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Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just Paperback – August 7, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
The pastor of New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church offers a persuasive plea for evangelicals to embrace social justice efforts. Keller (The Reason for God), whose evangelical credentials are well respected, is among a new breed of conservative Christians eager to break out of the straitjacket that frowns on justice work as doctrinally unsound or the work of overzealous liberals. Without ever resorting to hyperbole, Keller carefully analyzes Old and New Testament passages to make the case that God's heart for justice on behalf of widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor is indisputable, and that an encounter with grace will inevitably lead to a desire for justice. This short manifesto goes further: Keller argues that gospel preaching that aims only to change hearts while remaining oblivious to unjust social structures will never fully succeed. Keller recommends that evangelicals partner with non-Christians in pursuit of social reform while speaking distinctively in their own religious idiom. Emergent Christians as well as others serious about their faith and eager for a balanced and authoritative voice on the subject will appreciate this book. (Nov.)
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Praise for Generous Justice
"Keller shows us how a . . . spirit—one of generosity coupled with justice—can thoroughly alter not only a person but, ultimately, society as a whole. . . . Many gems are to be mined from Generous Justice." —The Washington Times
"Generous Justice is the best book I've ever read about putting Christian faith into action. . . . Were all Christians to respond to Keller's understanding of Biblically based justice, it wouldn't simply result in more social programs, food and shelter, and health care for the needy. It would result in a world defined by shalom, a comprehensive peace, a world in which human beings flourish." —Beliefnet.com
"This is the most biblically informed and intellectually careful (read the footnotes!) 'social justice' book I know of. Justice skeptics and justice proponents alike will learn from Generous Justice." —Kevin DeYoung, TheGospelCoalition.org
"A great book . . . Keller cuts through the highly charged rhetoric and presents a clear, biblical call for the church to 'do justice.'" —EFCAToday.org
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Top Customer Reviews
This is truly a mind-blowing, heart-rending thesis - and it's hit me like a ton of bricks! The very night I read this book, I read (from the Book of Common Prayer) the prayer for Social Justice in our Evening Prayer service at church. Obviously God is trying to teach me something, and I think He's trying to teach you all the same thing. That something is that Christians are to be involved in social justice not only because it's a commandment but because it's a response to a life that's received the grace of God (His "generous justice").
Keller cuts across the great conservative/liberal divide in this book. He has something that most of you will at first disagree about, but when you truly consider it, you'll find that he's probably right. Social justice is about caring for the poor and alienated, both as individuals and as communities. To conservative Christians he preaches that social justice does indeed involve changing entire communities and that real oppression and social injustice still exists in the U.S. To liberal Christians he preaches that much of poverty really does come from the personal moral failings of individuals. In fact, he outlines 3 possible causes of poverty: oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure. He believes that the biblical emphasis is especially on the larger structural factors (although I don't necessarily agree with him here.)
Perhaps most importantly, Keller is putting his money where his mouth is: his Redeemer Presbyterian Church is located in Manhattan.
What Keller does best, beginning with the Old Testament and continuing through the teachings of Jesus and the Epistles is to show God's concern for social justice. You cannot read this book without being challenged to want to be more involved in correcting social injustice, whether at the individual or social level. This book hit me like a ton of bricks because years ago I had read Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger while in college. I was originally moved by the book but then became aware that Sider had made a lot of errors in his theology and thinking. For years, I allowed this and the liberal emphasis on the social gospel as opposed to the true gospel to shield me from the biblical message of the need for justice.
This book has been like a sledgehammer to my soul, and it will take me months and years to sort out what God would have me do next.
In addition to providing the biblical and theological rationale for caring for the poor and disadvantaged, Keller turns towards a more practical approach towards the end of the book, which was exactly what I needed. He answers questions I and many others have, such as "What if I don't live by an area of poverty?" (then look for the disadvantaged, abused, neglected, sick, single parents wherever you are!) He discusses 3 levels of help that need to be offered: relief (direct aid to immediate needs), development (giving a family or community what they need to move beyond dependency), and social reform (changing the conditions and social conditions that cause dependency).
Keller divides his book up this way:
Introduction: Why Write This Book?
Chapter One - What is Doing Justice?
Chapter Two - Justice and the Old Testament
Chapter Three - What Did Jesus Say About Justice?
Chapter Four - Justice and Your Neighbor
Chapter Five - Why Should We Do Justice?
Chapter Six - How Should We Do Justice?
Chapter Seven - Doing Justice in the Public Square
Chapter Eight - Peace, Beauty, and Justice
There are still things I disagree with about the book, and I have a few areas where I think Keller could have been clearer or more forceful so as not to mislead.
My 1st objection is that Keller seems to emphasize justice in terms of structures more than the justice we seek for individuals (for example, the many ways I seek justice among my kids at home). Keller didn't talk about this side of things enough. He also, in my opinion, doesn't adequately take into account the moral failings that are the cause of so much of American poverty since the 20th century. It's not that he isn't aware of this side of things: I just think he understates it.
Second, while Keller's clearly aware that our contemporary situation is not a theocracy like that of ancient Israel, too much of the time he seems to assume that the social justice we seek is out in the world at large, as opposed to the social justice we seek specifically in the Church. The New Testament letters are clearly more heavily weighted toward how we seek justice specifically in the Church, which is to model social justice for the world, even as the justice of national Israel was to be a model for the nations. He also doesn't address the problem that in ancient Israel and the first century Church, Christians knew who the poor were because there was little social mobility. They knew who was really lame and who was faking; they knew who had fallen on hard times; and they knew who was merely lazy or malicious. It's much more difficult for Christians today to discern this, and Keller makes no (or at least inadequate) reference to the traditional Christian distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor (an issue that several books by George Grant discuss more adequately).
In spite of these errors or exaggerations, "Generous Justice" is still a book every church should be discussing. Read it, and see if it doesn't break your heart and make you more aware of God's grace to you, as well as your need to do justice to those around you!
He then adds, "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 then begin to wake up.
For me, Generous Justice, pushed the button, one that God has been pushing the past year or so, to see the world, to see the challenges of the poor and other 3rd world issues, with a desire to make a difference.
What I like about Keller's theology and writing is an understanding of grace. Guilt can motivate, but it's not God's way to motivate. Guilt can push for a moment, grace can drive for a lifetime. And the issues of the poor will take a lifetime of grace to deal with in this world.
Keller does a great job of digging into a Biblical sense of justice. For most people justice works us to just what they think it should be. Justice in the Biblical sense is more then punishment for what's wrong, it's upholding the needs of the poor and powerless. Justice protects their rights and their value before God.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan man shows justice and kindness to the Jewish man in need. He provides Generous Justice. But Keller picks it up a notch, by pointing out, what if the Good Samaritan travels that road often and keeps finding Jewish men mugged, beaten, left for dead? What does he do then? Generous Justice would be that he works to change the systemic issues.
Generous Justice is not simply how I respond, but how we respond to those in needs as individuals, congregations, and yes, in the political process as well. You may not always agree with Keller, but he will make you think and lay out the possible options to work through.
One of my favourite stories Keller includes is about the Roman Emperor Julian, who was not a big fan of Christians. Yet Julian says about these Christians he despises that they take care of their poor and ours as well. That love, that Generous Justice in action, transformed the world for Christ. We need such a transformation of Generous Justice in our day.
I highly recommend Generous Justice. It is more then a theological / theoretical book of what could be. Generous Justice is a theological / practical book of what by God's grace we can do as we empowered by God to serve the powerless with the power of God's love at work.