Tag Archives: Tim Keller

Tullian Tchividjian apologized; should Tim Keller and D.A. Carson apologize, too?

The Tim Keller and D.A. Carson blog post of May 21 begs for further analysis.

The purpose of the post was to clarify some changes that had taken place on The Gospel Coalition website: Tullian Tchividjian’s blog had been removed, and the names of C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris had been deleted from the list of Council members.

Here, I want to focus on the May 21 post, not its fallout (Tullian said some angry things in response his blog’s premature removal), or its encouraging resolution (Tullian apologized).

In their post, Keller and Carson write,

In Tullian’s case, it was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity. Earlier in the year our executive director spent two days with Tullian in Florida. Coming out of that meeting, it was decided that Tullian would move his blog. Finally the Council at its meeting last week decided that Tullian should move his blog immediately, and we communicated this conclusion to Tullian. (emphasis added)

And then, in last paragraph, Keller and Carson write,

We commit ourselves to not recount the parting of the ways in such a fashion that it makes us look good and the departing persons look bad…. John Newton’s famous letter “On Controversy” should guide us all at such times. When warning that the “leaven” of self-righteousness exists in the best of Christians, Newton wrote: “Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to suppress this wrong disposition.” Pray for us that moves and changes like these will be marked on all sides by the startling, visible graciousness that should be present in all saved by grace. 

Consider how peculiar it is to accuse someone of divisiveness and stridency and then to say they won’t make “the departing persons look bad,” and then to jump to the moral high ground by warning everyone against self-righteousness with a thunderclap of authority from a John Newton letter.

It’s a great technique: Readers of The Gospel Coalition website naturally will be dazzled by the reference to a Newton letter — plus, they’ll immediately know that self-righteousness is a horrible label we can all agree we’d like to avoid.

So Keller and Carson’s last paragraph pulls the rug over the earlier accusations of divisiveness and stridency, or directs attention away from the accusations. But, whether Tullian deserved it or not, in that post, Keller and Carson have already made him look bad (“strident” and “divisive”), which in turn makes their call to avoid self-righteousness and their commitment to avoid making “the departing persons look bad” seem disingenuous.

Peter Enns agrees with me! OK, seriously, he just might, maybe

I was frustrated with Tim Keller following my exchange with him about textual criticism of the Bible in university classes.

However, in this post from April, scholar Peter Enns talks about the need for evangelicals (generalized) to re-evaluate how they read the Bible.

(I know — the post appeared in April. But my despair about American Christianity steers me from reading blogs that might deepen my despair. One must guard against crippling depression if one is to provide for a family. One can only meditate upon The Sickness Unto Death so many times.)

I’m sure some readers will miss the overlap between the two posts, but at least to my way of thinking, how someone reads an authoritative text, and how someone applies that authoritative text, equally sit at the center of Enns’ post and my post.

However, I don’t approach all this from seminary training.

I speak from 40 years of Christian faith and doubt,

4 Christian schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) of various affiliations,

6 churches of various evangelical and charismatic and mainline associations,

Intervarsity Christian Fellowship small group leader training,

Small group student leadership for NCSU’s IVCF,

Summit Ministries Worldview Camp,

A full term at L’Abri Fellowship in Greatham, England,

10 years in a formerly Knight Ridder-owned newspaper newsroom,

3 years of owning and operating a coffeehouse-used bookstore-performance space,

and now 5 years of teaching in a state university.

But, hey, everyone can show me the abstract mathematical reasons why my previous concerns and warnings were wrongheaded.

In the above-linked post, Enns uses the familiar metaphors of ear to the ground and finger on the pulse to describe Keller’s sensitive awareness of evangelical culture.

Here’s another metaphor for the evangelical situation: You can have complete awareness of what’s going on in your house, you can know it like the back of your hand, you can master interior decorating and all kinds of home repair, and still miss the approaching EF-5 tornado.

The Gospel versus Jesus: A critique of Tim Keller’s reductive view

I feel like I’ve been trying to make some of these points for a long time…. From David Fitch, as excerpted on Jesus Creed: Yet two questions emerge for me from Keller’s reading of the gospel and church. 1.) Is this really contextualizing the gospel? Or is it interpreting/translating all of life experience through a singular understanding of the gospel learned in the German [sic, Swiss] Reformation? And 2.) Should the gospel be the center of the church or should it be Jesus, the Living Christ? Regarding question no. 1.) I suggest that Tim Keller is really translating the singular Reformed understanding of salvation into various experiences we have in the West. This is good and helpful, especially for those of us who are culturally (or sinfully) conditioned to think we have to “earn” merit in the world and with God, and who sense our own guilt, inadequacies and failures to approach God on our own. This too is a human condition and the Reformed version of salvation is marvelous in response to this. But it is not all of salvation. Indeed, “the gospel that I have proclaimed to you,” as Paul said in 1 Cor 15:1, is that God has fulfilled his promises to Israel in Christ to rule the world and make the world right. In Christ, God has become King, and He has reconciled the whole world to Himself  in Christ (2 Cor 5:19) so that now “if you confess with your lips Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9). The gospel begins and is “Jesus the Messiah has been made Lord” and in and thru Him all things are being made right. Certainly the gospel of justification by faith falls under the Lordship of Christ, but we enter in through submitting to His reign and rule over our lives from which all things are made right in our relationship with God and in the whole world. To the extent we limit the gospel to justification by faith, we limit all the rest of what God is doing individually and in the world and into which we are called to participate.

My question then for the reader is, is Tim Keller really showing us how to contextualize the gospel? or is he narrowing it?  What say you? Fair question eh?

Regarding question no. 2.) I believe Jesus the Incarnate Lord, is the center of the church. He is the one around whose presence and redeeming work we gather. The church that centers itself around the gospel (as pastor Keller articulates it) becomes focused around the preaching and application of this gospel from a pulpit. The church becomes individualized in the appropriating of this gospel individually. We lose the sense that the church is called into being as a people before His reign and that we are the extension of His presence in the world in everyday life. This aspect of the gospel I argue tends to become secondary instead of an integral outworking of what it means to be in Christ’s Kingdom, submitting to His Lordship in our lives and in the world. I argue for a different vision of the church (with Holsclaw in Prodigal Christianity). I suggest the church gathers around the presence of the living Christ. This happens at the Eucharist, the proclaiming of the gospel (notice I hold onto the this tightly), reconciliation, being with the least of these, being with the children, the gifts of the Spirit, praying together submitting to His Kingdom. In each of these practices, His presence is birthed in us socially in a special way (I am “with” you). His rule/authority is made manifest over the powers of sin, death and evil, and so as we leave and go out into the world, we extend this very presence by doing the same things (table fellowship, proclaiming gospel, reconciling, being with the least of these/children, giftings and prayer) in our neighborhoods where He is already at work as living King over heaven and earth (Matt 28:20). As such, I argue, we do not gather around the proclaiming of the gospel, we gather around the Incarnate living presence and rule of Christ extended into our midst. Also see “Tim Keller argued off point…

Conservatives showed me factual discrepencies in the Bible

Before I began listening to debates between Bart Ehrman and conservative defenders of biblical faith, and before I started (slowly, still) reading Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted, I read a paper by a New Testament scholar at the conservative Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

Rodney Whitaker’s paper, “The Moon of Our Darkness,” was a defense of the Bible as the guide for the Christian’s life. And, the paper offered me the first time I can clearly recall being confronted with a factual discrepency in the biblical record.

Also before I started investing time in Ehrman’s debates and writings, I read C.S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen. That book, which attempts to use Lewis’s perspective to navigate contemporary controversies about the Bible, began with several examples of factual discrepencies in the Scriptures.

Through decades of Christian schools and church attendance, I never heard any of these discrepencies addressed. In fact, I heard, on a few occasions, ministers and teachers suggest their weren’t any discrepencies or contradictions, and they even suggested people who don’t believe the Bible because of contradictions couldn’t point out any.

And so for the better part of 30 years, I believe the Bible contained no factual discrepencies.

Now, as a 42-year-old who went to conservative Christian schools from kindergarten to 12th grade (with only the exception of part of 2nd grade), I want to try to understand a different point of view, and I want to consider its validity or lack thereof.

Part of that process has included considering what Bart Ehrman has to say.

Unfortunately, I think the narrative people took away from this blog is more simplistic: that I just picked up Ehrman and thought he settled everything.

Tim Keller, not aware of my background, once said to me in a blog post, “If you are going to recommend [Ehrman’s] views as the basis for making faith and life choices, you should at least read a couple of books by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s mentor.”

Uh, I’ve been basing my faith and life choices on American, Bible-believing fundamentalism. That’s why I should read Metzger.

So Ehrman, who himself has a fundamentalist background, has raised some questions that are interesting to me and relevant to me because I’ve seen how sweepingly literalist interpretations of the Scriptures were applied within social situations, schools, and churches — and the results typically varied between ugly and harsh.

But even the reputedly enlightened Reformed crowd seems to care very little about the way sweepingly literalist interpretations are applied in America each day.

Among some Reformed circles, you can easily become too liberal, but you can’t become too conservative.

Many fundamentalist, Reformed, and evangelical leaders don’t seem to care about addressing discrepencies because they’d rather have their congregations snowed and compliant than well-informed. Besides, admitting actual, plain-sense contradictions could get messy.

Furthermore, those leaders are caught in their own contradiction: God inspired everything in the Bible for a specific purpose, but wait, the factual discrepencies result from conventions of ancient near East literature so the discrepencies don’t matter.

If God had a specific purpose for inspiring an historical record, couldn’t he do it correctly? Couldn’t He do it as precisely as He set so many biological and chemical processes in place? Of course He could.

And, if He wanted the canon to contain certain stories, why include details that will be contradicted later? He could tell a meaningful story without including unnecessary details.

To draw on the Christensen book again:

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch’s note: he couldn’t have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas’ death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’”

I realize most people, myself included, haven’t read the Bible in a “horizontal” way, comparing parallel accounts and such.

However, in light of the above excerpt from Christensen’s book, why would God use particular details if He was also going to provide contradictory details? He could have provided differing accounts in which details did not conflict.

In other words, two different eyewitness accounts of any type of incident could rely on two different sets of details — instead of having conflicting information going head-to-head.

I’m still having trouble with the idea that something is factually inaccurate yet truthful — at least in the context of saying God inspired certain writings.

Tim Keller argued off point and slipped toward ad hominem

I thought I would let some time go by before I picked up the following matter.

I replied to a Tim Keller blog post back on April 10. My reply, which can almost stand without reference to the original post, was:

What about text criticism? Sure, the Bible has always had its critics, but consider how the impact of the critics has changed. The plain language of the Bible includes discrepencies, or at least what appears to be discrepencies, about basic factual information. People are more likely to believe higher-order matters like doctrine and theology when the lower-order matters like basic facts are clear and sound. And now, many middle-class kids have taken university courses like Intro to the New Testament, so they are faced with lower-order difficulties that make higher-order propositions harder to believe. My full argument is here: https://liturgical.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/why-factual-discrepencies-in-the-bible-are-a-barrier-to-faith-lower-order-and-higher-order-concerns/ All the best, Colin

This argument may or may not be valid, reasonable, or crazy.

But notice how Keller, in his reply, did not actually address the argument.

Rather, he took on completely different issues that were not warranted by either my comment or the blog post to which I linked. Keller’s reply:

Colin — Ross Douthat does not mention text criticism as a big issue nor would I. Text criticism of the Bible actually supports confidence in it, if taken as a whole. Bart Ehrman, yes, claims that text criticism undermines out trust in the Bible, but his own teacher–Dr Bruce Metztger of Princeton, the leading text critic in the world–always taught the opposite, namely, that text criticism shows we can have more confidence in the Bible than any other ancient text. That is, we have far more confidence that we have the actual words of the original words of the Bible than we do that we have the original words of Plato, Aristotle, or Homer, etc. Bart Ehrman’s view of text criticism is a minority view among text critics. If you are going to recommend his views as the basis for making faith and life choices, you should at least read a couple of books by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s mentor.

Notice that Keller argues against (1) liberal interpretations of the data from text criticism and (2) Bart Ehrman. He also says (3) if Bruce Metzger was Ehrman’s mentor, I should read Metzger. Then, (4) he follows with a suggestion that I use Bart Ehrman as a “basis for making faith and life choices.”

However, what was my argument? It was actually a bundle of arguments. My arguments, summarized in the comment and given more space in the link that appeared in the comment, were (1) lower-order concerns influence beliefs about higher-order concerns, and (2) Ehrman-like critiques of the New Testament are being used in many university classes today (critiques that focus on factual discrepencies in Scriptural records), and (3) students might be persuaded by Ehrman-like views of lower-order concerns to reject Christianity’s higher-order concerns.

I did not argue for liberal interpretations of the data from text criticism, nor did I argue for Bart Ehrman in general, nor did I argue that Ehrman’s take on text criticism is accurate.

I argued that Ehrman’s take might be influential. I also used Ehrman’s work as an example of what might be taught in many universities.

I did not recommend Ehrman’s views as a basis for “making faith and life choices,” period. (Read my blog post again here, or scroll back up to see my original comment on Keller’s blog.)

I have certainly used some of Ehrman’s writings, in previous posts, to wrestle with issues of both apologetics and personal devotional use of the Bible. But that’s different from making Ehrman a “basis” for “faith and life choices.”

In fact, in my post that I linked to from the comment, I wrote something that Ehrman emphatically disagrees with: “I think believing in the Nicene Creed, based on the testimony of Scripture, makes sense. As ancient testimony, the Scriptures reasonably could support the Creed.”

So Keller’s reply was essentially an ad hominem attack, taking the focus off my points and placing the emphasis on me. It’s a dishonest argumentative move, and it certainly doesn’t have a drop Christianity in it.

Keller simply did not address my argument. I’m confused and distressed because Keller is held up by many as one of evangelicalism’s sharpest minds.

My fear (not an argument, but a fear) is that people will do with Keller the same thing that they do with so many political, religious, and media figures: make him into an infallible source, above any critique.

Is all this too much for an exchange over a blog post? No. Because our names and our discussion are now (and nearly forever) searchable and findable on the Internet.

Furthermore, when a highly regarded public figure makes a strong reply, many people do not realize that the reply is off-topic because they are already enamored with the public figure. Think of debates between political candidates, when every supporter believes his or her candidate won.

What do the words “truth” and “accuracy” and “intellectual honesty” mean to you?