Keller and his critics
By E.S Williams
An extended review of the book Engaging with Keller – Thinking through the Theology of an influential Evangelical. Edited by Iain D Campbell and William M Schweitzer. EP Books, 2013. Paperback, 160 pages. Contributors: Richard Host, Kevin J. Bidwell, D.G. Hart, Peter J. Naylor.
This book has attracted a lot of attention, for it provides a gracious criticism of some aspects of the theology of Dr. Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York and cofounder of The Gospel Coalition. The six contributors are “all ordained elders in confessional Presbyterian churches,” and from the UK, except for Professor D.G. Hart, who is Adjunct Professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary in California.
In the foreword, the Rev. Ian Hamilton writes: “Dr. Tim Keller has done immense good for the kingdom of God as a theological teacher, innovative and imaginative pastor, and engaging apologist.” The editors refer to Keller “as one of the most influential evangelical leaders of our time … we gladly acknowledge that Keller intends to teach the orthodox truth.” They say that they have entered into debate with Keller because he “is a good man who is so widely admired that he has merited the sustained attention of our contributors.” Indeed, “Keller has consistently demonstrated his commitment to Reformed orthodoxy in numerous ways … He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America … He chooses to serve at seminaries such as Westminster Theological Seminary which are explicitly committed to confessional standards … these things all indicate to us that Keller is orthodox in his beliefs.”
So the ground rules are clearly laid out. Dr. Keller is a sound, Presbyterian minister who teaches orthodox truth with whom the contributors wish to engage in debate. We now turn to the essays in Engaging with Keller to consider “whether some specific aspects of Keller’s teaching are biblically accurate ways of transmitting the Reformed faith.”
In the chapter “Keller on Rebranding the Doctrine of Sin,” Professor Iain Campbell, historian and theologian, deals with Keller’s attempt to make the concept of sin sound more palatable. Keller thinks this is necessary because he has “encountered a cultural allergy to the Christian concept of sin.” Campbell comments: “Keller wants to move his readers away from the idea that sin can be defined merely in terms of breaking divine rules; that is, in breaking the commandments of God. He instead defines sin as that which replaces God in giving a person his or her identity.” He observes that Keller “has a remarkable way of weaving insights from philosophy, history, and even film and television into his efforts to contextualize and contemporize the gospel story. Ironically, however, his greatest weakness is his failure to ground his insights in the biblical narrative itself. Interestingly, while Keller’s discussion of the problem of sin in The Reason for God draws from sources as diverse as H.G. Wells and the Rocky movie, his chapter on the problem of sin contains some ten pages of text before the Bible is even mentioned. The definition of sin excludes any discussion of biblical teaching, and the personal and social consequences of sin are explored without reference to biblical teaching.” Campbell makes the point that “Keller’s definition of sin as a false identity ultimately fails: by itself, it cannot explain the cross.”
Campbell challenges Keller’s assertion in Counterfeit Gods that the basic problem of the human condition is the problem of idolatry, claiming that idolatry is not simply on expression of sin but the root out of which every sin arises. He says “the nature of sin is not idol-making but law-breaking, of which the manufacturing of idols is a specific example. The truth of the human condition is not merely that we make idols, but that we are, by nature, enslaved to law-breaking … the condition of man under sin is much more serious that Keller’s presentation would suggest; we do not simply manufacture idols. We are enslaved in a condition of implacable hostility to God. One looks in vain for a robust answer to that condition on the pages of Counterfeit Gods.”
In Counterfeit Gods, although Keller refers to God’s unconditional love and costly grace, “there is little explanation here of what the gospel means, or what it is that Jesus actually did.” Campbell challenges Keller’s remarkable assertion that Jesus came to abolish religion. “There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that true faith and biblical religion are mutually exclusive. Keller has done the church a disservice with the suggestion that faith in Christ is the end of religion. It is actually its beginning.”
Campbell concludes that Keller’s rebranding defines “sin not in terms of what it does to God, in robbing him of his glory, but of what it does to us, in robbing us of our wholeness.” The result is that “foundational truths of the biblical gospel have been obscured in the rebranding … It is to be feared that Keller’s attempt at rebranding the biblical doctrine of sin, highlighting as it does some key elements while obscuring others, leads to just such a truncating of the gospel.”
In his essay, Campbell has provided a devastating critique of Keller’s theology. He has demonstrated that Keller’s unbiblical rebranding of the doctrine of sin, a doctrine which is central to a sound understanding of the gospel, has truncated the gospel of Christ. This is a serious charge, for a truncated gospel is an incomplete gospel. So we must conclude that Keller’s rebranding of sin has perverted the gospel. The Apostle Paul declares that if any man, or even an angel, perverts the gospel of Christ, let him be cursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
For Keller to obscure the true nature of sin is both an offence against God’s holiness and a serious blow to the gospel of Truth. Jonathan Edwards, one of the great Puritans and a giant of the evangelical awakening in the USA, says that before a man can be truly saved God convicts him of the dreadfulness of sin. “Convictions of conscience through the influence of God’s Spirit, consist in conviction of sinfulness of heart and practice, and of the dreadfulness of sin as committed against God’s terrible majesty, infinite holiness and hatred of sin … a sinner cannot be brought heartily to receive Christ as his Saviour who is not convinced of his sin and misery, and his own emptiness and helplessness and just desert of eternal condemnation.”
Judgement and Hell
In his essay, entitled “Brimstone-Free Hell,” Pastor William Schweitzer deals with three questions: Who condemns people to hell? Who decides the damned stay in hell? Who metes out the punishment in hell? He points out that, “Keller has two different ways of communicating the doctrine of hell, one for ‘traditionalists’ and the other for postmoderns”’. He shows that Keller received his postmodern doctrine of hell largely from C.S. Lewis, who developed a non-offensive concept of “a hell that God does not send anyone to, where the punishment is self-inflicted, and from which no one ever asks to leave.” According to this view, hell is just a freely chosen identity, based on something besides God, going on forever. “There are two sides to the coin of self-chosen hell. One side is that God does not condemn people to hell, and the other is that people send themselves. Notice that Keller appears to affirm both sides of the coin. It is difficult to see how this is compatible with the biblical teaching that God is the One who condemns sinners to hell.” Schweitzer says that to speak of hell only as self-chosen is “a distortion inconsistent with the faith that teaches that God ‘hath most sovereign dominion over [all people], to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth’ (Westminster Confession of Faith 2:2).”
Commenting on a paragraph from The Reason for God, in which Keller discusses C.S. Lewis’s view of hell, Schweitzer says he is unsure why Keller would so condemn a picture that “is consonant with the orthodox doctrine of divine judgement. It is one thing to want to find new ways to explain the traditional doctrine; it is quite another to label it a ‘travesty’ … Far from warranting statements such as that hell is ‘the greatest monument to human freedom,’ or that ‘God simply gives people what they most want,’ the relevant passage in the book of Romans expresses precisely the opposite sentiment.” After quoting Romans 9:19-22, Schweitzer explains: “God’s unconditional sovereignty, concerning both the elect and the reprobate, permeates the Bible … he [Keller] speaks as if hell is a matter of God simply deferring to human free will.”
In response to the question, Who decides that the damned stay in hell? Schweitzer comments, “The fact that a character in a parable does not actually ask to leave hell [the rich man in the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16] does not constitute sufficient warrant for Keller’s idiosyncratic assertion ‘No one ever asks to leave hell.’”
Keller’s idea of hell comes from the theology of C.S. Lewis. However, Lewis “was largely transmitting the teaching of someone he called his ‘master,’ George MacDonald [a nineteenth century Scottish theologian]. This is significant because MacDonald thought that nothing could be worse than the ‘vile,’ ‘monstrous,’ ‘pagan notion’ of penal substitutionary atonement, and developed his theology in self-conscious opposition to it. MacDonald’s doctrine of hell was no incidental side-show to this anti-penal substitutionary system of theology, but an integral part of it. Now we know that Keller received the postmodern doctrine of hell from an intermediate source, unaware that it was hardwired to function with a heretical system. However, it nevertheless comes with dangerous systematic implications and it is only a matter of time until it does exactly what is was designed to do: render the penal substitutionary atonement unnecessary.”
Quoting various passages from Old and New Testaments, Schweitzer refutes Keller’s contention that punishment in hell is self-inflicted. He says “considering the prototypes of judgement of which we already have a record … the worldwide flood on Noah’s day, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the exodus all serve as ‘an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly’ (2 Peter 2:4-6; Jude 1:5) … in each case it is made explicitly clear that God himself metes out the punishment associated with judgment.”
But Keller is keen to promote the idea of a non-judgemental God, who does not condemn people to hell. Indeed, Keller regards the traditional doctrine of hell as a travesty. Keller’s false view of hell comes not from Scripture, but from the writings of C.S. Lewis, who in turn founded his view on the heretical ideas of George MacDonald.
Explaining the Trinity
In the chapter “Losing the dance,” systematic theologian Dr. Kevin Bidwell challenges Keller’s doctrine of the Trinity. He writes: “The divine dance motif for the Trinity is no minor key in Keller’s thinking and it is not restricted only to his ideas for the doctrine of God. He rolls out this new metaphor upon the story-line of redemption.” Bidwell comments on the recent tendency to install the attribute of love into the definition of God’s being. “If love is part of our definition of the very being or essence of God, then any attribute (such as justice or wrath) that appears inconsistent with this definition is then commonly dismissed or downplayed, resulting in a distorted theology.” Keller’s idea is “that the divine attribute of love underpins everything and that the divine movement manifests itself in a Trinitarian revolving dance; voluntarily circling each other.” So the “nub of his argument appears to be an emphasis upon a single divine attribute, which is love … Keller does not go on to mention other things that God declares himself to be, such as that he is holy (Isaiah 5:16), that he is “a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) … He simply decides to focus exclusively on love. He more or less assumes that there is a “divine dance” and labels it as ‘the dance of love.’” Dr. Bidwell is firm in declaring that “there is no scriptural evidence for a movement of dance within the inner life of the Trinity.’”
Bidwell concludes: “We have summarized that the ‘divine dance’ explanation of the Trinity has no biblical warrant … six problematic implications of the ‘divine dance’ idea have led us to conclude that this metaphor undermines the orthodox belief in the Trinity.’” He issues this warning: “We must warn that the ‘divine dance’ imagery is not an accurate chart and it masks hidden reefs.’”
Describing the Trinity as a divine dance is completely without biblical warrant and repugnant to sound doctrine. Keller’s emphasis on God’s love without reference to God’s holiness produces a distorted view of God’s character. He is cultivating the idea of a loving, non-judgemental God who condemns no one to hell. The image of the divine persons of the eternal Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, voluntarily dancing around each other is a figment of Keller’s imagination that has no basis in Scripture.
The Church’s Mission
Pastor Peter Naylor, an Old Testament scholar, writes a chapter entitled, “The Church’s Mission: sent to ‘do justice’ in the world?” He examines Generous Justice in order to understand what Keller teaches about the mission of the church. Naylor writes: “Keller’s main thesis is that the church has a twofold mission in this world: (1) to preach the gospel and (2) to do justice, which involves social and cultural transformation and renewal.”
Naylor identifies a crucial question: “Should the church (as a corporate, organized body) work directly for social and cultural transformation? Certainly it must proclaim the truth and call for change, for justice, love, kindness and generosity. Should it also take direct action to bring about a new culture, justice, elimination of poverty, and so on?” He shows how Keller argues from Old Testament laws “that the church should take direct action to alleviate the poverty of the city. However, these laws were given to regulate the life of the covenant people, not to dispatch them to the wider world with cartloads of grain.” Careful examination of New Testament texts shows that “material support was available to those within the church. There was not a needy person among them … There is no evidence that the church at Ephesus ran a social service for all the widows in the city; in fact, the text of 1 Timothy 5 shows us that it did not do so.” [Naylor’s italics]
Naylor shows how in Generous Justice, “Keller teaches that the laws of jubilee support the redistribution of wealth … This is a complete misunderstanding of the laws of jubilee. Those laws (which were not state-sponsored) did the very opposite of what Keller says they did. Far from relativizing a person’s property, the law was designed to preserve it.” Naylor comments: “The Westminster Confession of Faith explicitly repudiates what Keller advocates.” [Naylor’s italics]
Having examined Keller’s view of the mission of the Church, Naylor speaks with conviction. “Man’s plight, at the most profound level, lies in his sin, guilt and misery, in his being under the wrath of God, and in his being subject to the power of the devil and death. In short, his basic need is spiritual, not material … we must insist that the world needs Christ, and all else is entirely secondary. Keller focuses on the materially poor. This involves a distorted picture of human need and produces distortions elsewhere in his doctrinal system.”
In Generous Justice Keller writes: “Jesus, in his incarnation, ‘moved in’ with the poor … In Proverbs we see God identifying with the poor symbolically. But in the incarnation and death of Jesus we see God identifying with the poor and marginal literally.” Naylor comments: “The Bible does not present the incarnation as moving in with the poor. Christ came into the world to save sinners … When Keller focuses on poverty and injustice, he distorts the incarnation and crucifixion, and takes us away from the purpose of both – which was to save sinners – and leads us into the byway of social transformation. He is leading us to concentrate on the wrong goal.”
Pastor Naylor concludes his excellent critique of Keller’s teaching on the mission of the Church: “He [Keller] fails to establish his case on the basis of Scripture. This happens because his handling of Scripture is defective. He approaches the text with a predetermined agenda that distorts his interpretation. For example, his interpretation of Christ’s mission is skewed from the spiritual and eternal plane to the temporal and social plane … As a result, the dual-track mission that he advocates lacks the authority and wisdom of Christ.” [my italics]
Naylor’s well-argued assessment is that Keller’s predetermined agenda distorts his interpretation of Scripture. And Naylor is right, for as Keller has told us in The Reason for God, he is emotionally drawn to the ideology of neo-Marxism. Keller’s promotion of social transformation and the redistribution of wealth have more to do with a neo-Marxist agenda than with the Christian faith.
Rev. Richard Holst, an expert in hermeneutics, examines Tim Keller’s method of interpreting Scripture, and uses the principles laid down in the Westminster Confession of Faith as the standard for sound biblical interpretation. Holst looks at three potential problem areas in Keller’s writings, namely, the use of parables; the use of secondary aspects in the text as the main warrant for what is being taught; and the use of logical fallacies in exegeses.
In The Prodigal God, Keller uses the story of the prodigal son ‘in order to get to the heart of the Christian faith’ and to show ‘how the story helps us to understand the Bible as a whole’. Holst comments: ‘One could hardly conceive of a concept more contrary to good hermeneutical procedure than to use a parable to define the Christian faith and, thereafter, to understand the rest of Scripture in this light.’
An example of Keller’s use of secondary aspects of the text as the main warrant for what he wishes to teach is the incident with Miriam in Numbers 12. Keller writes in Generous Justice: “The Bible strikes numerous blows against racism. Moses’s sister Miriam was punished by God because she rejected Moses’s African wife on account of her race (Numbers 12).” But Keller’s interpretation of the incident is flawed. Holst shows from Scripture that “God makes his rationale for rebuking Aaron and Miriam absolutely clear, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with racism … Miriam was punished by God … because she disregarded the divinely-ordained authority of Moses.”
To illustrate Keller’s logical fallacies in interpreting Scripture, Holst turns to Keller’s handling of obedience to God’s law in The Prodigal God. Keller writes: “They both [the sons] were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.” Holst develops the argument. He writes: “We cannot assume that just because someone claims to have followed the law they actually have done so (Matthew 19:20). Even if the elder brother has endeavoured to keep the law, there is another explanation for why he might be alienated other than his law-keeping … obedience to the law is always good in and of itself, but our relationship with God may yet be fatally undermined for other reasons (Romans 7) … to say that ‘Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God’ is exegetically indefensible.”
Holst concludes that Keller does not consistently adhere to sound Reformed hermeneutical method. Everyone who seeks to sow the seed of the Word of God, “has a duty to be clear in both understanding and presentation because we have no authority to say anything apart from it. Hermeneutical sleight of hand is ruled out; faithfulness is ruled in.” Keller’s approach to Scripture breaks the rules for sound Reformed hermeneutical method. He uses Scripture to support his agenda, and even resorts to hermeneutical sleight of hand in doing so.
Not Quite Theistic Evolution
In the chapter on Keller’s theistic evolution, William Schweitzer makes the point that Keller identifies the conflict between the doctrine of creation and the theory of evolution as “one of the major obstacles to faith. From Keller’s perspective, this is particularly sad because it is unnecessary – the appearance of a war between these camps is largely media-driven … Keller tries to set things straight in his own writing and by championing a New York organization that was created for the very purpose of reconciling Christians to evolution, the Biologos Foundation.” In his writings Keller is arguing that “there is no real opposition between Christian faith and evolution. You can believe them both, since evolution is simply the means by which God created.” Schweitzer notes that “rather than calling into question the pronouncements of fallible scientists, he [Keller] calls into question a literal reading of Scripture.” Elsewhere Keller has asserted that the first chapter of Genesis is a poem, and cannot be taken literally.
Schweitzer makes the point that “Keller does not define exactly what he means by God bringing about ‘the creation of life forms and human life using evolutionary processes’… so we are compelled to consider the possibility that Keller thinks it is permissible for us to believe that Adam was created through evolution.”
We learn more about Keller’s approach to evolution from an interview with Anthony Sacramone of First Things. During the interview, Keller explains his approach to evolution: “So here’s what I like — the messy approach, which is I think there was an Adam and Eve. I think there was a real Fall. I think that happened. I also think that there also was a very long process probably, you know, that the earth probably is very old, and there was some kind of process of natural selection that God guided and used, and maybe intervened in. And that’s just the messy part. I’m not a scientist. I’m not going to go beyond that.” Keller continues: “How could there have been death before Adam and Eve fell? The answer is, I don’t know. But all I know is, didn’t animals eat bugs? Didn’t bugs eat plants? There must have been death. In other words, when you realize, ‘Oh wait, this is really complicated,’ then you realize, ‘I don’t have to figure this out before I figure out is Jesus Christ raised from the dead’”.
The biblical account of creation is not messy. Keller’s assertion that there was death before the Fall of Man is contrary to Scripture, and deeply heretical.
In their postscript, the editors of Engaging reassure us that “Tim Keller intends to teach the orthodox truth in a way that is relevant to contemporary culture.” They hope to start a conversation to help the church “discern better ways of communicating our ‘like precious faith’ (2 Peter 1:1).” And they desire a public response to their writings. “If Keller does not actually employ the teachings we have discussed, then we stand to be corrected … we look forward to the process of clarification which we hope will follow.” What’s important is that “Keller’s own Reformed theology, reflective as it is of the biblical truth, be transmitted in ways that are completely clear.” The editors close with these words: “Let us join together with our dear brother Tim Keller to pray that the Word and Spirit would prosper more and more in our lands”
Reading the postscript, one cannot but come to the conclusion that the editors are somewhat unsure of themselves and their critique. Perhaps they’ve got it wrong and need to be corrected. They hope that a public response will clarify the theological issues raised in their review of Keller’s theology.
Is Tim Keller a False Teacher?
Engaging with Keller has dealt with six important areas of Christian doctrine and found Keller to be wanting. While much of the critique of Keller’s theology is well-argued and convincing, as far as it goes, the editors made it clear, even before presenting evidence of deep flaws in Keller’s theology, that he is a good man who supports and teaches orthodox Reformed theology. They reassure their readers that Keller is a sound teacher of the truth, and there is not the slightest suggestion that Keller could be a false teacher. So having rightly identified numerous serious errors in Keller’s theology, errors that truncate the gospel, their readers are exhorted to accept Keller as an orthodox brother in Christ.
Keller’s Flawed Methods of Bible Interpretation
A major finding of Engaging with Keller, which has emerged from all the essays, is that Tim Keller uses flawed methods of Bible interpretation. He consistently distorts Scripture to make it appear to support his agenda. In much of his writings on theological issues, he pays little attention to the teachings of Scripture. In his chapter on the problem of sin, as we have seen, he spends ten pages discussing the ideas of men like Kierkegaard, C.S. Lewis and others, before he even mentions Scripture. And when he does finally mention Scripture, the references are spurious. Keller’s teaching on hell comes not from Scripture, but from the theology of C.S. Lewis. He misuses Lazarus and the rich man, to make the ridiculous claim that no one has ever asked to leave hell. He selects Scripture to teach that the essential attribute of God is love, while ignoring the weight of Scripture that elevates God’s holiness. He wrongly uses the parable of the prodigal son in order to get to the heart of the Christian faith. Richard Holst’s critique is devastating: “One could hardly conceive of a concept more contrary to good hermeneutical procedure than to use a parable to define the Christian faith.”
Dr. Bidwell in his analysis of Keller’s “divine dance” is firm in declaring that there is no scriptural evidence for a movement of dance within the inner life of the Trinity. “We have summarized that the ‘divine dance’ explanation of the Trinity has no biblical warrant.”
Another disturbing example of Keller’s misuse of Scripture, not mentioned in Engaging, is his interpretation of the elder brother in The Prodigal God. Keller claims the Pharisees, whom he says were represented in the parable by the elder brother, “held to the traditional morality of their upbringing. They studied and obeyed the Scripture. They worshipped faithfully and constantly.” Keller infers that the Pharisees are the religious people “who do everything the Bible requires.” But the Pharisees were not people who believed and obeyed the Bible, as Keller asserts. On the contrary, the Pharisees held to the tradition of men. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do” (Mark 7:8). The Pharisees feigned obedience to God’s Word, but they did not really obey it — they were hypocrites who did not obey God’s moral law, they only kept the ceremonial rites, like hand washing. Jesus called them hypocrites seven times in Matthew 23. So Keller’s statement that the Pharisees obeyed the Scriptures is false and misleading. He draws this false conclusion: “Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.” Our Lord said: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Keller’s Political Agenda
In Reason for God Keller tells how he went to a fine, liberal, small university in the Northeast. He writes: “The history and philosophy departments were socially radicalized and were heavily influenced by the neo-Marxist critical theory of the Frankfurt School. In 1968, this was heady stuff. The social activism was particularly attractive, and the critique of American bourgeoisie society was compelling …” He admits that he “was emotionally” drawn to the social activism of the neo-Marxists. “How could I turn back to the kind of orthodox Christianity that supported segregation in the South and apartheid in South Africa?”
In Generous Justice, Keller teaches that the laws of jubilee support the redistribution of wealth, a concept that is entirely consistent with the ideology of neo-Marxism. Naylor shows that this is a complete misunderstanding of the biblical text. The laws of jubilee did the very opposite of what Keller says they did. Once again we see Keller twisting Scripture to support his political agenda.
Keller has distorted the mission of the church and the great commission. His thesis that the church has a twofold mission in this world — to preach the gospel and to do justice, which involves social and cultural transformation and renewal – is not supported by Scripture. Pastor Naylor concludes, “He [Keller] fails to establish his case on the basis of Scripture. This happens because his handling of Scripture is defective. He approaches the text with a predetermined agenda that distorts his interpretation.”
Keller’s False View of the Character of God
Schweitzer shows that Keller condemns a picture that is consonant with the orthodox doctrine of divine judgement. Bidwell comments on the Keller’s tendency to install the attribute of love into the definition of God’s being, but does not go on to mention God’s holiness. Keller’s promotion of progressive evolution among Christians causes confusion over the interpretation of Genesis, and demeans the sovereignty of God in creating the heavens and the earth through the power of his Word.
Issues Avoided by Engaging with Keller
There are three crucial doctrinal areas where the authors have chosen not to engage with Keller. The first is Keller’s defence of the Church of Rome; the second is Keller’s promotion of Catholic mysticism and the contemplative prayer movement of Richard Foster; and the third is Keller’s commitment to the ideas of the Frankfurt School of Neo-Marxism, mentioned above. The authors of Engaging, having studied Keller’s books and having immersed themselves in his ministry, must have come across these highly controversial issues, yet they have chosen to ignore them. And this is unfortunate for their readers have been left with an incomplete picture of Keller’s teachings and doctrine.
Keller and Rome
In The Reason for God, Keller’s definition of Christianity includes all Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians who affirm the traditional creeds of the Faith. He writes: “Nevertheless, all Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians assent together to the great creeds of the first thousand years of church history, such as the Apostle’s, Nicene, Chalcedonian and Athanasian creeds. In these creeds the fundamental Christian view of reality is laid out … What is Christianity? For our purposes, I’ll define Christianity as the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds … I am making a case in this book for the truth of Christianity in general – not for one particular strand of it.” Keller goes on to justify his dogma of progressive evolution by appealing to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. He writes: “Many Christians believe that God brought about life this way. For example, the Catholic Church, the largest church in the world, has made official pronouncements supporting evolution as being compatible with Christian belief.” Keller has conferred on the Roman Catholic Church the accolade of being the largest Christian Church in the world.
So Keller makes no distinction between the Protestant faith and Roman Catholicism — he defends what he refers to as the whole Church, which includes the Roman Catholic Church, and not one particular strand. In Keller’s mind, a Christian believer is one who affirms belief in the ecumenical creeds of the Faith, and this includes Roman Catholics. Keller’s definition of Christianity is contrary to Protestant doctrine laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Keller and Mysticism
Keller has for many years been promoting Roman Catholic mysticism. In his lecture entitled, What is meditation? (1998), Keller mentions “two streams that are filled with good, helpful material on meditation — the Catholic stream and the Quaker stream.” He refers to the “great stuff” that emanates from Roman Catholic mystics, and mentions Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), St. Francis de Sales, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Keller endorses Catholic mystical writings with these words: “The best things that have been written are by Catholics during the Counter Reformation. Great stuff!” Keller also promotes the mysticism of Quaker Richard Foster, who founded Renovaré, an organisation that promotes intentional living and Spiritual Formation among Christians and those wanting a deeper connection with God.
Keller’s embrace of the Church of Rome has resulted in the promotion of Catholic mystical practices in his Redeemer Church. In 2009, Keller’s Presbyterian Church was teaching their flock how to practise “The Way of the Monk,” a method of prayer and worship that is grounded in Catholic mysticism. One of the Redeemer flock was so disturbed by what was happening that she wrote: “I had to finally leave Redeemer because I learned they are holding classes on how to pray by way of lectio divina, contemplative prayer/meditation, and even how to create ‘your own private monastery’ (class was called The Way of the Monk). This most definitely did/does not sit well with me and I wrote a letter to the Pastors and Elders of the church about my concerns a couple of months ago but have not yet received a response.”
We believe that the evidence presented above provides overwhelming proof that Keller is not orthodox in his theology, and he certainly does not demonstrate a commitment to sound Reformed doctrine. An examination of Keller’s theology shows that he uses Scripture to support his own ideas and to further his own agenda. We have seen nothing that convinces us that Keller preaches the true gospel of Christ. By refusing to deal with even the possibility that Keller is a false teacher, the editors of Engaging with Keller have done a disservice to the cause of Christ, and the gospel of Truth.
Our Lord warned: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). The Apostle Paul warned church elders of many “which corrupt the word of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17). “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock’ (Acts 20:29). The Apostle John commanded the church: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). False teachers are opposed to the gospel of truth, and surreptitiously bring another gospel into the Church. Our Lord said we will know them by their fruits. So is Keller a false teacher? We would be unfaithful to the Lord if we did not consider the possibility, for we are to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares …” (Jude 3,4). The answer to our question is surely obvious to every discerning Christian.
Engaging with Keller, EP books, 2013, editors Iain Campbell and William Schweitzer pp15,17
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, p1747
Generous Justice, pp185-186
Tim Keller, Generous Justice, Hodder & Stoughton, 2010, p123
Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, pp36-37
An Interview with Timothy Keller by Anthony Sacramone of First Things, 2008,
The Prodigal God, p8
The Prodigal God, p10
The Prodigal God, p37
Tim Keller, The Reason for God, Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, p. xi-xii
Ibid. p. xii
The Reason for God, p116-117
The Reason for God, p87