Review of Generous Justice

A review of Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Author: Dr Timothy Keller, First published 2010

In Generous Justice (2010), prominent Manhattan Pastor Timothy Keller purports to ‘look to the Bible in building a more just society’.[1] He calls ‘on life long Christians to acknowledge the fraudulence of a faith without concern for justice for the poor’.[2]

Dr Tim Keller – Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York

He seeks to convince his readers ‘that the Bible can and must contribute to a modern understanding of justice’.[3] He claims that the Bible is ‘the basis for the modern understanding of human rights’.[4] He hopes to ‘introduce many to a new way of thinking about the Bible, justice and grace’.[5]  What is Keller’s understanding of justice and his new way of thinking about the Bible?  To answer this question, we need to understand his background and fundamental beliefs, and this is best accomplished by reviewing his first book The Reason for God (2008).

 Keller’s Background

The Reason for God speaks of Keller’s upbringing in the Christian faith. As a teenager in a Lutheran confirmation class, he was impressed with a teacher whom he describes as ‘a social activist… filled with deep doubts about traditional Christian doctrine’.[6]  From that teacher, he learned about a ‘spirit of love in the universe, who mainly required that we work for human rights and the liberation of the oppressed’.[7]  In college he was ‘heavily influenced by the neo-Marxist critical theory of the Frankfurt School’. He explains: ‘In 1968, this was heady stuff. The social activism was particularly attractive, and the critique of American bourgeoisie society was compelling…’[8] He admits that he ‘was emotionally’ drawn to the social activism of the neo-Marxists. ‘How could I turn back to the kind of orthodox Christianity that supported segregation in the South and apartheid in South Africa?’ [9]

The Frankfurt School, to which Keller refers, was a Marxist think tank that originated among a group of German intellectuals in the 1920’s. The school initially consisted of dissident Marxists, who were concerned that some of the prophecies of Karl Marx regarding the eventual collapse of capitalism and the triumph of a classless socialist proletariat were not coming to pass.  From their point of view, the opposite was happening. Capitalism was growing in power and influence, with what the neo-Marxists saw as inherently oppressive social consequences. These intellectuals were, however, repelled by the Leninist call to violent revolution and strict Soviet-style Communist partisanship. Accordingly, they sought other pathways to change society.  The primary goal of the Frankfurt School was to translate Marxism into cultural terms, to provide the ideas on which to base a new political theory of revolution based on culture, and the harnessing of new oppressed groups. Using Marxist economic theory, Freud’s environmental determinism, the self-centeredness of existential philosophy, emerging sociological theories, and Hegel’s dialectic method of arriving at ‘truth’, these intellectuals and their followers laid the foundation for their understanding of the cause and correction of social injustice.  Their influence is manifest widely from nation-wide social welfare programs down to street level ‘community organizing’. Today this ideology, to make it appear more acceptable, is often referred to as ‘progressive’.

Keller explains that when he found a ‘band of brothers’, a group of ‘Christians who had a concern for justice in the world… grounded in the nature of God’, things began to change for him.[10] Increasingly, he ‘became interested in shaping and initiating new Christian communities’ and thus he ‘entered [the ministry] just a few years after college’.[11] Living out the neo-Marxist ideology of the Frankfurt School in the church became Keller’s goal.  In The Reason for God, he looks forward to his followers being the ‘vanguard of some major new religious, social and political arrangements’.[12]

This influence on Keller’s interpretation of Scripture is evident in chapter fourteen of The Reason for God,entitled ‘The Dance of God’. There he claims, ‘The purpose of Jesus coming is to put the whole world aright, to renew and restore the creation… not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom’.[13] This statement is consistent with the thinking of liberation theology, for ‘in liberation theology, the Gospel is not a message about saving individuals out of the world, but rather a message of saving the world’.[14] Keller says that, ‘The world and our hearts are broken. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God’.[15]  Keller explains that Jesus ‘offers his lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that some day he can destroy all evil without destroying us’.[16] He also claims that, ‘When Jesus suffered with us he was identifying with the oppressed of the world, not with their oppressors.’[17] Keller boldly declares: ‘Jesus identified with the oppressed.’[18] In like manner, liberation theology claims that ‘the God revealed in the biblical tradition in general and in Jesus Christ in particular, wills the liberation of the oppressed and is active in the world towards that end’.[19]

What Keller claims as his ‘new way of thinking about the Bible’ is essentially the old liberation theology of the Roman Catholics. Jesuit priest, Juan Luis Segundo, one of the most important figures in the liberation theology movement, explains:

‘God him/herself through Christ assumes and participates with us in the historical process of humanization and liberation, for this is the plan of God for humankind.’[20]

Like them, Keller ignores Scripture revealing that Jesus was sent to be ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:20); ‘to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15); to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10); ‘not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ (Mark 2:17); ‘to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10, Romans 3:25); to ‘redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons’ (Galatians 4:5); to ‘bear witness to the truth’ (John 18:37); to ‘fulfill the law’ (Matthew 5:17); and  to be ‘delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).

In line with liberation theology, Keller claims that, ‘The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care [for] and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.’[21] Of the many works of the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture, caring for and cultivating the material world is not one of them. This is sheer invention on Keller’s part to produce his ‘new way of thinking about the Bible’.

These heterodox interpretations are used by Keller to support his insistence that the church is called to bring about societal change. The Reason for God describes Keller’s new urban method of evangelism. It is supposedly tailored to ‘increasingly multi-ethnic younger professionals and working class immigrants’ whom he believes are the vanguard of some new religious movement.[22] He asserts that, ‘The new, fast-spreading, multiethnic, orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics…’[23]

 Keller’s New Arrangements

In the closing chapter of The Reason for God, Keller asks, ‘Where Do We Go from Here?’ He hopes that his readers will be sufficiently moved by his descriptions of ‘our world’s need, your own condition, and Christ’s mission in the world’[24] to ask, ‘What do I have to do to get him [Jesus]?’[25]  Keller sees repenting as ‘confessing the things besides God himself that you have been relying on for hope, significance and security’.[26] He defines ‘belief’ as more than intellectual assent to the ‘gospel story’; you must ‘recognize and reject your alternative trusts and gods and turn instead to the Father, asking for a relationship to him on the basis of what Jesus has done’.[27] In performing these two acts, there ‘begins a lifelong process in which, through steady change in every area of life, the gospel story shapes us more and more’.[28] However, Keller concedes that ‘churchgoers may be weaker psychologically and morally than non-churchgoers’, for ‘churches rightly draw a higher proportion of needy people’.[29] It should be no surprise then that Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church offers numerous ‘idols of the heart’ recovery groups, to help needy people ‘reject your alternative gods’ via Christianized insight-oriented psychotherapy.

To these works of repenting and believing, Keller’s adds ‘repentance and faith must be done both individually and communally by becoming part of the church’.[30] His ‘getting Jesus’ is presented primarily as an act of the human will in performing three acts: repent, believe, and join a church.

As in all man-centered philosophies, ‘getting Jesus’ is not enough. Keller closes The Reason for God hoping his readers will become ‘true revolutionaries’ and will ‘go from here’ into churches that are devoted to actions of social justice.  He seeks to spawn the realization of the ‘desperate need’ he felt as a college student ‘to find a group of Christians who had a concern for justice in the world but who grounded it in the nature of God rather than in their own subjective feelings’.[31] It is important to Keller that his own particular interest in social justice be God’s passionate interest as well; it cannot be left as just a ‘subjective feeling’ of his own.

The Reason for God is not just a new, improved, method for evangelism among hip young urban professionals and working class immigrants. It is not just a recipe book for believers who have some doubts about Christian doctrine or are attempting to address similar doubts among their skeptic acquaintances. In this book, Keller seeks to establish the nature of God as identical to his own. His need to carry out actions of restorative and redistributive justice among the poor and marginalized must be God-ordained; his actions must be an expression of God’s very own passionate desires.

In order to establish that the passionate desire for what the Frankfurt School called ‘social justice’ is in fact part of God’s nature, Keller must invent new and heterodox interpretations of Scripture and descriptions of God. Thus he blatantly contradicts what Scripture clearly reveals about God’s nature and invents new ideas about the Christian faith which are actually old heresies.

Some examples of this in The Reason for God: Keller claims that God ‘does not seek his own glory but the glory of others’,[32] that Jesus came to ‘fulfill you completely’[33] and to ‘restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God’.[34] The Holy Spirit not only saves souls but ‘cares [for] and cultivates the face of the earth, the material world’.[35] True worship must include ‘serv[ing] the human community and car[ing] for the created environment’,[36] doing ‘restorative and redistributive justice wherever they can… building up the human community through deeds of justice’, and being ‘true revolutionaries who labor in expectation of a perfect world’.[37]

In Keller’s perception of the Christian faith, ‘God really has love as his essence.’[38] Yet he does not mention God’s holiness. In Scripture, the God of love is also the God of light, in whom is no darkness at all.

Keller imports into his effort the affirmative words of the most diverse ‘band of brothers’ (secular philosophers, Christian philosophers, rock stars, Catholic mystics, Jewish pundits, and popular novelists, theologians of every stripe, poets, maestros and martyrs), a veritable tsunami of human support for his own view of social justice.

The Reason for God is a religious socio-political manifesto calling for a radical ‘new arrangement’ for the Christian church.  This arrangement is neither orthodox nor is it supported in Scripture, but it does reflect the passions of its author. Generous Justice builds upon the ideological foundation which Keller attempted to establish in The Reason for God revealing in more detail what he means by ‘social justice’. In so doing, he confirms that his understanding of the problem of poverty is thoroughly that of the Frankfurt School of Marxism.

 Liberation Theology, Mercy and Justice

Keller begins Generous Justice by reminding us that ‘the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor’.[39] He then mentions that Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, in his book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (1973), speaks of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’.[40]

Gustavo Gutierrez – founder of liberation theology

But Keller does not tell his readers that Gutierrez is a Dominican priest, who is regarded as the founder of Liberation Theology.

Keller continues with a lengthy study of the Hebrew words for ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’ used in the Old Testament. In his definition of these words, he uses current phraseology like ‘to treat people equitably’, ‘to give people their rights’,[41] ‘giving people what they are due’, and ‘defend[ing] those with the least social and economic power’. From there, he asserts that believers are to ‘identify with the powerless’, to take up the cause ‘for their empowerment’, and to ‘honor the cries and claims of the poor’.  He says this is all for the purpose of ‘turn[ing] the poor man’s life into a delight’.[42] Keller concludes that the meaning of the words ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’ is best conveyed by the term ‘social justice’.[43]

Building on his own interpretation of this meaning, he then asserts that God today expects believers to seek ‘social justice’ for the poor that is beyond what he calls ‘perfunctory help’.  Keller insists that the church must seek to ‘improve their entire situation’[44] because ‘vulnerable people need multiple levels of help’[45] which he defines as ‘relief, development and social reform’.[46] Keller says, ‘There must be a full range of measures designed to redirect the flow of financial capital, social capital and spiritual capital back into the community instead of out of it… We are talking about community development.’[47]

Continuing without Scriptural support, he insists that ‘God is distressed that the unity of the human family has been broken’.[48] In explaining ‘broken’, he claims that poverty is principally the result of adverse environmental factors. He names these factors as oppression, the rich, segregation, low wages, landlords, weak and failing schools, banks and lending institutions, the victimizing aspects of crime, and the selfish individualism of business owners.[49] Keller cannot deny that Scripture points to ‘personal moral failure’ as a ‘cause of poverty’,[50] but he insists that the ‘emphasis is usually on the larger structural (environmental) factors’.[51] He then claims that ‘the Bible calls us to be deeply involved in defending and caring for the poor’.[52] Keller insists that Christians must ‘generate a strong community where human beings can flourish’.[53] Christian must go to places where the fabric of society has broken down and help to repair it;[54] they must bring about ‘cultural change and social reform’[55] by vigorously attacking the environmental factors.

After citing many verses in Scripture forbidding oppression of widows, the fatherless, the immigrant, the poor (eg. Zechariah 7:10-11), Keller concludes ‘that God personally identifies very closely with the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant’.[56] He claims that ‘God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power’[57], and says, ‘that is what it means to do justice’.[58] He continues saying, ‘one of the main things [God] does in the world’ is to ‘identify with the powerless… to take up their cause… for their empowerment’.[59] Thus, for Keller, the words ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’ are to be understood in the church today as ‘empowerment’ of the people. The God of the Bible, according to Keller, is ‘a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor’.[60]

Keller does not relate the words to the traditional Scriptural view of God’s mercy (in sending His Son to die) making it possible for the just to live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)  God’s justice in demanding payment for sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) is not an issue for Keller; it is nowhere in the picture he paints for his readers. ‘Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24) cannot be harmonized with Keller’s plan for social and economic equality.

Who are the powerless? Who needs “empowerment”? In Keller’s view, this does not relate to those in bondage to sin. ‘When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly’ (Romans 5:6).  In spite of his knowledge of Hebrew, Keller seems to have no understanding that the children of Israel would have come to the end of their story as slaves in Egypt had it not been for the fact that ‘God arose, God intervened, God began to act’.[61]  No plans of the Frankfurt School, no methods of Keller, no ‘empowerment’ via any plan for justice, ‘not the labors of my hands’ could ever have saved them nor can it save any one. In neither book by Keller is there any biblical view of man being a slave to sin, to be rescued only by God. ‘For while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5.8).

Keller insists that to ‘do justice’ is to concentrate on the needs of the poor. From Matthew 11:4, 5 where Jesus tells John the Baptist’s disciples that ‘the poor have the gospel preached to them’, Keller concludes that Jesus had a ‘particular interest in the poor’.[62] Thus he insists that all believers have ‘a duty to give preference to the poor’. He acknowledges God’s warnings as regards the showing of preference to the poor (Leviticus 19:15), but in support of his own personal notion of the ‘new arrangement’ church, he blithely opposes the direct Scriptural proscription and goes on to falsely claim that God shows partiality to certain groups of people based on their circumstances.

Keller is so certain of this that he insists that ‘faith without respect, love and practical concern for the poor is dead. It’s not justifying gospel faith’.[63]  It is never clear who is to define this ‘respect, love, and practical concern’ or who is to decide when there is enough of it to pronounce on that individual a ‘justifying gospel faith’.  Keller goes on to say that ‘to work against injustice… is the real proof that you believe your sins have been atoned for… the inevitable sign of any real true gospel faith’.[64] Finally, he warns his readers that ‘if you are not just, you’ve not truly been saved by faith’.[65] Clearly, his definition of ‘just’ applies to the works of man, not to the works of Christ.

 The Poor Among Us

Keller claims that poverty exists largely due to environmental factors. He goes on to proclaim that Christians must ‘do social justice’ as the sign of salvation. This divine obligation falls not only on individual believers but on churches.  Moreover, churches are expected to work in concert with any like-purposed groups, ‘associations and organizations’, whether Christian or not. Christians should expect that ‘many who do not share their Biblical beliefs will nonetheless want to work for the same goals… Christians should indentify themselves as believers as they seek justice, welcoming and treating all who work beside them as equals’.[66] Scripture’s command that believers should not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers, (Corinthians 6:14), does not concern Keller at all when it comes to making his passion appear to be God’s passion.

Having surveyed the Bible, Keller has concluded that poverty is the result of ‘larger structural factors… barriers… multiple and complex… more complex than any one theory can accommodate’,[67] does not leave him pessimistic about the prospects of Christians bringing about ‘cultural and social change’, even to the extent of the elimination of poverty. He says that an important approach for helping the poor is social reform, which ‘seeks to change the conditions and social structures that aggravate or cause dependency… This approach goes beyond just helping individuals. It seeks to change social arrangements and social institutions.’[68] He says that some Christians believe that ‘society is changed one heart at a time’, and so they concentrate on evangelism. Such an approach, says Keller, is naïve.[69]

Scripture is replete with references to the poor, widows, orphans and sojourners. We are told that the poor shall never cease out of the land and we are to open our hands wide unto our brothers, to the poor and to the needy (Deuteronomy 15:1-11; 24:19-22). Among the many reasons to praise God is the fact that, ‘He raises the poor out of the dust,

And lifts the needy out of the ash heap’ (Psalm 113:7). He will maintain the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor (Psalm 140:12; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; Psalm 68:5-6).

We are warned that, ‘He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, But he who honors Him has mercy on the needy’ (Proverbs 14:31), ‘The righteous considers the cause of the poor’ (Proverbs 29:7). We are to plead the cause of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:9), oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger nor the poor (Zechariah 7:10), and show them hospitality (Luke 18:20). Paul was asked by the Jerusalem Council to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10). He commended believers for contributing to the needs of the poor (Romans 15:26). But Jesus Himself showed us that works of charity are always secondary to worship of Him: ‘For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always’ (John 12:8).

Poverty in Scripture is clearly sometimes the result of injustice (Job 24:4; Isaiah 32:7; Jeremiah 7:6; Amos 2:6-7). It is, however,  also presented as a  result of laziness or a slack hand (Proverbs 10:4) and is described as characteristic of lovers of sleep (Proverbs 20:13) and pleasure (Proverbs 21:17). Beyond all circumstances, ‘The Lord makes poor and makes rich. He brings low and lifts up’ (1 Samuel 2:7).

In the New Testament, the poor were among the most accepting of the Gospel if only due to the fact that the majority of the human race has always been poor since the Fall. The Lord himself reading from Isaiah said:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed’ (Luke 4:18).

This statement by Jesus in no way means that the poor are special or preferred or his primary concern. He is not saying that he ‘identifies with the oppressed of the world’. It is a poverty of spirit (Matthew 5:3) that must be present in order to have ears to hear the Gospel. Matthew Henry explains the spiritual truth of Christ’s ministry:

‘By Christ, sinners may be loosed from the bonds of guilt, and by his Spirit and grace from the bondage of corruption. He came by the word of his gospel, to bring light to those that sat in the dark, and by the power of his grace, to give sight to those that were blind. And he preached the acceptable year of the Lord. Let sinners attend to the Saviour’s invitation when liberty is thus proclaimed.’

So the Lord’s words are not necessarily related to earthly wealth and possessions. Abraham and Zaccheus are examples of rich men who were true followers of God, and justified by faith in Christ alone. Scripture clearly warns that ‘the love of money is the root of all evil’ (I Timothy 6:10), but the answer to this is never presented as a passion for doing social justice.  No camel gets through the eye of the needle by following the Frankfurt School.

God calls us to judge our neighbor rightly and not show him favor because he is poor (Leviticus 19:15). Keller ignores the entire Bible’s strong teaching against idleness: ‘If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10). ‘But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Timothy 5:8).  Such passages clearly contradict his view of poverty and of social justice.

Scripture thus presents all the understanding of poverty that mankind needs to know.  The Bible tells us that only Christ will finally eliminate poverty, redeem the creation, and inaugurate a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21). In each of these areas, Keller presents an assertion different from Scripture. To him, poverty is the result of an unjust environment, man has the power of God, and man can eliminate injustice in our time. The activist church in concert with other social service agencies can fix the problems by community organizing, restoring justice, and redistributing the wealth. Man can expect victory over injustice and poverty in the here and now.

 Restoring the Creation

Keller asserts that Christians ‘can and must’ endeavor to restore justice.[70] In this assertion he reveals that he believes that Christians can, individually and in unison with non-Christians, restore the fallen creation. This belief finds easy acceptance as it appeals to people increasingly aware of a world awash in evil and resonates with the ‘progressive’ rhetoric of politicians and pundits. If the problems of man are primarily caused by a broken environment (something outside of us), then surely man, with all his intelligence and prowess, ought to be able to fix that environment. An author like Keller who places the problem outside of us is always more attractive to fallen flesh than the authors of Scripture who place the problem inside of us. Surely ‘human intelligence, human understanding, and human willpower are all we need’.[71]  The roadblocks to success in Keller’s restoration of justice are assumed to be sectarianism, partisanship, selfishness, ignorance and the wrong distribution of resources. Much highly vaunted effort then is devoted to eliminating these roadblocks to utopia. Generous Justice is but one of these misguided efforts, sacrificing doctrinal distinction in service of an unholy utopian unity.  Sadly, Keller is not the only one bearing the name of Christ who sees that in this effort to bring social justice and restore the fallen creation, man must be set free from the traditional orthodox interpretation of Scripture. In his efforts to introduce a new way of thinking about the Bible, he agrees with the rulers who say, ‘Let us break their bonds in pieces, and cast away their cords from us’ (Psalm 2:3).

Scripture, however, reveals that the creation was and is subjected to futility, not by some natural process, but supernaturally by the will of God who did so promising that the ‘because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21).  This will happen only when ‘both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up’ (2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 20:11; 21:1). Scripture is clear in revealing that the fallen nature of the creation (with all of its injustice), its eventual redemption, and its re-creation are the purpose and work of God alone.

Believers have many responsibilities before God in the here and now. We are called to ‘look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless’ (2 Peter 3:13-14). Believers are also called to ‘love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return’ and to ‘be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful’ (Luke 6:35-36). Nowhere in Scripture are believers called to redeem the creation or even to form a ‘band of brothers’ to correct the ills of fallen society. This is neither the responsibility of the church nor has the church been given that kind of power. The church exists to worship God, to preach Christ ‘warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 1:28). So the central mission of the Church is to go and ‘make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). When the Gospel is preached, people will be saved. Saved people will obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and perform ‘good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). Such works are ordained by God for the purpose of sharing the Gospel and glorifying His Name; they were never meant to accomplish what only God can do.

Keller argues that the ‘actions of restorative and redistributive justice among the poor and marginalized’ are ordained by God. Most importantly, Keller assumes that he and his followers have the power of God over the created order and the societal problems within it. His desire for mercy and justice sounds as noble as did the words of the serpent in the Garden. ‘If you read my books, you will see what the Bible is really saying; you can be as gods and do social justice.’ (paraphrase of Genesis 3:5)  In contrast to this, believers are clearly instructed to be good stewards and to ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal’ (Matthew 6:20).

 Sharing the Gospel?

In 189 pages of Generous Justice, Keller devotes five and one-half pages to ‘the Biblical command to evangelize’.[72] His view of the relationship between evangelism and social justice is confusing at best. On the one hand, he criticizes those who view doing ‘justice as a means to the end of evangelism’[73]  and those who assume that ‘doing justice is spreading the gospel’.[74] On the other hand, he proposes what he calls ‘a different way to understand evangelism and social justice’[75] saying that the two activities ‘should exist in an asymmetrical, inseparable relationship’.[76]  He explains that ‘doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith’,[77] and ‘much more open to the church’s message’,[78] concluding that ‘there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice’.[79] He pleads with his readers to see the balance between evangelism and social justice he is seeking to promote. He says ‘if we confuse evangelism and social justice we lose what is the single most unique service that Christians can offer the world.’[80] He says the Gospel spreads ‘because of the quality of [the minister’s] life… members will find they are hanging on every word of his preaching’.[81] He champions the tactics of ‘relationship, visitation and friendship’,[82] as his ‘different way to understand evangelism and social justice’.[83]  The reader is left confused as to just how his way of understanding evangelism and social justice is different. These five and one-half pages are some of the most confusing in the entire book.

The most blatant error in this section is his statement that ‘the economic sharing of the people inside the church lent great power to the preaching of the resurrection to those outside the church’.[84] He cites Acts 4:32-35 in hopes the reader will somehow agree than man’s methods are the source of the power. He then moves to Acts 6:1-7 where deacons were appointed to free up the apostles from non-preaching duties. Keller interprets this division of labor as producing the ‘sharing of resources across class lines’[85] and says this action of men should be seen as ‘a cause-effect relationship’ bringing about the spread of the Word of God. It is characteristic of Keller to see the power as conjured up by man’s techniques.  Scripture is clear that the power in the church comes always from believers being in Christ and Christ being in the believers (John 17:21).  This section reveals clearly Keller’s isolation and twisting of Scripture verses in his attempt to make his personal passion appear to be God’s passion.

Nowhere in Generous Justice does Keller actually explain what the Gospel of Christ is. Like other lifestyle evangelism advocates before him, Keller ‘asymmetrically’ emphasizes the lifestyle (good works) while blithely assuming that the gospel is understood and that evangelism will somehow take place. He ignores the fact that ‘there is none that seeks after God’ (Romans 3:11), that salvation is not an accomplishment of man but ‘of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’ (1 Peter 2:9), and that ‘faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Romans 10:17).  It is not the power of the Word that matters to Keller, but rather ‘the quality’ and ‘sterling character’ of the minister’s life. He insists that without social justice, Christians ‘fail to show them Christ’s beauty’.[86]  Yet our Messiah had ‘no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him’ (Isaiah 53:2). Only by ignoring Scripture can Keller justify his own practical theology of social activism and call it a new and improved form of evangelism.

It is not evident in this book that Keller knows and/or understands the Gospel.  He assumes the Gospel and attempts to use it for his personal agenda.  His tactics differ not at all from those of the modern day community organizers who, in the performance of various works seen as good by members of the targeted community, are in fact advancing a particular socio-political agenda. A major report from the United Nations (UN) insists that ‘social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies’.  The UN goes on to warn: ‘Present-day believers in an absolute truth identified with virtue and justice are neither willing nor desirable companions for the defenders of social justice.’  Keller assumes his Christian readers have not thought of these facts. An article in the National Review makes the point:

‘Social justice isn’t so much a “mirage” as it is a Trojan horse, concealing a much more radical agenda.  “Social justice” is a profoundly ideological term, masquerading as a generic term for goodness. In short, it is a tyrannical cliché’ a seemingly benign truism that, like a pill with a pleasant protective coating, conceals a mind-altering substance within.’[87]

Readers of Tim Keller desperately need to search the Scriptures for the biblical definition of ‘goodness’.


The discerning Christian, who searches the Scriptures, will not be convinced by Keller’s message. Passion for the kind of social justice that Keller envisions is simply not attributable to God in Scripture, nor is there evidence in Scripture that God calls believers, individually or corporately, to pursue the broad activism for social change that Keller champions.

Tim Keller is a Christian utopian presenting another version of the social gospel outlined over three decades ago by Ronald Sider in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (1978). Generous Justice is his recipe for the elimination of poverty so that each member of the ‘human family’ can have a ‘life of delight’.[88] His warrant for this view comes from his misinterpretation of Scripture, heavily influenced by the current concept of social justice via activist community development. In this way, Keller transforms the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) from an endeavor directed toward the making ‘of disciples of all nations’ to a broad-ranged community development effort conducted along side any other like-purposed group (‘as one people speaking the same language’).  He calls the church to direct its activity to a preferred group characterized only by their poverty and supposed powerlessness. For Keller, the church becomes just another social action agency, working in concert with all the rest. Not content with the promise that God will redeem His own creation and establish ‘a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’ (2 Peter 3: 13), Keller offers a plan and in which, according to his ‘new arrangement’, every man can have a ‘delightful life’ in the here and now.

In Generous Justice, the Law and the Gospel are distorted with a Christianized but essentially Marxist view of the problem of man (victimization of the proletariat by capitalist bourgeoisie) and its solution (restoration of rights and redistribution of wealth achieved by non-violent socio-political action). Keller uses Christian-sounding phraseology in the attempt to convince his readers of the same Frankfurt School ideology that first fascinated him as a college student. Nowhere in Generous Justice is the reader directed to the true mission of the church of the living God (which is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15)), to serve as a vehicle to ‘make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). For Keller, the problem of man is not rebellion against a holy God—it is social injustice. The solution for man is not faith alone in Christ alone—it is social justice. In all of this, Keller arrogates the divine prerogative to himself and to his fellow travelers promising that they can accomplish what God says only He can do. His books bring new reality to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:

‘Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” ’ (Matthew 7.22-23)

You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from The Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop or from Amazon  More on John Piper and his Christian Hedonism at The Real John Piper website


[1] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, Hodder & Stoughton, 2010, back cover

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. pxx1

[5] Ibid. pxxi

[6] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Hodder & Stoughton, paper back edition, 2009, pxi

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. pxi-xii

[9] Ibid. pxii

[10] Ibid. pxiii

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid. pxix

[13] Ibid. p223

[14] A Special Study of Liberation Theology by George C. Stewart,

[15] Ibid. The Reason for God, p224-25

[16] Ibid. p192

[17] Ibid. p195

[18] Ibid. p197

[19] David Roy Griffin, ‘Values, Evil and Liberation Theology’, Encounter, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Winter, 1979), p1

[20] Juan Luis Segundo, ‘Statement by Juan Luis Segundo’, Theology in the Americas, eds. Sergio Torres and John Eagleson (New York: Orbis Books, 1976), p281

[21] Ibid. The Reason for God, p223

[22] Ibid. xix

[23] Ibid. pxx

[24] Ibid. p227

[25] Ibid. p228

[26] Ibid. p233

[27] Ibid. p234

[28] Ibid. p235

[29] Ibid. p236

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid. pxiii

[32] Ibid. p218

[33] Ibid. p173

[34] Ibid. p224

[35] Ibid. p223

[36] Ibid. p224

[37] Ibid. p225

[38] Ibid. p216

[39] Ibid. Generous Justice, p6

[40] Ibid. p7

[41] Ibid. p3

[42] Ibid. p13

[43] Ibid. p13

[44] Ibid. p110

[45] Ibid. p113

[46] Ibid. p113

[47] Ibid. pp118-119

[48] Ibid. p121

[49] Ibid. pp33-35

[50] Ibid. p34

[51] Ibid. p38

[52] Ibid. p42

[53] Ibid. p177

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid. p162

[56] Ibid. p185

[57] Ibid. p5

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid. p6

[60] Ibid.

[61] Lloyd-Jones, Glorious Christianity, Crossway, p201

[62] Ibid. Generous Justice, p44

[63] Ibid. p104

[64] Ibid. pp96, 99

[65] Ibid. p99

[66] Ibid. pp160-61

[67] Ibid. p38

[68] Ibid. p126

[69] Ibid. p127

[70] Ibid. p125

[71] Ibid. Lloyd-Jones, p198

[72] Ibid. Generous Justice, p138

[73] Ibid. p138

[74] Ibid. p139

[75] Ibid. p139

[76] Ibid. p139

[77] Ibid. p140

[78] Ibid. p142

[79] Ibid. p142

[80] Ibid. p141

[81] Ibid. p142

[82] Ibid. p143

[83] Ibid. p139

[84] Ibid. p140

[85] Ibid. p140

[86] Ibid. p143

[87] Jonah Goldberg, The Tyranny of Cliches, National Review, p. 30, May 14, 2012, Volume LXIV, NO.9

[88] Ibid. Generous Justice, p14