Tim Keller’s Social Justice

(This article is re-posted with permission from FreedomTorch.com)

by Jonathan Cousar 
I was so surprised to see an article posted here – on my own website about my former pastor, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City!  The author, like many, is praising Keller’s recent book, Generous Justice. I went to Tim Keller’s church for nearly 20 years and in fact I left just last year because of my growing concern that the church and Tim were far more liberal, theologically and ideologically than I had ever imagined.

However, I never intended to write anything about it here because it just didn’t seem like a relevant topic on FreedomTorch.  But since conservative FreedomTorch members are writing about him and doing so in a most positive way, I feel I must warn my ideologically and theologically conservative friends that Tim Keller, despite claims to the contrary, is not a theological or an ideological conservative and he is most definitely not a traditional Evangelical.  He is in fact very liberal on both counts.  And this is something of concern, because as J. Gresham Machen so well put it in “Christianity & Liberalism”, liberal Christianity really isn’t Christianity at all.  And I might add the parallel political statement that liberal Americanism really isn’t Americanism at all either!
The Christian and secular media constantly tell us that Tim Keller is a conservative and an Evangelical Christian… just like us, they seem to imply.  So the thing you should know about Tim’s teachings is that they are anything but what we have come to know as “evangelical” or “conservative” Christianity.

In keeping with FreedomTorch’s emphasis on politics, I will review Keller’s book with an emphasis on his political views with a brief look at his theology.  Politically, Keller presents an image of a pastor who really isn’t involved in politics.  He likes to tell other churches that it’s best for them to stay away from politics.  However, his book, Generous Justice, is deeply political as are many of his teachings and actions.

Traditionally evangelical Christians have put evangelism at the top of their list of priorities (which is, of course, why they’re called evangelicals).  However Keller actually ridicules and mocks the very idea of evangelism.  Albeit, he does so in his characteristic kind and gentle voice so it can be easily missed, but it is ridicule and mocking nonehteless.

From a political perspective, conservative Christians and evangelicals have traditionally understood that America was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles and as such they have supported America when America has followed Biblical principles.  Conservative Christians have never been shy about including moral issues in their politics – largely out of their belief that the closer America follows Biblical principles the more the people will prosper and flourish.  However, Keller rejects the beliefs of conservative Christians when it comes to their emphasis on evangelism, morals and their involvement in politics.

His rejection of their political involvement rings especially hollow, though, when he writes a book on social justice that is deeply political.  And apparently it’s fine for him to get politically involved while at the same moment advising other Christian churches not to!  This year in the same Easter week that Keller was broadcast across the nation on ABC’s This Week advising other churches that it’s probably a good idea to stay away from politics, he was attending the 2011 Easter breakfast with President Obama and others at the White House.  It’s hard to imagine a pastor getting much more political than that.

But back to his theology for a moment.  To sum up Keller’s theology most succinctly, Keller says “the primary purpose of salvation is – cultural renewal – to make this world a better place.”  That statement should alarm any true evagelical or conservative Christian.  And it must be understood that this one statement is central to all of Keller’s teachings.   

As if to prove the point that he is in fact not an evangelical Christian, Keller goes on from that statement to actually attack evangelicals for what he believes is their wrong emphasis on helping people see their need for a way out of their sin by introducing them to Christ as the only way to personal salvation.  He suggests that Christians need to put a lot less emphasis on that – because as he derisively points out, evangelicals with all their emphasis on evangelizing are just interested in “building up their own tribe.”  He says this doesn’t do any good for people who aren’t in the “tribe”, (like secular liberals, Buddhists or atheists).

In 2006 at an “Entrepreneur’s Forum” sponsored by Redeemer, Keller said:

“Conservative churches say ‘this world is not our home — it’s gonna burn up eventually and what really matters is saving souls… so evangelism and discipleship and saving souls are what is important’.  And we try to say that it’s the other way around almost. That the purpose of salvation is to renew creation. That this world is a good in itself…  And if you see it that way, then the old paradigm if you’re going to put your money and your time and your effort as a Christian into doing God’s work in the world, you wanna save souls which means the only purpose of your ministry and your effort is to increase the tribe, increase the number of Christians.  …

(Hear him say this).

In the past Christians have tended to do things that only Christians would be interested in and only Christians would give to. I mean who else besides a Christian would give money to get something started that’s going to win many many people to Christ? Just pretty much only Christians.

BUT, when you have something that’s going to improve the schools in a particular city for everybody; when you have a venture that’s going to reweave creation physically — that’s going to deal with health problems that’s going to deal with poverty. When Christians do that – out of their theology – they do that effectively because they’re dealing with the common good… you’re going to find that all kinds of non-Christians are not only going to invest in that and want to partner with you in that but a lot of them are also going to be attracted to the gospel because of that. …

Most Keller fans will get on me for being too harsh on him here.  But if you didn’t get it, read that quote again and look how harsh Keller is on conservative Christians.  He’s actually mocking them and their traditional idea that saving souls is important, when he says, “the only purpose of [their] ministry is to increase the tribe.”

That expression “increase the tribe” is terribly derisive and insulting.  He’s actually suggesting that conservative Christians have no sincere desire to see people come to Christ so that they may be saved and have eternal life.  Rather he accuses them of having as their primary motivation the building up of their tribe and therefore their own earthly empire.  I cannot think of anything more insulting that a minister of God could say about another group of Christians.  For someone who presents himself as a kinder and gentler kind of Christian pastor, this is a terribly unkind thing to say.  But apparently if you say it in a kind voice, no one seems to notice.

In other teachings, Keller often attacks the kind of “tribalism” that causes people to see the world in terms of “us” and “the other”, as he’s fond of putting it.  For Keller, “tribalism”, or viewing the world as “us” and “the other” is a sin.  So in the fuller context of his teachings, he seems to be suggesting here that conservative Christians are committing a sin of some sort with their insatiable desire to “increase their tribe”, because they are dividing the world into “us” and “the other” (the same kind of thinking that Keller says causes racism).  He implies that they have become nothing more than empire builders, greedily seeking to make theirs as large as possible.

It’s hard to express how radical a departure this is from the teachings of Paul, who constantly encouraged his listeners by his words and deeds to spread the Word, to evangelize – to win souls for Christ.  However, Keller apparently believes that the real desire on the part of those who evangelize, is only to “increase their tribe” – which would in fact be, according to Keller’s own teachings, a sin.

Marxism in Drag

His book, “Generous Justice” is literally dripping in the political language of the Left.  Although Keller apparently perceives himself as one who is neither Left nor Right, his words and ideas reveal something quite different.  The book will leave you with a definite distaste for America – because of all the evil that he continuously suggests has come from America.

The post that I’m responding to here on FreedomTorch heralded Keller as one who has “reclaimed” the term social justice for the Right.  However there is nothing to reclaim.  The term has always originated only from within liberal/socialist/progressive thought.  The term has only been claimed by Leftist religious and secular groups.  It has never been used by a religious or political group on the Right.

The term “social justice” (which is NEVER used in the Bible by the way, so it’s a little odd to find a pastor making it such a large part of his theological views), was first used in 1840 by Jesuit Luiti Taparelli.  In the 20th century it was heavily used by the left-wing and very popular radio preacher of the 1930s, Father Coughlin.  (He eventually came to oppose Roosevelt because he didn’t think Roosevelt was far enough to the Left).  It also forms the basis of the liberal Social Gospel movement and it is upheld by Green Parties worldwide.  Even “Liberation Theology” has its roots in “social justice”.  Yes, that Liberation Theology!  The one taught by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor of 20 years.

As a secular concept, Wikipedia says that it has been “adopted by those on the left of the political spectrum and is commonly associated with the political forms of Marxist/Communism.” 

Socialists and Progressives pushing for Communist societies use this phrase most enthusiastically.  They use it to agitate the people and motivate them to revolution.  And it can’t be overlooked that it is today’s Communists and radical liberals who constantly use this phrase to make us feel that things here in the most just society on earth – are horribly unjust.  (If you doubt this just check out the Communist party website   http://cpusa.org – and search on “social justice”).

In fact, this quote from the CPUSA site would be perfectly consistent with Keller’s take on “social justice”:  “We fight for the daily needs of working people … as a matter of social justice…”  (http://cpusa.org/club-educational-study-guide-reflections-on-socialism/)

I’m not calling Tim Keller a Communist.  I am only pointing out that his use of the term “social justice” has a historical context and that context is decidedly on the far Left of the political spectrum.  His enthusiastic endorsement of the term suggests that he too must be on the far Left of the political spectrum.  It’s hard to imagine a conservative Christian giving such a strong endorsement of the term because the term historically represents teachings that oppose Biblical teachings and teachings that oppose America’s founding principles.

With that history behind the term “social justice”, there really is nothing for conservatives to “reclaim”!  It has never been anything other than a Leftist political view and a liberal theological view .  When Keller says ‘conservatives have suspicions about the term’ – he’s right, we do – and for well-founded historical reasons.

“Just” Confusion

Why does Keller call what have traditionally been ministries or acts of mercy – “justice”?  Throughout his book I was confused by why he was using the term “justice” when it seemed “mercy” or “compassion” would be more appropriate.  Possibly it is because “mercy” and “compassion” are something more along the lines of what individuals can do and apparently Keller wants to look beyond individuals to the entire society.  This would be in keeping with his belief that “the primary purpose of salvation is cultural renewal.”  But when you talk about “justice” you’re talking about societal structures.  A single individual cannot effect society-wide justice.  Justice is a function of public policy and politics.

Rob Haskell who is the Director of Senderis – a teaching mission to Latin American pastors, wrote in a blog post last year the following about social justice:

“Why not look to the Bible, if we really want to find out what “justice” means?  The first operational definition I can find is in Exodus 23: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.”

When people talk about “justice” in context above, they typically mean “good works.” Yet the Bible seems to be completely devoid of any such meaning. Instead, as in the verse above, “justice” refers (unsurprisingly) to a judicial context: giving someone what they are legally entitled to.

Note that where (social) “justice” usually means reflexively siding with whomever seems to be weakest, the Bible’s first word on the matter is to call such a tendency a perversion of justice, based on a tendency to want to fit in with others. (We shouldn’t do the same with the rich either, mind you — see Exodus 23:6 and Lev 19:15).

To use such a term for handing out food, charity, etc. implies that people are legally entitled to such. Yet the bible calls this “mercy”. For example, when hurting Jews approached Jesus asking for healing, they did not ask for “justice”, they asked for “mercy” (see Matthew 9:27, Luke 10:37, the parable of the good Samaritan).

So why do we want to call “justice” what God calls “mercy”?  What is this language doing to our conceptions?

Mercy implies unwarranted favor, justice implies you deserve it. So mercy is eliminated by “justice”, since no one should be grateful to receive what they’re owed.

Further, anyone can show mercy, but only a judge can hand out justice. So this formulation makes us believe we must sit in the seat of the judge (running society, deciding who gets what) before we can begin to deal with the poor and downtrodden as we’ve been commanded.

I don’t see what is Christian at all about this conception. Nearly every aspect of it seems to fly in the face of the Bible’s teachings on the subject.”

Odd Interpretations

One thing I found unsettling about Keller’s book, “Generous Justice” is that in footnote #15 in Chapter 1, he says that while he normally uses the NIV (New International Version) translation of the Bible that, “Sometimes I provide my own translations.”  This was stunning to me when I read it.  I’ve never seen a Christian writer provide “their own” translation of the Bible!  Not that they couldn’t if they’ve studied Hebrew and Greek, but I’ve just never seen anyone else do that.  Normally a writer will use whatever translation he uses and then expound upon it if he has some broader insight that he has gained from reading it in the original language.  But Tim, in the instances where he quotes Scripture, simply provides his own translation at various points without bothering to notify us of when!

This sets a dangerous precedent because one, it insinuates that there’s something fundamentally flawed with all the existing translations.  And it leads people to treat them as less dependable than many of them deserve to be treated.  And two, the major translations have a system of checks and balances in place to insure that they are done as accurately as possible and with as little bias as humanly possible.

When an individual author decides to provide his own translations, what checks and balances keep his biases out of the process?  Who is he accountable to?  And how can we the readers ever challenge the author when his personal translations make it seem as if the Bible is in complete agreement with his views?

Keller provides us a couple examples of his personal translations.  One is taken from Psalms 33:5 which in the NIV says:

“The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

And Keller re-translates it to say this:

“The Lord loves social justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

A Socialist reading this would think the Bible was in perfect alignment with socialist thought.

Keller did two disturbing things here. First he took out the word “righteousness” altogether (which conveniently removes the idea of sin, something Keller tends to avoid) and he replaces the word “justice” with the term “social justice”.  When looked at from its historical usage, “social justice” is most definitely NOT what the Lord loves!

There’s a reason the Bible translators have not used the phrase “social justice” here!  For starters, it’s because it’s not in the original Hebrew!  And the translators are presumably aware of the socialist connotations of the term derived from its historical context and usage.  However, by providing his own personal translation, Keller makes it appear as if the Lord endorses a socialist political view.  This is a very sloppy use of language and can only be explained by Keller’s determination to make it appear as if the Bible supports his leftist political views.

At this point anyone familiar with Keller’s teachings would scold me for saying he has leftist political views because he fastidiously tries to remain above the political fray by never revealing his true political leanings.  And he is fond of saying that the Right gets some things wrong and the Left gets some things wrong, making it appear that he is evenhanded when it comes to politics.

However, a closer look will show that he is indeed quite liberal politically – even though I believe he himself is probably not even aware of how much.  I know from personal experience that it is easy living in New York for a radical liberal to believe he is in the mainstream and for a moderate liberal to believe he’s downright Texas-style conservative!

For the purposes of this article, I really wanted to get to the heart of Keller’s political philosophy which is most outspokenly contained in Chapter 6, “How Should We Do Justice?”

In Chapter 6, Keller gives several examples of individual Christians working for “social justice” in their personal lives, (although “social” justice is more than just a personal matter).  He tells of a business owner who does wonderful things for his employees and community.  These are things that everyone, conservative and liberal alike, would applaud.  But when he gets into public policy – that’s where most people will begin to take issue – if they’re discerning readers.

He tells of how his own church (my former church) works through the Diaconate to provide care for the needy.  And I know from personal experience they do an excellent job.  They don’t just throw money at people, but they help people get back up on their feet materially, mentally and spiritually.  (However, they tend to refer people to government programs first, when they can).

A Matter of “Rights” and Wrongs

In Chapter 6, Keller appeals to Christopher Wright who he says is an Old Testament scholar and he quotes Wright telling us how we should apply Old Testament principles to our own time:

“God’s law asks us… to find means of ensuring that the weakest and poorest in the community are enabled to have access to the opportunities they need in order to provide for themselves.  ‘Opportunities’ may include financial resources, but could also include access to education, legal assistance, investment in job opportunities, etc.”  (Emphases mine)

That’s all well and good as long as it remains a private and voluntary matter.  However Wright adds one last sentence that Keller endorses – and this last sentence changes everything.  In the last sentence, Keller quotes Wright as saying:

“Such things should not be leftovers or handouts, but a matter of rights

The minute you say something is a “matter of RIGHTS” you are making a profound political statement.  Here Keller is no longer talking about individual private behavior but he is advocating for radical political change.  He is asking that the structures of society be profoundly altered.

There is no provision for financial resources, education, legal assistance or opportunity – as God-given rights in our political system.  In fact, if you’ll think about it, you’ll realize that God-given rights – like the rights to speak and worship freely or the right to no search and seizure of your home without a warrant – those rights don’t cost anything.  Government doesn’t have to tax anybody so you can speak your mind.  Government doesn’t have to tax anyone so you can worship as you see fit.  Most of the God-given rights outlined in America’s founding documents are given by God and only have to be exercised.  They don’t come at the financial expense of someone else.

But the kind of rights Keller is advocating (rights to “opportunities”, “financial assistance”, “education”, etc.) are the kind where money has to be taken from someone to be given to someone else.  And that’s political.  If he were only advocating that individuals give this money of their own free will, that would be one thing.  But to say these benefits should be a right to which certain groups are entitled at the expense of other people, is a profound political statement – especially for someone who to my knowledge has never shared what his political leanings are.  If he’s going to write a book that is this profoundly political, doesn’t he owe it to the public to tell us what side of the political aisle he’s on?  At least for those who can’t see the obvious already?  Is it too much to ask for that much transparency?

To those who believe that Keller and other politically liberal pastors stay out of politics, this statement on “rights” is a profound repudiation of that belief.  To conservative pastors who are intimidated by liberals into silence when it comes to politics, this should provide you with all the permission you need to speak out.  If Tim Keller can make calls for such sweeping and radical political change, you should never be intimidated into silence by those on the Left who might typically tell you something like, Jesus didn’t get involved in politics so you shouldn’t either!  Or that, politics has no place in the pulpit.

Keller endorses the idea that “job opportunities” and “financial resources” should be a right to which each and every “disadvantaged” group is entitled.  Yet Keller never addresses how these rights should be paid for.  Whose salaries should be confiscated?  And what principles of justice might possibly be violated by the confiscation of those salaries?  Does confiscating income from the non-poor to give to the poor, unfairly favor the poor?  The Bible says that the rich and the poor should both be treated fairly.

Leviticus 19:15 says, “Always judge your neighbors fairly, neither favoring the poor nor showing deference to the rich.”  

Keller, who publicly at least, pretends to have no affinity for either liberal or conservative ideologies, really opens a can of leftist political worms here.  Because to make such things “rights” means deep political change.  Change that is on the far left of the political spectrum.  It would be a fundamental transformation of everything America has been.  And very much along the lines of the kind of fundamental transformation Barack Obama promised during his campaign.

No one could really fault a good-hearted and well-meaning person – like Tim Keller is, for wishing for such a society where all problems were effectively remedied by Government-issued rights. No one could fault a person for wanting a system like that, had such systems never been tried and failed, or, had they ever succeeded.  However, this system has been tried many times and it has always and without exception, been an abysmal failure.  Societies that have attempted to make such things rights have not ended in social justice – they have ended in extreme poverty, starvation and the deaths of millions upon millions.

Did you know for instance that under Soviet Communism, the following rights were guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution:

Right to protection of the family (family members could be hauled off to the Gulag for having unacceptable ideas)
Right to privacy
(everyone was spied on by their neighbors and nothing was private at all)
Right to work
(forced labor)
Right to rest
(after working 7 days a week)
Right to leisure (in a Siberian death camp)
Right to health care
(using 18th-century medical technology)
Right to care in old age
(for the few who happened to live past 50)
Right to housing
(if you don’t mind 12 people per room)
Right to education
(in government indoctrination centers called schools)
Right to cultural benefits
(if you were lucky enough to be a member of the ruling Politburo)

All these things sound great!  And if we didn’t have history to go by, we might want to give that kind of system a try.  But, it has already been tried and it didn’t end pretty.  There is really no excuse for a man as brilliant and well-educated as Tim Keller not to know the history of these systems that promised the kinds of rights he says society should provide.

It is irresponsible that Tim Keller, writing a book on “social justice” could ignore the history of systems where his ideas have already failedIt is inexcusable that he could ignore the stunning real-world success of the American system in bringing about the most just society in all of human history.  It is inexcusable that he didn’t spend ample time in his book looking at the American system and applying the lessons from its successes.  With imperfections, flaws and all – the American system, based primarily on Judeo-Christian principles, has been the most just society in history.  To suggest that the system that has worked best needs to be radically transformed is an example of poor historical comparative scholarship.  Because no comparative look at the history of the United States and the history of nations that have tried Keller’s suggestions turns up a speck of evidence that they have created more just societies.

There is no scholarly attempt in Keller’s work to show evidence that his solutions have actually ever brought about real justice on a society-wide basis.  And if you’re going to make a case that a society run on certain principles is a better society – you owe it to your readers to take a historical look at societies that have tried what you’re suggesting and showing that it worked.  However, Keller takes no such look.

To ignore the history of human experience and the realities of humanity’s sinful and flawed nature is irresponsible when one purports to give us a better way – a more Biblical way.  To pick ideas that have been tried and proven abysmal failures (resulting in famine, death and murders of more than a hundred million of people) and then to suggest that this is God’s way while ignoring the historical, real-world track record, is not only irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous.  The experience of history should never be ignored when suggesting new societal structures – but Keller effectively ignores it.


Instead of looking at empirical data, Keller relies upon personal experiences and conversations like this one:

“When I went to seminary to prepare for the ministry, I met an African-American student, Elward Ellis, who befriended both my future wife, Kathy Kristy, and me.  He gave us gracious but bare-knuckled mentoring about the realities of injustice in American culture.”  

He continues on to describe how their new African-American friend related to them that ALL white people are racists – whether they mean to be or not.  The Arican-American man tells them “You’re a racist, you know… you can’t really help it.”  

So Keller comes to the same mistaken conclusions that liberals do, and instead of looking to America as a practical example of how to form a just human society, he sees it as just the opposite.  America is certainly far from perfect, but when compared to all other systems, it has done more to redress past racial sins than perhaps any other country.  But the book leaves the reader with the distinct impression that America is so fundamentally flawed that it is one of the most racist nations on earth.

I believe when it comes to racism, at least post-slavery, America has been a light in human history.  Most ethnic minorities are treated far more fairly here today, and far more justly and kindly than they are even in their native lands – which is why people from around the world routinely give their life’s savings and even risk their lives to come here.  Yet Keller sees it as a terribly unjust place – whose example must be avoided at all costs.

Make no mistake, “Generous Justice” is just another in a long line of attempts to promote the idea that God supports politically liberal solutions to humanity’s problems.  You can almost hear the author asking, “What would Jesus do?”  And the answer would no doubt be that, Jesus would use government to take from the non-poor and give to the poor (to pay for all those rights that Keller advocates).  Of course there is no Biblical basis for such a view.


Rewording!  TimKeller is a master at using language to persuade.  He knows how, for instance, to reword the term “social justice” into “Generous Justice”.  He knows that conservatives find the term “social justice” alarming and offensive.  So he brilliantly rewords it as “Generous Justice”!  This appeals to the Christian’s fondness of generosity and justice, without all the historical baggage.

But make no mistake, it’s the same old social justice.  Whatever you want to call it – there is no Biblical mandate that societies make financial resources, access to education and jobs, or legal assistance rights, as Keller’s Old Testament “scholar” suggests!  But if there were, then no country has ever come closer to doing it than America. 

Doesn’t everyone have access to education in America?  Everyone has access to legal assistance if they’re accused of a crime and can’t afford a lawyer – it’s a Constitutional right.  So you would think Keller might spend some time in his book praising all the good that America has done and acknowledging how close America has come to being what he believes a just society should be.  But no, instead, “Generous Justice” does just the opposite.  In it Keller asks us to consider radically overturning the American model because it is so flawed and implementing something that more resembles the disastrous Soviet model.

Keller’s prescription for the “just” society very much mirrors those of admitted Socailist Jim Wallis who says he believes in redistribution of wealth.  Keller is very careful not to actually say that though.  Although, in Chapter 6 there is a section called “Relocation and Redistribution”.  In it he cites John M. Perkins author of “Welcoming Justice”.

Keller says this of Perkins:

“Perkins also spoke of ‘redistribution,’ something others have called ‘reweaving a community.’”

So Keller is “rewording” the word “redistribution” and calling it “reweaving”.  Again, it’s a term that means the same thing as “redistribution”, however, it is a term with no historical baggage.  It doesn’t alarm or offend anyone – because it’s never been used until now.  And who doesn’t think there aren’t a few things that could use a little “reweaving”?  Typical of Keller’s brilliant use of language he’s reworded a word we’ve all come to despise and replaced it with a word that not only sounds like it has deep Christian theological roots, but is so positive and uplifting that it makes even the most cynical among us wish we had a little bit of it!  However, Keller uses “reweaving” where others have used “redistribution.” 

Keller continues with Perkins:

“John Perkins saw that simply putting welfare checks in the hands of the poor in small towns only ended up transferring capital into the accounts of the wealthy bankers and store owners on the other side of town.”

This is a stunning statement!  Just as you may have thought he was going to bring in a Biblical principle or two about the dignity of work or the indignity of taking handouts that aren’t earned, Keller says the real problem with putting a welfare check into the hands of the poor is that it ends up in the hands of “wealthy bankers” and “store owners” on the other side of town!  Not that it keeps the recipient in life-long poverty, or that it takes away the recipient’s dignity, but that it enriches those filthy bankers and store owners.

No, he didn’t use the word “filthy”, but can there be any doubt he’s expressing hostility and disdain towards “wealthy bankers” and “store owners” (i.e. small business people, like many of you)?  I really wonder how all the wealthy Wall Street bankers who fill the membership rolls of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and who are most welcomed by Keller – in part for their ability to provide substantial financial support, feel about their pastor demonizing them with this kind of pejorative language?  Perhaps they are on a liberalism-induced guilt trip and feel the group demonization is deserved.

But how can Keller maintain his pretense of political neutrality when he writes in the same language as Barack Obama, Jim Wallis and the Communist Party?

One paragraph down Keller continues to explain the evils of the free-market system:

“Typically, in blighted neighborhoods there are few jobs, and the businesses that are there (even the banks) are those that take capital from local consumers to spend and invest it in other neighborhoods.”

Note Keller’s use of the phrase “take capital from local consumers”.  Apparently Keller believes along with Karl Marx that when a consumer voluntarily engages in a commercial transaction (i.e. purchasing a product or service) that the business is taking money from them.  “Taking” implies something wrongful such as stealing.  Ironically Keller and Marx share similar views here.  In Marx’s view the little guy is always being exploited by big business.  And that’s exactly what Keller is saying here – although he probably doesn’t realize there is any connection between his thinking and that of Karl Marx.  But whether he knows it or not – he is expressing the same views that Marx promulgated.

Most Americans who are happily engaged in the free-market economy however, understand a voluntary transaction such as this – not as a taking on the part of the business but as an “earning”.  The business did not steal money from the consumer or exploit the consumer, the business “earned” money from the consumer by providing a product or service that the consumer wanted and was willing to exchange some of his capital for.

This reveals a startling hostility to the American free-market system on the part of Keller and puts him squarely on the side of radical liberals and socialists who believe the same things about the economy that he expresses here.  They believe that commercial transactions involve a wrongful and unfair robbing (in Marxist terms, “exploitation”) of the consumer.  At least when it involves consumers from “blighted” neighborhoods.

In 1977 President Carter acted on Keller’s convictions that companies should spend and invest in the neighborhoods where they “took” money from consumers.  Carter also believed the banks were cheating consumers by earning revenue from blighted neighborhoods but refusing to make loans in those same neighborhoods.  It didn’t concern Carter and apparently it wouldn’t concern Keller that those consumers didn’t have the credit worthiness to repay the loans.  (Again, this brings into question Keller’s concern for the fair treatment of the non-poor – something that is Biblically mandated.  Does he care whether or not lenders get repaid?  That too is an aspect of Biblical justice).  The Credit Reinvestment Act that Carter signed in 1977 and Clinton used in the 1990s to force banks to make loans to consumers in these neighborhoods led directly to the financial collapse of 2008 – as too many of the recipients of these mortgage loans defaulted.

As a direct consequence of the disastrous collapse, times have been most difficult for the poor not only in this country but around the world – those whom Keller purports to help with his political advice.  It’s too bad that he can’t connect the dots and see that when his prescription for justice was tried by Carter and Clinton – it led directly to the most difficult financial times in a generation for the poor whom I believe he genuinely wants to support.  But as socialized attempts to help the poor always do, this one backfired too.  A scholar who looked for historical examples to support his political ideas would have seen this coming.

When pastors offer political advice they have a responsibility to look at history to determine if and when their advice has been tried and whether or not it succeeded or failed.  It’s not enough to offer solutions that sound good in theory – they must show evidence in history where their proposed solutions have been tried and worked.  In the case of Keller and “Generous Justice” – no attempt is made to show where his proposals have been tried on a large scale and correspondingly no attempt to show historical evidence that they have ever actually led to a more just society.

Historically-knowledgeable Americans on the other hand can see plenty of evidence that his proposals have been utter and dismal failures every time and everywhere they’ve been tried.  They’ve been tried in one way or another in Communist countries around the world where they were deadly failures.  They’ve been tried in our own country where they have achieved the exact opposite of social justice for the poor.  In fact, today millions of American poor still suffer, more than anyone else, as a casualty of the Great Recession – that was caused as a direct result of two presidents and a Democratic party who all shared the same convictions Tim Keller expresses in “Generous Justice”.

It’s a real shame that someone as brilliant, articulate and persuasive as Keller has gotten so bogged down in the Leftist propaganda that surrounds him in New York City that he can’t see these historical realities.


1.  FreedomTorch member Mark Pepin has posted an insightful review of this book on here.  He hits a lot of good points I wasn’t able to get to.  If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend reading it.

2.  Politico.com today (4/19/2011) carried an article by Joe Scarborough highlighting my major concerns with Tim Keller’s teachings.  Keller puts such a strong emphasis on “social justice” and “cultural renewal” that it leaves many people in his church confused.  Joe Scarborough is a frequent attender at Redeemer and in this Easter-week article (on page 2), he wrote the following:

“Thoughtful leaders like Keller, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner believe that politics should be left outside the doors of the church so spiritual leaders can focus on preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of sponsoring glorified political rallies. At the same time, they are moving away from defensive doctrines and instead focusing on the things Jesus said would assure his followers a place in heaven: antiquated concepts like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and bringing hope to the hopeless.”

Jesus never said that any act we can commit would assure our salvation.  He is quite clear that only faith in Him can assure our salvation.  Acts of goodness should follow, but they do not in any way accomplish or assure salvation, according to Biblical teaching.

Tim Keller would agree with me on that and he would disagree with Joe Scarborough.  However, the problem is that when he constantly focuses on and emphasizes “social justice” and “cultural renewal” from the pulpit and in his books, it should surprise him least of anyone that people might walk away with this misunderstanding.  He is a brilliant communicator and he has to take some responsibility not only for his words but for which of his words he chooses to emphasize.  If you turn a good thing (justice) into an ultimate thing, you shouldn’t be surprised if people start treating it as if it is the ultimate object of our faith.

3.At a Redeemer-sponsored forum held in New York City on March 28, 2011, interviewer Lauren Green of Fox News asked Keller the following question (audio here at about 79:30 minutes):

Lauren Green:
  “As a church, how should we as Christians and how should the church view gay rights and gay marriage?”

Tim Keller: “Ha! I would definitely say this is time to come to a conclusion! (Laughter).

I would definitely say… a thoughtful Christian Biblical response doesn’t fit into any of the existing categories out there. It’s not a simple matter of saying there should be no moral differentiation between any kind of sexual activity. Christians can’t go there. They can’t say no it doesn’t matter. It’s also true however, that this is a country where we’re supposed to love our neighbor. This is a country where a Christian is supposed to care about a just society for ALL our neighbors whether they believe like we do or not. And that’s gotta mean our gay neighbor.

And I would say people in the more conservative movement don’t really want to talk too much about that because they’re very upset because they feel like the gay agenda is too anti-Christian and too anti-religious.  So I would say – the reason it’s good to end on this question is – it’s not something, the way forward, I don’t see spelled out anywhere in public. I don’t see anybody in public taking all the Biblical concerns about justice and mercy in that area and speaking about them. But I’m certainly not going to get started.

Just to let you know I don’t really think the current options out there – about what we should do – are really the best ones from a Christian standpoint.”

Now, if you had a hard time following that answer and making sense of it, I did too!  In fact, upon several re-reads I find that it makes no sense at all.  He apparently was so devastated by the difficulty of this question that he was reduced to mindless babbling.  Of course this question does become complicated when your real objective is to appease two opposing sides.  It’s hard to answer a black and white question when you have an audience made up of people on both sides and you don’t want to offend anyone.

However, there are very few conservative or evangelical Christian pastors who would find this question so difficult.  Where is the clear statement there about the Biblical teaching of the sin of homosexuality and therefore the position the church must take in regard to same-sex marriage?  Keller was utterly unable to articulate a clear and Biblical response to this question.  Another sure sign that he is more interested in pleasing man than in proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.



To show you how this focus on social justice plays out at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NYC – here’s an email I just received (2/15/2013).  The church has a program called “Redeemer citilights” and they send out an email once or twice a month.  The purpose of the program is to create small group fellowship and volunteer opportunities for Redeemer’s members.

In this edition they posted this event:

2/23 Saturday – citilights Volunteer Opportunity
Come join us from 2:30pm – 8:00pm for the annual Don’t Walk By outreach to homeless men and women in Manhattan. A great way to seek to bring justice to NYC with others in their 20s & 30s.

In a church that really understood the Gospel of Christ, their primary mission in reaching out to the homeless would be to share the Gospel with the homeless.  But look at what they say the primary emphasis is.  It is to “bring justice to NYC”.  

Again their total misunderstanding of the word “justice” comes to light.  Feeding someone who is hungry is not an act of “justice”, it’s an act of mercy.

In activity after activity, Redeemer emphasizes justice to the total exclusion of the spreading of the Gospel.



19 Replies to “Tim Keller’s Social Justice”

  1. Keller is theologically sound. Sure, we may not agree on all things he says and we can pick snippets of a sentence without looking at the context of the whole passage is like taking a verse out of context for the lack of interpreting it in relation to the other verses around it. Look at this short message that sum up his book. https://vimeo.com/27305489

  2. Ryan, maybe instead of comparing and contrasting Keller's teachings to theologians and professors, you should compare them to the Bible. If you study diligently you'll begin to see a big divergence between the two.

  3. Matthew Koleba : You're exactly right Matthew. Yet if we're not faithful to the Bible – we can't be faithful to Jesus. And to twist and contort the Bible as Keller does – is not being faithful to it.

  4. Adam Ruttan I'm very sorry to hear that Adam. Sounds like your group isn't exactly astute when it comes to Biblical discernment.

  5. Adam Ruttan I'm very sorry to hear that Adam. Sounds like your group isn't exactly astute when it comes to Biblical discernment.

  6. You're exactly right Matthew. Yet if we're not faithful to the Bible – we can't be faithful to Jesus. And to twist and contort the Bible as Keller does – is not being faithful to it.

  7. I've listened to every Keller lecture and sermon I can get my ears on and have read most of his books. I also listen to and read numerous other theologians (mostly professors at reformed-protestant schools), and I find Keller's body of work to be wholly orthodox (even if a radical departure from the tribe) and Biblical. Cousar seems to be clinging to some halcyon days of "conservative" evangelism that never really existed, and taking Paul way out of his historical context.

  8. I don't know anything about Tim Keller but this post tells me less about what may be wrong with Tim's theology and more about the fear that the blogger has of anything that may contradict his limited perspective. Definitely a tone of fear and anger.

  9. Make no mistake about it, Tim Keller is a leader leading others to follow Christ faithfully. Who cares about evangelical or liberal categories – Jesus will not ask us "were you faithful to conservative evangelicalism?" He will ask "were you faithful to me?"

  10. Was just forwarded this link regarding Tim Keller. This is absolutely frightening! I can’t help but think that Tim Keller is just another pawn being used by Satan to prepare Christians for one world government and religion. In my opinion, the big picture is becoming clearer every day!

  11. Thanks for the excellent review Jonathan. I had read some of Tim Keller’s earlier books The Reason For God, The Prodigal God, and Counterfeit Gods and erroneously concluded that he was a solid teacher and pastor. So when Generous Justice was released I eagerly ordered a copy. I could not make it a third of the way through it before I put in down. I could not even understand what he was writing about.

    Obviously not The Gospel. I give you kudos for reading the whole thing. I have not since picked up a book of his or recommended him to anyone. IMHO he should resign from The Gospel Coalition. Thanks again for the many scriptural references that refute the socialist agenda. I will make good use of them when I discuss these issues with Christians. Sometimes I read comments from people who say they are Christian but the comment makes me wonder when was the last time they cracked open their Bible.

    1. Thanks Scott, I’m glad the review gave you some good info. Sounds like you’re on the right track!

  12. Hello Jonathan,

    This man is Jesuitical in his obfuscation. He is not born again. The Bible says that the Great Harlot of Rome is at the head of all this confusion. Most people who claim to be “christian” are NOT and many are hiding under the cloak of Christian but are really Roman Catholics or New Age satanists and are the enemies of Christ Jesus and all of us who follow Jesus Christ alone as our Lord and Saviour.

    There is a counter Reformation going on that has been led by Roman Catholicism and will eventually come to its violent end. I heard you speak on Brannon’s show and he knows Chris Pinto. The Word of GOD is our Sword but the Father does not want us to be ignorant of the Devil’s devices either. Here is a link to start to begin to find out what is taking place and has been taking place in this country since its beginning. It’s in audio format and all shows are archived at the bottom left of page. You can do your own search of Roman Catholicism and find all its errors from it’s beginning and yet it still claims to be “Christ” but it is AntiChrist from it’s beginning.

    Here is the link to the show just for starters and any further questions Brannon or Chris himself and, as you will soon find out, a lot of other people will be able to help you with and many are former Catholics.

    Topics to begin with, listed as of today, on the main page are these: The Inquisition, 2) False Peace, and 3) Rewriting History.


    J A Wylie- The Jesuits, Their Moral Maxims and Plots against Kings, Nations and Churches 153pp. Link below:

    All these in this list are available for free download in PDF format.
    1. 50 million protestants killed_David A Plaisted, 2006, 84pp.
    2. a. Americans Warned of Jesuitism or b. The Jesuits Unveiled by John Claudius Pitrat 1855, 190pp.
    3. The Secret History of the Jesuits by Edmond Paris 1975, 197pp.
    4. The Popes of Rome by Dr. Ronald Cooke 1999, 48pp.
    5. Washington In THE LAP OF ROME by Justin D. Fulton, D.D., 1888, 286pp.

    Through it all Jonathan, remain in Christ Jesus! Praise GOD for bringing us all out of darkness and into the marvelous Light of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


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