Biblicism

(From the current issue of the Nicotine Theological Journal)

Tim Keller is a biblicist (at least more than you think). Carl Trueman is not. Now for an explanation.

. . . Ever since Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self caught a wave among New and Old Calvinists – not to mention the following he has cultivated at First Things as the Presbyterian edition of Christopher Rufo – early returns on the book were striking for not mentioning the author’s insights into Scripture. Trueman did not even go to the w(orld)-(vie)w tool kit of applying the anti-thesis – the chasm between the regenerate and unregenerate – to explain contemporary society’s capitulation to gender fluidity and its related detritus. He was seemingly only loosely on board with Van Tillianism while he taught at Westminster Seminary but the Van Tillians’ praise for his book has been a wonder to behold.

Instead of the Bible or the transcendental method, Trueman relies on the work of Philip Rieff (Jewish-American sociologist), Alasdair McIntyre (Roman Catholic philosopher) and Charles Taylor (Roman Catholic philosopher) to assess the current debates about self-expression. This is actually a virtue of the book at least for those who complain that evangelicals and Reformed are insufficiently conversant with (and seemingly unwilling to use) the knowledge produced by thinkers who do not start from Christian truths or draw insights from Scripture. Trueman unwittingly freed up conservative Protestants to think thoughts after writers who do not start with God or the Bible.

. . . The same cannot be said for Tim Keller, at least when he dissects Critical Race Theory, a buzz word whose excitement seems to have dampened thanks to the price of consumer goods (rising) and bail (falling). The retired Presbyterian pastor, in a two-part series at the online quarterly, “Gospel In Life,” goes right to the heart of the issue when he starts with a contrast between biblical and non-biblical justice. Amid all the debates and contrasting views of justice, Keller argues, the biblical understanding is best even if believers seldom know it or appeal to it.

To set up his exposition of biblical justice, Keller clears the ground in a non-biblicist way – like Trueman – by using Alasdair MacIntyre to show that Enlightenment notions of justice have run out of gas (good for the climate, though). The idea that society could leave religion behind in pursuit of secular justice has proved an intellectual quicksand. For Keller, all notions of moral goodnesss, without a transcendent reference, are merely constructed. This would have been another time when a former Westminster professor might have used Van Til for good effect.

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