Generous Justice Chapter 3: The Jesus Question

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In chapter 3, Keller examines what Jesus says about justice. This chapter is much better than the previous one which is the low-point of Keller’s work because of his indefensible defense of wealth redistribution. Even though chapter 3 is better, that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems, but that many of these problems are repeats of error already covered. Overall, Keller gets many things correct in this chapter, like Jesus caring for the poor, but caring for the poor is mercy, not justice.

Before offering some critiques, I must acknowledge what Keller gets right in this chapter. Keller rightly recognizes Jesus ate with both the rich and the poor as he met with people from all parts of society. Unfortunately, this truth is often ignored by those advocating for social justice. Jesus visited the rich and powerful as well as the poor and vulnerable. Also, Keller stresses that Christians should care for the poor. I know of no Christian who disagrees with this, but again mercy isn’t justice. Keller is also correct when he admits the Christian responsibility to charity is primarily directed within the community of faith (61). This does not exclude caring for unbelievers, but Christians have a higher obligation to our brothers and sisters in Christ. I appreciate all of these points made by Keller.

While there is much good in this chapter, there were also some errors which deserve our attention. I explore three of those errors below.

Who Are the Blessed Poor?

Keller speaks of God’s affinity for the poor, but does this affinity include all poor people without exception? When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20), does that all poor people will inherit the Kingdom? If so, then isn’t salvation in some way based on works? Of course not, so we must admit that Jesus isn’t referring to all poor people. Instead, we must recognize the Bible often uses the term poor figuratively to refer to those who are humble in spirit before God. This is why Matthew clarifies the poor as those who are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).

So why use the term poor? Because poverty often is linked to spiritual humility, there is significant overlap between physical poverty and humility. Conversely, there is significant overlap between wealth and pride. The poor Jesus is speaking about are those who are sometimes called the pious poor, that is those whose poverty drives them to have faith in God. God’s disposition to the poor is not about their financial status, but a recognition of their humble faith and dependence which often accompanies their poverty. There is a righteous way to be poor, and there are also wicked ways to be poor. The same is true about the wealthy. God’s disposition to the poor is not universal as it has more to do with the internal realities of some poor people. Physical poverty does not grant entrance to heaven, but spiritual poverty is because being poor in spirit requires recognizing your sinfulness before God. Everyone who is truly poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of God no matter their balance in their bank account.

Why Did Jesus Heal?

Keller also references an exchange between and John the Baptist’s disciples where they ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. He responds:

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them (Matt. 11:4-5).

Keller argues this is an example of how Jesus had a “particular interest” in the poor and downtrodden as displayed in his miracles, but this begs the questions, “What is the purpose of Jesus’s miracles?” No one can deny Jesus was merciful and compassionate to those suffering. Such actions display his glorious character as the savior of mankind, but this still doesn’t answer why Jesus performed miracles.

The purpose of the miracles is to reveal who Jesus is and what his mission was. Miracles are signs, that is they point to something greater than the act itself. They are divine acts of revelation which are not primarily about showing God’s care for the poor. Rather there are two things the miracles of Christ reveal. First, they reveal who Jesus is. John the Baptist desired to know if Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus answers by pointing to his miracles. Jesus in essences says, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” because his miracles reveal that as the Messiah Jesus is the God-man.

The second thing the miracles reveal is Jesus’s mission. Christ redeems his fallen creation through his substitutionary death and through this he ushers in his kingdom. As Jesus goes around healing people and casting out demons, he reveals what his kingdom will be like—perfect and free from the effects of the fall. As he performs miracles, Jesus defeats illnesses, sin, death, and ultimately Satan giving us a glimpse to the final reality of those who have faith. In his miracles, we see a foreshadow of Jesus’s kingdom which is fully realized at his second coming (Rev. 21-22).

Keller’s Confusion on Justice Continues

I’ve said it repeatedly, but the core of Keller’s problem is his attempt to redefine justice to include mercy, grace, compassion, etc. As he attempts his redefinition, he continually contradicts himself on what justice is and what it isn’t. We find another example in this chapter as Keller affirms the traditional definition of justice. He admits:

At first glance, no two things can seem more opposed than grace and justice. Grace is giving benefits that are not deserved, while justice is giving people exactly what they do deserve. In Christ we receive grace, unmerited favor. Nevertheless, in the mind of the Old Testament prophets as well as the teaching of Jesus, an encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice (page 49).

Keller admits (again) that justice is getting what you deserve while grace is the opposite. Elsewhere, he argues for the definition of justice to include grace, mercy, etc. Here is the problem, when Keller speaks of the gospel, he is forced to affirm the traditional definition of justice, but once he leaves the gospel, he forgets these important distinctions. Keller is correct, grace and justice are distinct, but he needs to consistently apply this definition to his thinking. It is also true that when we experience the saving grace of God we then will be transformed. Grace moves to live righteously, but that doesn’t make it a part of justice. If Keller could have kept this important distinction, this book would have been much better. This is the crux of my problem with the social justice movement—it’s definition of justice. Unfortunately, this redefinition appears to be motivated by the anti-Christian worldview Marxism. While Keller and social justice advocates confuse what justice is, the Bible is clear. How we think about justice invariably impacts how we think about God and the gospel.



Levi J. Secord


Redistributing Wealth: How Keller Jumps the Shark

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We are now in chapter 2 of this chapter-by-chapter review of Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. I must admit the deeper I get into this book, the more my concern grows. My greatest cause for alarm is Keller’s misuse of Scripture. I entered this venture with high respect for Keller as an interpreter, but throughout this book, he is either irresponsible or dishonest with his handling of Scripture. I do not write these words lightly, but I’m shocked by his persistent misuse and distortion of simple texts. What we find in chapter two, which covers justice in the Old Testament, are interpretive errors first-year seminary students should catch. How can someone known as both winsome and precise in his theology be so imprecise with his interpretations? This question haunts me, but I am not willing to write Keller off yet. Still, my concern prevents me from recommending him to anyone as a trustworthy theologian.

In my first post, I pointed out Keller’s lack of precision and sleight of hand in how he uses the term justice. In the following post, I examined his distortion of Micah 6:8, his redefinition of justice, and how it is all motivated by power. Chapter 2 reveals how an anti-Christian worldview influences Keller to warp texts to further his agenda. In The Reason for God, Keller admits Marxism influenced his thinking earlier in his life (page xii), so it isn’t surprising that he uses Marxist language and concepts. In defense of social justice, he uses Marxist concepts such as wealth redistribution, marginalization, and income inequality. We must remember, wherever social justice goes you will find Marxist-inspired thinking. For Christians, this is vital to remember because Marxism and Christianity cannot coexist.

In this post, I focus on three problems found in chapter two. First, Keller argues the Old Testament supports the redistribution of wealth. Second, he maintains that poverty is caused in part by low wages (i.e., income inequality). Third, he insists the reason God is against bribery is that it marginalizes the poor. If you think you just heard the party platform of the Democratic-socialists, I won’t disagree with you.

Does the Old Testament Advocate for Redistributing Wealth?

Throughout this chapter, Keller suggests the Old Testament advocates for the redistribution of wealth. Keller writes (emphasis mine):

However, our concern here is not the ceremonial laws of Moses. What about the “civil” laws, the laws of social justice that have to do with the forgiving of debts, the freeing of slaves, and the redistribution of wealth? (21)

Israel did redistribute money, assets, and even land from the well-off to the poor, with the help of state-sponsored laws and institutions. (29)

One has to wonder, where in the Old Testament do we find the redistribution of wealth? Keller bases his argument on two practices: the Sabbath year and the year of Jubilee as found in Deuteronomy 15 and Leviticus 25. He quotes Craig Blomberg’s argument that these two practices demonstrate the Old Testament advocates for a “relativization of private property” (28). This is no small claim, and every Christian should pay careful attention to this argument as the stakes are very high. Keller goes further down the rabbit hole as he insists the Bible doesn’t support either capitalism or socialism. Rather, the economic system of Scripture is found somewhere between these two. The key difference between socialism/communism and capitalism is the belief in private property rights. The problem for Keller is the Bible affirms property rights (Ex. 20:15). If Keller is right about private property, then Christians should immediately move into communes. But his case is shoddy at best as distorts the plain meaning of these texts.

Keller uses Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15 as support for his audacious claims, but his interpretations of both texts ignore reality. For example, Leviticus 25 describes the year of Jubilee where every 49th year any land which was sold is returned to the tribe/family who originally inherited it from God. Blomberg and Keller assert this act of giving back the land is a “relativization” of private property and a clear example of redistributing wealth. The problem is, the Israelites prorated any “purchase” of land to coincide with how long the buyer would get the land before the coming of the year of Jubilee. Leviticus 25:14-16 makes this plain:

And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.

If you are purchasing land in Israel, you know that you are really only leasing it for a set time and therefore the cost is determined by that period. Leviticus 25 is not an example of wealth being redistributed. Rather, it gives guidelines for keeping the land within each tribe as God gave it out as an inheritance. That is the main point, God allotted the land to each tribe, and that land is their inheritance. A family’s inheritance of land from God superseded any sale because the land belongs to God (Lev. 25:23) and he gives it out. Far from being a relativization of private property, Leviticus 25 is God absolutizing the private property of the Israelites. God gave the land to this family, and no sale can overturn their property rights. In times of need, a family could rent out their land at a fair price, knowing that one day, the lease would expire. For Keller and Blomberg to miss this basic reality found in the text is inexcusable.

What about Deuteronomy 15, does it support redistributing wealth? No, not at all. In this passage, God commands Israelites to be generous in offering loans to fellow Jews even if they never get their money back. Even if it’s the year before the Sabbath year (when debts are forgiven), you still must loan money to your brother. But note this is still described as a loan which was to be paid back if the person could so before the Sabbath year. While it may be a high-risk loan, it is still a loan. Deuteronomy 15 also commands Israelites to emancipate any Israelites slaves every seven years. Is this an example of social justice and redistribution? No, again every sale was entered into with the understanding that it was limited to seven years.

Moreover, this command doesn’t apply to foreigners bought as slaves. If emancipating slaves in Deuteronomy 15 is an issue of justice, and yet God says don’t do it for foreigners, then God has commanded Israel to commit an injustice. Even Keller wouldn’t support such an argument. So why must Israelite slaves be freed? Because God already purchased them out of slavery and his actions supersede our actions. Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15 are two more examples of Keller forcing his ideology onto the text, no matter the consequences.

Income Inequality

Keller continues his misuse of Scripture as he offers different causes of poverty. While he is correct that there are many causes of poverty, he use of Scripture for one such cause (low wages) is troublesome. Keller asserts, “The prophets blame the rich when extremes of wealth and poverty in society appear” (33). He cites Jeremiah 22 and James 5 to support his claim. Much could be said about this, but in examining these texts, there is again no support for his argument that these texts are about low wages. Here are the relevant sections from Jeremiah and James:

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages. (Jer. 22.13)

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. (James 5.4)

Neither of these texts mention low wages; rather, they both condemn defrauding people through refusing to pay them. To suggest these passages are about unjustly low wages is absurd. They condemn fraud, which is a form of theft. Forbidding theft is just another way of protecting property rights.

Things get worse as we look at Keller’s use of the prophets as an example of God condemning the existence of extreme wealth and poverty. He cites four texts, and none of them have to do with income inequality. Rather, they address injustices like theft, fraud, etc. Here are the texts he cites and what they are actually about:

1. Amos 5:11-12 condemns high taxes and bribery

2. Ezekiel 22:29 curses extortion and robbery

3. Micah 2:2 judges covetousness and theft

4. Isaiah 5:8 judges those who will not return land to the original family

None of these passages claim the existence of wealth causes poverty. None of them say being extremely wealthy is inherently wrong. Instead, they all condemn sinful behavior motivated by greed and covetousness. Again, Keller’s misuse of Scripture is baffling. If he would merely read these texts in their original context, these problems would have been avoided. This is interpretation 101, and yet Keller fails time and again.

Bribery & Marginalization

Words matter. The terms we use, unless otherwise defined, often point to where someone’s sympathies lie. The concept of marginalization is a favorite of social justice warriors and socialists, and it is what Keller uses as the reason God hates bribery. Keller declares, “The poor person cannot afford to offer incentives to lawmakers and judges…this is why bribery is so heinous to God. It marginalizes the poor from power” (24). According to Keller, the reason God hates bribery is that marginalizes the power. Through it, the poor lose power. He does not say this “a reason” God hates bribery, but that marginalization is “why bribery is so heinous to God.” For Keller, marginalization appears to the main problem with bribery.

In Marxism, everything, even justice, is about power. It follows that if you’re thinking in Marxist categories, then chief evil of bribery is the loss of power. The redistribution of power is why Marxists advance the idea of intersectionality, which reallocates power and preference to the approved marginalized groups. If Keller is right, then Christians should support intersectionality, but thankfully he is mistaken.

While God surely hates the oppression of the poor, his abhorrence of bribery is not ultimately about power. God hates bribery because it perverts justice (Deut. 16:19). While justice is rooted in pursuing truth, bribery attempts to settle cases through money. Bribery is an affront to truth. God hates bribes because they pervert justice’s search for truth, not because of how it allocates power. If God only hated bribery because it marginalizes the poor, then would he wouldn’t oppose the poor using bribes to balance the distribution of power.

Interestingly enough, intersectionality attempts to give power to the approved oppressed groups in the name of justice. Keller’s argument here fits nicely within the intersectionality framework, but the Bible commands impartiality to both the rich and the poor (Lev. 19:15).

In Chapter 2, Keller argues for his vision of Generous Justice, but this chapter is lacking in its interpretation of Scripture. Again, while I believe Keller may be a fine pastor and my brother in Christ, his treatment of the Bible is alarming. Throughout this book, his interpretations are baffling as they distort texts to support his left-leaning ideology. If such men are truly shaping the next generation of American Christians, then we are in trouble. How we handle the Bible matters, and Keller’s repeated distortion of texts in this chapter is indefensible.



Levi J. Secord


Interacting with Keller: Social Justice is about Power

Last week, I began interacting with Tim Keller’s Generous Justice by examining the introduction. As I noted, there are some strengths and weaknesses in the introductory chapter. The main weakness was Keller loose use of the term justice he offered at least four different uses of the word without further definition. Keller’s muddled thinking distorts Scripture’s use of justice. As we move to chapter one, we find some good things, like Keller’s clear concern for the poor, but the problems found in the introduction only deepen as he develops his argument.

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As I read this chapter, I audibly vented my frustration on several occasions, interrupting my wife as she peacefully sipped her coffee. Thoroughly dealing with all the issues in this chapter would require a short book, but I will attempt to summarize them more quickly. These problems center on Keller’s attempt to redefine justice, which creates more issues than it solves. Despite the frustration I found in this chapter, one good thing comes from as Keller’s motive for redefining justice comes into focus—pursuing power. Below are the four major issues in the chapter.

A Blatant Contradiction

In the introduction, Keller correctly states that in the gospel God gives us grace and not justice, “I preached the classic message that God does not give us justice but saves us by free grace” (xxiii). This is a necessary distinction, but only a handful of pages later, Keller contradicts himself. He asserts Micah 6:8 defines justice as including the Hebrew word chesedh, which Keller defines as “God’s unconditional grace and compassion” (pg. 3). Don’t miss this important point. According to Keller, doing justice definitionally includes grace, but a couple of pages earlier he says grace isn’t justice, and justice isn’t grace. Is grace a part of justice, or is it something else? Keller can’t have it both ways. This not only a contradiction but by losing the distinction between justice and grace Keller undermines the basic categories of the gospel. Therefore, what is at stake in Keller’s redefinition of justice isn’t only issues of social justice, but the correct understanding of the gospel.

I’ve written more thoroughly on why Keller’s interpretation of Micah 6:8 is incorrect, and I encourage you to read it here. To summarize, the word chesedh isn’t about mercy/grace but is rather about covenant faithfulness. In the context Micah 6:8, this passage calls Israel to practice faithfulness to their covenant with God. This point is made clear as Micah cites Deuteronomy 10:12. To put it plainly, Micah 6:8 has nothing to do with redefining justice to include mercy, grace, or social justice. Keller also makes the same mistake with his treatment of Zechariah 7:9-10 (pg. 4). Keller’s interpretation of Micah 6:8 is at the heart of his redefinition, but it has no basis in the text. Keller’s thinking is confused at best and dangerous at worst.

Begging the Question

Throughout the chapter, Keller cites a plethora of texts to support his claim that God cares for the poor. All Christians should agree with this sentiment, but Keller uses these texts as justification for redefining justice. How? He believes God, to some extent, prefers the poor to the rich. His rapid-fire citations are meant to overwhelm us and drive us into submission to his view. Below are two texts he cites (emphasis mine):

This is what the LORD says: “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the immigrant, the fatherless, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:3

If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? – Job 31:13

Keller’s examples demonstrate that God calls us to give justice to the poor. Such behavior reflects God’s character, and no Christian should oppose this. However, that does not prove Keller’s redefinition is correct. These texts merely beg the question, “What is justice?” The context of each of these passages demonstrates that the traditional view of justice (giving someone his due/right) is in clearly in view. This is why all of these passages mention things like oppressors, being robbed, violence, being wronged, and grievances. These passages assume that justice has been violated or is about to be. There is no mention here, explicit or implicit, to charity or mercy being a part of justice. None of these passage call for redefining justice as they operate with the understanding that a wrong has been committed. Therefore, there are no grounds to redefine justice to include grace, mercy, or charity in these texts. In fact, they all support the traditional view.

Instead, poor people deserve justice like anyone else. Unfortunately, it is far easier to take advantage of the poor than the powerful. God warns mankind that if we think we can get away with wronging the poor, think again. God hates injustice against the poor (and the rich for that matter). Despite the impressive list of texts Keller cites, none of them support redefining justice, and thus, none of them support his argument. Instead, God commands us to do justice, which is giving everyone their due, whether they are rich or poor (Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:16-17). Because God hates oppression, Christians must as well. While opposing oppression is fundamental to justice, it is not the same thing being merciful, charitable, or compassionate.

Social Justice versus Social Righteousness

Also, in this chapter, Keller argues for using the term social justice. He points to the Hebrew word tzadeqah. While Keller admits this word is usually translated as “being righteous” (pg. 10), he doesn’t let that slow him down. Despite its usual translation, Keller is adamant we should understand that when this word with the word for justice (mishpat), that we should translate it as social justice. He offers two of his own translations as examples:

The Lord loves social justice; and earth is full of his unfailing love. – Psalm 33:5

That he understands and know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness and social justice on earth, for in these I delight. – Jeremiah 9:24

There are two problems with Keller’s argument. First, there is no reason in the Hebrew to collapse these two terms, righteousness and justice, into social justice. In both passages, the Hebrew includes the conjunctive translated as “and” symbolizing these two terms are in fact two terms and not one. Looking over the major English translations, all of them keep these two words as two separate terms. Second, there also isn’t a good reason in English to translate these two terms as social justice. The problem is, social justice has clear anti-Christian connotations. Instead, using the term social justice lumps Christians in with injustices like abortion, socialism, and the LGBTQ movement. So social justice doesn’t work well in either the Hebrew or in English.

So why is Keller determined to force the term social justice upon Christians? If he desires to stress the importance of charity and mercy, then isn’t social righteousness a better term since tzadeqah means righteousness? Why keep the term justice and get rid of the term righteousness, especially with the cultural baggage of social justice? Social righteousness has no such anti-Christian baggage, and it uses the core definition of tzadeqah. Social righteousness also conveys that living rightly before God involves loving your neighbor, which every true Christian affirms. It does all of this without redefining justice. Using the term social righteousness prevents the distortion of charity, mercy, and justice.

If Keller and other social justice advocates changed their terminology to social righteousness, then my concerns would be greatly reduced. I sense part of the hesitancy is righteousness is a more religious word which doesn’t appeal to outsiders. Righteousness humbles us all before the throne of God because there is no righteousness outside of him.

Social Justice is about Power

In the last portion of the chapter, Keller reveals his motivation for redefining justice:

They [other Christians] would insist that helping the needy through generous giving should be called mercy, compassion, or charity, not justice. In English, however, the word “charity” conveys a good but optional activity. Charity cannot be a requirement, for then it would not be charity. (pg. 15)

In this quote, Keller acknowledges many Christians desire to keep the traditional definition of justice, but he quickly brushes it aside. Why? Because then he can’t require charity from individuals. His quest to redefine justice is ultimately about power. Such a motivation fits well with larger the social justice movement outside of the church. Keller longs to make charity something individuals have a right to demand. He desires the authority to bind the consciences of people to his vision of charity.

Again, Keller’s thinking is out of step with Scripture. Righteousness is a requirement, but it is a requirement primarily before God and not man. Justice, while it is rooted in God and ultimately executed by God, functions more horizontally. Justice places demands between individuals. In other words, we can rightly demand justice from one another and human institutions.

Conversely, righteousness is primarily our standing as individuals before God and others. Keller aims to bind people’s consciences on a horizontal level by turning charity into an issue of justice. To do this, you must redefine justice. Is this not what we see throughout the social justice movement? If you disagree with them, then you are anathematized for not being woke enough.

It is the pursuit of power which prevents social justice warriors from embracing the term social righteousness because righteousness relies more on changed hearts than justice does. Executing justice requires giving someone what is their right. There is no heart change required for justice because the government executes it through its coercive power. Righteousness is entirely different. Righteous living only comes after God has declared us righteous by grace through faith. It is only after hearts of stone are changed that righteousness takes root. Changed hearts slowly bear the fruit of righteous living.

The heart of the problem is Keller desires to bind things that only God has the authority to bind. God can and does require righteousness. God requires charity and mercy of his people, and God provides the means for them to do this through regeneration. Keller isn’t satisfied with this, so he demands charity and mercy on a horizontal and ultimately coercive level. Redefining justice is about the power to bind the consciences of everyone. Is it any wonder social justice warriors turn to the coercive power of the state to further their agenda? If charity to the poor is justice, then the government has every right to enforce it. But if charity is an issue of righteousness, then it is left to God and to his church to call people to love their neighbors.

This chapter has many problems, but it clarifies Keller’s motivation. Ultimately, it is his confusion of justice and righteousness, which leads him to distort both. Many of the problems with social justice are rooted in man trying to take what only belongs to God. Man cannot force others to grow in righteousness. Instead, righteousness only comes through the free grace of the gospel. I fear Keller’s desire is rooted in impatience. If he is correct about social justice, then the government has every right to enforce it. The danger is evident—the state makes a terrible god. When the state usurps God’s authority, justice does not advance. Rather, evil and injustice only increase. Consequently, the pursuit of social justice invariably leads to injustice.


Levi J. Secord

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Tim Keller's Generous Justice: Reviewing & Interacting

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It’s no secret that I’m against social justice as I’ve made clear in my writing. I continue to write about it because it is a pressing issue within the reformed Christian community. For that reason, I’m writing a series of posts evaluating Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. Keller is a prominent voice in this debate, and he exemplifies the best this movement offers.

Engaging Keller is dangerous as I’m wrestling someone above my weight class. He is a modern theological giant known for his precision and clarity. Despite this, his thinking on justice is at best muddied. As I will demonstrate in this series, his trademark precision is astonishingly absent in this book. As a major influencer in the reformed movement, Keller’s book spreads confusion about justice throughout evangelicalism.

With that in mind, let’s dive in. This post evaluates the introductory chapter of Generous Justice. I’ll start with the good things found in the introduction.

The Good

Keller affirms three truths in this chapter that I whole-heartedly endorse. First, he acknowledges that the gospel is different than social change. He rightly believes the gospel is primarily about atoning for sins and the granting of forgiveness through the work of Christ. This belief prevents him from endorsing the social gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch, which rejects the substitutionary death of Christ by replacing it with social activism. Keller notes many Christians who stressed fixing social ills eventually abandoned the gospel. I am grateful that Keller adheres to the gospel of Jesus Christi and that he draws this necessary distinction between it and seeking societal change.

Second, Keller also stresses the gospel impacts individual lives and society. Again I agree. Someone cannot truly believe the gospel and remain unchanged. As more and more people change, this impacts families, churches, and even societies. This influence isn’t the gospel, but it does flow from the gospel.

Third, Keller writes, “The Bible provides the very basis for justice” (xx). He affirms Scripture is our standard. Again, I enthusiastically agree, but I contend Keller doesn’t consistently follow the Bible’s teaching on justice. Nonetheless, it is good that he consciously attempts to place himself under the authority of Scripture.

The Bad: Inconsistent Definitions of Justice

Despite all the good in the introduction, Keller repeatedly stumbles in his definition of justice. This chapter is only an introduction, so Keller will further explain his beliefs throughout the book. Nonetheless, this chapter demonstrates the main problem of the book—Keller confuses what justice is and what it isn’t. He uses the term justice in at least four different ways without defining it. It is this sleight of hand which undermines the biblical definition of justice. The core debate over social justice is over defining the term justice. Because Keller doesn’t carefully define terms, we find muddied and unclear thinking. For example, in this chapter, Keller uses justice as synonymous with mercy, charity, righteousness, and traditional justice. By examining his usage of justice, we see how confusing it leaves Christians vulnerable to worldly thinking.

First, Keller uses the term justice as referring to mercy. Keller asserts, “There is a host of young Christians believers who respond with joy to call to care for the needy…As a pastor whose church is filled with young adults, I have seen this concern for social justice” (xiv).Does justice really include mercy? Keller argues so in the next chapter as well, and this is at the heart of the problem. Traditionally speaking, justice is giving someone what they are due, but mercy is giving someone good when they had no right to it. Keller collapses this distinction. When you do that, you lose both mercy and justice. This problem runs throughout his book. While Christians cannot oppose mercy, they must never confuse it with justice. For more on this point, see my article on Keller and Micah 6:8.

Second, Keller argues charity is a part of justice:

“In the minds of many orthodox Christians, therefore, ‘doing justice’ is inextricably linked with the loss of sound doctrine and spiritual dynamism. However Jonathan Edwards…was a staunch Calvinist and hardly anyone’s idea of a ‘liberal.’ Yet in his discourse n “The Duty of Charity to the Poor,” he concluded, ‘Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?’” (xvi)

In this quote, Keller equates charity to justice. Charity, like mercy, is not about giving someone their due. Rather, it is showing kindness to those in need. This traditionally would not be listed under the category of justice, but Keller insists on redefining the categories of justice. He fails to realize his example backfires as Edwards calls giving to the poor charity and not justice. If Keller’s titled this book, Generous Charity or Generous Mercy, then I would have no problem with this chapter at all. Instead, he confuses these good things with justice, and in the process, he undermines them all.

Third, Keller uses justice as a reference to personal righteousness or virtue. He argues the Bible guides us “to live a just life” (xviii). Historically speaking, there is a category called universal (or primary) justice. This type of justice refers to the character of an individual—being a just man. This is someone’s status as righteous or virtuous. Here Keller uses the term that way, with no explanation of how his use of justice changed. Keller later admits the biblical word used for this category is normally translated as righteousness, which is a more accurate and useful term in this context. For example, I’m all for social righteousness, as I believe it is a far better term than social justice.

Fourth, Keller uses the term justice with its traditional meaning—giving someone his due. He admits, “I preached the classic message that God does not give us justice but saves us by free grace” ( xxiii). I’m glad he makes this distinction because it’s true. God does not give us our due, but he shows us mercy through his grace. The problem is, Keller uses justice in this chapter as a synonym for mercy. Mercy and grace overlap.

On the one hand, Keller says justice is giving mercy, but on the other hand, he contradicts himself by arguing God doesn’t give us justice (mercy?). This is the core problem—he confuses and muddies the definition of justice. It appears the term means whatever he wants as long as it helps his argument.

In this way, Keller oscillates back and forth between different definitions of justice without explaining those definitions. What is justice at its root? If it is mercy, then God’s mercy is a form of justice. But if justice is giving us what we have earned, then mercy, grace, and charity are different. This doesn’t make them less important than justice, but it does keep important definitional distinctives which preserve the gospel message—Jesus took the penalty we earned satisfying the justice of God and then offers us grace and mercy if we repent and believe.

Keller’s confusion of justice is dangerous as it opens the door for neo-Marxism to enter the church. We see this reality daily in the social justice movement. When mercy becomes something we can demand absent of a changed heart, then it is used in the most unmerciful ways. In this way, social justice demands mercy with sledgehammer-like precision. This problem manifests itself as identity politics, social justice, and intersectionality are endorsed under the banner of Christ.

Wherever the social gospel goes, the church loses the true gospel. While Keller affirms the true gospel, he undermines it by redefining justice. Definitions matter and ideas have consequences. I fear much of Keller’s ideas about justice are holdovers from his earlier life when neo-Marxism influenced his thinking (The Reason for God, xi-xiii). Those who follow the gospel cannot also follow Marx. This much is clear, we must serve God and not Marx.

Levi J. Secord

LINKS:

Science is Real, Love is Love, & Blatant Contradictions

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Every day I drive past a sign in my neighbor’s yard which contains several ideological slogans. Two of these statements are, “Science is real” and “Love is love.” Now as far as substantial arguments go, there isn’t much to these at all. Saying love is love is redundant. It’s like saying a dog is a dog. Great, thanks for those scintillating insights. Love is love is a necessarily true statement, and to argue against it would be impossible.

In the same way, I know of no one who denies that science is real. In our cultural moment, these slogans are attached to the progressive movement and thus carry a lot of ideological baggage. While these two statements are factually true, how they operate as slogans in our context is not only false, but the two slogans are contradictory.

To see this, we need to understand what these two slogans mean in our cultural chaos. First, what is meant by science is real? It is most likely a shot at anyone who denies the pet scientific beliefs of progressives: evolution and global warming. The political nature of global warming science has been thoroughly documented and is typified by the end-times prophecies of scientists dating back to the 1970s warning of an imminent end of the world. All these predictions have been wrong. This is a scientific fact; the world didn’t end when they said it would. The world did not end when scientists gave us ten years to live, fifty years ago, nor did Al Gore’s ten-year prediction come true. As far as Darwinian evolution goes, more and more scientists are openly questioning it as a theory. This is because Darwinism has many scientific holes in it. True scientists who aren’t ideologues recognize this truth. But you would have to read beyond a high school textbook to find such information. As a Christian, I am all for science. By that, I mean the scientific method where you develop a hypothesis and test it repeatedly to see if it is true. But I reject scientism, the belief that science is the source of all truth. Scientism is ironically unscientific.

What about the slogan love is love? It is a silly argument because it makes no formal argument. The phrase by itself is redundant, yet it is wielded as a battering ram to advance the moral uprightness of so-called LGTBQ love. What it means in our day is that all forms of romantic love are equally love. This just begs the question, “What is love anyway?” As a Christian, I know love to be the pursuit of good. In other words, love is morally rooted in the character of our good God. Love is expressed between humans as we seek what is good for others. Homosexuality isn’t good for anyone; therefore, it isn't loved.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what these two slogans mean, it is time for their glaring contradictions to be put on display. Below are just two examples which demonstrate the absurdity of this silly lawn decoration.

First, science is indeed real. Amen. In fact, if you ever open up a biology book you will find that there are only two sexes in the human race—male and female. Gender, if you separate it from biological sex, doesn’t exist. If we really want to believe in science, then we need to admit that men are men and women are women. Since the “T” in LGBTQ stands for transgender, anyone who supports that movement doesn’t believe in science. They reject, at least in practice, that there are only two sexes.

Moreover, at the risk of being crude, these two sexes are complementary. Sexual intercourse is clearly meant to involve male and female parts. This is biology 101. Deny it if you want, but when you do excuse me if I scoff at your claims of believing in science. A man may be able to mutilate his genitalia in an attempt to look like a woman, but every DNA strand in his body is male. His Y chromosome cannot be removed. In the same way, a woman cannot add the Y chromosome to her genetic code to become a man. Sure, adults can pretend to change their sex, but as they do, they deny a basic scientific fact. The truth is, the LGBTQ movement is an outright rejection of science. You can’t claim to follow science and support this movement without embracing a massive contradiction.

Second, as far as love is love goes, the existence of love has been declared an unscientific fantasy by the scientific community. If Darwin is right, then all there is in the universe is natural and physical. If all that exists is material, then love can’t exist because it isn’t material. Love becomes nothing more than a meaningless chemical reaction in your head. Love then has no definition and no purpose. It doesn’t exist. Welcome to what Darwinism has wrought—love is just a bedtime story we tell ourselves to cope with our meaningless lives. It is nothing more than an evolutionary delusion. If someone wants to fully embrace Darwinism and naturalism, then you must believe that every time you say the word love, you are lying. So if the progressive view of science is right, then we are just animals who’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we have personhood and that love exists. If we embrace modern Darwinism, then we must say love doesn’t exist. Not to mention, in a Darwinistic universe, science is also impossible, but that is a topic for another post.

What our unbelieving friends fail to recognize is that no matter how smug their slogans are, they are nothing more than paper mountains which go up in flames at the slightest challenge. Why is it that their worldview collapses upon itself? Because this is God’s world. Francis Schaeffer put it well, “Regardless of a man’s system, he has to live in God’s world.” You and I cannot escape God. This is his world, and it is only by recognizing him that we can make sense of the world and basic human experience. Every other attempt falls in upon itself. The ruin of these ideological houses is always great. It is only the Christian worldview which can explain our world because our world was created by the Christian God.

Levi J. Secord