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Tim Keller: Demanding Social Justice in the Name of John Calvin

Cherie Vandermillen

Written by Toni S. Brown

You don’t have to believe in the Living God to be a good person…because God loves to make all kinds of people wise and good.

Tim Keller, TGC19 Session 2

Tim Keller took the stage again at TGC19 with a speech titled-What a Minor Prophet Teaches Us About Nationalism and Race, Grace, and Mission- continuing in his distortion of scripture he labeled Jonah a racist, Nationalist for the purpose of promoting Marxist Globalism and he demanded social justice in the name of John Calvin.

Quoting Calvin from the 3rd book of his Institutes Keller said:

John Calvin of all people has a pasage in his institutes that is absolutely astonishing in which he works out the social justiceimplications of the doctrine of the Image of God, listen to what he says:

[Calvin] “You may say about the stranger before you that you owe nothing of any service of his but God as it were has put him in his own place in order that he may recognize toward him the many great benefits by which God has bound you to himself. Do not consider man’s evil intentions but look upon the Image of God in them which cancels and effaces their transgressions and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them. Each Christian will so consider with himself a debtor to his neighbor that he ought in exercising kindness toward them set no other limit than the end of his resources.” 

Keller expounds on Calvin’s quote, stating that no matter the race, religion or immorality of your neighbor Christians are to set no limit on giving to the common good except to the end of all their own resources. He concedes that it may be secondary to the gospel message but it is not optional: “Doing justice and eliminating racism can never be just an option.”  It is absolutely necessary. “And the only way to love your neighbor is to make sure they have everything they need.” Christians have to be about the common good.  

Watch video at 17.10 min mark:

There’s just one problem with Keller’s interpretation of John Calvin- it is false. Deliberately and intentionally distorted, perverted and misrepresented to fit his unbiblical narrative. The quote comes from Calvin’s Institutes, Book 3, Chapter 7 which consists of 9 sections of which 5,6 and 7 are lessons on charity, as evidenced by the below headings of each section:

5. The advantage of our neighbour to be promoted. Here self-denial most necessary, and yet most difficult. Here a double remedy. 1. The benefits bestowed upon us are for the common benefit of the Church. 2. We ought to do all we can for our neighbour. This illustrated by analogy from the members of the human body. This duty of charity founded on the divine command.

6. Charity ought to have for its attendants patience and kindness. We should consider the image of God in our neighbours, and especially in those who are of the household of faith. Hence a fourfold consideration which refutes all objections. A common objection refuted.

7. Christian life cannot exist without charity. Remedies for the vices opposed to charity. 1. Mercy. 2. Humility. 3. Modesty. 4. Diligence. 5. Perseverance.

The Calvin quote Keller referenced is speaking to charity and mercy, not social justice. It is important to remember that the minute the word “justice” is invoked it ceases to be charity.

Keller produces a list of concerns and duties for the church:

  • Safe environment that is not plagued by crime and health hazards.
  • Humane workplaces where there are jobs for  everyone.
  • A state of peace that is not marked by racial tension and violence.
  • A just, social order that is not marked by a corrupt justice system slanted against the weak and poor.
  • Publicly available resources for the common good like education.

Keller says:

 …this is how you love your neighbor, it’s the only way to really love your neighbor, it’s not an option, and to work against racism is at the heart of what it means to honor the Image of God…this is all in the book of Jonah.

Keller continues the social justice narrative, saying that what was actually happening in Ninevah when the people repented and turned from their wicked ways was social reform. Yup! Dr. Keller insists that Ninevah was never actually converted because they “didn’t give up their idols and because injustice, slavery and“violence in the way they were treating people” were really their sins, there was only social change in the end, nothing spiritual. Keller states:

What you have in Jonah is a mission in which God is very concerned about injustice in society, because look, even though they don’t convert, the Ninevites don’t convert, the fact that they turn from their violence is enough for God to say I’ll give you another chance – God relents which means to some degree…they’re not saved, obviously they haven’t turned to true faith but God is glad, and he shows that he’s glad that they did the social reform.

Keller says the mission of the church is:

…in one way to preach the gospel…but we’re also supposed to be doing justice and caring for the poor…it’s when these two things come together that you really have a powerful mission.

In the end Keller assures his audience that the white, affluent and homogeneous neighborhoods are shrinking and ”it’s not gonna stay this way”…just be patient…I wrote a book Generous Justice about all this.” He tells the audience to make a place for the needy and disadvantaged in their churches and tostart their own non-profits and 501-C3’s. 

I repeat, Keller ends by advising the audience to make a place for the needy and the disadvantaged in their churches – not the spiritually bankrupt, but the materially poor.  And the social gospel lives on, another day. God help us.