Generous Justice (5) How should we do justice?

How should we do Justice?

Here Keller turns his attention to the difficult and messy question of how to ‘do justice’ in practice.

This is the longest chapter in the book and I’ll have to highlight only some sections.

Big theme:helping those in need is a complex, time-consuming and multi-layered activity. Keller talks of three levels of help:

i. Relief – direct help to alleviate physical, ecomomic and material need [Good Samaritan type aid]

ii. Development – helping individuals or families or even communities move beyond dependency to greater levels of self-sufficiency. This will involve education, training, job-finding skills, personal development,

And here Keller tells in detail the remarkable story of John M Perkins. Born in 1930, he helped rural and urban communities in Missipippi and Los Angeles to develop out of dependency into self-sufficiency, combining social reform, economic development and vigorous evangelism – because he believed in a deep spiritual dimension of personal and community transformation. Worth reading.

iii. Social Reform

The third level is addressing the systemic causes of poverty and injustice. This is tough, the causes are usually embedded and deep and longstanding. Stuff like the state or local government giving resources to wealthy neighbourhoods, corrupt planning legislation, neglect of law enforcement in deprived areas and so on.

Evangelicals who think they can turn around a society one soul at a time are naive, says Keller (i think he’s been reading James Davison Hunter). You can’t do justice and seek to love and help people if you ignore injustice, oppression, violence, exploitation and so on.

To earth all this Keller tells some stories of churches which have made a transformative impact in their communities on all three levels. He also sets out some practical questions any church needs to ask as it sets out to ‘do justice’:

How much should we help? The needs will always be endless – what % of the church’s energy and time and money can be devoted to doing justice?

Whom should we help? Some guidelines will be needed – people with whom the church has relationships; those who come asking for help; a particular neighbourhood?

Under what conditions does our help proceed or end? – is help given primarily to those within your local church community or beyond it (Gal 6:10)?

In what way do we help? What level of help is possible – relief; development; reform? With whom – families / individuals or particular classes of people such as the elderly or youth, or within a local neighbourhood?

From where do we help? Should people from the church move into a local area and engage with local organisations and networks?

And Keller closes with a final appeal to integrate evangelism and doing justice. They should exist in a ‘asymmetrical, inseparable relationship’. Asymmetrical in that evangelism is crucial. Inseparable in that the gospel cannot be detached from love and grace, it leads to it.

So much of real practical value for churches to think about as they seek to do justice – a call to be good news as well as preach it; and a call to be realistic and strategic rather than paternalistic and sentimental.

3 thoughts on “Generous Justice (5) How should we do justice?

  1. I’m finally catching up on your latest posts. I’ve been particularly drawn to reading these posts on justice. If i’m honest i’ve become scared of discussions about justice because sometimes I think Christians play God and tackle issues of injustice and poverty in ways that are actually detached from people. What i like about what you’ve written from keller so far is that he roots the call for us to care about justice etc in our care of people not some kind of call to somehow ‘fix’ everything. This latest post however feels a bit different because it seems again to be tackling the ‘issues’ and the questions you’ve raised are the ones that i always wonder about – (i’m hoping you’ll answer them!) But my question is this – how am I to think about things like social reform etc without loosing sight of actual people and without thinking that its my job to fix stuff? Im not even sure this makes sense.

  2. If I’m hearing you right, your concern is switching things around so it becomes all about ‘our’ strategy and ‘success’ at making a difference – and maybe making ‘us’ feel better about ourselves if we have done our bit. And those who ‘we help’ are more targets than real people.? Definite possibility. Anything authentic comes out of loving relationship, and compassion can’t be premeditated. I don’t think there is a necessary incompatibility with a church Keller’s questions if they are going to try to act as a community. I think a key is listening and asking and maybe partnering with what others are doing rather than assuming ‘we have the answers’.

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