Tag: Timothy Keller

Keller: Peace, beauty, and justice

“God is a craftsman, an artisan,” says Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice (p.172).

Timothy Keller

The story of creation told in the Bible is different from other ancient creation stories, Keller says. The biblical account does not have the world coming into being out of a battle or struggle; the God of the Bible is depicted as an artist or sculptor. Keller focuses on the biblical metaphor of creation as a fabric.

“… [T]he world is not like a lava cone, the product of powerful random eruptions, but rather like a fabric. Woven cloth consists of innumerable threads interlaced with one another. … [T]he fabric metaphor conveys the importance of relationship. … The threads must be rightly and intimately related to one another in literally a million ways. Each thread must go over, under, around, and through the others at thousands of points. Only then do you get a fabric that is beautiful and strong, that covers, fits, holds, shelters, and delights.” (p.173)

But the fabric of this creation has been torn by sin. It has removed shalom. We tend to translate shalom as “peace,” Keller says, but it “means far more” and is better captured by “complete reconciliation” in all relationships

“Because our relationship with God has broken down, shalom is gone–spiritually, psychologically, socially, and physically.” (p.177)

So, how does this relate to justice?

“In general, to ‘do justice’ means to live in a way that generates a strong community where human beings can flourish. Specifically, however, to ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor.

“… The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it.” (p.177)

“The strong must disadvantage themselves for the weak, the majority for the minority, or the community frays and the fabric breaks. (p.180)

Keller then turns to beauty and its relation to justice–a connection I had never seen and I wrote about it recently.

“It takes an experience of beauty to knock us out of our self-centeredness and induce us to become just.” (p.183)

As Keller begins to bring the book to a close, he has a great section titled “God in the Face of the Poor.”

“… [I]n the incarnation and death of Jesus we see God identifying with the poor and marginal liberally. Jesus was born in a feed trough. When his parents had him circumcised the offering they made–two pigeons–was that prescribed for the poorest class of people in the society. He lived among the poor and the marginalized, who were drawn to him even as the respectable were repulsed by him. We see the kind of life he led when he said, ‘Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his lead’ (Luke 9:58). At the end of his life he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, spent his last evening in a borrowed room, and when he died he was laid in a borrowed tomb. They cast lots for his only possession, his robe, for there on the cross he was stripped of everything. He died naked and penniless. he had little the world valued and the little he had was taken. He was discarded–thrown away. But only because of Him do we have any hope.

“In Jesus Christ God identified not only with the poor, but also with those who are denied justice. … Jesus identifies with the millions of nameless people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, robbed of their possessions, tortured, and slaughtered.” (pp.185-186)

“He not only became one of the actually poor and marginalized, he stood in the place of all those of us in spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt.

“Now that is a thing of beauty. To take that into the center of your life and heart will make you one of the just.” (p.188)

Referring to Proverbs 14:31, Keller concludes the book by saying, “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p.189)

Thank you, Timothy Keller, for enriching our lives through this book. May we better know Jesus and do justice.

(This is my ninth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

Keller: Doing justice in the public square

“When Christians do evangelism, they can only count on the support and understanding of other believers. But when believers seek to do justice in the world, they often find it both necessary and desirable to work with others who do not share their faith.” (p.148)

Timothy Keller

Thus Timothy Keller begins an insightful and much-needed chapter on public discourse in his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. He maintains that while most people see themselves as just, there is disagreement on what justice is.

“… [I]n our society naming something a ‘justice issue’ is a kind of trump card. … [T]here is no defense. …

“There’s a big problem with this move, however. …

“The reason it is not convincing to simply cry ‘injustice!’ is that our society is deeply divided over the very definition of justice. Nearly everyone thinks they are on justice’s side. … Democrats think of it more in collective terms. … Republicans think of justice more individualistically. …

“The fact is that the word ‘justice’ does not have a definition in our culture that we can all agree on.  So we just use it as a bludgeon.” (pp.149-150)

The author then talks about competing visions of justice and invokes a number of writers in making various points. Part of this comes from the perspective that in secular academia there is no place for religious discussion and thus basic underlying principles are ignored. Keller, of course, has a different perspective. “… [O]ur ideas of justice are rooted in views of life that are nonprovable faith assumptions.” (p.155)

Keller then quotes Steven D. Smith: “The secular vocabulary within which public discourse is constrained to operate today is insufficient to convey our full set of normative convictions and commitments.” (p.155 in Keller, from Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, p.39)

Keller summarizes thus:

“The rules of secular discourse lead us to smuggle moral value judgments into our reasoning about justice without admitting it to others or even to ourselves. And so the deeper discussions over the true points of difference never happen.” (p.156)

He invokes Michael Sandel’s argument about abortion rights here to illustrate the point then follows with this:

“So if our society gives women the freedom to have abortions, it is because we also have made a moral determination. Sandel concludes: ‘It is not enough to say that the law should be neutral on moral and religious questions. The case for permitting abortion is no more neutral than the case for banning it. Both positions presuppose some answer to the underlying moral and religious controversy.’

“Sandel, who is not a religious believer and who is a supporter of abortion rights, concludes that justice is always ‘judgmental.’ Beneath all accounts of justice are sets of essentially religious assumptions that we are not allowed to admit or discuss, and so our society stays in a deadlock over these issues. We can’t agree on what justice is because we can’t talk about our underlying beliefs.” (pp.157-158)

Keller then begins to pull this chapter together by talking about cooperation and provocation. I love it.

“I propose that Christians’ work for justice should be characterized by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation.

“Christian believers have many temptations to be neither humble nor cooperative with others. Believers have many of the criteria for a righteous and just life laid out in the Bible. How easy it would be to disdain all non-Christian accounts of justice as being useless, just as many secular people dismiss religious belief.” (p.158)

“… [A]ccording to the Bible, virtue, rights, and the common good are all crucial aspects of justice.” (p.159)

“As a result of this general revelation, Christians believe that there is much ‘common grace’ in every culture. The implication of James 1:17 is that God scatters gifts of wisdom, goodness, justice, and beauty across all the human race, regardless of people’s beliefs. … This grace is called common because it is given to all, not just those who have found salvation in Jesus Christ. …” (p.160)

“When we speak publicly, we should do so with thoughtfulness and grace, in recognition that Christians are not the only ones who see what needs to be done in the world.” (p.161)

And he finishes with a point that it so needed. He doesn’t say it, but one of the myths of our contemporary American culture is that “you can’t legislate morality.” That’s ridiculous. All laws are expression of moral judgments.

Keller includes a quote here from President. “Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christi an tradition.” (p.169) Then Keller finishes the chapter.

“The pursuit of justice in society is never morally neutral, but is always based on understandings of reality that are essentially religious in nature. Christians should not be strident and condemning in their language or attitude, but neither should they be silent about the Biblical roots of their passion for justice.” (p.169)

(This is my eighth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

Keller: How should we do justice?

“Doing justice necessitates … striking a series of balances. It means ministering in both word and deed, through the local church and as individual agents dispersed throughout the world. It means engaging in relief, and development, and reform.” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, p.146)

That’s how Keller ends his chapter titled, “How Should we do Justice?” There are many insights in the chapter dealing with the more practical aspects of doing justice. Here’s an excerpt about evangelism that I love:

“Deeds of mercy and justice should be done out of love, not simply as a means to the end of evangelism. And yet there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice.” (p.142)

Abraham Kuyper

One of the most thought-provoking sections is called Spheres of Justice, and Keller leans on the late, great Abraham Kuyper to make the basic point. Keller says Kuyper …

“… concluded that the institutional church’s mission is to evangelize and nurture believers in Christian community. As it does this work, it produces people who engage in art, science, education, journalism, filmmaking, business, in distinctive ways as believers in Christ. The church, in this view, produces individuals who change society, but the local congregation should not itself engage in these enterprises. …

“I believe Kuyper is generally right. … As we have said, churches under their leaders should definitely carry out ministries of relief and some development among their own members and in their neighborhoods and cities, as the natural and crucial way to show the world God’s character, and to love the people that they are evangelizing and discipling. But if we apply Kuyper’s view, then when we get to the more ambitious work of social reform and the addressing of social structure, believers should work through associations and organizations rather than through the local church. While the institutional church should do relief inside and around its community, the ‘organic’ church should be doing development and social reform.” (pp.145-146)

Kuyper’s approach, as you might expect, is not universally accepted within the Christian body. It sounds good and right to me, but I want to think about it some more.

(This is my seventh post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

Keller: Getting past the Tower of Babel

Jacoby Nielsen's depiction of the Tower of Babel at http://jacobyn.blogspot.com/2009/11/tower-of-babel.html

Where does racism come from? Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, says the beginning is chronicled in Genesis 11.

The story of the Tower of Babel “tells us that the people of earth were marked with pride and a lust for power,” so God “confused their speech.” They then could no longer “understand each other or work together and as a result they scattered into different nations.”

This perspective bothered me a bit when I first read it. It seemed to imply that God is to blame for racism, though that obviously was not Keller’s intent. The author, in fact, points back before God’s action.

Here would be the simplified flow of the logic: Pride and lust for power, then God’s response, then lack of understanding and ability to work together, then scattering. So, racism is not God’s fault; it’s the fault of pride and lust for power. Keller doesn’t go into that stream of logic, but it’s implied and I needed to follow the path more clearly.

Keller’s summary point is that “human pride and lust for power leads to racial and national division, strife, and hatred.” (p.121)

So what difference does grace make with regard to racism? And I love the following part of Keller’s point:

“According to 1 Peter 2:9, Christians are a ‘new ethnic.’ … In Christ our racial and cultural identities, while not insignificant, are no longer primary to our self-understanding.” (p.122)

It seems to me we have two realities related to race in our churches. There is the old stench of racism that looks down upon those who are different, and then there is the ethno-centric mindset that refuses to embrace a Christ identity that is greater and more important than any ethnic bloodline. It is much more important that I see myself as Christian than as Anglo, though I still know the latter is true. Christ would have me transcend my Anglo heritage and attach to His.

May we all really come together in Christ and not allow what differentiates us to separate us. May we no longer babel, but speak the one cultural language of Christ.

(This is my sixth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

Keller: Why do justice?

Timothy Keller

Motivations are at the core of what we do and don’t do. Some of our motivations are obvious; others are hidden even from ourselves. So what motivates us to pursue justice in our world?

Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, says the Bible gives followers of Christ two basic motivations for doing justice — “joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.” (p.82)

The creation motivation is centered in the Creator and based on honoring the divine image in people. Some excerpts:

“Without a belief in creation, we are forced to face the implication that ultimately there is no good reason to treat human beings as having dignity.” (p.82)

“The image of God carries with it the right to not be mistreated or harmed.” (p.84)

“The image of God … is the first great motivation for living lives of generous justice, serving the needs and guarding the rights of those around us.” (p.87)

Another aspect of the creation motive is that God has given us stewardship over this creation.

“… God gave humanity authority over the world’s resources but not ownership. We have received what we have in the way a fund manager receives other people’s money to invest. …” (p.88)

As part of this section Keller shares a powerful quote from Bruce Waltke’s The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. In the Old Testament, “the righteous [tzaddiq] … are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” (p.90) Then Keller:

“Therefore, just men and women see their money as belonging in some ways to the entire human community around them, while the unjust or unrighteous see their money as strictly theirs and no one else’s.” (p.90)

Keller then goes to the second motivation, which deals with our response to God’s grace. Some excerpts:

“If you look down at the poor and stay aloof from their suffering, you have not really understood or experienced God’s grace.” (p.96)

“Grace makes you just. If you are not just, you’ve not truly been justified by faith.” (p.99)

“My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor.” (p.102)

“… [W]hen Christians who understand the gospel see a poor person, they realize they are looking into a mirror. Their hearts must go out to him or her without an ounce of superiority or indifference.” (p.103)

The reality, however, is that many Christians do not demonstrate much concern for the poor, Keller says. So what can awaken believers from their apathy?

“I would like to believe that a heart for the poor ‘sleeps’ down in a Christian’s soul until it is awakened.” (p.107)

“… [W]hen justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up.” (p.107)

May all of us have our buttons pushed.

(This is my fifth post on Keller’s book.  I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage others to read the entire book.)

Keller: Jesus and justice

Timothy Keller

Grace is so wonderful, but what do we do with it? Timothy Keller says, “… [I]n the mind of the Old Testament prophets as well as the teaching of Jesus, an encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice.” (p.49)

Keller, in his book Generous Justice, connects grace and justice because the Bible does. Chapter Three is titled, “What Did Jesus Say About Justice?” Here’s a sampling of the author’s conclusions:

“Like Isaiah, Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.” (p.51, referencing Luke 11:38-42)

“What is not noticed very often is how Jesus weaves into a whole cloth what we would today call private morality and social justice.” (p.54, referencing the Sermon on the Mount)

Note the connection between justice and how we deal with poverty. So much to think about. So much change to be made in me and my world. So much, but not too much.

(This is my fourth post on Keller’s book. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage others to read the entire book.)

Beauty in the bedroom

An orchestra played in my bedroom this morning, and the music was beautiful. Amazing! And even more amazing is the fact that presumably all of the musicians are dead.

Technology has indeed given us something special in recorded music, and the little iPod that laid on the bed beside me has moved that “miracle” to an extraordinarily portable container.

I was listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the late Charles Munch. The compilation, titled “The French Touch,” was part of RCA Victor’s Living Stereo series and was recorded in 1957, 1958, and 1962. I remember first encountering the Living Stereo series when an uncle had a recording on reel-to-reel tape. I suspect this series was also on regular 33 rpm record albums. I eventually came to own this recording on CD, but it’s now also available in Super Audio CD. Yet, for ease of listening, I most often hear it through my iPod.

So I can now carry a full orchestra and dead musicians with me wherever I want to go. It’s so easy to take this for granted, but this morning I was not. I found myself being appreciative of the composers, musicians, conductor, recording technicians, electronic inventors, and recording company who made my pleasure possible while I sat in a house in the middle of an East Texas hay meadow.

My great-grandfather, who bought the land I now live on, may never have heard an orchestra in his life. And he would not have heard much simpler music, except at church. The world has changed. Music has become a part of our everyday life. Some of it is degrading, demeaning, and downright evil, but much of it is beautiful and helps the spirit to soar.

I thought of these things this morning because of something I read last night. Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, was talking about beauty and justice. It seemed an odd combination to me, but the point was interesting.

“It takes an experience of beauty to knock us out of our self-centeredness and induce us to become just,” Keller writes.

Surely, this morning, the beauty of the music knocked me out of my own self-centeredness and made me appreciate people who never knew me and things I had no part in creating. And getting outside oneself is a key to living a good life, not to mention a just one.

Keller’s basic point, however, goes far beyond the beauty of music; it goes to the beauty of God, who loves us enough to send His only son to live and to die and to live again for us. That, indeed, is a divine beauty. It brings us to worship, and that makes us see that justice is good and right and must be pursued.

Jesus “stood in the place of all those of us in spiritual poverty and bankruptcy (Matthew 5:3) and paid our debt,” Keller says. “Now that is a thing of beauty. To take that into the center of your life and heart will make you one of the just.” (p.188)

Keller: The Bible and poverty

Poverty “is seen in the Bible as a very complex phenomenon. Several factors are usually intertwined. Poverty cannot be eliminated simply by personal initiative or by merely changing the tax structure.” (p.34)

Timothy Keller, in his book Generous Justice, stakes out a biblical position on poverty and wealth that transcends polarizing views of the issues. In short, it takes no one off the hook, either the rich or the poor.

The second chapter of his book is titled “Justice and the Old Testament,” but it doesn’t just stay in the older portion of Scripture. It simply starts there. Here are some excerpts:

“The Bible is not a classist tract that sees the rich as always the villains and the poor as always virtuous.” (p.27)

“The gleaning laws enabled the poor to be self-sufficient, not through getting a handout, but through their own work in the field.

“How can business owners follow the same principle? … [T]hey should be willing to pay higher wages and charge lower prices that in effect share the corporate profits with employees and customers, with the community around them. … How could a government follow the gleaning principle? It would do so by always favoring programs that encourage work and self-sufficiency rather than dependency.” (p.30)

Regarding the story of manna during the exodus (Exodus 16:16-18):

“Any manna that was hoarded simply spoiled. … In 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 Paul interprets this as an abiding principle for how we are to deal with God’s material provision for us. He likens our money to manna. … [T]he money you earn is a gift of God. Therefore, the money you make must be shared to build up community. … To extend the metaphor — money that is hoarded for oneself rots the soul.” (pp.30-31)

“… [W]hen we come to the Old Testament social legislation, the application must be done with care and it will always be subject to debate. … Thoughtful people have and will argue about which is the most effective way to help the poor. Both sides looking for support in the Bible can find some, and yet in the end what the Bible says about social justice cannot be tied to any one political system or economic policy.” (pp.31-32)

“The three causes of poverty, according to the Bible, are oppression, calamity, and personal moral failure. … I have concluded that the emphasis is usually on the larger structural factors.” (p.38)

“It is not our lavish good deeds that procure salvation, but God’s lavish love and mercy. That is why the poor are as acceptable before God as the rich. It is the generosity of God, the freeness of his salvation, that lays the foundation for the society of justice for all.” (p.40)

(This is my third post on Keller’s book.  The first is here and the second here. I offer these posts in hopes to whet your appetite and to encourage you to read the entire book.)

Keller: Church and state in the Bible

Timothy Keller offers one the quickest and best understandings of church and state from a biblical perspective that you will find. It comes in chapter two of his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just.

“In the Old Testament believers comprised a single nation-state, with divinely appointed land apportionments and with a religious law code backed up by civil sanctions. … but in the New Testament this changed. Christians now do not constitute a theocratic kingdom-state, but exist as an international communion of local assemblies living in every nation and culture. … Jesus’s famous teaching to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21) signaled this change in the relationship between church and state to one of ‘non-establishment.’

“Though believers are still a ‘covenant community,’ a people who are bound together to obey God’s will, the church is not a state. So the apostle Paul, for example, calls for the rebuke of an adulterer in the Corinthian church. And if he does not repent, says Paul, expel him from membership in the community (1 Corinthians 5). Nevertheless, Paul does not demand his execution, as would have been the case in Israel.” (pp.21-22)

This is so helpful. It’s interesting that American Christians on both sides of the church-state separation debate tend to focus on the founders of our nation and not the Founder of our faith.

The two sides, in case you missed it, are basically identified this way: In one corner of the “boxing” ring we have the defender’s of Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation of church and state. And in other corner we have those who believe the United States was essentially a Christian nation that granted freedom of religion. You might have guessed, I go with the former group.

No need to argue all of that now. Keller simply gives a good perspective.

(This is my second post on Keller’s book.  The first is here.)