So there was a piece I saw online from the NY Times today, kind of a simplistic Q&A between Nicholas Kristof and Tim Keller, and if none of this means anything to you, that’s also cool. A friend asked us what we thought of how Keller did in his responses to some basic questions about being a Christian (which is usually kind of a minefield because it can mean so many things, and hats off to Kristof for not going any sort of “gotcha” route). Becky, who grew up in what she calls the “evangelical bubble,” responded with brevity and insight, that it was too narrow a view, and that perhaps Keller is a little too keen on being loved by the evangelical establishment (which he is) to break free and say what he really thinks. While I don’t know about the latter, she’s spoken recently to at least one person who knows the fellow quite well and I’m prepared to go with it, because it does help explain a lot of what I’ve never quite understood about Keller’s mission, which seems mostly to make successful young people in New York feel bad about feeling good in the name of some sort of Christianity. .
So how did I think Keller did, you weren’t going to ask?
He did his usual first-rate job…of being Tim Keller and approaching the only matter that matters with a typically subtle lack of subtlety, which always makes me wonder what his agenda really is. I find a fundamental break between his acknowledgement that “love as the supreme virtue” and his teaching that the cross is punishment for the sins of man by an angry God who remains unpropitiated—that of course is not in this piece, but in other sermons of his that I’ve heard, most notably one on video that was presented at Faith on Fire several years back that left me profoundly saddened.
But the inability to hold two ideas simultaneously, even if they have a large degree of overlap (it’s either Jesus’ teaching OR his resurrection that counts, not both, or only the Resurrection validates the teaching. Really?), makes for a very limited theology, a small God if you will (and I won’t). And no amount of talking about a big God at the end of the discussion makes up for the small one of the beginning and middle.
Also, for a “justified by faith” guy, he’s being awfully strict about choosing what the rules are. But a difference between Keller’s theology and my own, such as it is, is that I’m not going to take it upon myself to decide who’s in and who’s out by data-mining Scripture. Surely that’s God’s job, if anyone’s? I like the Apostle’s Creed myself (though not all Christians do, so are they out of Kellertopia?), but it was messed around with by committees too and I think we’ve all had enough committee experience to wonder if that’s really the most obvious place to experience the divine…
Next, he sometimes speaks for all Christianity, in a way a vast number of Christians would probably not all care to be spoken for, as usual by setting it all up in an uncomfortably (even for him, I think) digital manner—you’re a 1 or a 0 in how you approach God. Or, rather, how God approaches you. I’d love to know what he thinks of the book of James, with a theology recognizing the value of works that comes straight out of the gospel of Mark. But more to the point, when he goes on to discuss the importance of having and facing your doubts, it all of a sudden turns a lot more analogue, if you will (and I will). It’s this kind of inconsistency that also makes me uncomfortable with the work of one of the most important voices of the more sensible, mainstream evangelical Protestantism.
I think he’s soundish on the false dichotomy between faith and science, though I think he underplays the importance of the latter, not seeing the overlap of the two, and, as I mention above of the importance of doubt and examination. But his inability to look at the big picture while paying lip service to its existence is for me the fatal flaw, though for himself, it’s really sort of the basis of all he stands for.
Here’s the link to the article, though it’s not out of the question that by this point you’re more tired of it all than I am: Kristof and Keller.