What’s the Matter with Tim Keller?

Vimeo – Redeemer City to City

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that Redeemer Presbyterian Church does ordain its male deacons. The deaconesses are not ordained.

Tim Keller, bestselling author, church planter extraordinaire, in-demand speaker, apologist for and to Manhattan, and one of the most famous Christians in America. Tim Keller, sinner saved by grace, husband, father, minister of the Word, and servant of Jesus Christ. Within this one person are contained so many things that provoke both positive and negative reactions within Christianity and beyond.

My first exposure to Tim Keller was within the evangelical community, where he is generally beloved. A former pastor of mine loved to reference Keller’s description of the heart as an idol factory (in Counterfeit Gods), an idea that actually originated with John Calvin but is nevertheless powerful. I read The Prodigal God and felt that it contained more good scriptural sense than most Christian volumes being released today. What I liked most about Keller was that despite his growing fame, he seemed to maintain an admirable humility. He did not raise his voice. He appealed to both the head and the heart. He had something to say to this 21st century world.

About six months ago, I was sucked into the Reformed vortex. That is to say, I was introduced to a number of Reformed Christians via the wonders of social media. Tim Keller was not a hero to them. They mocked him endlessly on Twitter for his meme-worthy quotes. In podcasts, they would sometimes speak about him without naming him, as if he were Voldemort and they feared his wrath. They were suspicious of his association with “The Gospel Industrial Complex”. They believed that he had a choke hold over his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, and was leading it down a path to liberalism. Everywhere they looked, they found a flaw.

Could these two Tim Kellers be one and the same? Were his fans ignoring dangerous deviations from Scripture and church tradition? Were his critics unwilling to give him credit for doing anything right? I was troubled, and so I decided to investigate these things. In this series of two articles, I will examine the ten most common criticisms I have heard regarding Tim Keller. I will assess the facts as best I can to determine 1) if each accusation is true and 2) if it is really a problem. Therefore, the title of this article can be taken one of two ways. It can mean, “Is there really anything wrong with Tim Keller? Why would you think that?” It can also mean, “What on earth is Tim Keller doing? This is not good.” That is the duality of the situation, and I hope to analyze it properly. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: A New Era

Inside the dome of the Pantheon in Rome (Author photo)

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

Welcome back to this series of essays on baptism. I am currently focusing on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Thanks for hanging around. I know it’s not as much fun as Wonder Woman.

In the last essay, we saw that the Old Testament prophets predicted two things: 1) a righteous ruler on whom the Spirit of God would rest, and 2) a general outpouring of the Spirit upon all God’s people. Both of these predictions went against the grain of the Old Testament experience. First, while plenty of rulers had God’s Spirit placed upon them, none of them exhibited the kind of righteousness and saving perfection predicted for the Messiah. Second, the idea that all of God’s people would receive the Spirit individually, regardless of status, was a development without precedent.

We must now take a look at how these two things came to pass, and how they reveal to us the meaning of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

Is Wonder Woman a Good Example of Biblical Womanhood?

It has come to my attention in recent weeks that some people are pointing to the latest incarnation of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman as a role model not only for females in general, but for Christian females in particular. Her selflessness and compassion are admirable Christian virtues, it is said. Her bravery in the face of evil is emblematic of true womanly strength. Her willingness to save humanity, even though it is completely undeserving, is much in line with the actions of Jesus Christ. Some have gone so far as to claim that the filmmakers clearly meant to make a Christological statement.

I read all of this and rolled my eyes internally, for it seemed a whole lot of hoopla over a comic book film that is only considered great in comparison to the long string of uninspired and vapid sequels put out by Hollywood in recent years, all of which seem to rake in exorbitant sums at the box office despite getting terrible reviews. I do not speak from ignorance. My husband is the kind of man who will line up for any film that takes place in the Marvel or DC universe, and though I manage to skip most of these outings, my love for him requires me to attend at least a couple times a year. My goal is to choose whichever film seems either most original or least objectionable, and this summer that movie was Wonder Woman.

Unlike some of my female compatriots, I did not drive to the cinema anticipating greatness. The character of Wonder Woman has always been, in my estimation, a mixed blessing. It is a bit hard to square the notion that she is a feminist icon with the fact that her costume is hardly different from many S&M getups, whip and all. One might also object to the fact that being a strong female is equated with physical violence, or that Wonder Woman has been subjected in some manifestations to being yet another one of Batman’s boy toys, or that her obvious hotness seems intended to attract male viewers rather than female ones. All I was expecting from this movie is that it would be mildly entertaining, and it managed to clear that low bar. It was nowhere near as bad as some of the superhero films I’ve been forced to endure, but neither would I rank it among the very best. (I believe that The Dark Knight is the gold standard, even if it suffers from a disappointing final act.)

After seeing this movie, my Twitter feed continued to light up with all sorts of laudatory statements about how fabulous it is. Some were speaking merely in terms of its entertainment quality, but there was also the inevitable slew of articles from those who constantly seek out Christ in pop culture. A few of these writers made some decent points, and I don’t begrudge them delving into the shallow end of the pool once in a while. However, there were just as many essays that verged on the utterly ridiculous. Part of me wanted to craft a response, but I said to myself, “No, Amy. If you write about Wonder Woman, you’ll just be perpetuating the very trend that you hate. You’ll be giving in to the temptation of click bait.” Yes, I knew that writing about Wonder Woman would probably attract far more readers than my carefully thought out examinations of various Scripture passages. That, in my mind, was further proof of the shallowness of evangelical culture and how female writers will never be afforded the same level of respect as men. Well, I was not about to succumb to temptation. I left Wonder Woman alone.

Then a wonderful Christian author, a female most averse to controversies of any kind, alerted me to some concerns that have been voiced. It seems that there are other people equally troubled by the fact that Wonder Woman is now considered the standard for biblical womanhood. This female I will not name, who is awesome with awesome sauce on top, had no time to respond to the problem, and in any case it is truly beneath her. Such a task is better suited to a nobody like myself. Therefore, I agreed to write about Wonder Woman, and in doing so I ensured that at least on this occasion, my husband would read my blog. Unfortunately, I will not manage to follow this author’s suggestion that I limit the number of words in my articles. Apologies in advance. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Prophecies

Michelangelo’s portrayals of (L-R) Isaiah, Joel, and Ezekiel on the Sistine Chapel ceiling

This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You will find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In the previous essay, I began examining how the Spirit worked prior to Christ’s death and resurrection in order to help determine what is meant by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We saw that the Spirit was always at work in the Old Testament, but that He was only “placed” on a specific set of people: those entrusted with spiritual leadership of the nation of Israel in one form or another. This Spirit could be given or taken away at any time, according to the will of the Lord. When the covenant relationship between God and His people broke down and the covenant curses were enacted, God promised to restore a righteous remnant to Himself. How would that occur? Let’s take a look. Continue reading

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Beginnings

Depiction of Pentecost in Siena Cathedral by Duccio di Buoninsegna, circa 1308-11

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I began this series by discussing the baptism of John. We must now consider something that John himself said. He proclaimed that while he baptized with water for repentance, a greater one was coming who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11b)

What did John mean when he spoke those words? What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Who receives it? Is it a new thing or an old thing? Is it one and the same with water baptism? These are the types of questions I hope to answer in the next few essays, but it is going to be difficult. This is a complicated theological topic.

The first time we find an explicit mention of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is in that quote from John the Baptist. If we want to discover exactly what it means, we need to follow the trail of scriptural evidence. First, we should note that John associates this baptism with the work of Christ.

John testified saying, ‘I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.’

John 1:32-34

Therefore, John prophesied that Jesus Christ was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.   There are a few other things to note at this point: 1) John clearly felt that there was something about this baptism that was different from his own, 2) he seemed to believe it represented something new in redemptive history, and 3) he associated it with fire. Let’s move on to see the next place where this specific phrase appears. It is used by Christ in His final words to the disciples just before His Ascension. Continue reading

Luther and Erasmus

While I continue my vacation in Canada, you might enjoy checking out an article I wrote for A Place for Truth, one of the websites of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. In it, I discuss the complicated relationship between Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam as part of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. You will also find many other posts on the life and work of Martin Luther and an excellent series of essays by Simonetta Carr on great Christians throughout history. Stay tuned for another article on Luther by yours truly in the coming weeks…

Why was Jesus Baptized?

The Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by John – photo by Wikipedia user Chmee2

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of baptism. Links to the previous articles can be found at the bottom of this page.

In the previous article, I spoke about the baptism of John and how it prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus Christ. This form of baptism was all about confessing one’s sins and being made right with God. The question then becomes, why in the world did Jesus need to be baptized? If He had no sins to confess, then what was the point?

This is not just a question that has popped up after the fact. When Jesus showed up at the Jordan River in order to be baptized, John proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” (John 1:29b-30) This is a revealing statement, for in it John identifies Jesus not only as the one who will save the entire world from sin, but also as one who “existed before me”. John knew full well that he was born before Jesus, his cousin. Therefore, what he was really saying was that Jesus had come down from on high.

In light of this statement, we should not be surprised at how John responded to Jesus’s request to be baptized. “But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:14) John believed that Jesus was greater than him. More to the point, he believed that Jesus had no sins to confess: on the contrary, He was the one who would take away sins. Therefore, John seems to say, “There’s no need for you to be baptized. If anything, you ought to be baptizing me!” Continue reading

The Baptism of John: Purpose, Participants, and Differences from New Covenant Baptism

“Saint John the Baptist Preaching” by Mattia Preti, circa 1665

This is the first in a series of essays on the topic of baptism as outlined in scripture.

Hello friends and thank you for taking the time to visit and read this first article addressing the subject of baptism. In my introductory letter, I hinted that there are at least three and possibly four different forms of baptism described in scripture. Today, I would like to start by examining the first such form: the baptism of John. I will first give some background on who John was and the significance of the baptisms that he administered, then I will differentiate this form of baptism from those that occur under the New Covenant. Continue reading

New Series of Essays on Baptism

Friends,

I am about to begin a series of blog posts on the topic of baptism as it appears in scripture. This is a subject that has provoked not a little controversy among Christians over the years. My purpose in addressing this topic is not to stoke more controversy, but perhaps to get back to basics. So much has been written about baptism, and I am loath to waste words on something that not only was said already, but was probably said better than I could manage.

Therefore, it is my primary intention to focus on an exegesis of those biblical passages that deal with the subject of baptism. I do not intend to carry out an exhaustive examination of how the theology surrounding baptism has developed over the years or how traditions were handed down. Perhaps this will cause some to accuse me of Biblicism, which I assure you would not be a compliment coming from them. However, please rest assured that I mean no disrespect to the many eminent theologians over the centuries who have wrestled with these issues and whose interpretations of the text have no doubt influenced my own. I am not suggesting that we should ignore all of that when considering baptism. I simply cannot do everything, and in any case, my only academic training that is at all pertinent is in the field of biblical literature, not historic theology. I will thus attempt to do what it is I do best, or at least what I should do best. Continue reading

On Sin

A knight prepares to do battle with the seven deadly sins in the “Treatise on the Vices” by William Peraldus, circa 13th century

In order to understand the world, it is essential to understand sin. Without a proper appreciation of sin, all anthropology is destined to fail.

Let me start out by establishing two very important truths. First, sin is not a theological buzzword. It is not something that exists merely in the realm of theory – an abstract concept latched onto by those seeking to comprehend the world around them. It is not just some word that religious fundamentalists use to describe people unlike themselves, things that scare them, and actions they find distasteful. This is not the true meaning of sin, however much some individuals might attempt to co-opt the concept. Sin is the deadly enemy of the human race. It is killing us every day – claiming us for its own.

Second, sin is not just a single action or series of actions. From a human perspective, it can certainly seem so, and that is how we usually address the topic. You tell a lie, you sin. You steal something, you sin. You punch someone in the face, you sin. All of this is true, but if that is the only way we think about sin, then we are missing the point. We are underestimating the problem in a way that is bound to lead us into all kinds of difficulties. It is more useful to think about sin as a state of being, a worldview, or a modus operandi. Sin is not just what a person does: it is part of their essence. The Bible calls this the sinful nature.

I recently heard a very interesting idea: the most effective prison is one where the prisoner actually wants to stay. How could such a situation occur? When the prisoner comes to believe that black is white and night is day – that is, rather than being the source of their torment, the prison is in fact their source of protection and even liberation. Through a series of lies, they become convinced that leaving the prison is too risky and what they need is in the hands of those who hold them captive. It’s not so much that they lose the desire to be free, but rather that they are mistaken as to where true freedom can be found. Sin is completely this way. Continue reading