Stoning Stephen: Seminary Rescinds Award for Tim Keller

If Stephen the Martyr from Acts chapters 6 and 7 were to appear before PCUSA and the denizens of Princeton Theological Seminary, they would surely stone him.

Each year, Princeton awards the Kuyper Prize, an award for “Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness,” but they have decided to forgo it in 2017 because of a hue and cry over the fact that one of the best-known theologians in America, Pastor Tim Keller, is part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), not the heretic PCUSA.

Princeton pulled the plug on Keller and said it was because of those “who are concerned point to Reverend Keller’s leadership role in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.”

Inclusivity for me, but not for thee.

My colleague Kira Davis wrote of Keller at RedState:

Keller is the anti-Osteen. Quiet, thoughtful and publicly humble almost to a fault, Keller’s appeal seems to be in his sincere belief that the Gospel is not here for our interpretation but rather for our fulfillment. Rather than run from some of the hard truths of the Bible, Keller steers congregants and listeners towards the idea that reconciliation with God requires unpopular sacrifice on the part of every person searching for contentment.

In other words: Keller affirms that God will meet you where you are, but on His terms, not your inclusive 55-genders-and-counting, I-get-to-define-sin version.

That “me” version is embraced by the PCUSA. Of course, most media don’t know the difference between a Presbyterian and a pentecostal, never mind two different Presbyterian denominations. (If you’re in the media and need a primer, go here.) The PCUSA is part of the dying mainline protestant church in America. They are dying because most of them left God’s house for the wilderness many years ago.

Keller’s PCA broke with the mainline denomination, and is experiencing modest growth. It’s only fitting that Princeton Theological Seminary would give an award for “public witness” to a renowned and respected Reformed theologian who is part of a growing church. But it also makes sense that those who would rather the church meld with the world and not witness Christ (this is why the PCUSA lost 22 percent of its membership between 2000 and 2010) become upset when the actual life-giving Gospel is preached.

It offends their ears and convicts them.

Craig Barnes, the seminary’s president, wrote that Keller will still lecture on “Lesslie Newbigin and the mission of the church — not on ordination.” Perhaps they will react the same way the Sanhedrin did when Stephen preached.

When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:54-60

Skeptics and Believers: Your Must Read from Pastor Tim Keller

This chat between skeptic Nicholas Kristof and Pastor Tim Keller in the Christmas edition of the New York Times will surely become a classic. Ranging from the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection through the tenets of the faith of Christianity, it’s a must read for all sinners (that’s everyone, in case you haven’t heard).

You imply that really good people (e.g., Gandhi) should also be saved, not just Christians. The problem is that Christians do not believe anyone can be saved by being good. If you don’t come to God through faith in what Christ has done, you would be approaching on the basis of your own goodness. This would, ironically, actually be more exclusive and unfair, since so often those that we tend to think of as “bad” — the abusers, the haters, the feckless and selfish — have themselves often had abusive and brutal backgrounds.

Read it if you have time between wrapping last minute gifts and eating. Merry Christmas!

Because the Gospel Is Death

Tim Keller is one of the most prominent theologians in the United States today and author of numerous books. He is widely quoted by sectarian and secular opinion makers — in part because he has built a large ministry in New York City that is both compassionate to those outside the church while also basing his ministry on Biblical orthodoxy.

He wrote recently about Matthew Vines, the 25 year old gay activist who has decided the New Testament does not condemn homosexuality. I’ve seen a familiar pattern with Vines. When an orthodox Christian like Keller points out the overwhelming flaws in Vines’ arguments, Vines responds by claiming they misunderstood him or misread him. Apparently every orthodox Christian who has read Vines’ book has misunderstood him because all of them, including Keller, have said Vines is wrong.

The funniest bit of Vines’ response to Keller is noting that he quoted Keller in his book and “Keller shows no engagement with any of those chapters in his review.” Seriously, he said that.

The issue orthodox Christians need to grapple with is that for people like Matthew Vines and others, the gospel is death, not life. So they have created a gospel of their own. In their gospel, Christ says they need not repent of their defining sin because it is no longer sin. With their new gospel, they have life. They have celebrity appearances, they have TV appearances, they get to be the token responder to orthodox Christianity claiming that there is another way.

The actual gospel is death to them because the actual gospel is death to sin. They have traded the gospel of eternal life for the gospel of the here and now. And that is not the real gospel. The real gospel makes them new, but those who think the Bible is neutral on homosexuality reject the oughts of faith — because Christ died and showed them grace, there are things they ought to do.

Grace, though, is not ultimately universal. Not everyone will get it. Those who get it are those who believed and repentance is the other side of the belief coin. One who does not truly believe does not truly repent. A gospel that does not call for repentance and belief is not the gospel of Christianity. It is other.

I am reminded of this from Fr. Lawrence Farley an Orthodox (as in the church, not orthodoxy itself) priest in The Sounding.

In every age, there are Christians who compromise with the standards of their age, and accept the world’s values as their own. These people always call themselves “Christians” and denounce those who disagree with them as rigid and wrong. But the Christ whom they preach is not the real Christ. They in fact misrepresent Him, and preach a Christ made up by themselves, one who conforms more closely to their own secular age. St. Paul, St. John, and St. Athanasius pulled the mask off them in their day, and denied them the label of “Christian”. It is time that we Orthodox follow in their footsteps now and do the same to those who offer a counterfeit faith and another Jesus.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is death to those who do not repent. As Christ himself said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” (Luke 24:46-47)

The Bible does make clear, as Tim Keller noted, that homosexuality is a sin. Matthew Vines has written to challenge that and redefine a 2000 year old understanding because he does not want to repent of his sin, so he must will it to not be a sin because he has decided it is a defining characterize to him.

He is left to tell us all that we have misunderstood him, did not read him, or that Tim Keller just doesn’t know as much as him. In other words, he is a millennial in need of serious prayer.