some thoughts on Tim Keller

If you read Tim Keller’s books or listen to his sermons, some things will (or should) become quite clear to you:

  1. He thinks of himself first and foremost and always as a pastor.
  2. His job as a pastor, as he understands it, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and then form and strengthen and encourage those disciples.
  3. When trying to understand how to do that, Keller – as a conservative Protestant with a high regard for Scripture – turns to the Bible.
  4. There he sees Paul on the Areopagus reasoning patiently with the intellectuals of Athens; there he sees Paul counsel the followers of Jesus at Colossae to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”; there he sees Paul tell the church in Galatia that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”; there he hears Jesus bless the meek and the poor in spirit.
  5. He draws the conclusion – again, as someone with a high view of Scripture – that this counsel is counsel for us as much as it was for its original audience.
  6. So he teaches his congregation and his readers accordingly.

If he is wrong so to teach now, then he was also wrong thirty years ago. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever; in him there is no shadow of turning; therefore the lives of His faithful disciples, while they may vary in details according to circumstance or personality type, will always take the same essential form.

Those who say that Keller’s message is not suited to this political moment, that it is not an effective political strategy, are therefore, I believe, laboring under a category error. Keller’s pastoral role has not been to articulate a political strategy, but to make disciples. If he is correct in thinking that the counsel of Scripture is indeed counsel for all of us, and if the passages I cite above are indeed in the Bible, then it doesn’t matter whether obeying them is politically effectual (according to whatever calculus of effectiveness you happen to employ) or not. The task of serious Christians is to become Jesus’s disciples, to become formed in the image of Christ – including Christ in His suffering – whether that “works” or not.

That’s never easy, but it has the merit of being simple. So there’s no need for me, as a Christ-follower, to raise my wetted finger to test the prevailing cultural winds. I know what I’m supposed to do and to be. And woe unto me if I don’t.


UPDATE: It occurs to me that I should call back to this post from last year. Like Diogenes with his lantern, I’m looking for one critic of Tim Keller who shows some awareness that Christians are commanded by their Lord to act in certain ways and to refrain from acting in others. To think only in terms of what is effective or strategic is to fight on the Devil’s home ground. As Screwtape said to Wormwood about the junior tempter’s patient: “He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous — that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.” Christians who evaluate Keller not by asking whether his message is faithful to Jesus’s message but rather by asking whether it’s suited for this moment are inadvertently following Screwtape’s advice.