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

Children’s Ministry and the Ministry of the Word

An old Baptist Sunday School class in the 1940s. National Archive photo

As it turns out, Twitter is an excellent source of inspiration for my blog. Why, a couple weeks back, I couldn’t help but notice someone commenting that the New Testament applauds churches for many things, but children’s ministry is not one of them. I think I understand where they were coming from, but I do not like the implication of this statement.

The person in question, who I am not going to name because I have no wish to demean them, belongs to the Reformed tradition. There is a great emphasis within this sphere on the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. If I understand correctly, these means of grace are the focus of our corporate worship in church. In some quarters (though certainly not all), this can lead to a de-emphasis or even suspicion of anything that is not a part of that Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Once again, this is how I understand it: I did not grow up in a Reformed church.

I assume that this was the genesis for the comment that scripture did not applaud (i.e. institute) the other “ministries” that are commonly part of church life in this country and others. I do not fully disagree with this, but if we are using such a point of view to diminish children’s ministry or say that it is not important, then I think we have made a grave mistake. Let me explain why I believe this to be the case. Continue reading