I hadn’t planned on saying any more any time soon on the gospel and social justice. After 3 posts explaining why I don’t believe anything we do, whether we call that social justice or not, is part of the gospel’s content — the most substantial of which is here — and 1 post nevertheless explaining why I believe social justice is a necessary implication of the gospel, I was sort of done. But commenter Daneil is suggesting today that I am advocating the social gospel, which should be a surprise to those of you who in my previous posts suggested I’m advocating a truncated gospel which leads to ignoring care for the poor, etc. Guess I can’t win. :-)

But today Kevin DeYoung shares an interview with Tim Keller on Keller’s upcoming book Generous Justice. I found this exchange on the definition of justice quite helpful. We must reject the social gospel; but the concept of justice in society is thoroughly biblical. Keller explains why:

I’ll start with the million dollar question, what is justice and what does it mean to do justice?

Doing justice means giving people their due. On the one hand that means restraining and punishing wrongdoers. On the other hand it means giving people what we owe them as beings in the image of God. Nick Wolterstorff says that, as a creature in the image of God, each human being comes into your presence with ‘claim-rights.’ That is, they have the right to not be killed or kidnapped or raped. Of course there is plenty of room for disagreement on the specifics of these things, but that’s my basic definition. Doing justice, then, includes everything from law enforcement to being generous to the poor. (I believe Job 29 and 31 include generosity as part of a just life.)


Why are you so passionate about this issue?

I read the Bible and I’m overwhelmed with the amount of Biblical material that expresses concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. My main gifting is evangelism and I’ve never had extensive experience in a poor community or country. So I reason—if I can see all of this in the Bible, despite the fact that I’m not especially oriented to do so—it must be important to God. I’m passionate about it because I’m passionate to be shaped by the Bible.

Print Friendly

Comments:


7 thoughts on “Keller on Biblical Social Justice”

  1. Roberta says:

    I've had the experience of being an alien in a foreign country so whenever I see someone struggling with English I will help. I was helped in different countries with their languages. I wish we could have the Golden Rule posted in all of our schools so young people could have this memorized and may even apply it. Teachers have stopped teaching it. Maybe they have never heard of it themselves.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just for the record, I was never trying to say that you are outright advocating the social gospel…I was more trying to make the point that to use this term "social justice", (and not just the term, but the concept behind it…), is to lean up against a set of assumptions which ultimately traces back to what is at the core of the "social gospel". I suppose it could be said to be a way of inadvertantly steering ourselves toward the social gospel…Look at Keller's own definition of "doing justice"…"Doing justice means giving people their due. On the one hand that means restraining and punishing wrongdoers. On the other hand it means giving people what we owe them as beings in the image of God"…WHERE in scripture does it outline how we as believers are called to carry out the task of "restraining and punishing wrongdoers"???Do we forget that 11 out of the 12 apostles were killed for preaching the gospel? Did we see them resisting, or lamenting such "injustices" against them? (Yes, Paul appealed to Caeser, but that ultimately caused him to undergo further hearings, rather than be set free…) In fact, Paul calmly accepted his incarceration as a means by which God had ordained him to bring the gospel to new places… Did they seek to punish the ones who were wronging them? Jews and Romans were murdering Christians after all! (not a minor "injustice"), but did the early church see this as an injustice that had to be ended, or as a privelage to suffer for the name of Christ?Yes, "justice" means giving people their due, Keller is right about that. But what I would challenge him on, or anyone else for that matter, is the question of whether or not that is what the gospel is all about! Is that the core message of the gospel of Christ? Giving people their due????If that is true, then we are ALL in a LOT of trouble!

  3. Like a Mustard Seed says:

    It makes no sense to try and segregate wrongdoing, (i.e. sin), into two levels, where we have one level of "social sins" (which we should supposedly convict and punish)and some other level of "religous sins" (that Christ has paid for on the cross). We can't preach "justice!" out of one side of our mouths, and then cry "Mercy!" from the other. (this is what I was getting at earlier when I spoke of "dualism"…) It's a schizophrenic kind of gospel, and ironically an embodiment of the parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 18:23-35…Either we preach forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, or we preach "justice", in which case justice must be meted out against us all, and we all deserve to die…This is why I see no compatibility between the Gospel and the concept of "social justice"…The main disconnect comes when we accept the truths of the gospel, but then somehow make this leap where we start expecting the world as a whole to operate the way that the Body of Christ is called to… Keller quotes Nick Wolterstorff saying, "…as a creature in the image of God, each human being comes into your presence with ‘claim-rights.’ That is, they have the right to not be killed or kidnapped or raped." But, amazingly, this is NOT the attitude of any of the authors of the New Testament! These sorts of 'claim-rights' are not even things that we Christians are taught to hold for ourselves! We are told that to follow Christ is to face persecution and hardship, maybe even death. (Hebrews 11:35-40, Hebrews 10:33-35, 1 Peter 2:20-21, 1 Peter 4:1, 1 Thess. 2:14-15, Matthew 5:10-12, 1 Thess. 3:2-4, 2 Timothy 3:12)The Gospel of Jesus directs it's powerful message of forgiveness and restoration, both to the victim and the assailant equally. Christ doesn't just reach out to the rape victim, but to the rapist as well. Jesus doesn't just offer repentance and forgiveness to orphans and widows, but to tyrants and despots as well. It takes the world's concept of justice and flips it on it's ear. If we understand this truth, then how can we attempt to hold both of these two contradictory understandings of "justice" at the same time? Similarly, just as we as followers of Christ are told that we should expect to face various "criminal" persecutions, we are also told that as Christians, we have no reason to "claim our rights" to any minimum standard of living either! Paul says: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want…" (Phillipians 4:12), and this is to be our approach to material circumstances as well. We withhold no "basic human rights" for ourselves on this earth, because we should not see our inheritance as having anything to do with this earth any longer. This was the attitude of Paul, and the rest of the apostles and the early church. They did not give to the poor and needy around them because they believed those people had any "right" to expect such charity from them, but because they had been so shaped by the gospel of the eternal Kingdom that all material goods were seen through the lens of eternity, and were motivated by God's LOVE to share! ("We love because He first loved us…") And so if we as Christians maintain no "right" to a minimum amount of wealth for ourselves, how could we hold any such standard towards the world as a whole?Do you see the stark contrasts here? Do understand the distinction I am trying to make?

  4. Like a Mustard Seed says:

    So when we come across a "poor person" (which itself can be a somewhat arbitrary term…) and are faced with the question of how to respond, what do we do? Do we think to ourselves, "How unfair! I must do what I can to rectify this inequality, because this person has the right to expect a certain level of material goods in life…"? (following the tenets of "social justice"…) Or do we think to ourselves, "Here, I have a little bit I can share with you, and how could I not share it, after Christ shared everything with me, even though I deserved nothing…"?Ultimately, our hope for others should rest on them finding JESUS, not in them receiving a charitible donation or the conviction of their oppressor. Only then can they too learn the "secret of being content in any and every situation", and learn not to "fear man, who can only hurt the body but cannot harm the soul"… In the long run, all our acts of kindness and attempts to "do justice" will not give anyone any lasting peace, or security, or fulfillment, if they do not ultimately enter into Christ's Kingdom themselves. All earthly forms of "justice" are more or less illusionary in the end anyhow. We bring nothing into the world, and we take nothing with us when we leave it. From dust we came, to dust we will return, and the hope of the gospel does not lie in trying to offer people a measure of relief in the interim…"For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." [Philipians 3:18-21]Daniel

    1. Verbose4Him says:

      WOW!! THANK YOU! I thought I was going nuts with this whole concept of a Keller saying he isn’t “social-driven” while championing social justice. His own definition did contradict himself! Thanks for sharing your comments!

      Verby

  5. Jared says:

    Yes, "justice" means giving people their due, Keller is right about that. But what I would challenge him on, or anyone else for that matter, is the question of whether or not that is what the gospel is all about! Is that the core message of the gospel of Christ?Neither Keller nor I have said this is the core message of the gospel. We say it is an implication of the gospel, not its content. We EXPLICITLY say this, yet it continues to be ignored or misunderstood.It is tiring defending against things I've never said.

  6. Jared says:

    Mustard Seed, I am not publishing any more of your comments. You continue to demonstrate no understanding of the claims being made. I know this because you write long paragraphs arguing against things I never said and don't believe. Please stop wasting your time.

Comments are closed.

Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

Jared C. Wilson's Books