Remember When Being Nice Would Win the Day?

How a little reminder of 1929 clears the cobwebs.

Once upon a time, the Gospel Allies scored points against Reformed confessionalists by claiming the high ground of nice. Remember when Jared Wilson wrote this?

Cold-hearted rigidity is not limited to those of the Reformed persuasion, of course. You can find it in Christian churches and traditions and cultures of all kinds. In fact, to be fair, I have found that those most enthralled with the idea of gospel-wakefulness, those who seem most prone to champion the centrality of the gospel for life and ministry, happen to be of the Reformed persuasion. So there’s that. But gracelessness is never as big a disappointment, to me anyway, as when it’s found among those who call themselves Calvinists, because it’s such a big waste of Calvinism.

Or how about when Justin Taylor chimed in?

Angry Calvinists are not like unicorns, dreamed up in some fantasy. They really do exist. And the stereotype exists for a reason. I remember (with shame) answering a question during college from a girl who was crying about the doctrine of election and what it might mean for a relative and my response was to ask everyone in the room turn to Romans 9. Right text, but it was the wrong time.

This raises an important qualifier. The “angry” adjective might apply to some folks, but it can also obscure the problem. In the example above, I wasn’t angry with that girl. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. But I failed to recognize what is “fitting” or necessary (cf. Eph. 4:29) in the moment. This is the sort of thing that tends to be “caught” rather than “taught” and can be difficult to explain. But there’s a way to be uncompromising with truth and to be winsome, humble, meek, wise, sensitive, gracious. There’s a way of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) such that our doctrines are “adorned” (Titus 2:10) and our words are “seasoned” with salt and grace (Col. 4:6). To repeat, the category of “anger” is often too broad and can miss the mark. As Kevin DeYoung pointed out to me, “Some Calvinists are angry, proud, belligerent people who find Calvinism to be a very good way to be angry, proud, and belligerent. Other Calvinists are immature—they don’t understand other people’s struggles, they haven’t been mellowed by life in a good way, they can only see arguments and not people. The two groups can be the same, but not always.”

So when Tim Keller advocated women’s subordination, he did so in precisely the categories that elicit New Calvinist religious affections (thanks to our southern correspondent):

We feel that there is a deep inconsistency in the phrase “evangelical feminism”. The feminists who are consistent recognize the Bible as a sexist book throughout. They reject it. The feminists who try to hold to complete Biblical authority have, really, an impossible balancing act to conduct. . . .

We know from experience that our position on women-in-ministry dissatisfies many people. Many friends from the traditional evangelical church find it far too “liberal” and “permissive”, while many other friends on the other side still feel it is oppressive. Our position is not totally unique. See J. Hurley’s book, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective or Susan Foh’s book, Women and the Word of God. They come close to where we are.

The fact remains that nearly everyone we meet is more “conservative” or else more “liberal” than we are. Thus we appeal to our friends to work with us on this. We do not to make this issue a cause of division, as we said above. We see no reason why friends with the same view of the Bible cannot work together, all the while influencing each other and refining one another’s viewpoint in order to become truly Biblical. Please be partners with us.

Balance, moderation, partnership — these were the calling cards of the New Calvinists. And for them, it was the Old Schoolers and Truly Reformed who were poorly positioned to represent Calvinism to the contemporary urban and global world. Some of us tried to explain that disagreement was not anger, and that standing in a specific tradition might cut down on “partnership.” We even thought that the medium of the World Wide Interweb thrived better on provocation than moderation. But for almost fifteen years the New Calvinists thought they had squared the circle, and Keller was proof positive at ground zero of global urban life in the United States.

What went wrong? One problem may have been living in a Gospel Coalition bubble and not engaging the concerns of “angry Calvinists.” But even more harmful was forgetting the antithesis and misreading the culture. Keller’s “success” in New York suggested (and sometimes actually asserted) that a new day had dawned for conservative evangelicalism. Modern Americans were truly willing to hear a kinder, gentler Protestantism. How could you deny that if the most secular and most urban place in the United States had received Keller the way New York City did? You certainly had to think that modern America was much more hospitable to faith if Keller was a best-selling author and the darling of religion journalists? Keller himself told lots of Presbyterians how the direction of the modern world was heading in a faith-friendly direction. I still remember the Power Point presentations I witnessed while on the faculty at WTS about the church in the city’s future.

What if while considering those trends predicted by economists and futurologists, New Calvinists had pondered the Bible more?

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3)

That may tilt more Rod Dreher than Jamie Smith. But if you’re going to minister the word and teach in a seminary, doesn’t the apostle Peter count more than Peter Drucker?

16 thoughts on “Remember When Being Nice Would Win the Day?

  1. Keller—God loves everybody, and if anybody ends up in hell, that’s on them. It might not sound so nice, but who can argue with the fairness of what I have to offer.

    Kevin Deyoung (gc review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins) — “It reminds me of the T-shirt, ‘Jesus Loves You. Then Again He Loves Everybody.’ There’s no good news in announcing that God loves everyone IN THE SAME WAY just because he wants to. The good news is that in love God sent his Son to live for our lives and die for our deaths”

    Mark McCulley– I notice what evangelical coalitions carefully do not say and will not say about divine election.
    They cannot say that God does not love everybody, and they cannot say that Christ did not die for everybody. But we are supposed to be impressed by their stand for the gospel because they affirm that the divine love needs Christ’s death.

    What’s with the studied ambiguity of “just because God wants to”? One, God loves the elect in a holy way, not just any old way, yes. Two, but does the need for legal atonement deny that God loves “just because God wants to”? Must the gospel be reduced to the atonement with God’s sovereignty in election left out? Is election only about God causing some sinners to make the atonement work for them?

    God loves the elect because God always wanted to love the elect, and God’s nature requires justice for all those God love. (I John 4) God loves all those God wants to love. There is no love apart from Christ and no election apart from Christ and that divine love results in Christ’s death as legal substitution for the elect. Christ has no love for the non-elect.

    The Father and the Son do not love the elect because of the Son’s sacrifice. The Son’s death as legal substitute is because the Father loves the Son and in the Son has loved the elect and given the elect to the Son.

    Matthew 11: 25 Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure. 27 All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father.

    John 10: 26 But you don’t believe because you are not My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice,


  2. What ever happened to the verse where Jesus says that those who are not against Him are for Him? Or what happened to the verses where Paul speaks against divisions in the Church and then asks who was it that was crucified for our sins?

    It seems that D.G. is straining so hard to speak against Keller that he is now down to looking for specks to remove from Keller’s eyes. It is as if playing a king-of-the-hill battle with someone who is not playing the game.

    I certainly don’t agree with Keller on everything and I wonder about those who rely too much on what he teaches. But these constant attacks on Keller because he is not kosher enough to some Reformed Christians is not Biblical. And evidence of that is found in their elevation of the Reformed confessions while claiming that charity is overrated. Did Paul overemphasize charity (a.k.a., love) in I Corinthians or did John overemphasize love in his first epistle? And didn’t Paul say that knowledge puffs up?

    As wrong as these constant attacks on Keller are because he does not meet all of one’s own reformed kosher standards, the irony is that people who do this are merely trying to find a way of riding in on Keller’s coat tails.

    Come on D.G., don’t do this. It isn’t good for you.


  3. Curt, you’re not noticing that this is a useful exercise in market research. Keller is a brand. If his marketing team wants to enter every square market inch, they need to know how to improve the product.

    Don’t believe the hype. Keller can be newer and improved.


  4. Curt, Keller is one animal if you’re an evangelical, independent, or whatever you are. He is another thing if you are ecclesially connected to him. He is the Presbyterian Pope, now become (thanks to Princetongate) the Leader of Winsome Conservatish Evangelicalism. What he does, says, and how he does things — in and as the church — affects the NAPARC churches in an existential way. We have history. We see trajectories. This is serious stuff.


  5. D.G.,
    If Keller is merely a product to be marketed, then I could easily see your point. But is that what you think he is? Or do you consider him to be sincerely interested in ministering to people? And because of that interest, he has made some compromises in your view?


  6. Since Keller explains how God intended to love everybody but some folks still end up in hell, I can’t help wondering if God intended Tim Keller to receive the Kuyper prize. But I also can’t think there is all that much hope in belng loved by some god with nice intentions.

    Francis Spufford,Unapologetic–The theodicy that comes nearest to working is that we suffer because the world is NOT AS GOD INTENDED IT TO BE. This worldview has a long and distinguished history as a Christian idea that’s compatible both with experience and with keeping GOD’S LOVE THAT WE CAN RECOGNIzE

    Nobody knows the entire truth, and nobody could tell all the truth even if they were to know it, because pastors are not prophets—-We were not created to die, because God loves us too. But death cuts us off. Death puts a stop to that. God did not create us to stop loving. He did not create us to stop living. God created us to join his eternal love

    Tim Keller–“We don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that HE doesn’t love us. It can’t be that HE doesn’t care. HE so loved us and hates suffering that HE was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the cross is an incredibly empowering hint. It’s only a hint, but IF YOU grasp it, it can TRANSFORM you.”

    Click to access service_of_remembrance.pdf


  7. Curt,

    Think like a modern. I only know about Keller by marketing. I’d have to be there in person to see his ministry on the ground.

    I don’t know about the work of most pastors on the ground. Nor do I know many pastors by reputation or fame.

    Keller is not merely a brand. But he’s let himself be spun into a brand, and oh how the Gospel Allies and PCA church planters have sucked it up (except for Michelle Higgins).


  8. D.G.,
    I am aware of the marketing of Keller. My point is that there is more to Keller than the marketing. There is more to what he teaches and believes than the marketing. So if marketing was all there is to Keller, you would have a valid point. But that isn’t the case.


  9. D.G.,
    Don’t you have the cart before the horse? It is the person making an accusation who bears the burden of proof, not the person being accused? So why are you trying to change who has the burden of proof?

    Second, I’ve read some of his writings. Some of them have watered-down content that can be useful but they are too accommodating. But that material still has some useful content. His best work is Center Church. Certainly it has errors, but it has useful information as well and can serve as a decent reference book.


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