Word on the street has it that Redeemer Presbyterian Church has given Marilynne Robinson its first Commission of Faith and Work. Doesn’t Robinson know that Tim Keller is kind of toxic? Has she no sense of solidarity with her mainline Protestant women and LBGT+ ministers and church members? (Or, didn’t Princeton’s president know that Keller was about to approve an award to Robinson?)
Better question: why is a church whose officers subscribe the Confession of Faith and Catechisms recognizing a woman who sometimes preaches and whose theological reflections, while thoughtful, hardly line up with the PCA’s confessional teaching?
Here’s the explanation:
The commission aims to address the tide of uncertainty that the humanities now face with distinctly Christian support. Historically, in times of uncertainty and transition, the humanities have provided reminders of hope and grace to combat our fear and doubt. They center us in the miracle of the Imago Dei, sounding the peal of God’s presence in our lives. As Robinson so wisely states in one of her many erudite essays: “I experience religious dread whenever I find myself thinking that I know the limits of God’s grace, since I am utterly certain it exceeds any imagination a human being might have of it. God does, after all, so love the world.”
The logic is that the humanities are on the ropes. The humanities need support from Christians. The humanities need such support because they testify to God’s “presence in our lives.”
Imagine the testimony to God’s presence if a pastor proclaimed that Jesus Christ died for sinners. Why clutter the gospel with the valuable though limited insights of the humanities?
Humanities are valuable. So are the social and natural sciences. But the humanities are not divinity — duh. The church doesn’t gain status by hanging out with celebrity writers. It reduces God’s saving power to human aspirations.
Which novelist can say she does this?
Remember this, at least — the things in which the world is now interested are the things that are seen; but the things that are seen are temporal, and the things that are not seen are eternal. You, as ministers of Christ, are called to deal with the unseen things. You are stewards of the mysteries of God. You alone can lead men, by the proclamation of God’s word, out of the crash and jazz and noise and rattle and smoke of this weary age into the green pastures and beside the still waters; you alone, as minsters of reconciliation, can give what the world with all its boasting and pride can never give — the infinite sweetness of the communion of the redeemed soul with the living God. (Selected Shorter Writings, 205)
Postscript: Do humanists of this sort need the support of a confessional Presbyterian church?
Do you believe in sin?
Well, it depends how you define the word. The way I would read Genesis is a phenomenon . . . what it describes is a human predisposition to what amounts to self-defeat — to be given a wonderful planet and find yourself destroying it. Or, to have a wonderful civilization and then engage yourself aggressively in ways that destroy your civilization and another besides. If you look at human history or practically any human biography, it’s very hard to say that people don’t incline toward harmful and self-destructive acts, whether they intend to or not.
You are talking about sin on a large scale as you talk about it now. What about cheating on your wife?
Definite sin. A big 10. I think that in a certain way I was perhaps taught that the Ten Commandments are like a lot of the law of Moses in the sense that they name as transgressions things that you might not derive by reason as being transgressive — things like keeping the Sabbath or not making idols. These are markers in reality that are divine in their origins in the sense that human beings might not necessarily have come up with them.
Aside from that, one of the things that is true of the Bible certainly — in the case like David, for example — is that people do things that are utterly prohibitive to them, evil even. And I am speaking here of David arranging the death of Uriah so he could marry Bathsheba. And yet, there is always a huge variable at play — how does God respond to this and the difference of what we could measure as projected transgressions, the difference between that and the same thing as seen through the eyes of love or grace. These are very different things.
So I believe in sin in the sense that people do harm. I believe in grace in the sense that we cannot make final judgments about the meaning or the effect of what we do.
9 thoughts on “If Princeton Refuses to Award a PCA Pastor, Why is Redeemer NYC Awarding a Liberal Congregationalist?”
PCA-UCC intersectionality is a thing. Get up to date.
cw, does the electoral college or popular vote determine history’s right side?
“Historically, in times of uncertainty and transition, the humanities have provided reminders of hope and grace to combat our fear and doubt.”
Given that Redeemer is ground zero of The Gospel Industrial Complex I assumed they meant to say “Historically, in times of uncertainty and transition, the Gospel has provided reminders of hope and grace to combat our fear and doubt.” Probably some oversight or technical glitch by an overworked intern.
In the Age of Trump this award is meant to assuage Manhattan provincials (like Nick Kristof) that notwithstanding Redeemer’s adherence to Biblical teaching on marriage, sex, homosexual relations, abortion, etc., they should in no way be lumped in with the likes of John Hagee, Jerry Falwell Jr., Kirk Cameron, Young Earth Creationists, people who like Thomas Kinkade paintings, etc.
Redeemer wants the right people to know that just because you believe in Heaven and Hell doesn’t mean you can’t also be a connoisseur of “the humanities.” One can believe in the Virgin Birth, Angels, Demons, and Resurrection of the Dead and still love Hamilton (at least the play, if not the actual Founding Father – white privilege and all that).
But Redeemer will never actually perform gay marriages. And Manhattan cultural elites know it. And they also know that he has more in common with John Hagee and Jerry Falwell Jr. on what the Bible says about homosexuality than Rachel Held Evans or Marilynne Robinson. Or Kirsten Powers. They know he’s also a fundamentalist on things like Eternal Judgment and the Atonement.
To paraphrase Richard Dawkins: A fundamentalist in a cheap tuxedo is still a fundamentalist.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Kierkegaard and Kant? Kierkegaard is the pinnacle of our postmodern religious reflection? This isn’t PHD work in the humanities, this is a survey class.
And Leanne Rimes snags a Kennedy Center award, so we are keeping up with the Joneses, or something like that. Very Culturally Aware! But Robinson sounds like a Protestant von Balthasar. Or an East Coast Ivy League Anne Lamont. A terrific writers she is, with good stories, but her affection for Calvin doesn’t make her evangelical, no matter how much CT gushes. Keller’s project reminds me of that of last century’s Frank Sheed. If you look at where the publishing imprint of Sheed & Ward stands today, you’ll see how well the latter’s chasing after the whole humanities thing worked out. IOW, it didn’t.
JM, the analogy to Sheed is good. Fulton Sheen too?
“So I believe in sin in the sense that people do harm.” But certainly not sin against a holy and righteous God. Liberals are truly worse than unbelievers.
“Talking about the Bible, we have not mentioned Jesus yet. Who or what is Jesus to you? Is he the son of God?”. . . whatever that means. I mean all that sort of thing.
Oh that’s why there was an interpretative dance to a contemplative mosaic with vibrant mobiles and modern art, contemporary and world music, sculptures and fabric arts at University Congregational church next to the PCUSA where Hell is separation from God and may exist now as well as in the hereafter and grace is antithetical to orthodoxy – “Salvation: God grants the gift of grace (unmerited favor), which enables us to gain the faith necessary for salvation. We are saved by grace rather than by good deeds, correct beliefs, or human ceremonies.”