Authority in a Relativistic Day


One of the root issues behind our current cultural rot is the question of authority. Who, or what is our authority? By what standard does an individual make decisions, truth claims, or moral judgments? As postmoderns, we pretend to ignore all authority, but that is not how God’s world works. This is his world, and none of us can change the rules. As such, we must appeal to some authority. For many today, that final authority is the inviolable, autonomous self. We are our own authorities, our own gods. Of course, we don’t actually call ourselves gods, that would be silly, but we function as gods as we replace the Creator God with the self.

It should not surprise us then that many modern conceptions of God look a lot like us. Postmoderns fashion a god who is just as relativistic as they are. Instead of man being made in the image of God, we chisel idols into our own image. In this way, someone saying they believe in God is meaningless because that god is often a mere reflection of who they are.

Of course, denying God’s authority is nothing new. It started in the Garden and manifests itself in different ways in every age, but true faith always brings with a recognition of God’s authority. Our only hope is the same as it’s always been—repent and submit to God through faith. The evangelical church is in dire need of this today. While such submission is counterintuitive, it is exactly what is needed.  

We see this type of radical faith in Matthew 8:5-13 as Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant. The Roman soldier approaches Jesus and asks him to heal his paralyzed servant, and Jesus offers to go to do just that. But the Centurion insists he doesn’t need Jesus to come to his house because he understands how authority works. He knows that if Jesus merely gives the command, it will happen. Moreover,the centurion submits to the command of Jesus. At this, Jesus marvels as he has not seen such faith in Israel.

A faith that Christ marvels at is one that should catch our attention. Are we a people who properly understand the authority of Christ? Of God? Of his word? If God says forgive, will we submit? If God says homosexuality is a sin, will submit no matter the cultural pressure? The answer for many in our day is a resounding, “No.” The amount of individuals distorting the teachings of Scripture to get along with the culture is breathtaking, but it also shows who/what their authority is. Too many so-called Christians are rebels and traitors to their commander. They determine their own truth, their own gospel, and they carve their own idolatrous image of Christ. When Jesus says, “Do this,” they do the exact opposite.

To believe in Christ necessarily includes recognizing his supreme authority (Col. 1:15-20). To deny this authority, in thought or deed, is to deny Christ. Jesus speaks of the result of such denial after the centurion departs, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8.11-12). This is no trifle, you either recognize the authority of Christ, or you face the great judgment of God. Denying his authority will not excuse you. It is time for pastors and Christians to practice this type of submission. We need a faith like that of the centurion. We need the same boldness to say as Christ did, “You either recognize this truth, or you perish. There is no middle way.”

This type of marvel-inducing faith scoffs at the pressure our crooked generation applies to hot-button issues like sexuality, gender, and social justice. When the inevitable pearl-clutching and self-righteous offense comes, the man of God doesn’t care because he is too busy submitting to his marching orders. The Lord of the universe has spoken, and like the centurion, we need to say that is enough.

Levi J. Secord

Chapter 8: The End of the Matter


Chapter 8 of Generous Justice covers peace, beauty, and justice, and it is the final chapter in Tim Keller’s book. This has been an arduous task, and if you’ve persevered through the whole series, kudos to you.

With this being the end, I look forward to moving on as I have much other reading and writing awaiting my attention. Before moving on, there are three issues in chapter 8 that demand attention. First, we will revisit how Keller’s redefinition of justice is problematic. Second, we’ll see Keller distort Scripture again to make his case. Third, we will look at Keller’s final parting shot to those who disagree with his argument.

There is one item I desire to mention before moving into the critiques. While I sharply disagree with Keller’s redefinition of justice, this does not mean I disagree with the Christian need to show mercy. Mercy is a praiseworthy virtue all Christians should cultivate, but it is not justice. Definitions are important. I praise Keller for his apparent heart for the poor, but his flawed thinking about justice is both dangerous and unhelpful.

Redefining Justice

Throughout this series, I’ve traced Keller’s redefinition of justice and how he contradicts himself with his various definitions of justice. Keller defines justice as everything from charity to giving someone his due. He’s argued for Marxist ideas such as redistributing wealth and implying justice is found in equal outcomes. All of this comes to a head in chapter 8 as Keller adds even more confusion to his definition of justice. Keller claims, “In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish” (177). Then he adds that doing justice is marked by individuals “disadvantaging themselves” (179). Justice is now about building communities and disadvantaging yourself. This is a long way from “giving someone their due.” Definitionally, justice cannot be two contradictory things.

Keller gets the phrase doing justice from Micah 6:8. As I explained in an earlier post, that passage has nothing to Keller’s proposed redefinition. He ignores this verse is a call to covenant faithfulness. In Micah 6:8, God calls Israel to return to him by keeping the covenant. It is a call for Israel to give God his due according to who he is, and according to the terms of the covenant. Doing justice in Micah 6:8 has everything to do with wholeheartedly walking with God, and nothing to do with giving mercy to the poor.

Despite this reality, Keller argues justice is actually about building communities and disadvantaging yourself. So not only is justice not giving someone their due, but it is about you not getting your due. Keller has turned the meaning of justice on its head so that he can use it however he desires to advance his argument. The problem is, using justice in contradictory ways makes the term meaningless. What could possibly motivate this distortion? Keller has told us, charity must be a justice issue because otherwise, he can’t require it of people. Keller desires the authority only God possesses, to command the human heart.

The Distortion of Scripture

Another common theme continues in this chapter, as Keller distorts Scripture passages to make his case. In earlier chapters, Keller ignored the plain context of the Sabbath year laws to argue for the redistribution of wealth and the relativization of private property. His arguments were baffling as they display egregious interpretive errors. In chapter 8, Keller similarly asserts, “the principle is that God personally identifies very closely with the widow, and the immigrant, the most powerless…in Proverbs we see God identifying with the poor symbolically” (185). He justifies this argument by pointing to Proverbs 19:17 and 14:31.

Both of these passages stress that God will honor those who treat the poor righteously and punish those who don’t. Does this establish God identifies with the poor in a special way? No, as even a cursory reading of Proverbs displays that some poverty is earned as the result of foolishness (Prov 6:6-8, 12:27; 15:19; 20:4; 21:25; 24:30-31; 26:13). In this way, some poverty is a judgment from God through the natural process of sowing and reaping. Consequently, God does not identify with the poor just because they are poor. These two different strands of verses in Proverbs must be held in tension, but Keller refuses to do so.

The passages Keller cites are more about the reality that it's easy to treat the powerless as less than human. Christian doctrine teaches us that every human, of every status, race, income, etc. bear the image of God. To sin against that image, whether it be a rich or poor man, is to sin against God. It is tempting to forget the vulnerable are image-bearers, but these Proverbs rightly remind us that every human bears God’s image and has certain rights.

This week, I was reading Donald Macleod’s Christ Crucified, and he explained the biblical idea of justice when it comes to wronging others, including the vulnerable. He correctly states, “Another is the fact that every violation of human rights is a violation of a right conferred by God; additionally, every crime against a person is a crime against that image of God in which every creature is made. Every sin, therefore, is a defiance of God’s majesty” (186). Macleod’s analysis is much closer to the biblical standard than Keller’s. The verses cited by Keller demonstrate that even the poor bear God’s image, and therefore no one is to take advantage of them. This is wonderfully true, and it is far from suggesting that God prefers the poor simply because they are poor.

The End of the Matter: A Parting Shot

I understand the desire of a writer to end on a succinct point, but Keller oversteps this practice with his final sentence of Generous Justice. He declares (emphasis mine), “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith” (189). This is the concluding application of this entire work—the sign of any true faith is doing justice. It is safe to assume that what Keller means by doing justice is the definition laid out in the pages of this book. Keller asserts the one surefire fruit of saving faith is living out his redefinition of justice. As such, this statement draws a line down the middle of evangelicalism. By implication, Keller asserts any Christian who does not dedicate his life to serving the poor, as Keller defines it, does not have a real, true gospel faith. This is the new measuring stick of salvation. According to Keller, the end of the matter for Christian faith is pouring out your life to the poor.

I do not find biblical warrant for such a sweeping statement. True faith bears fruit, but not all Christians are called to serve in the same areas. The one fruit which is inevitable for all Christians is growth in holiness. The process of sanctification is often slow and messy and takes different twists and turns for every individual. Nonetheless, holiness is the mark of all true faith and is thus necessary to see God (Heb. 12:14). So while showing mercy to the poor is a natural outworking of the Christian faith, it does not follow that every Christian must dedicate his entire life to serving the physically/financially poor.

By asserting such an extra-biblical standard, Keller flirts with legalism. He adds a stumbling block between men and God that the Scripture simply does not. Salvation comes by grace through faith, which leads to good works. There are a variety of good works that aren’t contained in Keller’s narrow and distorted view of justice. The end of the matter is found in a living faith, which manifests itself in a growing personal holiness lived out in a myriad of ways. Unfortunately, Keller dismisses this truth as he swings and misses on his attempted knockout punch. Keller’s final shot about justice is ironically rather ungenerous.

Levi J. Secord

Chapter 7: Post-Modernism's Influence


Chapter seven is the penultimate chapter in Keller’s Generous Justice, and it addresses how to do justice in the public square. This chapter perhaps has the least to do with Keller’s thesis, redefining justice to include mercy, charity, and benevolence. As we approach the end of Keller’s work, his distortion of justice ungirds most everything he argues. This is no different in this chapter, but there is little new ground covered in defining justice. Nonetheless, the influence of post-modern thought (i.e., relativism) does manifest itself in chapter seven.

Before critiquing this chapter, there is one item of praise from this chapter. Keller rightly notes there is no neutrality when discussing justice. Talking about justice requires a moral code, a standard by which to judge everything else. As long as we acknowledge that there is a universal standard found in God and his Word, and we apply it consistently, we can avoid the allures of relativism. Keller is right to note that no one enters this discussion neutral, but he fails to apply the Christian standard consistently to the conversation.

This is where the influence of post-modernism reveals itself. Keller sounds relativistic in much of this chapter, but I do not believe he really is. To be clear, he does recognize God as the standard, but he fails to use that standard when evaluating the various ideologies about justice. It is here he influence of post-modernism appears as Keller endorses values over virtue, and he implies everyone is equally right and wrong about justice.

Values vs. Virtue

In Losing Our Virtue, David Wells demonstrates the impact of post-modernism in how we think about right and wrong. Wells observes that in our culture, values replaced virtues. The problem for Christians is that virtue is rooted in an objective standard. Virtues are only possible and understandable in a moral world, where absolutes exist. Conversely, we rarely speak of virtue today as we favor personal (or communal) values. When we replace virtue with values we acquiesce to the spirit of the age because personal values are relative. They are subjective, relative to each group or individual. You may value one thing, but your neighbor another thing. In the end, it’s a vain discussion because values are relative and thus meaningless.

This type of thinking is the very air we breathe, and in chapter seven Keller unwittingly adopts this destructive way of thinking. He goes on and on about the values of different groups and the “common values” Christians should appeal to (160-161). Any Christian who wishes to engage our age must recognize that speaking of values is valueless. All it does is reinforce the lost in their relativism. Sadly, Keller advises Christians who desire to do justice in the public sphere to embrace this relativistic way of thinking. Instead, Christians must point to the universal standard of justice—the Creator God. For Christians, it is never enough to appeal to personal values because God has revealed the absolute standard by which everything will be judged.

Everybody’s Right & Everybody’s Wrong

The second major influence is Keller’s engagement with different camps in the justice debate. Keller asserts, “We should agree that, according to the Bible. All the various views of justice out there in our society are partly right. But they are also partly wrong” (163). Throughout this chapter, Keller appears to be intentionally vague and thus offers little clarity on how to evaluate the competing voices of our day. The reader is left unchallenged in our current post-modern stupor. Keller refuses to use the standard he endorses to measure and evaluate the various options.

For example, he admits that the various schools of thought on justice are all right and wrong. By doing so, he implies that they are all equal to one another, and therefore Christians should avoid being associated with one over and against the other. This is, in essence, what he argued earlier that the Bible doesn’t support capitalism or socialism. In fact, Keller asserts, the Bible affirms parts of both systems. In saying these things, Keller leaves his readers with the impression that all systems are equal, and Christians are free to choose between them as long as you don’t endorse them too much. A very post-modern idea to be sure.

His refusal to judiciously critique these views demonstrates the influence of post-modernism. Relativism loathes judging cultures, worldviews, and religions. This is often called multiculturalism, the belief that all cultures are equally good, and we shouldn’t judge any of them, except, of course, the Christian west, which is wickedly oppressive.

In the same way, Keller views all the various camps on justice as equally right. While I don’t believe Keller is a true post-modern thinker, I cannot read this chapter without coming to the conclusion it has significantly influenced his thinking. If Scripture gives us a standard for justice, as Keller admits, then some camps are certainly closer to that objective standard than others.

The frustrating part is Keller almost recognizes this truth as he writes, “It was within Christian jurisprudence of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that human rights thinking began, rooted particularly in the Christian doctrine that all human beings are created in the image of God, and therefore have inherent dignity” (166). Keller is correct, the idea of human rights is Christian, and this is why it is a staple of the West. It is no secret the West has been shaped by Christian ideas as outside of the West, we don’t find the same discussions about justice, human rights, and limited government. While the West is far from perfect, its traditional practice of justice is more righteous than that of other cultures. To neglect this shows a great deal of biblical and historical ignorance.

The influence of Christianity upon Western thinking doesn’t mean that other cultures are worthless or that they get everything wrong. God reveals truth both in creation and in his word, but there is an objective standard to measure things by. For example, there is a big difference between America in the 1980s and Communist China and the USSR during the same period. One is objectively better than the others because it aligned more closely with the biblical standards of justice. Christians must measure and judge all the current systems by this standard. When this is done, some ideologies will be found better than others, and this will lead Christians to condemn the wicked systems and endorse the more righteous ones.

Recognizing this is particularly important for our discussion about justice. As I said, the justice systems of the West were never perfect, but they were better than what came before. The Western ideas of justice, especially in England and America, were shaped by Scripture. This is a historical reality. The Christian influence led to many benefits we must not ignore, such as presumed innocence, limited government, and inalienable rights. While the Western view of justice is rooted in the Christian worldview, the recent attempts to redefine just are rooted in anti-Christian beliefs such as Marxism. This progressive understanding of justice is evil in its totality. By that I don’t mean they get everything wrong, but that these ideologies are infected at every stage with rebellion against God. These views have trajectories that aren’t neutral to God and his Word. The end result of these false ideologies is rebellion against God. That is to say, the progressive (i.e., Marxist) view of justice is evil in its totality. Once we recognize this, it is clear all philosophies about justice aren’t equal, and Christians aren’t free to choose between them.

For centuries, Christians in the West built our inherited understanding of justice, and though it is not perfect, it is far more sanctified than the alternatives. Keller and I both recognize God and his Word as that absolute authority, but the difference is I measure other views by this standard. If we are unwilling to do so, then it is pointless to talk about such a standard which we refuse to apply. By doing so, we end up in a functional relativism which is tossed to and fro by the latest justice fads. Come to think of it, thisis exactly what is happening today in American evangelicalism with the rise of social justice.

Levi J. Secord

Chapter 6: Justice vs. Outcome Equality

justice pwoer.jpg

We are approaching the end of my chapter-by-chapter interaction with Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. In Chapter 6, Keller explains how Christians, and the church, should do justice. There is some good in this chapter, but it was also frustrating to read. Many of the same mistakes that plague the other chapters also appear in this one. There is no need to address each of these issues again as the horse is already dead and hitting over and over again won’t help. For example, Keller again misuses the term justice as he conflates it with mercy. I’ve addressed this contradiction repeatedly, so I won’t belabor it here.

There is one new error I must address, but before doing that, I’ll note some of the positives of chapter six. First, Keller’s framework of different ways to assist the needy is helpful. According to Keller, there are three ways to help the needy: relief, development, and reform (113). I found these three categories sufficient enough and helpful for discussing the ways Christians can support the needy. Second, Keller offers a helpful distinction as he admits that doing these things is not the same thing as preaching the gospel; rather, these things complement our preaching. Again, I agree with him. Third, Keller gives a helpful concession when he admits that not all churches will do all three of these categories when helping the poor. For what’s its worth, I don’t know a single church that doesn’t at least help the needy in at least one of these ways. Perhaps Keller’s point is that we can do better, which is fair enough.

There is one major new issue that needs a rebuttal as Keller adopts a new distortion of justice. So far, we’ve seen Keller confuse mercy with justice; thus offering a redefinition of justice (chapter 1). By doing so, Keller stumbles over his own argument as he often contradicts himself by referring to justice as both getting your due, and receiving mercy. The problem worsens in chapter 5 as Keller declares that the poor have a right to the property of the rich. By arguing this, Keller insists charity is a justice issue. Now in chapter 6, Keller adds another layer to his redefinition of justice as he argues the equality of outcome is a standard of justice. This fallacy deserves our attention.

Justice vs. Equality of Outcome

To open this chapter, Keller tells the story of a Christian man who owns several car dealerships (109-112). This man fell under the conviction that by allowing the negotiation of car prices he was actually practicing injustice. Why? Because white males tend to be more persistent negotiators than black women. Since one demographic was better at negotiation than others, justice allegedly required this man to cease price negotiation as the former practice exploited the poor.

This story was troubling for several reasons. First, banning price negotiation places all of the power for car prices with the dealer and could result in everyone paying more money. Clearly the poor would suffer in such a situation. Second, what about the black woman who is good at negotiating prices? What about other minorities who are good at negotiating and who would benefit from such negotiations? Why should they not be allowed to get a better deal just because others aren’t as good negotiators? Third, what if a study showed that white people are more patient and are thus more likely to wait for a holiday sale when purchasing a car than minorities are, would this make holiday sales unjust? According to Keller’s logic, it would.

To be clear, if a store refused to negotiate with someone because of their ethnicity, sex, or income level, that would be an injustice because it would demonstrate partiality. To lower the price for a product based on someone’s skin color is sinful. Ironically, this is the standard process in most institutions of higher education, but that is a post for another day.

Keller assumes the existence of unequal outcomes is proof of injustice. This is a common trope for social justice warriors as they point to the income gap, education gap, incarceration gap, etc. as evidence of systemic injustice. Implicit to this thinking is the Marxist belief that justice is accomplished when everyone gets the same outcome. The problem is, the only way to achieve equal outcomes is by judging individuals by different standards. In this way, the sin of partiality takes root.

As Keller has elsewhere admitted, justice is about receiving your due. Yet, how do we know what is owed to someone? It is here merit enters into the equation of justice. We cannot know what someone deserves if we do not consider merit. Now, of course, the standard of judgment should be the same across the board, but when applying equal standards some people will earn one thing while others will earn another. This is essential to practicing justice.

It is true, certain rights are due to all humans because they are all made in the image of God. They all merit these rights because they all image their Creator. These are the inalienable rights of man, yet justice is about more than these rights. For anyone to receive their due, we must know what they have earned, what merits they possess.

For example, two men may be brought before the judge for killing someone who trespassed on their property and stole from them. One is set free because it happened at night and the other is punished because it happened during the day. Both men killed someone for the same reason, but their outcomes are different because of the merits (or facts) of the case (Ex. 22:2-3). Conversely, if two men kill an intruder in the exact same way and one is convicted because of the color of his skin, while the other is freed because of who he knows, then we have a clear case of partiality, and partiality is evil.

When it comes to work and pay, those who are better workers should get paid more than those who aren’t. This unequal pay is not an injustice, but rather affirms justice because it is rooted in merit. As long as every party is judged by the same standard, then we fulfill the demands of justice. To simplify it, merit directs justice to punish the guilty and to free the innocent. The outcome is unequal, but the result is justice.

Contrary to all of this is partiality. Partiality refuses to consider the merits of a case and instead bases its conclusions on who someone is (or isn’t). If we make justice about demographics, then we fall into this trap. The Bible condemns giving preference to either the rich or poor in matters of justice. When we do this, we have pervert justice and defy our Creator (Lev. 19:15).

Therefore, it is not unjust for car dealers to allow or forbid price negotiation, as long as their actions aren’t motivated by wickedness. So while I do not believe the man Keller mentions sinned by changing the policy, I do believe his reasoning was both misguided and sub-biblical.

Biblical justice necessitates the inequality of outcome. While the processes of justice must be equitable, justice requires judging each case and transaction on its merits. When merit enters the equation, unequal outcomes become inevitable. Contrary to the rhetoric of social justice, unequal outcomes are often the sign of justice. Turning a blind eye to merit means either embracing injustice or choosing to show mercy. Unfortunately, the influence of Marxist thought pollutes Keller’s reasoning as he embraces the silly idea that justice is attached to equal outcomes. Since justice gives people their due, merit is essential to its practice. In this way, executing justice often leads to unequal outcomes as different people earn different results.

Levi J. Secord

Chapter 5: Keller Doubles Down on Marxism


Last week, I wrote on chapter 4, which was the best chapter so far in Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. What made the chapter good was that it wasn’t about justice. Unfortunately, this chapter, Why We Should Do Justice, is a mess through and through. There isn’t enough space here to deal with all the problems found in it, but there some ideas which must be corrected.

After reading this chapter, my opinion of Keller has shifted. With many of his earlier mistakes, like redefining justice and arguing for wealth redistribution, I gave him the benefit of the doubt by choosing to believe he didn’t understand the implications of what he was saying. I concluded his arguments were off base because he was passionate about helping the poor. Sadly, I no longer can give him this benefit of the doubt as it is evident Keller understands the implications of his thinking.

There are two issues addressed in this post. First, Keller’s answer for why people should do justice is examined. Second, I will interact with Keller’s implicit support of communist/socialist ideas. I do not write this lightly, and I do not think Keller is a card-carrying Marxist. Rather, his own thinking and arguments are plainly influenced by Marxist principles. There is ample evidence to support these claims, as I will demonstrate.

Why Should We Do Justice?

The main question Keller answers in this chapter is, “Why should anyone live justly?” He gives two broad answers which he later develops. The first reason for living justly is the “goodness of God’s creation” (90). I have no major disagreement with this point. God created man in his own image, and this means all men are equal. God as Creator is the foundation of Christian theology and ethics. Keller is correct, as the basis of justice starts with God’s creation of mankind.

His second reason is more problematic. Keller argues we should live justly because of our experience with “God’s grace in redemption” (90). Of course, God has been gracious to believers through the work of Christ, but is the driving force of justice? I don’t think so. Rather, the grace and mercy of God direct us to show grace and mercy to others. For example, those who have been forgiven are to forgive others (Matt. 18:21-35; Eph. 4:32), but forgiveness is not justice.

Moreover, if justice is dependent on our experience of God’s grace, then does that excuse unbelievers from justice? If Keller is right, then to an extent unbelievers are not accountable to live justly, but the demands of justice are not determined by personal experience. Again, Keller’s failed redefinition of justice causes confusion and contradictions, which ultimately neuters true justice.

To be sure, Christians who experience the grace of God grow in living rightly, and this includes both showing justice and mercy. But mercy is not a one for one motivation for justice. A better motivation for justice is that justice is rooted in the character of God. God is just and therefore demands justice of everyone, whether or not they have tasted his grace. God is the universal standard of justice, not our subjective experiences of his grace. If Keller stuck to the traditional definition of justice (giving someone their due) instead of confusing it with mercy, many of the contradictions in his thinking would disappear.

Keller’s Marxism Strikes Back

In earlier chapters, Keller made several alarming statements we must to recall to understand the arguments of chapter 5. First, he asserts the Bible doesn’t endorse capitalism or socialism (32). Keller fails to realize that while we don’t find either term in the Bible, the principles of capitalism are far more biblical than the principles of socialism/communism. Second, Keller proclaims that the traditional terms of charity, mercy, grace and other similar terms do not carry enough moral force because they cannot be required of individuals (15-17). For Keller, redefining justice is about finding the coercive power to compel generosity, charity, and mercy. The problem is, when generosity, charity, and mercy are coerced they cease to be what they are. Third, Keller asserts that the Bible endorses, at least to some degree, the redistribution of wealth (19-40). As shocking as this statement is, what’s worse is Keller’s twisting of biblical texts to make his case. Keeping these all in mind, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that Keller leans more toward socialism than capitalism.

In chapter 5, the consequences of his arguments are revealed as undermines the right to private property. We must keep in mind that the main difference between capitalism and socialism/communism is the belief in property rights. As someone who is at least sympathetic to socialism/communism, it shouldn’t have surprised me that Keller doesn’t really believe in personal property, but it did.

Ideas have consequences, and this is true for all of us including Keller. If you are going to argue for wealth redistribution, for coercive charity, and that the bible doesn’t endorse (or forbid) either capitalism or socialism, then that will lead us somewhere—to endorsing the tenets of communism.

Look at these quotes from chapter 5 (emphasis mine):

Therefore, just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly theirs and no one else’s. (90)

In God’s view, however, while the poor did not have a right to the ownership of the farmer’s land, they had a right to some of its produce. (91)

If the owner did not limit his profits and provided for the poor… he did not simply deprive the poor of charity but of justice, of their right. Why? A lack of generosity refuses to acknowledge that your assets are not really yours, but God’s. (91)

Keller emphatically declares other people have the right to your property. In other words, your property isn’t really yours, not even horizontally between fellow humans. According to Keller, your property belongs, at least in some way, to the entire community. Therefore, it is the right of the poor to receive charity from you. It only follows that if this is true, then the poor can demand your possessions as a matter of justice. Furthermore, if this redistribution is an issue of justice, then the government has every right to enforce it and thus punish the wicked and reward the righteous (Rom. 13.1-7). To put it clearly, Keller’s thinking leads to poor people and the government having the right to take from you to redistribute it as a matter of justice. Let that sink in. This is the clear consequence of everything Keller has argued up to this point—a denial of personal property rights. Denying property rights is no minor disagreement, as it undermines much of the teachings of the Bible and the ethics of the West.

If this is indeed what the Bible teaches, then we should joyfully submit. Thankfully, there are several problems with Keller’s ideology. First, the Bible teaches that we don’t have the right to our neighbor’s possessions. The commands in the Ten Commandments to not steal and to not covet the possessions of others clearly teach this truth (Ex. 20:15, 17). In the Ten Commandments, God establishes that between humans there is such a thing as the right to private property.

Moreover, Paul in Romans 13:8-10 reminds us that keeping these commands is the baseline of loving your neighbor and of living justly. The wickedness of socialism/communism is that it promotes theft and encourages covetousness defying the very commands of God. It is God who condemns theft and covetousness as he ensures the right to private property. Keller apparently refuses to balance out his ideology with these basic biblical facts.

Second, Keller’s argument doesn’t follow his premises. He argues the reason your property belongs to the community is because your possessions ultimately belong to the God who gave them to you. While it is true that everything we have ultimately belongs to God, it does not follow that what God has given to me also belongs to my neighbor. The reality God gave something to me and not to my neighbor means it belongs to me and not my neighbor. Just because God has a right to my property does not mean that my neighbor also has a right to it.

Everything belongs to God, and he has the authority and right to make demands of everyone. This is exactly what God does when he commands us to be charitable. He can make that demand, but I cannot enforce it on my neighbor. I am not God. For example, Christ called his followers to forgive others because God has forgiven them. This is good and true, but I cannot wrong my wife and then go up to her face and demand she forgives me. I can ask her to forgive, but I have no right to that forgiveness. This is what makes it forgiveness and a beautiful expression of mercy. I don’t have that authority to exact forgiveness, but I can remind her of God’s command to forgive.

Christians are to give because God has given to us. But our obligation is before God, not man. To put it another way, while God can tell me what to do with my possessions, it does not follow that my neighbor can come and demand that I give him 1,000 dollars because he has a rightful claim on my bank account. Such an argument is illogical and ultimately unbiblical.

Ideas have consequences. In many ways, Keller’s book lays the groundwork for Christians to endorse Marxism. Keller’s been honest about how Marxism influenced him earlier in his life, and it is on full display in this chapter (The Reason for God, xii). His arguments are dangerously unbiblical. I can offer no defense of these arguments, as it is clear he understands the implications of his thinking. This vision for generous justice is a thinly veiled endorsement of the economic principles which led to the suffering and oppression of millions under Marxism. It is a wicked and vile ideology. While Keller attempts to be biblical, he rejects the basic commands of God found in the Ten Commandments. The most unfortunate part of all of this is the influence Keller currently has in otherwise faithful Christian circles. Such an influence is bearing fruit with so many Reformed Christians advocating for social justice. God is not mocked, and we will reap what we sow. If the Reformed movement continues to sow the seeds of communist thinking, we will reap the death and unbelief of Marxism.

Levi J. Secord