Sunday, December 12, 2010

A short analysis of CT's article on Keller's new book

Christianity Astray Today (CT) has posted an interview by Kirsten Sharold with Tim Keller over his new book Generous Justice. Tim Keller being part of New Evangelicalism version 2.0 is immensely popular, and this CT article seems to confirm one of my fears regarding the New Evangelical Calvinist movement.

Having not read the book, I will stick with the interview itself. Now, it may be the case that the interview does not do justice to the book, and that CT has distorted Keller's message. If so, then the fault lies with CT and Keller should come out and repudiate the report of the interview as he did not actually say what they reported him to say. This is always a possibility, but barring that, we must take the interview to be accurately reporting Keller's words and position.

In this interview, Keller specified what he means by justice and equates that with helping the poor. In Keller's words: "All I know is, if I don't care about the poor, if my church doesn't care about the poor, that's evil." Strong words indeed. However, is Keller right? We will analyze the interview to see if that is so.

Helping the poor

When we look at Scripture, we do indeed see that God is concerned for the poor, and he expects us to be too. This theme is found throughout Scripture,for example in Lev. 25:35, Deut. 15:7-10; 24:14-15, Jas. 2:1-6 and others like them. The issue with Keller is not that we are to be compassionate to the poor, but how.

Ever since the advent of the "social gospel," Liberalism has always trumpeted the cause of helping the poor and downtrodden in society. The so-called benevolent empire in the 19th century, as is the modern so-called ONE campaign, desired to solve society's problems. With the fusion of liberalism and socialism, modern-day liberalism has been about solving poverty by redistributing the wealth through taxing the rich to give to the poor. Even in its "softer" form, the idea of helping the poor is linked to the idea of giving handouts and feeding the poor through soup kitchens and other similar measures.

However, is that what God means by helping the poor? Is helping the poor done only through such measures? Keller speaks of the great stuff Tony Campolo and Ron Sider have written, which shows what he thinks helping the poor is — social works. This betrays his capitulation to the liberal zeitgeist. Of course, there is nothing wrong with social works per se, but if helping the poor is conceived to be done only through social works, then we are not really helping the poor. How much does Keller really understand about economics? For example, if we remove all the entrepreneurs in society, the economy would stagnate, more people would be without jobs, and the number of poor would increase. Under communism (and socialism to some extent), there is little incentive to work since everyone receives the same pay anyway so likewise poverty increases.

The fact of the matter is that the call for social works is totally naive and shows Keller's ignorance of the causes of poverty, which is complex (it is not always the case that the poor are always victims for example). Pastors should be doing their job instead of commenting on fields such as economics which they know little of, which brings me to my next point.

Confusion of 2 Kingdoms - The Church is NOT a social club!

Liberalism at its inception was never about denying the Gospel message. It was about "contextualizing" the Gospel message to modern times. For example, since people are now enlightened and do not think they are sinful, then we jettison the teaching of sin (this does not necessarily mean that the preacher personally denied the existence of sin). The slogan "Deeds, not creeds" is as old as Liberalism itself. The goal of the Church was to solve the ills of society. In time however, the method becomes the message and the true biblical Gospel was denied.

Evangelicalism reacted against Liberalism's trend of "contextualization" followed by denial of the Gospel message by rightly seeing that the Church is a spiritual institution and organism of which Christ is her head. The Church is called out of the world for Christ. Unfortunately, Dispensationalism with its escapist view of reality sees no need for Christian to be participants in this world. The hyper-spirituality of Dispensationalism make them ever "rapture-ready" and perceive their involvement with the world as exclusively tied to evangelism. The pendulum continues to swing with the younger evangelicals moving towards the other extreme: either by forming the "religious right" or the "religious left".

All of these pendulum swings show a confusion of the two kingdoms which God governs. The Church is the Church, yet her members are in the world. In Liberalism, Christians are stated to be in the world and of the world, whereas Dispensationalism (which dominated Evangelicalism) are neither in the world nor of the world. Yet Jesus said that we are in the world but not of the world (Jn. 17:11, 14).

In being not "of the world," the Church is a spiritual institution and speaks of spiritual things. The Church qua Church is the Church and is not part of the world! The Church has no obligations to the world except evangelism. This is what Liberalism denies and Evagelicalism affirms.

As opposed to Dispensationalism, Christians are in the world and we are to participate in the world. Christians as such are to help the poor and get involved with bringing God's light and truth to a fallen world.

The Church and Society (the World) are two different institutions, although both of them are ruled by God. This means that the Church qua Church must and only should be focused on the things of God. That means that the Church is NOT a social club! As stated, the Church has no obligations to feed the poor; that is the obligations of individual Christians not of the Church.

Keller in this interview confuses the two kingdoms. As a minister of the Gospel, his job and the Church's job is not to "care for the poor". It is not "evil" for the Church to ignore the poor, because that's not her job. Sure, if the diaconate desires to help the poor in the community, that's not wrong, but that should not be their primary focus. The Church's primary job is the proclamation of the Gospel and the truths of Scripture and the tending of her flock, not tending to the world's needs.

It is simply not sufficient to be, like Keller, placing "social justice" as an outworking of the"experience of grace". Of course, good works (not "social justice", which we will discuss below) like helping the poor are always an outworking of grace, but that is still about the individual Christian in the world and not the Church. The Church qua Church has no involvement with "good works", regardless of how they are framed.

This brings us to the last issue: the idea of "justice"

Biblical "Justice" and helping the poor?

Keller in this interview seems to equate the idea of justice with helping the poor. In his own words:

I used the term "generous justice" because many people make a distinction between justice and charity. They say that if we give to the poor voluntarily, it's just compassion and charity. But Job says that if I'm not generous with my money, I'm offending God, which means it's not an option and it is unjust by definition to not share with the poor. It's biblical that we owe the poor as much of our money as we can possibly give away.

It would be good to see what is the verse in Job Keller has in mind, because I truly doubt a proper exegesis of that verse supports his equation of justice to helping the poor. Nevertheless, this is a dangerous view to hold, which we shall see.

The idea of "Justice" has to do with the righting of wrongs. When justice is present, those who are wrong will be punished, and restitution will be made to those who are wronged. When justice is absent, the wicked flourish and the righteous suffer. This has always been the definition of justice.

If justice is equated to helping the poor, as Keller states, then there is a connotation that being poor is wrong. The existence of poverty is unjust. Yet this is most assuredly not the biblical view. Deut. 15:11 states that poverty is a normal scene in our fallen human society. It is God who makes a person rich or a person poor (1 Sam. 2:7). Just as riches come from God, so too does poverty. Yes, poverty is part of the Fall and thus not part of the original creation, but that is different from saying that poverty itself is unjust. Are the consequences of sin unjust? Is God unjust? To say that poverty is unjust is an attack on the justice of God who determines what the consequences of sin should be.

It is most assuredly the case that there is much oppression of the poor, but it is not true that all of the poor are always poor because of oppression. For example, if a person squanders all his money away in gambling and is reduced to poverty as a result, his poverty is the fruit of his wickedness. Some people are just lazy and refuse to work and that is why they become poor. The whole idea that poverty is unjust tends to paint halos on the heads of the poor, as if the poor are sinless victims who are poor merely because they are being oppressed, instead of the biblical teaching that all man both rich and poor are alike sinners before God. There are virtuous poor, and they are wicked poor too, just as there are virtuous and wicked rich people on society as well.


In conclusion, Keller's view on this issue commits the most egregious errors of the Liberal Left in their view of poverty and society. Keller further confuses the two kingdoms and makes those who listen to him susceptible to falling into the Social Gospel. As the maxim states, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." It is not sufficient to have good intentions, but the truth. May we reject Keller's views on this matter and obey what Scripture teaches on this matter. Amen.


Bill said...

I don't agree completely with what you say. You can not equate the rich with the poor like you do:
"There are virtuous poor, and they are wicked poor too, just as there are virtuous and wicked rich people on society as well."

Jesus said that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter heaven than for camel to go through a needle's eye. He did not say this about the poor but about the rich.

Also scripture is full of examples where God favours the poor and the weak over the rich and powerful. and although not all of the wealthy make their wealth by shortchanging wages or oppressing the poor, the biblical theme is that they do.

And even if the poor are poor because they are less smart or less intelligent (and not because of oppression), God still favours them over the wise, intelligent, and wealthy. Christ praised the Father in Matthew 11:25 because "You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants. The apostle Paul reminds of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1:26 "consider your calling breathren that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and God has chose the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong".

Clearly God did not chose the businessmen in Corinth which was an important ommerce center but it was primarily the poor that were saved.

Joel Tay said...

I've not read the book, but if this review is true, then like his other books, this one might prove disappointing.

Should pastors commend on politics? I think they should -- biblical economics; sad to say, very few pastors actually know what the bible has to say about economics; the bible teaches a free market, limited government model and not the socialistic social-gospel model advocated by many Christians today.

Secondly, there is also a very big difference between individual charity and corporate/governmental/church charity. The latter has very strict guidelines. For example, on financial support for widows, the church is only to support widows who:

1. Do not have any relatives, children or grandchildren that are able to support them;

2. Are not be less than sixty years old;

3. If she was the wife of one husband;

4. If she sets her hopes on God (i.e. a faithful believer) who devotes her time and energy in much prayers and supplications day and night;

5. Not be self indulgent;

6. Have a good reputation for good works

7. If she has brought up her children well in the Lord

8. Shown hospitality to strangers

9. Washed the feets of the saints. (i.e. served believers in humility and service)

10. Not be a gossiper and busybody

Only when these criteria are met, is the church allowed to provide financial support for her. 1 Tim 5:16b for example, clearly writes that "Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows."

This is very different from the social gospel or social activism that is advocated in some Christian circles, where the church's money is used to give to any needy in the community without discrimination -- whether they serve the Lord or in some cases, even if they are unbelievers who need financial support. Can individual believers support those in need? Yes. Should the church and the government use its money to support these? No; unless these biblical criteria are met.

This distinction is very important if we want our giving to be pleasing to God.

Anonymous said...

Before I got to end I thought, "it sounds like Keller is confusing the two kingdoms" but you got to mentioning that. It is certainly an error that needs to be addressed and hopefully there would be some Christians in leadership in his denomination to do so.

Daniel C said...


the reason why the Bible mentions a lot about helping the poor is because the poor are generally oppressed by the rich. However, that does not mean we can therefore turn the Bible around and say that the poor are privileged above the rich. Does anyone thinks that James when writing against showing partiality to the rich in Jas. 2:1-6 intends us to show partiality to the poor?

The Communist revolutions are instigated by the poor (though educated). Yet after the revolution is over, the wealth of the rich are distributed to the formerly poor communists and they become the new rich, just as tyranically and in fact even worse than the formerly rich. Does anyone really wants to defend the fact that we must show partiality to the poor in light of history? Who instigated the Peasant rebellion but poor but educated Anabaptists?

If anyone thinks that the Bible privilege the poor above the rich, they should just be communists and approve of Liberation theology and all communist revolutions.

God favors the "foolish things of the world" to the wise not because they are inherently better but precisely because they are not, so that his power and wisdom will be showed forth in the foolish things of the word so that no one can boast. To glorify the poor, the foolish, and the oppressed is to turn the analogy on its own head. It is to give grounds to boasting in the fact that God prvileged the poor, the foolish and the oppressed, which is far from the intent of God.

Daniel C said...


there is nothing wrong with pastors proclaiming the whole counsel of God which certainly deals with politics and economics etc, but the fact of the matter is that the Bible only gives general principles not specific policies. It nay be the case that Scripture favors one policy over another, which I am also personally convinced of, but that has to be proven. Such proof require knowledge of political and ecoomic models of which pastors generally are ignorant of, which is why they shouldn't comment on the specifics.

As for biblcal charity, most of what is commanded are diaconal in nature to the flock, not outside the flock, which I agree with you is highly spcific in nature. It is part of Christ's command to tend to the needs of the sheep. Should churches help those outside the church? They may help, but that is not part of the Church's official mandate but the duties of individual Christians (cf Jas. 2:15, Gal. 6:10).

As for the rest, I agree.

Daniel C said...

@Committed Christian:

indeed, it is an error that needs to be addressed, but I do not have confidence the PCA will deal with their star pastor.

Anonymous said...

I was afraid of that, the same thing is true in my denomination, the SBC, which would not deal with it's star pastor, Rick Warren.

Annette said...

Hi Daniel,
I was looking for information on Joseph Prince and came across your site. I'm a little disturbed by the adulation I see in some of my friends. They quote him more than the Bible and some are calling God "Daddy" which is a little unsettling to me.

However, my question is in regards to social Christianity. I've always been taught that it was the work of the church to assist the poor using Acts 4 as the basis:

Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

What you said seems to contradict this or am I misunderstanding something?

Thank you for responding. I find your site very informative.


Daniel C said...


the disrespect to God shown by Prince fans are quite apparent yes.

Acts 4 deals with the situation in the early church. It is a sponataneous response in the early church to provide for the poor within their midst.

As opposed to social assisting of the poor, the situation in Acts 4 was:

1) Spontaneous, not prgrammed or called for. The persons who plotted to give a certain percentage in order to appear generous (Annanias and Sapphira) were struck dead. In Peter's own words,

"While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?" (Acts 5:4a)

Peter did not ask anyone to give money to help the poor if they do not want to. The property and money is theirs to use as they see fit, which is what makes the sin of Annanias and Sapphira all the more wicked.

2) The money was used primarily to help the poor within the church, not the world.

While helping the poor should be something individual Christians do, the church is only interested in helping the poor within her midst. This is the job of the diaconate or the council of deacons (Acts 6:1-3, 1 Tim. 5:9-15 esp v. 15).

So no, I am not contradicting Acts 4, but we must understand that Acts 4 was never intended to teach social works and activism.

Michael said...

It's worth noting in that Acts scenario that nothing suggests folks weren't going to pay back anything later on.

I want also to note that in previous comments it was said churches ought not to comment on specific policies.

I don't think this is true. The Bible can comment on almost anything in politics or economics because REAL politics and economics boils down to some very simple morale principles. The alledgedly complex economics that you see discussed in the news is not economics, but a highly complex fabrication designed to justify theft and injustice. Macro economics is a lie.

But rather than trying to fill up pages justifying my statements let me link everyone to far wiser and more studied men who have done the work for our education.

This page is Pure Gold!'

Justice and Wealth, E. Calvin Beisner

This article above is the best lecture on Biblical Justice and Wealth I have ever heard. E Calvin Besiner is the wisest man I have ever heard teach on the topic. John Robbins is a PH.D econmist as well and has numerous lectures on christian economics. If you have any questions or concerns all of them are probably addressed on that page, no lie. I have spent many many hours listening through the lectures on politics and economics.

Daniel C said...


you may very well be right, but I being not trained in economics will refrain from further comment on the issue.

I think my point is that pastors should stick to what they know. If they are of the calibre of John Robbins or E. Calvin Beisner, then sure, they can speak of economics. Otherwise, if they are like Keller, they should go and find a topic they truly understand instead of pratting on things they have little understanding of.

Michael said...

Or, at the very least should certainly think twice before leaping over the precipe of non-systematic thought.

This is the whole point of Gordon Clark, and the error of our irrational bretheren.

One needs to begin with a true axiom, and then proceeed systematically to draw out necessary conclusions.

If Keller began with the axiom of scripture and had the goal of being logically consistent, he would not end up with a conclusion that is not supported by his premises.

Keller's philosophy/goal, seems to be some flavor of "seeker sensetive", with a dash of calvinism on top.

The few books of his I have read are poorly thought out rip offs of better calvinist writers. He offers nothing new, and adds the depth of thought C.S. Lewis contributed to the evangelical cause (for those of you who haven't done the critical reading of Lewis that wasnt a compliment).

Daniel C said...



Beng said...

Thanks for the reply. I will interact here.
Sorry this took so long - I was away.

You've brought up some interesting thoughts, about the difference between the two kingdoms, and the difference between what is expected of individual believers as opposed to the Church qua Church.
I definitely agree that the "relief of the poor" in the New Testament deals almost exclusively with saints rather than those outside the church. My church does a lot of financial "outreach" which I don't agree with, especially when much of it is secular social work ("befriending") without any preaching of the gospel whatsoever.

Based on the CT interview, however, I still don't really think he is preaching the "social gospel" of the Liberals. It seems to me that when he says "my church" he is probably referring to the individuals within his church (small "c") rather than the Church, and the obligations God has placed on them as Christians.
I suppose we can always ask him what he meant when he said that. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt in good faith. I am personally strongly convicted about God's expectations with regard to my giving to the poor.

The verses on Job he is referring to are probably those in Job 31 (specifically v 13-23). If you look at it in the context of the entire chapter, it is indeed speaking of justice (v 14, 15 and 23) and the generosity God expects all of us to extend to the poor.

The Old Testament has large portions dealing with ensuring justice to the oppressed poor, and condemning such oppression. God has always looked out for the poor, and has always expected His people to do so. Jesus was no different.

If you ask me, the whole idea of this concern of displaying mercy to the poor is really simply to illustrate and typify to us Christ's mercy to poor sinners like ourselves.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? (Jas 2:5)

Daniel C said...


I guess yours may be a valid interpretaton if not for his commendation of Ron Sider and Tony Campolo. Just checked them out on Wikipedia for starters to see what they are advocating.

Actually, the verses in Job 31 are not about "justice", but about obligations Christian have in helping the poor. Not helping the poor is sin, but it is not injustice against the poor.

Beng said...

"Not helping the poor is sin, but it is not injustice against the poor."

OK I get the distinction.

Jonathan said...

Very good review! You might also enjoy my review of the political aspects of Keller's book, Generous Justice.

Daniel C said...


Interesting review. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Reblogged at EZC. Good points.

Daniel C said...