Justification and Justice

At a recent gathering, Tim Keller talked about evangelism and social justice. There seems to be an eruption of debate on this subject lately. Mormon Glen Beck's recent foray into this has created quite a stir, warning people to flee from churches that talk about social justice. Here are highlights of Skye Jethani's summary in the Out of Ur blog. (By the way, The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns is still, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and compelling biblical presentation of this whole subject.)

The Q gathering kicked off in Chicago today. ...Keller used his 18 minutes...to talk about the polarization in the church between the “justification people” and the “justice people.”

As Keller describes them, the justification people are all about justification by faith alone. Only after being justified can a person live as he/she ought to live. While Keller was in full agreement with this doctrine, he said the unfortunate implication for many of the justification people is the belief that “we are mainly here to do evangelism” and they view “justice as a distraction.”

The justice people, on the other hand, tend to downplay or completely ignore the doctrine of justification by faith. Instead they can focus on language about “defeating the powers” or seeking the renewal of communities. Also good ideas, but not if justification is lost in the mix.

Keller believes this rift between justification and justice is completely unbiblical. “Justice and justification,” he said, “are joined at the hip. They are a seamless cloth.” He spent much of his time arguing from scripture that the doctrine of “justification by faith leads inevitably to justice.” Citing passages like Isaiah 58, Mark 12:38-40, Matthew 25, and others, Keller said that if we truly believe that we are saved by grace alone we will care about the poor.

The doctrine of justification by faith emphasizes that “God’s justice matters,” he said. We are perpetrators of wrong. We are sinners. We are poor in spirit. But God has had mercy on us. If we understand our spiritual poverty than we cannot ignore the material poor who are presented to us. If our belief in justification does not manifest itself in care for the poor, then our faith is dead as the Epistle of James says.

This is what Keller calls the “both/and” gospel...it’s about justification and justice, not justification or justice. And when we get this right, not only do we see justification lead to more justice, but doing more justice leads more of the lost toward Christ and justification through faith.