Keller's Generous Justice

Written by David on January 28, 2013

I recently finished reading Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. I had read it around the time that I had graduated, but for some reason didn’t remember much of it. After being around my church in Seattle for a few months, things actually started making a lot more sense, after we spent some time talking about how we should treat the poor/use our money. Here are a few of my notes for safekeeping:

  • The JudeoChristian God separates himself from gods of other religions, because He identifies and chooses to identify with the poor and disabled and immigrants, orphans, and widows. In other religions, the god would typically defend the will of the rich and the powerful - those who could give him more. And so the poor would be forgotten or taken advantage of, but the rich would be respected and adhered to. For God to choose the disadvantaged and marginalized would mean that how we respond to these people is how we would respond to God Himself.
  • God backs this up in numerous times throughout the Old Testament, implementing different rules into His law that would advantage the poor and even disadvantage the wealthy - the concept of gleaning (in which the wealthy essentially shared their profit or product with the poor, who still had to work for it), Jubilee (a radical redistribution of wealth and property every 50 years), and debts being erased every 7 years.
  • Those in a position of privilege or advantage would (and should) literally disadvantage themselves for the benefit of the poor around them.
  • Two schools of thought emerge when questioning how people fall into poverty - one school tends to say they are in that position due to a personal moral failure (they just don’t work hard enough), while the other suggests that society is structured in such a way that disadvantages them (they are simply not in a position where they can succeed). Keller argues that poverty is really attributed to a complex relationship between both of these, as well as “calamity,” not simply one or the other.
  • The New Testament speaks as much to justice as the Old Testament in a consistent manner. God particularly comforts and defends the poor and disadvantaged, but doesn’t simply stop there. Jesus arrives on the scene in the same form - born to a poor family, looked down upon by people around Him, and being robbed of a fair trial, which ultimately led to His being put to death, though no one could quite admit what He had done to deserve that penalty. [Some refuse to believe in a God that allows such injustice to take place in the world, but we can’t forget that God Himself went through it and identifies not with the highest humans, but the lowest.]
  • In terms of doing justice in a public forum, we all bring religious views into our arguments, though we’re not to talk about it explicitly. It is, however, impossible to speak of justice and what is right for man, without assuming one knows the purpose of man. In this sense, those who believe in abortion are still just as biased (or “oppressive”) as those against it. Those who fight for the right for homosexual marriage do so believing man should be able to do anything that man wants, and that this is what is right for man, while those against simply say it is not right for man to be able to do everything. Both parties make decisions based on inherently religious convictions - and if this is the case, I might as well impose my view as well (there is no situation in which a view is not “imposed” on someone else)