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

Those Who Live By Faith Are Just

“The Sermon of the Beatitudes” by James Tissot, circa 1886-69

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

In the last essay, I discussed how Christians are meant to live as humble rebels in a hostile world, serving as ambassadors for Christ. The first and most obvious way we do this is by proclaiming the gospel message and making disciples, which is the only true hope for reconciliation. That is the end to which everything else is a means. However, there is another aspect of our mission that I have previously hinted at and would like to dive into now: a humble rebel is committed to social justice.

Oddly, the concept of social justice makes some Christians uncomfortable. I believe this is because they are typically associating it with what is known as the “Social Gospel”, a theological movement that rose to prominence in the early days of the 20th century and was associated not only with a desire to help the poor and vulnerable, but also with theological liberalism and a de-emphasis on doctrine. I can understand why people would have serious reservations about that.

Social justice, on the other hand, is a very biblical concept. Indeed, it is one of the main themes of scripture, and it is inextricably linked with doctrine. The Bible actually has far more to say about social justice than any number of issues to which we devote more attention. It is part and parcel of reconciliation, for if you are not pursuing social justice, you are not only making reconciliation more difficult, but you are actively increasing discord.

Martin Luther is often said to have had his theological breakthrough when he read the Apostle Paul’s quotation of a phrase from the prophet Habakkuk: “The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, KJV) Luther’s story is a bit more complicated than that, but the importance of this verse is clearly evident. What I am about to suggest to you is that this phrase can also be reversed: not only do the just live by faith, but those who live by faith are just.

(DISCLAIMER: I am not challenging the traditional view of justification by grace alone through faith alone.)

Continue reading