In chapter 4, Keller offers his interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable. Overall, this is a good chapter as it reminds Christians about the importance of loving our neighbors. I found myself both encouraged and convicted by this chapter. The story of the Good Samaritan displays God’s mercy toward us and how that mercy must inform how we love others. Loving God invariably leads to loving our neighbors.
While I found this chapter to be a success, there were a few points that deserve engagement. These issues are Keller’s use of justice, what it means to love your neighbor, and how the church does this. I will address these three areas below.
Keller’s Use of Justice (Again)
Chapter 4 is titled, Justice and Your Neighbor, so the topic is introduced as being about justice, but Keller oddly does not use that term throughout the rest of the chapter. Keller views the actions of the Good Samaritan as being a display of justice, but he never attempts to prove that case. To me, the Samaritan’s actions are best seen as a display of love and mercy.
While mercy is a good thing, it isn’t the same thing as justice. But Keller set out to discuss love and justice in this chapter. While there is more overlap between love and justice than there is between justice and mercy, defining these terms accurately is vital. Justice is giving someone their due, or what they have earned. Conversely, mercy is giving someone good when they have no right to it.
I believe the best way to define love is seeking the good. When loving others, this means seeking their good even when it’s costly. When it comes to loving God, it is all about seeking him, and his glory because he is the very definition of good. In this way, loving your neighbor can be manifested in seeking justice for someone or by giving them mercy. Mercy and justice can both fall under the umbrella of love, but mercy and justice remain distinct from one another. To confuse them is to lose them both.
It is interesting the chapter’s title asserts it’s about justice, but as Keller makes his argument he avoids the term altogether. Perhaps this why I enjoyed the chapter so much because it really wasn’t about justice at all. Keller assumes he has proven that his redefinition of justice is correct, but his case is both problematic and contradictory.
What It Means to Love Your Neighbor
The thesis of this chapter is our need to love our neighbors, and Keller is correct in asserting all Christians should work to fulfill the second greatest command to love our neighbors as ourselves. This begs the question, “What is love?” A full answer to this question is beyond the scope of this article, but on page 62 Keller cites Romans 13 to help define what it means to love others. Romans 13:9-10 says:
For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Central to loving your neighbor is not wronging them. Love starts by not violating the rights of our neighbors. Paul cites the back half of the Ten Commandments as the basis of this type of love. One of those commands forbids stealing from your neighbor because you cannot steal from your neighbor and still love them. It is here that Keller demonstrates his inconsistency as love forbids stealing, but Keller argued for the redistribution of wealth just two chapters ago. Wealth redistribution is government-sanctioned theft. When the government steals, it is still a violation of God’s commands. Despite this, Keller argues the Bible isn’t against communism/socialism and that it supports the redistribution wealth all in the name of justice! By violating personal property rights, communism/socialism violates God’s law and is therefore unloving. By arguing for wealth redistribution, Keller undermines the very foundation of love—not wronging your neighbor. If we want to love others, we must first respect their God-given rights, and one of those rights is personal property.
How is the Church Doing?
Throughout this book, Keller implies that Christians in general, and the church in specific, are failing when it comes to mercy ministries. I hear this complaint often, but I don’t believe it’s accurate. By every measure, Christians give more money to charities than any other demographic. As a pastor, I know there are more good ministries out there than our church can possibly support. In other words, Christians are doing a lot of mercy work throughout the world. Today there are Christian adoption agencies, orphanages, hospitals, food shelves, refugee support, crisis pregnancy centers, and many others. Caring for the poor has been a ministry of the church from the very beginning, and it has continued throughout its history.
Social justice warriors often like to imply the church has neglected its obligation to be merciful, but the facts don’t support this claim. I fear their perception is based on the current generation’s dislike for how it's been done in the past. To put it bluntly, many older mercy ministries aren’t sexy enough to be accepted by the social justice movement. The good news is, Christians don’t do good works to be recognized by others (Matt. 6:1-4). There are many good deeds done in the name of Christ that never get wide recognition, and that is the way it should be. Yes, I’m sure the American church can be doing more, but it is only fair to recognize that it is already doing a lot of good through numerous Christian ministries and charities. Charities are one way Christians display love for our neighbors.
Levi J. Secord