SUMMARY: What does it mean to do justice? Is justice a primary concern in the Bible? Can we separate justice and evangelism? What characteristics should make Christians unique and distinct in the world? Pastor Tim Keller answers those questions and more in a thorough explanation of Biblical justice while making the case that justice and the pursuit of justice is a primary concern of the Bible and Jesus’ ministry on earth.
“The Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy, and power — to live a just life,” Keller says.
From the Old Testament to the New Testament there is a persistent call to care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. Therefore, our individual and corporate (the church) posture should be one that advocates for justice physically, mentally, spiritually and socially for those that live on the margins of society.
Keller explains that Biblical justice consists of two terms misthpat and tzadeqah. Misthpat means to treat people equitably while tzadeqah refers to a life of right relationships. When those terms are used in conjunction it translates to what we would call social justice.
“Biblical righteousness is inevitably “social,” because it is about relationships; the day to day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity, and equity,” Keller writes.
One of the strengths of the book is Keller quoting scripture while inserting misthpat and tzadeqah next to the words righteousness and justice so the reader can understand the two terms in the context of the verses. For instance, “Suppose there is a righteous man [tzadeqah] who does what is just [misthpat] and right [tzadeqah].” Ezekiel 18:5.
Keller also has a gift for taking traditional verses and making them easy to understand using today’s lexicon. For example, after explaining tzadeqah and mishpat he translates Psalm 33:5 to, “The Lord loves social justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” The NIV version reads, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”
Generous Justice is a fantastic place to start your education on Biblical justice. For a shorter read, but similar theme we highly recommend The Little Book of Biblical Justice by Chris Marshall as well.
KEY QUOTE: “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 places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it.”
BONUS: If you are visual learner watch Keller’s superb sermon on justice that goes over some of the points in his book.
DID YOU KNOW?: Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
More curated books on justice:
Over hundreds of years and the entanglement of church and state American Christians have lost their prophetic and Biblical voice when it comes to justice and punishment. Pastor Dominque DuBoise Gilliard tells the history of incarceration and the churches role and theological posture – both good and bad – with incarceration in the United States before tracing the history of Christian’s views on criminals and crime to retributive justice that is at odds with the Bible.Read more
Humans are created in the image of God. That sentence is what Christians should build their framework around for political engagement. Not a political party, not a tribe, and not an ideology. Human dignity is one the major themes that flows throughout Compassion (&) Conviction.Read more