The Ramifications of Dr. Keller’s Assessment of Our Gospel

Dr. Tim Keller remains a powerful source of revelation in the Church due to his continual inability to resist saying things he’s not supposed to mean – statements which point to only one reality: A God of global redemption and restoration.

Keller is pastor of 10,000 member Redeemer Church in New York City. He is also a member of and writer for “The Gospel Coalition.” He is the author of over a dozen books including The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. But even if you have never heard of him please take a moment to ponder the implications of these words from a very successful evangelical pastor:

“Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church.

That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.” (bold added)

I appreciate the self-deprecating inclusion of himself in this assessment but the world is still out there desperate to hear the true life-giving message that Jesus preached! We have all heard these kinds of statements from the pulpit about the tragedy of “the world feeling condemned and judged by the Church.” Somehow the Body of Christ has developed an immunity to these regular charges and ceased to actually hear them. But if we were actually listening to ourselves we would be faced with admitting we have the wrong message!

What if we and Keller were to actually consider why our message is not having the “Jesus effect” of attracting the world?

Many would say that Keller’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian, has been very successful. But we have to understand that it is still a far cry from God’s normal of 3,000 being added to the church in one day(!) Perhaps it is because Keller’s theology can be distilled as simply an upgrade of the recycled message of “God loves you…but.” Like most of evangelicalism today, his gospel is trapped in the realm of a conditional salvation. The effect of the “fine print” keeps the world of “sinners,” for the most part, at a distance.

And since Keller rides the fence between proclaiming the Calvinist and the Arminian positions his gospel limits God’s love from both divine and human perspectives. As a Calvinist he limits God’s love to only applying to the “elect of God.” As one who also borrows from the Arminian paradigm he limits the love of God on account of man’s free-will which is believed to be powerful enough to trump it.

What Keller is unwilling to admit, especially publicly, is that the ramifications of availing himself of both theologies at the same time would force Him to embrace a God who is simultaneously ALL loving and ALL powerful. His God of sovereignty according to his Presbyterian manual, The Westminster Confession of Faith, saves all whom He places His love and desire upon, effectually- without fail. But at the same time Keller uses “man’s freedom of choice” for the buffer to explain how God’s love could fail and allow people to spend eternity in hell (see note). What he is intellectually and logically denying is that to simultaneously proclaim both a sovereign God who is able to save all and a loving God who desires to save all reveals nothing less than the God of a global, universal salvation and restoration!

I am impressed that Keller did not just blame his congregation but also the message communicated from the pulpit. May he allow himself to think outside the limitations his traditions have placed on the love of God and experience the magnetism of the true message of Jesus!

Endnotes:

Consider these additional sweeping statements by Keller that proclaim what we aren’t supposed to believe…!

“God moves toward His world in care and love. He is committed to every part of His creation, loving it and upholding it. And though sin and evil have marred the world, so it is just a shadow of its true self, at the end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory and we with it.”

“The whole world will be healed as it is drawn into the fullness of God’s glory. Evil will be destroyed and all the potentialities in creation, latent until that moment, will explode with fullness and beauty.”

“Because creation was made in the image of a God who is equally one and many, the human race will finally be reunited and our racial and cultural diversity will remain intact in the renewed world. The human race finally lives together in peace and interdependence. Glory to God in the highest goes with peace on earth.”

— Tim Keller “The Reason for God” (pg 232-233)

The following is from The Gospel Coalition regarding Keller’s omission of mentioning the active judgment of God in relation to an eternal hell:

Dr. William Schweitzer, a fine Jonathan Edwards scholar, and a Presbyterian pastor in Gateshead, U.K., is one of Keller’s critics. In his evaluation of Keller’s writings, Schweitzer rightly claims there are “three basic questions concerning the doctrines of judgment and hell: who sends people to hell, who keeps them there, and who metes out the punishment in hell? The traditional and biblical answer to all three questions is God. God sends people to hell, God keeps them there, and God inflicts the punishment in hell” (89–90).

…in addition to these categories the Reformed tradition has affirmed a fourth dimension of God’s judgment, a passive judgment, whereby God allows the sinner to self-harden and self-condemn (Romans 1:24–28). God, from his position of “righteous judge,” can choose to withdraw his sin-restraining power from sinners; thereby he “gives them over to their own lusts . . . whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves” (Westminster Confession 5.6). Keller knows this, too, and chooses to stress this “passive judgment” in his books.

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