A (Very) Brief Response to Tim Keller and Nicholas Kristof

obi_wan_kenobiHere we are, on the eve of Christmas 2016.  This holiday season has inarguably been filled with the least hope and the least wonder for me personally that I can ever remember.  No doubt, I am still smarting from a grossly toxic election season and an outcome that is vexing and difficult to fathom, as well as the implications that outcome has had in shattering what remaining illusions I apparently had about the world, and these United States moreover.

This op-ed piece by NY Times Writer Nicholas Kristof didn’t help any.  In it, he asks a series of questions to Rev. Tim Keller, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of US Christian evangelicals, about what really makes a Christian a Christian.

If you haven’t read it, I suggest you skip it, and this response.  If you did or want to, keep going.

Tim Keller’s perspective is replete — and I mean, replete — with theological assumptions, some informed by the fact that he is part of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), the largest conservative Reformed Christian church in America, which is also notably literalist and evangelical, not to mention all of the cultural assumptions that go along with being a cisgender heterosexual white male and a United States Citizen.  Only one time in the conversation did he say, “There are many views of this issue, so my thoughts on this cannot be considered the Christian response,” but that is nonetheless true of each statement in which he took a position and of his orientation toward Christianity at-large.

Perhaps most importantly, lots of really learned, devout Christians have a broader and more inclusive picture of humanity then the 2 sentences it took Tim Keller to define who is in and out of Christianity and the few more it took him to send everyone else to hell. If you haven’t ever, you really should read some other perspectives, and at length, even if the end result is that it doesn’t change anything you believe. (Yes, I have some suggestions — anyone on this list.)  At least you can know what some of the other perspectives are, and how, in the end, many of them make a lot of sense and are very plausible.



The Star Of Bethlehem by Edward Burne Jones courtesy of Wikimedia Commons used under Creative Commons License.



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Author: Ryan Thomas Neace

Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at ryan@changeincorporated.org.

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  • I made the mistake of reading the Keller interview. Wow. I was quickly reminded why I am embarking on another indefinite break from institutionalized USAmerican Christianity. The notion of being able to “instantly receive eternal life” by believing in Jesus–whatever that even means–is what I think Bonhoeffer would call “cheap grace.” I would want to ask Keller, “Whose Jesus? Which one?” One Methodist practice that I’m proud to have inherited is a therapeutic soteriology: a salvation that takes place over time, in community, and through a balanced praxis of thought and action.

    He also situates his Christianity (yes, I’m implying that his is one of many) within a bafflingly ahistorical frame that allows his biases to peek out, though it’s clear that he does not pay attention when they do. By this, I mean that his dichotomous faith would be strange and narrow to anyone outside of the last hundred or so years in North America.

    • Ryan Thomas Neace

      Agreed. It’s strange, and sad. And why I invest so little in the institution.

  • Tom Christian

    I read it. (When someone tells me to not do something I exercise my “fallen nature” to do otherwise ;o) )

    Keller is well informed within his system. He said what I would expect him to say. It would have been fine if his response was more like, “Well, they aren’t MY kind of Christian.” But, alas. I’m quite sure that God also forgives our theologies…