Sunday, March 20, 2011
Tim Keller does it again!
Keller attempts to bring balance to all the extreme opinions floating around about this issue, and he succeeds in my opinion. I would consider this the best and most balanced book about social justice I have ever read. I would recommend that people read this before and while reading Radical and the other bestselling Christian books on this topic.
This is not normally the topic on the top of my list to read about, but I have found myself forced to do so due to the need to present a balanced and Biblical opinion. Honestly, I wish I could buy a copy of this book for every Berea College student majoring in Peace and Social Justice. It's not that I personally don't like the idea of social justice. It's just that I have spent a lot of time working with people who are on both sides of the fence. I have difficulty expressing my middle-of the road opinion because it seems like I don't agree with anybody. Then, Tim Keller pulls through in his amazing way of validating my opinion and making me believe I'm not so far off track.
I have friends who believe that as Christians we should not be responsible to change social issues due to the fact that we are only here to save souls since the Earth is headed for destruction and we're all going to burn. They believe we should not be involved in politics, or legislature, or community re-building. Prophetically, it's all going down the toilet, so why should we work to fight a losing battle? They believe that anything other than salvation and personal ministry would be just fighting against God's plan to burn up this world and start another. It's okay to feed hungry people, but it's worthless to try to change the system that keeps them in poverty. I tend to disagree with them. Keller writes about why extensively, most of which I don't have time to explain. Here's a quote he used from D.A. Carson. Although theologians still debate about how much of culture can be changed, Carson believes at least some things can be changed:
"Sometimes a disease can be knocked out; sometimes sex traffic can be considerably reduced; sometimes slavery can be abolished in a region; sometimes more equitable laws can foster justice and reduce corruption... In these and countless other ways cultural change is possible. More importantly, doing good to the city, doing good to all people (even if we have special responsibility for the household of faith), is part of our responsibility as God's redeemed people."
I also work with many young people who have jumped on the bandwagon with many others in their generation and place social work, compassion ministries, volunteering and humanitarian issues above sound Biblical doctrine. They know they want to help people, but they don't really know why. We need to learn from their youthful enthusiasm, but they also need to learn that the Biblical doctrines of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, the substitutionary atonement, justification, redemption, etc. are not old-fashioned concepts that don't matter, they are the foundation of social justice. A generation that brings water to the thirsty and food to the hungry but doesn't preach the gospel in word as well as deed, has left the world devoid of true hope. In the end, man's greatest need is salvation, and how can they hear unless the gospel is preached?
I also find myself in the middle ground of those who believe we should sell all and give to the poor, and those who believe that it's okay to make money and lots of it. I'm in between Democrats and Republicans, Capitalists and Socialists, liberals and conservatives. Believe it or not, I'm also right in the middle of unbelievers and atheists who believe that religion is evil and has caused all the troubles of the world, vs. people who believe that Christians are too good to work with and alongside people of other beliefs who are actually doing good in the world. And right in the middle is where Keller lands, too. For every Scripture that backs up one concept, there is another to back up the opposing opinion. The truth is that each side has it's good points, and each side also has bad points. The only thing in the middle, the only thing that really affects change, is the gospel. And it seems to me that God designed the gospel so that it could not have any labels placed on it, and so that it cannot be mixed with anyone's agenda.
One example of this is the contrast between the rich young ruler and Zaccheus. So much has been made of the story of the rich young ruler lately. He was told by Jesus to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. Some say, "Well, that's just for him, that was his problem because he was attached to his money." People said that to justify their stockpiling of riches as along as "they weren't making it an idol." Lately many have revisited this story to ask, "Was this really just for that man, or is God trying to address a bigger issue in the American church?" And while that may be true, and I think it is, Keller made me think (as he usually does) by bringing up another example in the story of Zaccheus. The wee little man that climbed a tree, saw Jesus, brought Him home, got saved, and immediately said he would give some of his money (not all) back, since he had been a tax collector and ripped people off. Notice Jesus doesn't say, "It's not good enough if you don't sell ALL your possessions and give to the poor." For Zaccheus it was a different story than the rich young ruler. It's entirely possible that Zaccheus, even though he gave back what he had taken greedily, still had quite a bit of money left afterwards that he didn't feel guilty about having. Could it be that Jesus saw that Zaccheus' heart was changed, and that's all that mattered?
So, I encourage all of you who are wrestling with these issues to read Generous Justice. And just so you know, there's a copy at the Madison County Public Library in Berea. Shameless library advertising!