Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, by Timothy Keller
In general, there is a lot to like about this book. The author has set himself an ambitious goal and manages to achieve it. In doing so, he manages to discuss many of the false dilemmas that haunt contemporary Christianity when it comes to issues of justice. In general, conservatives oppose personal sins and liberals oppose social sins, and few people focus on the entire package. That the author manages to do so without coming off as a community organizer for the Democratic party is worthwhile and suggests at least some of the savvy that allows him to be a fairly traditional Protestant evangelical in New York City, by showing a bit more diversity than most in terms of his approach. There is, as one might expect, at least a little bit of self-hatred here as the author reflects on his own past and on the way that he was thought to be a racist in the past, but by and large the author manages to do a good job at avoiding too much self-flagellation. If this is not a perfect book, it at least a very good book, one that gives the reader no excuse not to consider the importance of justice as generosity and not merely as just desserts.
As far as volumes go, this is a short one. I happened to read the large print version for some reason and the book ended up just over 200 pages, which means it will likely be shorter in most other editions. The author begins by answering the question of why he wrote the book, virtue signalling his interest in social causes. After that the author looks at what it means to do justice (1), justice in the Old Testament (2), and what Jesus said about justice (3). After this the author looks at the relationship between justice and one’s neighbor (4), why we should do justice (5) and how we should do it (6). The author then closes with a look at doing justice in the public sphere (7), by no means a straightforward and obvious matter, as well as the relationship between peace, beauty, and justice (8), where the author comments on the understanding that anything which helps take ones focus off of oneself can help one be a more just person. The book closes with some interesting notes that might be worth reading as well.
Again, this is not a perfect book. The author spends a bit too much time trying to justify his own interest in a subject of obvious and widespread importance and in virtue signalling himself to those who care the most about social justice. Likewise, the author is a bit too weak in his defense of the laws of the Hebrew scriptures, which remain valid for Christians today, which is unsurprising given his general antinomian approach as an Evangelical protestant. Nevertheless, despite these flaws, this is a book well worth appreciating not least because the author manages to write a book which such a difficult and worthwhile aim, that of waking up complacent evangelicals about the importance and the biblical position on justice without sounding like a community organizer for the Democratic party. This is by no means an easy task, as one will readily understand if one has read any books on the subject of justice written in the last half-century or so within the Western world. It is hard to be passionate about justice without skewing that passion into improper political channels and rejecting the restraint of the biblical worldview as well as the balance it provides. This book generally manages to achieve that balance and is therefore worthy of praise and consideration.