Perhaps here on election day it would be good to highlight a brand new book on justice, Generous Justice: How God’s grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller (Dutton; $19.95—see sale price, below.) This is doubtlessly going to be on our best-of-the-year list and I am utterly thrilled to announce it today. It released just today (although I have had opportunity to read it earlier.) I’ve been itching to describe it, but didn’t want to jump the gun of the “street date” when it was legal to sell it. Have to be just in describing a book on justice, eh? Well, I’m happy to now tell you about it, because it is splendid. It is a great book for nearly anyone, it is a great witness for the gospel, faithful to Christ and helpful for those of us wanting to be part of God’s Kingdom’s work.
You are most likely aware that we have been fans of Keller for years. His very first book, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road (P&R; $12.99) is fantastic, and emerged from his own Doctorate of Ministry study on the role of deacons as agents of humanitarian care and social service. As he describes it, while studying at Westminster Seminary in Philly, he went to Temple University school of social work and read everything they were recommending for their grad program, and compared that with an extensive study of Scripture and church history. We’ve carried that book for years, and knew about it from its earliest days as he was influenced by a hero of ours, the late Harvie Conn. We still love Conn’s fantastic little book Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace (P&R $10.99) and so respected his own work with the urban poor, both overseas and domestically. Keller also drew a bit upon the extraordinary Richard Lovelace, whose seminal book Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (IVP; $30.00) showed the factors in true renewal throughout church history, and the multi-faceted relationship of urgent prayer, social service, serious thinking, cultural engagement, evangelism and social action and community and so forth. So, from Keller’s first book, we were very impressed.
His 2008 Reason for God: Belief is an Age of Skepticism (Dutton; $16.00) is one of the better books of apologetics in recent years, and we are glad that an inviting call to evangelical faith can be made with such literary clarity and gusto. That places like the New York Times compare him in persuasive strength to C.S. Lewis indicates something of the seriousness with which he writes and his high caliber reputation.
The work of that great book inviting us to think deeply and even “doubt doubts” and “deconstruct the deconstructions” has just come out in a fine six-session DVD curriculum along with an excellent participant’s guide. The great subtitle to that video panel discussion with Keller is “Conversations on Faith and Life.” Although you can buy ’em individually, the DVD and participant’s guide comes shrink-wrapped in a great package deal: $31.99 (It is 20% off, though, with our blog special shown below, making it just $25.59.) Please call us if you’d like to order it—it would make a great small group conversation, something to share with seekers or skeptics, or a discussion oriented adult Sunday school course. We’ve also sold a good number of his basic discipleship DVD course, The Gospel for Life, which also comes in a similar shrink-wrapped bargain deal, with the DVD and participants guide together. See our BookNotes feature on that, here.
Rev. Keller’s next two books are smallish—the same shape as Generous Justice, that easy to hold, somewhat compact-sized hardback—and yet are exceptionally rich and heavy with insight. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (Dutton; $19.95) is a remarkable re-telling and explication of the famous parable, showing the power of the gospel to forgive the runaway, of course, but, more, the way the Pharisee-like religiosity of the older son prevented him from understanding the father’s great love and mercy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promise of Money, Sex and Power and the Only Hope That Matters (Dutton; $19.95) is one of the more profound books in years, certainly one of the best studies of idolatry I’ve ever seen. Yes, this urban and urbane Manhattan Reformed church planter has his finger on the pulse of our culture, and is able to bring clear and orthodox gospel truth to the false gods and stories and thinking of our time. Exceptional!
Generous Justice: How God’s grace Makes Us Just is truly stunning. That such a solid, evangelical, pastor/theologian can bring the message of social transformation so well is itself a bit of a miracle (I can only shout “Praise the Lord” and “Thanks Be to God!” in gratitude that a leader of Keller’s stature has put the weight of his reputation behind this topic and this small book.) Mr. Keller has studied this topic, and engaged himself in this topic, has led his church into this topic, for years now (remember his D-Min work on deacons and church-based social ministry.) His reading is wide and the varied footnotes are splendid, as he explores the deep questions of the meaning of justice (Rawls? Wolterstorff? Sandel? Yep.) And what the Bible says about it. He’s a Proverbs 29:7 righteous one.
You may know that our own passions here at Hearts & Minds have long been to help equip church folk to live out their lives in efforts of social reform and cultural transformation. We’ve stocked everything from Dorothy Day to Marvin Olasky (both well-worth reading on the urban poor) and regularly note that Ron Sider (author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger [Nelson; $15.99] and Just Generosity [Baker; $17.99]) is a friend and mentor. We have been active in Bread for the World and the Jubilee Campaign to cancel portions of the third world debt and have helped start crisis pregnancy centers and have fought for the rights of local immigrants. We recommend resources like the truly lovely and artfully designed full-color book on micro-financing, The Poor Will Be Glad by Peter Greer (Zondervan; $19.99) and, for digging deeper, titles such as Walking With the Poor by Bryant Myers (Orbis; $26.00) which is a serious must-read. Just a few weeks ago we ran a few posts of recent, fresh voices from evangelical publishers who are telling stories of those involved in social justice, fighting slavery, working in micro-financing, forming relationships across cultures to model Christ-centered racial reconciliation. There are tons of good things happening, and many great books by sharp, edgy folks, creative thinkers, with wild stories of goodness and grace. I’m blown away by the insight and wisdom and maturity from books such as the brilliant new Likewise paperback Living Mission: The Vision and Voices of New Friars edited by Scott A. Bessenecker (IVP; $16.00.) That the forwards are by Shane Claiborne & Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove may give you a sense of the approach of these new monastics, and their global ministry; it should thrill anyone with a heart for wholistic mission and we love it!
Yet, for several reason
s, Mr. Keller is able to articulate the social ramifications of the gospel in ways that will ring true for those perhaps less enamored with Shane or even Sider. That Keller
is a PCA scholar and successful pastor will appeal to some—yes, he cites the powerful and important book by Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits and avoids the lefty lingo of Wallis or Campolo. Yes, he is very clear about holding on to historic and sound views of justification and the role of the Cross. Yes, he roots his social outreach in the “first things” of the gospel as understood by the classic voices of the Protestant Reformation. And yes his Biblical exegesis is respectful and serious, not trendy or speculative. I do not mean to suggest that others writing on social justice (and certainly not the impeccable Ron Sider) are theologically shoddy, but Keller is utterly reliable, clear, and known to be conservative (in the best sense) in his traditional Presbyterian and Reformed theology.
But beside being theologically sound, and basing faithful ministries for justice in the gospel itself, Keller also has a writing style that is not breathy or overstated or provocative. He is passionate, yes, but he writes with some humility and restraint. I know balance isn’t the most zealous or compelling word, and I do not mean he is hum-drum or middle-of-the-road, which he is not. I squirmed in conviction while reading much of this, and it is very compelling. It is compelling, but it is compelling exactly because it is not manipulative, politically correct, guilt-producing, or “prophetic” (as we often say.) The case is made carefully and with great care for nuance and facts, both Biblical facts and the data “on the ground.” He does not have an axe to grind. It is not partisan. This is a great book because it is truthful and fair and modest, calmly following the evidence of the Book itself. Which ends up being nearly revolutionary!
I think Generous Justice is a great book also because it is both thoughtful and brief. It does not skimp on good Biblical study and the footnotes, as I’ve suggested, deserve careful study. Keller has done the mature work of studying what we mean by justice, the different sorts of justice, and the foundations for notions of human rights; he’s looked at the arguments about natural law and the nature of civil society and the task of the state. And he’s related those ideas clearly and helpfully and he’s related all of that to a Biblically-informed worldview.
His academic work is very thoughtful and theologically reliable and thereby should appeal to at least two sorts of readers: young activists and people caught up in the passion of a cause or a ministry or an area of concern who need to know these finer-tuned matters if their good work is going to endure, if their passions are to be sustainable, if their work is not to die out or be co-opted by either the right or the left. This is the exact sort of sure footing they will need. And, conversely, those theologically suspicious ones, those who fear that recent attention to justice, liberation, freedom and such are just trendy distractions to the real gospel, will surely find a very convincing case here that we are, indeed, called to be agents of justice and shalom. Yet, gladly, it isn’t a 500-page tome, and Generous Justice offers this rare treat: a fairly serious study that is succinct and concise and easy to understand.
I also think this is a great book because, as the subtitle puts it, it shows that it is God’s justice which makes us just. Keller actually does not reflect at length on the possible relationship between justification and justice, between the sanctifying power of the Spirit and the renewing Spirit hovering over creation, but he does not fail to link good doctrine and good action. The very title gives away some of his hand: our work for the common good, for “justice for all” is itself a result of grace, common and saving. Justice and grace are not at odds, and our social service emerges from our sense of grace—blessed are the poor in Spirit!— and such spiritual truth will sustain us through thick and thin. A passion for a commitment to true healing justice for the oppressed in this distorted and broken world, is rooted in God’s own just-ness, which creates in us a desire to see justice roll down. These are my words, of course (Keller is so much more clear and profound) but it is true that this book about justice is written by a man whose calling is largely to the work of being a church planter and pastor and theologian. If you don’t like doctrine much, he is not overbearing. But his clear theological tone is a true asset, making this a great book. I hope young turks involved in missional outreach take it to heart and I hope older mainline leaders do too—all of us need to be reminded of the saving mercy of Christ as the foundation for our efforts of being kind and doing justice.
Finally, I think this is a great book because it points us to some practical options, ways to be involved, invitations to “next steps” without ever being simplistic. It is not a how-to tool or a handbook. His reflections about “justice in the public square” are wise and prudent. He’s got some interesting angles, too–for instance, his brief reflections on the way in which beauty can lead us to justice. Here he draws on the thoughtful little book On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton University Press; $14.95) by Harvard professor Elaine Scary which is a book we’ve long promoted. There are other surprising or interesting pointers along the way, making this always an interesting read. The fact that he has stories to tell that are not only from the front-lines of soup kitchens or refugee camps is, frankly, helpful, since most readers are not immersed in those worlds with the truly impoverished or homeless. That is, no matter where you are in region or perspective, there is insight here for you. This is a great book because it is so helpful.
Here are the chapter titles, the flow of which will, hopefully, allow you to see the value of this fine little work.
What Is Doing Justice?
Justice in the Old Testament
What Did Jesus Say About Injustice
Justice and Your Neighbor
Why Should We Do Justice?
How Should We Do Justice?
Doing Justice in the Public Square
Peace, Beauty, and Justice
Here is an brief printed interview with Keller that might explain more of his reason for writing this and his perspective. Here is a video lecture of Dr. Keller, which is a good illustration of his style and teaching (from a Reform and Resurge event a few years ago.) I hope you agree that this will be helpful to many, and that this is a book worth considering. We hope you’ll buy several. And we hope–in the name of justice–that you don’t buy a book on justice at a faceless, under-cutting place like amazon or Wal Mart, who bully publishers and has little respect for the just nature of a fair price, which they regularly can abuse.
Still, we are eager to get this book out there and for a limited ti
me–two weeks from today—we will sell this at the deep discount of 30% off—a savings of six bucks per book! We bought a lot of these and got a good deal so can pass savings on to you, and are willing to forgo much profit. We really, really believe this is a book that we should try to encourage you to buy, to give, to discuss, to use. We hope our bargain price helps. Thanks for caring.