'Generous Justice' is Tim Keller's take on Christians and Social Justice, and is a great little book. It may be an increasingly out of date cliche to describe Christians on the 'left' as seeking only to present a Jesus who motivates them to pursue a more just socio-political order; while Christians on the 'right' present him as only interested in saving context-less souls: nevertheless many Christian people have never really thought out the links between the core Christian belief of 'salvation by faith' and the core Christian activity of serving the poor and pursuing justice. In short - they live as though Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis were at best separate compartments of life, or at worst actually in tension with each other.
With an array of fascinating examples, case studies, and the use of thinkers and practitioners as profound as Jonathan Edwards and John Perkins, Keller maps out a compelling vision of the Christian life in which the outworking of salvation by faith is a life committed to pursuing justice for the poor. In fact, Keller argues, an absence of social concern casts significant doubt on the veracity of any claim to conversion to Christ. As he does so, Keller roots the contemporary concern with human-rights as a development from the fully Judeo-Christian concept of the imago-dei, ie. humanity created in the image of God. As such, conversion to Christ, means not simply the remaking of the individual into Christ-likeness; but also the believer's increasing compulsion to treat every other human being in-line with the inherent dignity with which their creator endued them - when he bestowed his divine image upon them.
The book is a very stimulating and encouraging provocation to make compassion and the pursuit of justice central to our response to the gospel of Christ. It doesn't undermine or replace the gospel - but flows from it. The critical link (from Edwards) is that as the recipients of unmerited grace, we must be the vessels of unmerited grace to others. On a personal level the books contains a wealth of stories of individuals who have been moved by their sense of having been loved by God, to care and serve others. On a structural level, key to this is the re-activation of the dormant idea of the deaconate as found in the New Testament (the subject of Keller's doctorate - and the practice in the church where he pastors). In his view (which he describes briefly) the deacons were separated from the elders who led New Testament churches, specifically to enable them to focus on the church's social ministry. The book contains many practical pointers as to how this can be done, as well as a useful discussion on the proper extent of the church's involvement in social and political action.
I was given two copies of this great little book for Christmas, so I have one to give-away! The first person who e-mails me can have it, completely free. My e-mail address is on my blog-profile for anyone who doesn't know it.