and institutions to do gang mediation and intervention (like the TenPoint Coalition in Boston in the 1990s).
Many prefer to prefer to simply evangelize one soul at a time, and stay out of the political and economic systems; yet, sometimes a certain law or failing school system or inadequate police protection or gang power or disadvantage in a place will effectively prevent that soul from ever moving past relief and development – unless someone who cares about justice steps in to “resist and change the legal, political, and social system.”
What about the rest of us?
What about the Christians and churches not located in communities of poverty? Keller provides these suggestions:
- Discover the needs in your area. Listen to community leaders. Are there disadvantaged children or elderly, disabled, single parents, chronically ill, immigrants needing aid? What are some ways to engage?
- Make connections with churches and ministries who are effective in poorer areas. Ask them what they need from you.
Doing Justice and Preaching Grace
The final section of this chapter, Keller discusses “how justice relates to their other duties as believers.” As Keller puts it, evangelism and social justice should exist as inseparable. In real life, evangelism and social justice go together.
“If you wish to share your faith with needy people, and you do nothing about the painful conditions in which they live, you will fail to show them Christ’s beauty. We must neither confuse evangelism with doing justice, nor separate them from one another.”
Your thoughts? Feel free to discuss these questions or bring up any other comments you may have as you read these summaries (and especially if you are reading the book). You can leave comments here or on the Front Porch Inspired Facebook page.
Remember, quotes from the book are posted daily on the Facebook page. And, the summary and discussion questions for the final chapters 7 and 8 will be posted next Friday, March 6.