Rod Reading Tim

Rod Dreher doesn’t detect much daylight between the Benedict Option and Tim Keller even though I’ve tried to describe it. Here’s Keller (from Rod) on the West:

The crazy Christian gospel, so sneered at by the cultural elites that day, eventually showed forth its spiritual power to change lives and its cultural power to shape societies. Christianity met the populace’s needs and answered their questions. The dominant culture could not. And so the gospel multiplied.

Do we have Paul’s courage, wisdom, skill, balance, and love to do the same thing today in the face of many sneering cultural leaders? It won’t be the same journey, because we live in a post-Christian Western society that has smuggled in many values gotten from the Bible but now unacknowledged as such. Late modern culture is not nearly as brutal as pagan culture. So the challenges are different, but we must still, I think, plunge into the agora as Paul did.

Here’s Rod’s rendering:

Does it surprise you that I agree with this? I’m still looking for ways in which Tim Keller and I substantively disagree on cultural engagement. If you know of any, please let me know — I’m serious about that. What I emphasize in The Benedict Option is that if we Christians are going to do that in a hostile, post-Christian public square, we have no choice but to take a step back from the public square to deepen our knowledge of the faith, our prayer lives, and our moral and spiritual discipline.

One difference right off the bat is that Keller is not pessimistic about the contemporary world, the way Rod is. That’s why it had to come as a surprise when Princeton Seminary thought Keller was too conservative and should not receive the Kuyper Prize.

Yet, Keller has other readers. Rod quotes one:

I’m somewhat favorably disposed to Tim Keller’s ministry, and even attended his church for a season. But that movement is likely to head off in its own direction. The current alliances that make up evangelicalism were forged in an era before liquid modernity. There is no reason why we should expect those alliances to continue to make sense in the very different social context that we face today. And we have to avoid the trap of conflating Christian orthodoxy with practical Christian wisdom. Families raising kids need something very different from a church community than what I need, as a 30-something professional who travels 50% of the time, usually in Asia….

Liquid modernity poses a certain challenge to Western rules-based cultures. Things change faster than our ability to develop rules to address certain situations. And that places a degree of stress on existing institutions, requiring them to be thicker than they were in the past. But it’s hard for institutions to be both thick and broad. For thickness to work, there has to be a high degree of overlap in people’s life situations. Demographic differences matter more.

I’m actually an advocate of an evangelical break-up. I believe that the Benedict Option is necessary. But the Benedict Option is going to look very different for different people. My fear is that evangelicalism ends up targeting the largest market, middle-class white suburbanites with kids, and castigated everyone else as a sinner. One need not look to hard for criticisms of Tim Keller’s efforts to reach out to people like me. And it disappoints me that Keller is largely silent in the face of those criticisms. If Christianity is to survive in an age of liquid modernity, it’s going to take more than suburban mega-churches.

Another difference then is that Rod thinks modernity is a force that hurts Christianity while Keller, like Pope Francis, tries to come along side moderns.

Still one more reader of Keller that Rod should enter into his Redeemer NYC spreadsheet:

Over the past decade or so, evangelical millennials like myself and my peers (and possibly even you), could be found across the country, repenting of our former fundamentalist ways.

We’ve put away our moralistic understanding of Christianity. We’ve reclaimed what is essential: Jesus, and his gospel. We’ve tossed aside our simplistic, and less than nuanced answers to those who criticize our faith and worldview.

Aided by an Internet-powered, Information Age, we have set out to re-engage culture in a fresh new way, following Tim Keller and Russell Moore on one end of the spectrum, or Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans on the other.

As those who will soon lead the church, we are convinced that we are called to a new vision of cultural engagement and mission. . . .

Therefore, we’ve raised our sensitivity to xenophobic nationalism, misogyny, gay-bashing, microaggressions, and anti-intellectualism. For us, being uninformed and un-’woke’ is shameful and most harmful to our Christian witness.

Instead, we have taken up the mission to winsomely engage the brightest of thinkers in order that they might believe, and to prophetically rebuke the most narrow-minded of evangelicals in order that they might think.

We see far too little cultural influencers operating out of a biblical framework. And we’ve seen too many of our friends leave the faith due to overly simplistic, unsatisfying, and stale apologetic answers to their genuine contemporary questions.

We want to articulate, in a Keller-esque fashion, an attractive “third way,” between the liberals and the conservatives, between the irreligious and the religious. And in doing so, we hope to find a better place to stand, where we are neither apostates nor anti-intellectuals, neither prodigals nor older brothers.

So we continue to study Scripture and affirm its absolute authority, while still paying close attention to contemporary culture, the media, and the academy, seeking common grace insights from them, and wrestling with how to interpret and make sense of their findings.

We heed Peter’s exhortation that we be prepared to make a defense to all, while reminding ourselves of James’ admonition to be quick to listen, and slow to speak, even when it comes to a secular culture such as ours.

We don’t settle for just being Christians, but we seek to be informed, knowledgeable, and sensitive Christians. And by God’s grace, we sometimes do find a way forward, a third way, in which we actually become “believers who think,” equipped to interact with “thinkers” who don’t believe.

And discovering a “third way” feels good. It’s the rewarding feeling of progress, and confidence — confidence in the fact that we’ve found more thoughtful and persuasive answers than the ones our Sunday School teachers gave us 20 years ago. But it’s also the feeling of transcendence, and if we’re not careful, arrogant superiority.

Thinking Christians engaged with the world. That may not have been Paul’s advice to Timothy but it’s a page right out of Harry Emerson Fosdick:

Already all of us must have heard about the people who call themselves the Fundamentalists. Their apparent intention is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions. I speak of them the more freely because there are no two denominations more affected by them than the Baptist and the Presbyterian. We should not identify the Fundamentalists with the conservatives. All Fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are Fundamentalists. The best conservatives can often give lessons to the liberals in true liberality of spirit, but the Fundamentalist program is essentially illiberal and intolerant.

The Fundamentalists see, and they see truly, that in this last generation there have been strange new movements in Christian thought. A great mass of new knowledge has come into man’s possession—new knowledge about the physical universe, its origin, its forces, its laws; new knowledge about human history and in particular about the ways in which the ancient peoples used to think in matters of religion and the methods by which they phrased and explained their spiritual experiences; and new knowledge, also, about other religions and the strangely similar ways in which men’s faiths and religious practices have developed everywhere. . . .

Now, there are multitudes of reverent Christians who have been unable to keep this new knowledge in one compartment of their minds and the Christian faith in another. They have been sure that all truth comes from the one God and is His revelation. Not, therefore, from irreverence or caprice or destructive zeal but for the sake of intellectual and spiritual integrity, that they might really love the Lord their God, not only with all their heart and soul and strength but with all their mind, they have been trying to see this new knowledge in terms of the Christian faith and to see the Christian faith in terms of this new knowledge.

For anyone who detects an example of the genetic fallacy, please write a note to Pastor Tim and ask him to explain how he avoids the errors that modernists like Fosdick committed.

40 thoughts on “Rod Reading Tim

  1. My thinking on these matters is somewhat in flux. I do agree that there are differences between Keller and Dreher’s concepts of cultural engagement, and I don’t think they will have a mass impact on culture at large. But, I do see some value in understanding one’s Christian orientation with respect to culture, and I’m not so insistent on engagement or disengagement these days. Modernity, or whatever else you want to call it, has become so fragmented that it is hard to even identify dominant cultural themes in the West, or America, or even in American Evangelicalism, which in turn makes the ambitions of Christians with trasformational inclinations seem misguided. But, I do think that Keller, in spite of his lofty rhetoric on cultural transformation, has done a remarkable job of honing in on the upwardly mobile urban professional and drawn them into the life of the church in ways where few others have succeeded in doing so. I don’t think that his approach is programmatic, but I see a place for it where I used to be far more skeptical toward it.


  2. Sean, I think that Keller’s work would probably be more palatable among confessionalists if he didn’t present it as paradigmatic. If I were to get all meta on my analysis I would point out the inherent imperialism in urbanism, and it is something that urban churches have often struggled with, going back to large post-Constantine metropolitan sees of the Roman Empire. Provincialism has its own set of hazards to navigate to be sure, but that’s a different discussion.


  3. Wut? Maybe if he didn’t market urban development schemes as scriptural and had come up with a more profound insight to the post modern situation than, *you have a friend in Jesus*. I’d be more impressed. Some of us are really really difficult to please.


  4. Maybe it all boils down to the two most important questions we have to answer in this life- What is the Gospel? and What is saving faith? Everything else is just a matter of providing for food, shelter, clothing, companionship and intellectual development needs. We can look to the books of James and Amos to get guidance in that regard.


  5. Insane. ‘We have moved on. We are past all that.”
    I am no fan of the 2017 church that tries its best to resemble the 1585 church, but the idea that
    modernity = progress…who but the always 10 years behind the times evangelicals is still buying into it? Sheesh, even the Libs are looking back to the past.
    As (always) awkward and unintuitive as it seems to our fallen minds; the solution to an empty pew is not now, nor ever has been, adding in the x, the y and the z (you know, for kids!), but always and faithfully promulgating the G, the G, and the G.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jed, “remarkable job of honing in on the upwardly mobile urban professional and drawn them into the life of the church”

    That’s like your opinion man.

    What evidence do we have that Keller has reached urban professionals?

    How do we know if they are in the life of the church?

    What if Piper did better than Keller?


  7. I guess that’s where I extend charity DG. The flip-side of the argument is that he hasn’t reached anyone at all, and I am not sure I want to go there. I don’t even know how to begin marshaling evidence and I sure as heck didn’t know I was getting a sociology project assigned here. So, yeah it is kind of like my opinion your Dudeness, even if it’s not an extraordinarily strong one

    My ambivalence owes somewhat to my own sense that the Reformed confessionalism that I have been situated in for the last decade has lost some of its luster. I don’t have wanderlust for other communions because they’ve all got their issues – some more than others, and what keeps me Reformed is the austerity of Word and Sacrament, not so much all the other trappings.


  8. Johnny Y, I like what you said a lot. When you boil it all down those two questions should be in the stew. I’d probably add who is God and who is Jesus, the rest seem to me to be negotiable within confessional bodies and local churches.


  9. Keller’s impact beyond the Reformed Beautiful People is what? A shout out by David Brooks? I am grateful for his defense of orthodoxy, but as a strategy, Redeemer will make no more impact — or less — than did L’Abri in Europe. It’s a blip. God uses those, but that’s all it is. As for cultural relevance, isn’t that what Lacrae is all about? AND Roy Moore?


  10. Tim Keller and the Redeemer Revolutionaries introduced a new ethos for evangelism in The City: one must be urbane, cosmopolitan, soft spoken, cultured, expensively educated, and non-threatening in order to winsomely win over secular elites who were also urbane, cosmopolitan, soft spoken, cultured, expensively educated, and non-threatening. Out with the Ol’ Timey Religious Right and their Ol’ Timey Bible Thumpin’ ways and in with someone who could quote Anne Lamott, feels comfortable around Democrats, gays, immigrants, powerful women, and refugees, and wants everyone to know that she is a big fan of Pope Francis and Planned Parenthood.

    Alas! The Keller Moment has all but dissipated. Nick Kristof knows that Keller will never give up on Heaven, Hell, and The Cross; David Brooks knows that Redeemer will never perform a single gay marriage or bless gay relationships. Keller’s winsomeness is betrayed and in their eyes he is not that different from Jerry Falwell Jr., John Hagee, or Robert Jeffress. Behold the Big City Bible Thumper!

    To paraphrase Richard Dawkins: A fundamentalist in a cheap tuxedo is still a fundamentalist.


  11. Jed or would you prefer Jedidiah? I work with a guy whose name is Machiah. Isn’t there a biblical story somewhere in 1st or 2nd Kings about Jedidiah and Machiah? Anyways, I’ve been listening to a lot of Stellman and his friend Christian podcasts lately and have gotten a better picture of what is like to go to Westminster West Seminary and then pastor a Presbyterian church. I’m gaining a whole lot more empathy and understanding for Jason and have found myself enjoying many of the conversations they have on their podcasts. I’ve found that I have a lot in common with him to in regards to what he has experienced in church life and in what interests him. My point being, I think I can relate to what you are saying in a few of your comments. I’m glad you liked what I said.

    On a more negative note: One thing I would not want in my stew is the sin hounds/sin cops. The types that are quick to point out and exhort your own sins while totally oblivious to the more serious sin of trying to establish a righteousness of their own and yet who continually deny that is what they are doing. Hence, what is the Gospel? and what is saving faith? Maybe I should have added and all the revelation and understanding necessary that goes into getting the Gospel and saving faith right.


  12. Tim Keller— “WE are an interfaith gathering today, and I freely acknowledge that every faith has great resources for dealing with suffering and injustice in the world. …WE don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but It can’t be that he doesn’t love US. God so 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.

    Tim Keller—“To grow in grace comes not simply from believing more in our justification. … When we are beholding God’s glory, this experience reorders the loves of our hearts, so we earnestly delight in him supremely, and the other things that have ruled our lives lose their enslaving powers over us.. This is not merely telling yourself that you are accepted and forgiven,”

    Mark Jones–” “the distinction between God’s benevolent love and his complacent love has a rich Reformed pedigree.” “Benevolent love” refers to God’s love whereby his chose his people from eternity. “Complacent love” refers to his delight in the good in his people….We are surely correct also to understand that God’s complacent love for us has a direct CORRELATION TO OUR GODLINESS.,. God cannot help but love us more and more if we become more and more like him. Christians will receive ‘an increase of favor, the more we become like Christ.” (p 86)


  13. DGH, Jedidiah, and Andrew Alladin – we’ve been down this road before. There is objective data that strongly demonstrates Redeemer’s influence in New York. The number of Reformed and quasi-Reformed (Calvinistic emergent types) churches and church-goers has expanded dramatically over the past 20 years in Manhattan. I posted multiple links to back this in a thread from last spring, but don’t have the time to hunt them down at the moment.

    As for urban professionals – that’s basically what Redeemer is. Attend a few services and talk to a few people – the proof is in the pudding.


  14. John, Jed’s fine – the link is just a new wordpress account for what will become my author page once my book drops, which is still in editing, and probably won’t be ready till the end of next year. But, to the points you bring up, I agree. While I wonder in retrospect if Stellman’s switch to Rome wasn’t rash, I can understand where he got to the point that he wanted to leave the Reformed fold. The reason why I remain is I still have solidly Reformed convictions, even if I have probably become more sympathetic to Barth and TF Torrance over the last few years, and I am under no illusion that the grass is greener elsewhere. Membership vows do mean something to me even if I can no longer vociferously defend the Westminster Standards like I once did (I still think they’re solid though). I’m not an officer in the church and I have no aspirations to be so my looser relation to the standards isn’t a huge issue.

    And to your point on the moralists, that pretty much sums up my opinion as well. I think they do more damage than they realize. As a general rule, I don’t understand their insistence on making a bogeyman out of antinomianism. There are probably many cases where we abuse grace, but I think that most Christians desire to lead God-honoring lives even as they struggle to do so. Whether its of a Lutheran or a Reformed variety, I think a healthy dose of Law/Gospel is the right approach within a framework of Word and Sacrament.


  15. VV, thanks, that was pretty much what I was assuming. I just don’t have the time or the interest in digging up stats. I’ve never been much of a Keller critic, even if I think his transformationalist approach overcooks the eggs.


  16. Jed, you wonder if it wasn’t rash? He seems to regret it most of the time. Rome as the answer to reformed wanderlust? Bizarre. The romance only works if you’ve never been kissed. But if you’re looking for the PCUSA theologically with the heavy overlay of sacerdotalism, she’s your girl.


  17. vv, does that — changes in NYC — mean that Redeemer bears some responsibility for Wall St.’s greed and the 2008 financial collapse?

    Transformationalizeism, baby!


  18. Jed, just take it from VV:

    My honest opinion is that Redeemer (and her progeny) have flourished for several reasons, but primarily because they answer the questions that New York (or urban) secular liberals ask, and they answer them in a very intellectual, reasonable way.

    For example, the first sermon I ever heard Tim Keller preach at Redeemer was on the Sabbath. He talked about the biblical basis for the Sabbath, of course, but then he quoted a New York Times editorial from a Jewish professional woman who started observing the Sabbath – even though she was not very religious – and how it helped her in her personal life and provided the rest and refreshment she needed from her busy professional life. Keller made the point that her story simply reflected God’s wisdom in designing the Sabbath for our general well-being and spiritual nourishment. He then tied it into the fact that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, should be the purpose of the Sabbath and our source of both practical and ultimate rest.

    Quoting from a secular Jewish writer in the NY Times editorial may not be important to people in rural Indiana, but it is to urban New Yorkers. By weaving in this anecdote he was able to capture the attention of his audience in a way that was both counter-cultural and yet culturally relevant at the same time: New Yorkers relate to crazy work hours and the need for rest on a practical level, but then by discussing observance of the Christian Sabbath and ultimate rest he elevated it to a very counter-cultural and solidly Reformed theology. In essence, he provided Reformed theology in the language of secular, liberal urban folk.

    To your second point, I would say Redeemer is strong on the RPW and personal growth within the church. They strongly emphasize personal time in the Word and prayer. They have a daily devotional via email that is sent out twice daily, morning and evening. These are not fluffy devotionals, but include common prayer, confessional prayer, a chapter from the NT, chapter from the OT and two Psalms, along with specific prayer requests for the day, and conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and a benediction. They strongly emphasize community groups that meet in homes for weekly Bible study. A huge number of people belong to these groups – far more than the average church.

    In keeping with its strong Kuyperian influence, there is emphasis on community service and “cultural renewal,” as well as how to integrate faith and work (hence the Center for Faith and Work). The purpose of this is less to learn specific skills or professions in co-op fashion, but mainly how to use the talents and abilities God has given each of us through work, ultimately to His honor and glory. I know an arts ministry at a church sounds superfluous and perhaps a bit twee to an outsider, but at Redeemer there are many artists of all types: dancers, actors, writers, painters, musicians, etc. For example, Max McLean, a Redeemer attender, is currently playing C.S. Lewis in a one-man play about Lewis’ conversion to Christianity. It is currently having a successful off-Broadway run. Sally Lloyd Jones, another Redeemer attender, wrote the Jesus Storybook Bible, far and away the most popular storybook Bible for children in the US, if not the world.

    The choir, when they have one, is likely to have a number of professional singers, whether in a Broadway musical, the opera, etc. We’re not talking about the housewife who happened to star in a high school musical once, we’re talking active, professional performers at the highest level. A Redeemer pastor once told me about an actor who was cast to play Romeo in a production Romeo and Juliet, and the director asked him (and the actress playing Juliet) to do a nude scene, though not explicitly sexual. The actor attended Redeemer and asked the pastoral staff for advice about how to handle it. Such questions are not uncommon in a New York (especially Manhattan) church, while they are probably rare everywhere else. Hence the very practical need for an arts ministry to shepherd people whose profession is in the arts.

    Finally, I would say again that the perception of Redeemer’s emphasis being on cultural renewal, faith/work integration and other such glossy ministries rather than Christ and Him crucified is more perception than reality. Redeemer is a highly Gospel-centered church – they fight hard against the tendency to take the focus off Christ and onto ancillary ministries.

    Redeemer caters to professionals in New York. Makes them feel special. But don’t let Redeemer fool you. The focus is always on Christ — even during the ballet offertory.


  19. Maybe Stellman had to convince himself that he really was turning a favorable eye towards Rome when in reality he was just trying to a fabricate some kind of believable scenario to get out of a situation or situations he just did not want to be in anymore. That’s what I would piece together from listening to some of those podcasts. He was not a happy camper, for reasons unknown to me, being a pastor at the Church he was sent to plant.

    Jed, how do you handle all the heat you are taking at this site?


  20. John, I stepped back into the kitchen for a spell because I missed the heat. The Dude is many things, and I dig his barbs because he always dishes up some tasty food for thought..

    I can’t say I have interacted much with Stellman’s stuff beyond his book Misfit Faith. I’m not to strong in the powers of psychoanalysis, but his story came across as someone who is always searching and still hasn’t found what he’s looking for (he’s a U2 fan, right?). I can’t say I share his same wanderlust, but I get the search. My own outlet is probably more aesthetic at this point and I find more solace in my own creative pursuits and authors like TS Eliot than I do in the ever-present debates in conservative Reformedom. But, that’s my trip I suppose.


  21. DG, I follow Keller so little these days that I don’t even know what the ballet reference is to, but I’m sure I could guess at it. I can’t say I begrudge him for his ministry though. For the most part what I see in the NAPARC corner of Reformed Christianity is a large population of disaffected evangelicals, which is fine, but he is reaching a different segment of society. Like I’ve said, I am more ambivalent about this stuff at this point in my life – it’s not really my fight even if I pop in for a bit to strike a discordant note.

    As I have come to see it, OldLifers and the confessional wing of NAPARC serves an important function as a counterbalance to a lot of silliness in the Reformed camp, even if the rhetoric comes off a bit like tilting quixotic at windmills that have long since ceased to have much of an impact on the Church at large. But, the confessionalists are one of the last bastions of honest Calvinism left in the church today, and for that they are to be commended.


  22. Jedidiah – great comment, especially the last paragraph.

    DGH – touche about the ballet. I’ll be the first to admit the ballet was not in line with the RPW. “The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error…”


  23. Letmesplainsean says: The bubble is realz

    Are you meaning the church there or the secular NYC? Your SNL clip talks about a place of ‘like-minded free thinkers and no one else’ – but the secular ‘city’ …
    NBC Fires Matt Lauer Over Sexual Misconduct Allegation …
    Charlie Rose Fired by CBS and PBS After Harassment …


  24. Letmesplainsean says: VV, are you telling me
    Letmesplainsean says: Oh good, dogma by Alyssa Milano.

    vv? and huh?
    Hi sean, gotta go for now, but hope we can have even more of this respectful dialogue together later. There’s so much to discuss. But quickly for now I’ll leave you with this- which dgh always likes me to say- from theologian Dr. Phil
    “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”


  25. Jed, you might find it helpful to watch Gabriel Byre perform his psychoanalytic magic on the HBO series, “In Treatment;” – some Karl Pilkington interviews may be worthwhile too.


  26. Letmesplainsean, not sure how much I’ll respond but re: Letmesplainsean says: VV, are you telling me #metoo is a result of ‘gospel transformation”?

    As you know (you’re a deacon right?), women are to be treated as mothers and as sisters in all purity. Believers know this – nonbelievers – not so much, though when they instinctively do things such as these firings, it shows they do know some things.

    Would it be transformational if a society obeyed God (from the heart) in these and all things. I think that is the Lord’s idea. In the meantime, good behavior is to put to shame bad behavior and to glorify God. That is, that it is meant to be the believers involved in good behavior in Christ .

    Sounds like some call this pietism (?), others call it the word, plan, and work of God.


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