Opinion: Tim Keller knows better than this

by Peter Heck · Apr 28th, 2021 11:40 am

Last Updated May 7th, 2021 at 10:22 pm

I think very highly of American Christian theologian and preacher Tim Keller.

I certainly don't agree with him on some points of theology, but I would say the same for a host of other Christian scholars, teachers, ministers, pastors, and commentary authors that I have learned so much from, been so blessed by, and am immensely anxious to thank one day in heaven for their contributions to my discipleship.

Some of Keller's insights have been instrumental in helping me grasp the meaning of difficult Bible passages, as well as shedding a new, reasoned perspective on certain lessons of Scripture. My faith has deepened because of his work.

I'm saying all this because I want to make it clear that I harbor nothing close to resentment or antipathy towards the man. I just think he fell far short of the mark in a recent Twitter thread that was surely well-intentioned, but as a very public evangelical, presented exceedingly poor counsel in these most contentious times.

On the surface, Keller's post seemed to remind Christians that our faith, if properly grounded in Scripture, will undoubtedly conflict with any man-made political tribe, whether on the left or the right. This is surely true, and the Christian's allegiance is always to God and His righteousness over political expediency and the allure of earthly power. Here's what Keller wrote:

Again, superficially, it seems a prudent reminder that as believers our faith should inform our politics rather than vice versa. But, as is so often the case on Twitter, apply even the slightest critical thinking to the thread, and the entire spool unravels quickly.

A man named Stephen Wolfe pointed out the first glaring problem:

Wolfe's critique is both credible and concerning. Credible in the sense that it properly diagnoses an underlying problem in Keller's thread, and concerning in that Keller needs to clarify some troubling issues he has perhaps unwittingly exposed in his own thinking.

And he should start here: what is this rather amorphous "racial justice" that Keller mentions? I'm not being facetious or petty when I say that Keller must define his terms in order for any Christian to do the most important thing any of us can do when we receive a teaching – test it against the authority of Scripture.

Racial justice means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To some, racial justice means achieving a colorblind society. To others, a colorblind society is a racist society since it "denies the shared experiences of people of color." To some, racial justice is equal opportunity. To others, racial justice is equal outcomes, facilitated by reparations.

What is this racial justice that Keller speaks of? The biblical sexual ethic is not so vague and open to interpretation. It is clearly defined Scripturally, and virtually everyone agrees what it teaches: sex is a gift of God to be shared only within the confines of a monogamous, man/woman, married relationship. Anything outside of that is spiritually sinful, emotionally damaging, and physically dangerous to humanity.

I can oppose reparations and still believe in racial justice, biblically speaking. I cannot oppose God's man/woman design for marriage and still believe in the Christian sex ethic, however. That's why Keller has to define his terms.

Consider the conclusion from his fourth and fifth tweet in the thread:

"To help the marginalized ALWAYS requires sacrifice. Giving away what we have…today's Right won't accept [that]."

I can't believe that Keller really believes that. I know he knows better. From years of reading his work I know that Keller is brilliant, and so he surely knows that those who have conservative politics (the "Right") give away millions of dollars each year from their own bank accounts in order to fund relief agencies, private charities, church food pantries, local Rescue Missions, and a hundred other services to care for the marginalized.

And of course, Keller knows the theological distinction between personal sacrifice (biblically commanded) and state-compelled taxation. Favoring laws that hold the gun of government to the heads of people in order to confiscate their wealth and spend it on social programs for the marginalized is far from the New Testament model for justice. In fact, such an approach often robs people of the ability to exercise personal generosity within their family budget.

So, it lends credibility to Wolfe's accusation that the great preacher to the desperate mission field of New York City is attempting an unproductive third-wayism. There's no reason that a man who has, for decades, understood and preached against the foolishness of trying to scratch man's itching ears, needs to start doing it himself.

Tim Keller is a better thinker than this, and I'm hopeful he will prove it by retracting this error.


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