First Marx, Now Keller?

The word “manifesto” strikes me as an odd one to attach to the idea of evangelism and missions, but the Missional Manifesto has now entered the parlance of our times, alphabetized several lines below the Communist Manifesto. I myself don’t have the energy to devote to the latest of Keller-sponsored cooperative endeavors – I have a hard enough time keeping up with all the doings of the Gospel Coalition. But I do wonder if our brothers and sisters in the PCA take notice of the liabilities of Keller’s efforts as much as they applaud his obvious assets. (Tim Bayly, David Bayly, Hello?)

Helping out on this score is Wes White who noted the publication of the Missional Manifesto and gave his readers the chance to discuss its merits. One comment by Bill Schweitzer was particularly astute:

Another worrying aspect of the missional movement would be the holistic nature of the gospel. This involves a rejection of the “modernist” concept of individual salvation of sinners in favour of a comprehensive gospel of cultural transformation. This is articulated in the manifesto in point 8:

8. Duality: We believe the mission and responsibility of the church includes both the proclamation of the Gospel and its demonstration. From Jesus, we learn the truth is to be proclaimed with authority and lived with grace. The church must constantly evangelize, respond lovingly to human needs, as well as ”seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7).

The idea is that the verbal proclamation alone is only half the picture. But here the movement verges a little too close to an old enemy of the verbal proclamation, the Social Gospel. Listen as the editor of an essay collection on “The Social Gospel Today” summarizes the thought of the “Father of the Social Gospel,” Walter Rauschenbusch:

…he argued that a gospel of individual salvation is a half gospel, for the gospel had social dimensions as well. He pointed out that Jesus continued the call of the prophets for justice and mercy by proclaiming the coming kingdom of God in which unconditional love would eventually triumph over all obstacles in society. Rauschenbusch called on the church to respond to Jesus’ call for bringing in the kingdom of God and to struggle for its realization.” (Christopher H. Evans, The Social Gospel Today xiii)

As far as I know, Rauschenbusch never called for an end to the verbal proclamation of the gospel for individual salvation. Rather, he simply sought to restore what he thought to be the “other half” of the gospel, which is social action (in terms of justice and mercy.) Yet we know how that story ended. Dual mandates do not typically remain equal partners for long, and the call to include social action soon enough became a practical exclusion of the verbal proclamation. Perhaps, therefore, we should think more carefully before we define the Great Commission as a dual mandate involving both word and deed. In conclusion, I can only agree with Frank: however much other things might be lawful or even commanded by Scripture, the Great Commission itself is a single mandate for making disciples through the ordinary means of grace. (Mat 28:18-19)

Chances are that little will come of this manifesto. Does anyone actually remember the Evangelical Manifesto? But I’m glad to know some folks in the PCA are alert.

31 thoughts on “First Marx, Now Keller?

  1. I have been sitting at a coffee house in Berkeley reading Horton’s new book “The Gospel Commission” ( a great book) and I just reading his post and the Manifesto. Wow, what polar opposites. Looks like Keller is engaging in what Horton calls “mission creep”.


  2. “…sitting in a coffee house in Berkeley….” Well how does it compare with Marx’s manifesto on the wall behind you? Just kidding, not really.


  3. Jeff, could you say more about this? I’m not sure I follow — that is, modernity = Constantinianism. I thought modernity (separation of church and state) was precisely a rejection of Constantinianism (and why Leithart finds Constantine attractive, that is, as a way to reject modernity).


  4. Sean,

    No Marx’s manifesto on the wall but there is some hammering going on upstairs. It is quite annoying. All that is needed now is the sickle. Actually it is a joy to preach Christ in Berkeley. As you may guess there are not many Old School Presbyterian Churches in Berkeley. The Lord has sustained ours since 1936. BTW, our mission statement is the one given by our Lord, not outlined in new manifesto


  5. The NT counterpart to Jer 29:7 is 1 Tim 2:1-7 which concerns prayer for a peaceful society to the end that the gospel would go out. Paul does not say to be engaged in social justice; the aim is the proclamation of Christ. Don’t go to the OT and plop it down upon us; read it thru the transforming lens of the new covenant. The church is not about common grace, but the saving grace of the eternal kingdom. I was dumbfounded when I read an Acts 29 pastor say he is failing when he preaches the gospel and the crime rate in his city does not go down. There are so many things wrong with that statement.


  6. DGH, I believe that the argument went like this (I didn’t find it entirely persuasive, but I’ve heard it now from three different sources…)

    (1) Modernity was the quest to build a unified society.

    (2) Constantinianism was the quest to build a unified society under religion (technically, that should probably be Theodosianism, but hey).

    (3) Modernity therefore hitched the horses together under Rome and later, Luther and Calvin.

    (4) And the solution is the Postmodern emphasis on small independent communities and religious enclaves in which Christianity can be “our thing” without having to be “everybody’s thing.”


  7. One of the obvious problems with the argument (and I mentioned this to one of my sources) is that it extends “modernity” backwards into the Middle Ages. The response: “Well, it was the spirit of modernism anyway.”


  8. Re: Chances are that little will come of this manifesto.

    I do hope this is true. Out of curiosity, I followed Ed Stetzer’s twitter the last week and it looked like the Manifesto might be part of a marketing plan to reach churches via pastor conferences, podcast interviews, and so forth with their missional message and a New Church Planter Candidate Assessment tool that can be purchased at Lifeway (the same link has another link to purchase resources from other church plant organizations). I hope they do not have dreams of following in Rick Warren’s marketing shoes.


  9. Lily is right – this bunch seems to be wrapped up with Lifeway which used to be known as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sunday School Board, now just a mega-marketer of “Christian” tools. All the more reason to say, “Tim, why?” or “Reformed, not.”


  10. DGH, I’m thinking you might do well to devote more attention to the Bishop of Manhattan and less to GC/DG/YRR. Surely young men in OPC and URC are more likely to hear the siren call of the former than the latter. Or am I wrong? Is the mushy middle more attractive than the flaky fringe?


  11. Brad, how do you tell the difference between TGC, YRR, and TKNY? (It’s not a trick question.) Although an interesting joke might be constructed around how many evangelicals does it take to tell the difference between TGC, YRR, and TKNY?


  12. Darryl,
    Thanks for putting that up. Indeed, think it might be useful to familiarize ourselves with the actual characteristics of not only the Social Gospel, but with all of the elements of original liberalism. Over time, liberalism had taken on the exaggerated appearance of an artificially prepared laboratory specimen (“You see, children? Social Gospel means no evangelism”) but the real thing was far more subtle and elusive. Perhaps there might be some use in this kind of elementary instruction by caricature, but it is of little use for preparing ordained men to be defenders of the faith. If the surgeon is looking for a vein to be shiny plastic blue when working on a living person, there will be problems. The clarity concerning liberalism we now take for granted was not native to the ideas themselves but was the hard-fought trophy of men like Machen interacting with attractive, subtle errors designed to elude notice (2 Cor 11:13-15).


  13. Brad,

    I don’t have answers, but I may be able offer some background info that may be helpful in becoming more aware of some of things going on in American evangelicalism which may be affecting the PCA. Several years ago, I was one of a number of people who were doing research trying to find out what was going on in our denomination (LCMS). I won’t go into the details of our struggles, but this research was triggered by our synod canceling the Issues Etc. radio program. One of the things Issues Etc. was outspoken about was the problems with the church-growth and emergent movements infiltrating our churches. What I learned about this situation is out-of-date, but the information may still be of use.

    I no longer have my files from the research so what I have to pass on is from memory. My research began with looking at the Willow Creek seeker-sensitive movement that had been the first CGM inroads made into our denomination. Next came Rick Warren’s purpose-driven movement inroads and then I stumbled on Leonard Sweet (emergent guru) making presentations at our seminaries and district conferences. As I researched him, my impression of Sweet was that he is mainly a behind the scenes player with numerous ties to all of the emergent leaders. The emergents leaders were very interested in the confessional churches because of our old church liturgy and so forth. Sweet has ties with Warren that date back to the mid ’90s. I wish I could document this, but I well remember how my heart sank when I read articles that Warren was seeking a way to pull the confessional churches into his orbit. It seems that Warren was invited as a speaker at the 2010 Desiring God conference, so it may be that his concerns about drawing the confessional churches into this orbit is starting to bear fruit. Here is a link that helps show how extensive his ties are in promoting his agenda:

    I’m not into conspiracy theories, but it is worth noting the spiderweb of ties between Warren and others and how their different agendas converge. The same can be said of the emergent leaders like Leonard Sweet and Dan Kimball, and the missional movement leaders like Keller, Kimball, and Stetzer. One area that they all seem to have in common is their desire/push for indiscriminate ecumenism in Christianity and their sophisticated uses of marketing and social media. I haven’t done any research to see what is current with these men, but I would guess googling and reading would be an eye-opener. Since the PCA is one of the links for the Lifeway church plant resources, I would guess that there may have been significant inroads made into your denomination.

    Once upon a time, I used to put a best construction on these kinds of movements/leaders, but not any more. I have come to the conclusion that this misuse of our 8th command is one reason they are able to make the inroads they have into our churches. I have found that too many people do not want to know this kind of information and they want everyone to just get along – it’s not “nice” if one speaks the truth and accusations of breaking the 8th can start to fly. One thing I do know is that pastors cannot be expected to stand up to this kind of stuff without the support of laity – yet, that is what too often is expected of pastors. The one thing that has helped our denomination is the number of well-catechized laity who stood up against the inroads into our church and stood behind the pastors who were willing to speak out against the ilk in our midst. For now, we have slowed the CGM/Emergent inroads and our synod leadership is preparing reports on how to address the mess. I pray the PCA will be able to address the mess in their midst and regain their footing against this ilk too.


  14. Out of curiosity (yes, I am a daughter of Eve), I did some googling and found Apprising Ministries has done some extensive research. In the link below, the AP article has good info on Dan Kimball and the article has a link to their post on “Curious Associations Ed Stetzer, Dan Kimball, And Tim Keller MissionSHIFT” that is of pertinent to Dr. Hart’s blog post. I hate reading this stuff, but know that it’s not good to be blind to the times we live in and why this stuff is a threat to the confessional churches:


  15. Darryl, of course I agree that the difference between TKNY (marketing transformational clothing?) and the other alphabets is minimal. Of course, that’s the problem. What should make a difference is another set of all caps: the WCF.


  16. Lily, thanks for the background. The ethnic identity of Lutherans have always given them a way to feel less at home than Presbyterians. For that reason, I’m betting it will take a crisis/controversy for the PCA to respond.


  17. Bill

    “Over time, liberalism had taken on the exaggerated appearance of an artificially prepared laboratory specimen (“You see, children? Social Gospel means no evangelism”) but the real thing was far more subtle and elusive. Perhaps there might be some use in this kind of elementary instruction by caricature, but it is of little use for preparing ordained men to be defenders of the faith.”

    I was wondering about the place of the Unitarians in the original Social Gospel movement – which is something you didn’t mention at all. Whilst it’s surely an over simplification to equate Social Gospel with no evangelism, the original SG movement was significantly influenced by people who had already long departed from Christian Orthodoxy. To that extent, there are still differences between the SG-movement and the sort of word and deed ministries talked about – though both can be problematic.


  18. Lily, the PCA has the disadvantage that many of its members and leaders are more evangelical than Reformed. Hence, a built-in weakness and tendency to go for all sorts of things. The southern culture of the PCA means it is constantly comparing itself with and sometimes looking to the SBC. There’s your Lifeway tie.


  19. Hi Brad,

    Ouch. As I was looking online at the situation with the missional manifesto gang, I ran across a blog post (see link below) that may be encouraging – perhaps you will find allies among the evangelicals? It shows the same kind of story we found in our research several years ago. A lot of evangelicals were very unhappy/hurt with the purpose-driven movement and the way it was tearing their churches apart (splits and displaced individuals from the churches that were taken over by the movement). Natch, the purpose-driven gang denied and obfuscated the truth of what was happening in the churches and only saw themselves in a positive light. It looks like it could become a very similar situation with the missional movement?

    I’m following the story because it may affect our denomination (we have supporters of the missional garbage). It is too early for much news, but I noticed that one blog favorably reported how the missional leaders had gone underground last year when groups like Apprising Ministries starting questioning them. So… it looks like they have publicly resurfaced with something in mind. I’ve been trying to follow Al Mohler to see how he responds. He’s a good man and seems to have his head on straight. We’ll see.

    Dr. Hart,

    Re: ethnicity… crisis/controversy

    As far as the LCMS goes, I’m thinking the memories of the Prussian Union plays a stronger role than ethnicity and it was the crisis/controversy of the Issues Etc. cancelation that motivated the confessional laity to unite and take action. Our crisis was a blessing. Research showed confessional Lutheranism was purposely being edged out of existence by the fulfillment of the old synodical administration’s goals and the more we learned about the situation, the more determined we became to push back against the tide. Our struggles to reclaim orthodoxy are far from over, but isn’t that the story of almost every generation? It often does seem to take some kind of crisis wake up to the times we are living in. Should I ask God to bless the Reformed with the crisis/controversy it needs for the laity and pastors to unite in opposition to the forces that would seek to secularize and de-confessionalize your churches? ; )

    P.S. We love the Reformed, Baptists, and others – we just think good fences make good neighbors. Which, of course, is what the ecumenicals want to tear down.


  20. Dear Chris,

    That is an excellent question. Did the Social Gospel depend upon a foundation in Unitarianism? I personally cannot see any necessary connection. Proponents were about as likely to be Trinitarian as Unitarian. Rauschenbusch himself was far from orthodox but he never actually denied the doctrine of the Trinity, and even seemed to predicate some of his social missiology on the work of the Holy Spirit. When he wrote his Theology for the Social Gospel, he did not feel the need to explicitly change anything with regard to the doctrine of God. He needed to redefine sin, the nature of the Kingdom of God, and eschatology, but that was about it. Here are some interesting quotes:

    “We need not waste words to prove that the social gospel is being preached. It is no longer a
    prophetic and occasional note. It is a novelty only in backward social or religious communities. The social gospel has become orthodox.” (Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, Macmillan 1917, p. 2)

    “In recognizing the need of inspiration and prophecy the social gospel is more religious than the orthodox type, and more positive than that liberal type of theology…” (Ibid, p. 196)

    “It is not easy to define sin, for sin is as elastic and complicated as life itself.” (Ibid, p. 45)

    Anyhow, if you come across some solid connection between Unitarianism and the Social Gospel that I have missed, please let me know about it.


  21. I like PCA pastor Jon Payne’s suggestions for the PCA……

    1. A renewed commitment to exegetical, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Holy Spirit-filled, lectio-continua preaching.

    2. A renewed commitment to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper for the spiritual nourishment, health and comfort of the elect.

    3. A renewed commitment to private, family and corporate prayer.

    4. A renewed commitment to – and delight in – the Lord’s Day.

    5. A renewed commitment to worship God according to Scripture.

    6. A renewed commitment to sing the Psalms in private, family, and public worship.

    7. A renewed commitment to wed our missiology to our Reformed ecclesiology.

    8. A renewed commitment to Spirit-dependent, prayerful, loving, courageous evangelism.

    9. A renewed commitment to biblical church discipline.

    10. A renewed commitment to family worship.

    11. A renewed commitment to biblical hospitality.

    12. A renewed commitment to catechize our covenant children.

    13. A renewed commitment to biblical masculinity and femininity.

    14. A renewed commitment to shepherd the flock of God.

    15. A renewed commitment to promote and defend the Reformed Confession.

    16.A renewed commitment to the mortification of sin and worldliness.

    17. A renewed commitment to rest by faith in Christ ALONE for salvation, without minimizing Gospel obedience.

    The challenge is that the PCA is indeed far more Evangelical than it is Reformed (and really always has been) so groovy “strategies” sound more appealing. I too used to put a best construction on these kinds of hip new movements/leaders. I also use to believe it when I was told the PCA really is Reformed. Oh you will find faithful PCA churches and members out there to be sure, but for the most part the PCA at large is not Reformed. That is painful to say, but I believe true.


  22. Chris and Bill, the roots of the Social Gospel went back at least to the revivals of the Second Great Awakening. The Christian America the Social Gospelers wanted was the Benevolent Empire of Finney and company. Timothy Smith’s Revivalism and Social Reform is still worth reading on this.


  23. Joseph Hansen,

    Yep, true. Also I suppose one could say that to “renew” something it would have to have always been there. Looking at Jon Payne’s Alternative to the PCA strategic plan some would say…. Yes, the PCA at one time was strong in these areas. Others would say….No, they never really were. What say you?

    Either way I still think this neat list as you call it is filled with much better things fore the church to be doing than the typical list from the “Hip Baptists, Non-denominationists, Mild Emergents” in the PCA.


  24. E. Burns,

    I don’t know much about the history and practices of the PCA. So I can’t comment on whether “they never really were.” As for the list, the devil is in the details. For example, getting pastors to renew their commitment to shepherding the flock might be a fun raw-raw moment, but will it result in sane elder/congregant ratios and productive elder visitations? Or will small groups continue to be a proxy for elder-oversight?


  25. Joseph Hansen,

    I see your concern and think it valid myself. The whole small group stuff really needs to be unpacked in detail, someone should write a book. In general I don’t like the New Years resolution raw raw stuff either. I don’t think that was the intent however. I wonder if Tim Keller would like Jon Payne’s list? I have a feeling it would depend on who is interviewing him.


  26. My church is currently consumed with “The Intentional Church” by Randy Pope. Having a TULIP-based theology does not Reformed make…


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