Book Review: Generous Justice

Review by Adam Gustine

Generous Justice is a great book, written on a timely, if not controversial, topic. Tim Keller cuts through the highly charged rhetoric and presents a clear, biblical call for the church to “do justice.” Most significant is the connection he draws between God’s grace toward us and our pursuit of justice in the world.

While this is compelling, it leaves me a bit unsettled. When justice is something we “go do,” it is easy for justice to become merely a cause for us to champion. But justice is more than that. We don’t merely do justice; we must be just—because justice is God’s way of life. Keller discusses this, but I wanted to read more.

Much is made of the way we pursue justice in the world, but much more is needed to help us become just communities. I wonder if, without knowing it, we foster injustice in our churches.

I’d like to suggest that as we read the book, we have a conversation about our way of life as the church. Let’s ask questions like these:

Keller argues that justice is proactively seeking God’s shalom in a particular place: Are our churches places of God’s shalom?

Keller says that right relationships are key to justice: What kind of cultural changes need to take place in order to cultivate a community of “right relationships”?

Injustice is often perpetrated by the misuse of power: Do our structures perpetuate the abuse of power within our church—not just by pastors but also by other leaders or the congregation itself?

In my mind this last one is the question, as other considerations stem from this one. It stands to reason that a community of justice, in this sense, is one that fully embodies Paul’s admonition to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” For more, read this post from the Out of Ur blog.

Adam Gustine is pastor of First EFC in Brooklyn, N.Y., and chairman of the board for Immigrant Hope—Brooklyn. He’s passionate about helping people see justice as more than an add-on to a gospel-centered community.

Review by David Carlson

The last sentence of his book summarizes Keller’s point: “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.”

Keller defines “doing justice” as more than limited seasons of compassion: mission trips, food drives, holiday gifts and acts of charity. We are called to continue with our compassion until the other person has been raised up to a place of well-being. Beyond specific actions, he writes, justice “turns the poor man’s life into a delight.”

We evangelicals have moved from fleeing the city’s illness to flocking in to plant churches. This is a welcome change, unless we are only involved in giving charity and tickets to heaven. Keller shows that justice is indivisible from the mercy of the cross.

How will we do this? Evangelism and justice are asymmetrical priorities—Keller holds that evangelism has to take primacy; we cannot cut either words or justice out of the gospel. Instead, we need two kinds of structures: Churches work best when they focus on evangelism and discipleship; then, we can create nonprofits to work with others in the community for justice. We thus recognize the distinct spheres of special and common grace.

I recommend this book highly as a primer—it is not a how-to manual by any means. It is, however, an effective call to the church to listen again to the Word and then to look afresh at our calling.

David Carlson is pastor of Bethany EFC in Madison, Wis., and has been in urban ministry for more than 25 years.

Review by Dan Curnutt

I believe that the church, in America specifically, has forgotten God’s concern for ministry to the poor. Therefore, EFCA lay leaders and pastors will be forced to deal with several questions as they read this work:

How do we help the poor with the issues they face of hunger, inadequate health care, poor vocational training and lack of job opportunities?
How do we help advance advocates who will champion the cause of the poor, the orphan and the widow?
What do we do with the concept of the “year of jubilee,” when the debts of the poor should be forgiven and they be given a fresh start?
Other resources for further reading would be John Perkins’ Let Justice Roll Down and Dr. Keith Phillips’ Out of Ashes.

Dan Curnutt is associate pastor of First EFC in Wichita, Kan. He was drawn to Keller’s book because of past work in inner-city ministry with World Impact.

Review by Dan Benson

“If you are a Christian,” the author writes, “and you refrain from committing adultery or using profanity or missing church, but you don’t do the hard work of thinking through how to do justice in every area of life, you are failing to live justly and righteously.”

If done correctly, doing justice enhances evangelistic work, he adds, by earning credibility for the gospel when it is preached. Keller also shows how some of the Old Testament justice rules might be exercised today by churches and businesses.

At 230 pages, this book is a slim volume with a heavy message. It challenges us to examine how we spend our time and money as individuals and as a church community and to ask whether our heart reflects the heart of God. There is a lot here to reflect on and for a small group to discuss and apply. Unfortunately, there is no accompanying study guide.

Dan Benson is a journalist and a member of Friedens Evangelical Church (EFCA) in Port Washington, Wis. Dan agrees that the love of Christ speaks loudest when His followers love the poor, in whatever form they’re found.

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