May 27, 2023

A Demarcation Point

Tim Keller could engage with the Left precisely because Keller knew Christians have already won.

Last week, noted pastor and theologian Tim Keller died. While the world is focused on Gov. Ron DeSantis’s bid for the presidency, many Christians have focused on Keller’s wit and wisdom. A Presbyterian pastor, Keller’s death drew comment from all corners of Protestantism and even from Catholic and Orthodox clergy. His contributions to the faith are significant.

Keller was not flashy or extroverted. His preaching style was expository and professorial. He was no self-help motivational speaker dancing across a stage that many churches use now. Redeemer relied on hymns, not contemporary music. He grew a multi-thousand-person church in New York City on Manhattan Island that unapologetically accepted the Bible as the inerrant word of God, and preached that marriage is between a man and woman. Keller was so faithful to scriptural sexual ethics that Princeton Theological Seminary withdrew an award to Keller after the alphabet gang complained.

His church drew in professionals and the working class to listen to a man tell them about Jesus. Keller always told them about Jesus. Not many men could grow a multi-thousand-person Bible-believing church on Manhattan Island, let alone without flash and theater. Keller did it, which makes him so remarkable.

Keller’s success fostered suspicion. He reached out to many groups, in and out of the church, to engage them. He tried to reconcile the Bible and science to help overcome the skepticism of many he encountered in his local community. That caused him more than a little grief from others, many of whom believed Keller rejected a literal Adam and a literal Eve, which he did not.

Keller also engaged the contemporary world around him. He adamantly insisted that the church should take sides on Biblical issues but not take sides in politics. He eschewed the idea that Christians could not vote Democrat for a lot of reasons, including sometimes in places like New York it was far better to vote for a good Democrat who can win than refuse to participate and get an even worse Democrat elected. He angered some who have woven their faith and politics together to wield as a cudgel against political opponents. Keller argued Christians should preach Jesus and let Him change people’s hearts and minds. If, after all, our God is living, we can lead people to Him and let Him regenerate them.

What is notable after Keller’s death is what should become a point of demarcation. For all the praise directed toward Keller’s legacy, some highly online, mostly male “theobros” have criticized Keller. They could not just express sympathy for his death. They decided they needed people to know Keller was bad and wrong for refusing to engage in politics and for having the audacity to build inroads into the world and connect with and build friendships with those Keller might disagree with.

They got Keller precisely wrong in their zeal to turn their faith into a political weapon. We should pay attention to those who used Keller’s death to attack the man and how he conducted himself. It should be a point of demarcation between those whose views are worth considering and those who’ve fallen into idol worship.

Keller could engage with the Left precisely because Keller knew Christians have already won. He could build friendships with those who rejected his faith because Keller knew his faith reigns supreme. Keller could engage for Jesus with a smile because he knew Jesus is coming back. Keller could ignore calls for Christian nation-building because he knew God is building His kingdom and Tim wanted to be a faithful instrument of that building project, not a repackaged America run by sinners.

There are too many people clinging to idols and ideas that weaponize their faith against their neighbor instead of loving their neighbor. Keller knew the fight we fight is a fight against the unseen realm and the weapons we must deploy are different from the weapons of the world, namely Christian love and selflessness and humility in service to Christ. He also knew the fight is already won and we do not need to use the tools of the world to fight when God Himself fights for us.


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