Two books, seemingly very different, come together at a deeper level with a consistent message important to us all. One author is older but fresh and vibrant; the other is young (32) but mature for his age. One sets forth a spirit of generosity in our giving to social justice. The other sets forth a radical spirit of sacrifice in our spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. But each book preaches against a common enemy: selfish comfort. Generous Justice shows how we prioritize personal comforts and turn numb hearts away from the poor in our society. Radical shows how our devotion to the “American Dream” buffers us from the urgency of obediently carrying the Gospel message to people globally.
Each book anchors its arguments deeply in a clear reading of the Bible. It’s our cultural pursuit of comfort that has blurred our vision of what is ultimately important in life. The books seem to come together from opposite directions. Generous Justice argues that we have drifted into a numb apathy toward the disadvantaged of our society, namely the widow, the orphan, the immigrants, the and the poor. Liberal theorists, he says,believe that the “root causes” of poverty are . . . racial prejudice, economic deprivation, joblessness, and other inequities.” Conservative theorists put the blame on the breakdown of the family, the loss of character qualities such as self-control and discipline, and other habits and practices of the poor themselves. But the Bible provides a balanced matrix of causes as well as solutions.
On the other hand, according to Radical, evangelical Christians think they are living biblically based lives when in fact they’re simply pursuing the American Dream. His complaint is that Christianity in America has been synchretized into the American Dream. The gospel of Jesus Christ requires a mindset that is totally antithetical to that which seems to have made America great. Throughout the book, he makes “bold claims about our purpose in life that are contained in the Gospel yet contradicted by the American Dream:”
- Real success is found in radical sacrifice.
- Ultimate satisfaction is found not in making much of ourselves but in making much of God.
- The purpose of our lives transcends the country and culture in which we live.
- Meaning is found in community not individualism.
- Joy is found in generosity not in materialism.
- Truth is found in Christ not universalism.
- Jesus is a reward worth risking everything to know, experience, and enjoy.
When Tim Keller came to Dallas last month, I asked him what he wanted people to get from his book, Generous Justice. The simplicity of his answer was as profound as his book. He wanted people to see that social justice is a biblical mandate. Neither the political right nor the left have it. It’s not a Democratic or Republican concept. You simply can’t have authentic Christianity without it! It emanates from the core of God’s character who provides our ultimate example of contributing to the advantage of the poor while disadvantaging the self. It connects the character of God to the Image of God in his creation . . . through us. Many philosophers and sociologists wrestle with getting a grip on what social justice is, and indeed it touches many issues of the human condition, but the ultimate reference point that should motivate us to do justice is the Bible.
I think it’s appropriate that an older man would call something so radical (doing justice) as “generous.” It was the younger man who wrote how something so generous (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) as “radical.” The Mission Frontiers publications that usually features thatched-roof dwellings in unreached areas of the world devoted a recent issue to this megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama.
So what? There’s a danger in assuming that the way we’ve always thought about things is the right way, or even the best way. These two books will challenge your assumptions and your thinking about how to live your life . . . if you let them. They have influenced my thinking. Disadvantaging ourselves for the advantage of the poor in our society must take precedence over the accumulation of stuff. Sacrificing luxuries so we can promote the spread of the Gospel must take precedence over comfortable Christianity.