Tim Keller Plants, New York City Gives the Growth

In the ballpark of always affirming, always sunny religious journalism comes Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s puff piece on Tim Keller’s retirement at Redeemer NYC. I am not sure that this is the kind of analysis of context that Joe Carter had in mind for the Gospel Coalition’s journalistic forays:

The three main forms of journalism we use at TGC (opinion and advocacy journalism; reporting and narrative journalism; explanatory journalism) are all used to help the church think more clearly about the gospel and how it leads us to interact with the world.

Although, since Carter thinks journalism at TGC should promote revivals, Zylstra’s piece certainly does that. Her account shows, whether she intended or not, how much Keller’s position in New York City made him stand out in ways that no one else among the Allies could. If you do a word count on Zylstra’s story, she mentions the PCA twice, Presbyterian six times, and New York 37 times. As for the work of the Holy Spirit — nada.

If religious journalism at TGC is supposed to promote revivals, that would place Zylstra’s rendering of Keller more on the Finney than the Whitefield side of pretty good awakenings since Finney wasn’t big on the Holy Spirit either.

What I don’t understand is why Mark Dever doesn’t get more attention in the TGC world. There he is ministering in the nation’s capitol, the center of American power, the place from which the United States leads the free world. And yet, to get traction as an urban church planter you need the mojo of the nation’s biggest city, the place that nurtured and shaped Donald J. Trump.

What’s up with that?

Can Redeemer be Average (not Great)?

Mark Dever spent a lot of time defending Tim Keller’s decision to remain involved with Redeemer Presbyterian Church after his retirement as preacher. What Dever did not answer was whether he would do the same thing. Would he stay at Capital Hill Baptist after retiring?

The problem with pastors sticking around is that it potentially undermines the successor. If a church member has a problem, does he go to the new pastor? If session needs advice, do they go to the guy with whom they’ve served?

How much more is this a problem for a man who had to preach at four different locations each Sunday to keep people within the “worship site” in their part of Manhattan? And when you consider that they refused to announce where Keller was preaching so that people would not load up on the Keller preaching station that Sunday, how much more of a problem is a celebrity pastor than an average minister? And of the three “particular” churches to grow out of Redeemer, which one will Tim and Kathy attend? If they pick one, won’t the people who flocked to hear Keller preach also want to sign on for the congregation where the Kellers worship? Or will they have to move around in the same way that Keller had to preach at different locations? How settled does that sound? (Good thing the Kellers have access to people who drive them around.) Yes, Redeemer NYC may be intentionally avoiding a megachurch, but it is anything but average.

And which of these pastors — the ones to step up after Keller retires — can fill the void? Who can stand in that great day?

John Lin, Lead Pastor

A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, John Lin grew up in Boston and came to New York City in 2002. Prior to coming to Redeemer, he worked as the English ministry pastor at a Korean-American church in Hartford, CT. Since moving to New York, John has had a deep affinity for all things downtown, including food, people and culture … and food. John and his wife, Kyoko, have been married since 2004 and have two children. When he is not doing pastoral ministry, John spends time following the Boston Red Sox, thinking about travel to far-flung locales, and taking pictures of his kids.

Abraham Cho, Lead Pastor

Abe grew up in Cheshire, Connecticut, a small New England town just north of New Haven. After attending the University of Connecticut, he went on to pursue an M.Div. and a Th.M. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston. He was previously the youth pastor at First Korean Presbyterian in Hartford, CT and the director of university ministries at Citylife Presbyterian in Boston. He has been a pastor at Redeemer since 2007 serving in a variety of capacities over the years. He is currently a Doctor of Ministry candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary with particular interests in urban ministry, leadership development, public theology and issues of race and justice. He and his wife, Jordyn, have four young children, Lydia, Ezra, Micah and Judah.

David Bisgrove | Lead Pastor

David Bisgrove grew up in New Jersey and moved to New York City for graduate school in 1986. He started attending Redeemer in 1989 and became a founding elder and trustee. David and his wife, Alice, met at a Community Group Sunday Brunch through mutual friends. They now live on the UWS with their daughters, Mary Claire and Charlotte.

David has a M.B.A. and Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University and previously worked in healthcare finance and administration. He began working at Redeemer as the director of finance and operations in 1998, while also pursuing his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 2005 as an assistant pastor who oversaw worship and evangelism, counseling, stewardship and family ministries. Now as Lead Pastor of the WS congregation, David loves standing at the door on Sundays talking to people on their way in and out of worship. He’s a big fan of golf (when he can make it out of the city) and of going on family bike rides to Pier I along the Hudson. And you might also find him at Joe’s Coffee on Columbus Ave.

Who can compare to this?

Timothy Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. For over twenty years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of over 5,000.

He is also Chairman of Redeemer City to City, which starts new churches in New York and other global cities, and publishes books and resources for faith in an urban culture. In over ten years they have helped to launch over 250 churches in 48 cities. More recently, Dr. Keller’s books, including the New York Times bestselling The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold over 1 million copies and been translated into 15 languages.

Christianity Today has said, “Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”

Dr. Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He previously served as the pastor of West Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia, Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, and Director of Mercy Ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America.

Heck, Tim Keller isn’t even listed on one of Redeemer’s staff pages — he has his own webpage.

Nothing more relaxing than humility, right?

Postscript: THE OPTICS!

What if Mark Dever were Ted Cruz?

Sure, like Roger Olson, I would have liked to have received better treatment in the recent Times story on the so-called “new” Calvinism. (For the record, Olson was quoted and I was not, but Olson still complains.)

But in addition to observing which figures — Piper, Keller, and Driscoll — are responsible for a phenomenon that is hardly new, also noteworthy is the way the national press covers religion. You either have the religion-is-bigoted meme which haunted Phil Robertson’s employers, or you have the Gee-Golly approach of religion is nice, inspirational, and alive. Why this particularly comes to mind is that the reporter who wrote this story, Mark Oppenheimer, came out with it (not on his own — his editors are also implicated) just after a dustup over one of new Calvinism’s celebrities’ damaging admissions of plagiarism. Granted, Driscoll is not at the center of this story. But Oppenheimer does mention him and chose not to look into the less reputable parts of new Calvinism (which might include the modernist-like agreement among the Gospel Allies not to talk about a central feature of the Great Commission — how to baptize and what it means). Oppenheimer’s piece, in effect, vindicates Carl Trueman’s observation that the Driscoll imbroglio would settle and the gospel business would go back to business as usual.

On the plus side, the story did vindicate those Presbyterians who opposed modernism when it looked for critical comments (again, not from all about me) from Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary:

While many neo-Calvinists shy away from politics, they generally take conservative positions on Scripture and on social issues. Many don’t believe that women should be ministers or elders. But Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, said that Calvin’s influence was not limited to conservatives.

Liberal Christians, including some Congregationalists and liberal Presbyterians, may just take up other aspects of Calvin’s teachings, Dr. Jones said. She mentioned Calvin’s belief that “civic engagement is the main form of obedience to God.” She added that, unlike many of today’s conservatives, “Calvin did not read Scripture literally.” Often Calvin “is misquoting it, and he makes up Scripture passages that don’t exist.”

Calvin makes up Scripture passages? Wow! I thought that was Harry Emerson Fosdick’s job. But it is good to see where liberal Protestants and neo-Calvinists (the real ones) agree — not the making up Scripture bit but the civic engagement is central rendering of Calvinism.

Why the "Calvinist" Resurgence is Troubling

Mark Dever has tried to account for the prominence recently of Calvinism among Baptists and independents. Coming in at #6 out of 10 influences is the Presbyterian Church in America:

Born out of theological controversy in 1973, this denomination’s official doctrinal standard is a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith—a document “so associated with the history of Calvinism,” Dever suggests, “it could almost be said to define it in the English-speaking world.”

“By the late 1990s,” he recalls, you could virtually assume the “most seriously Bible-preaching and evangelistic congregations near major university campuses would not be Bible churches or Baptist churches, but PCA congregations.” From the success of various seminaries to the influence of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) on campuses to Tim Keller’s ministry in New York City, it’s clear the “organizing and growth” of the PCA has been a major contributing factor to the Reformed resurgence.

Not to be too disrespectful of a communion of like faith and practice, but if I were looking for theological chutzpah in the last quarter of the twentieth-century, I would not be turning to the PCA precisely because of Keller. In fact, since 1986 when Joining and Receiving failed, the PCA has broadened and become flabby, while the OPC has become lean (many thought it was always mean). Does this mean that Dever should have mentioned the OPC? Of course, not. We are small, marginal, and can’t make it in NYC the way Keller has. (Whether the PCA has actually made it in NYC is another question.)

But this account of the PCA and Keller suggests that the new “Calvinists” don’t really get Reformed Protestantism. Inside confessional Presbyterian circles folks are worried about the PCA and wonder why folks like Keller don’t spend some of their considerable capital on trying to help the denomination recover its Reformed faith and practice. (Oh, that’s right, Keller has.) Imagine a Southern Baptist minister or seminary professor mixing it up with Episcopalians or United Methodists and you might have a parallel with Keller’s unwillingness to play within the confines of Presbyterian polity and Reformed teaching.

But if CG’s comment about Baptists needing to venture out on their own and lose their wanna-be-Presbyterian outlook is correct, then perhaps Dever’s estimate of the PCA is just one more version of Baptists, who are only a guhzillion times bigger than Presbyterians, turning their heads to follow a tall Presbyterian blonde. Why they don’t find Lutherans that attractive is a mystery, though it may be an indication of Baptist provincialism. Imagine what the young and restless would look like if they were reading Luther instead of Piper channeling Edwards. Then again, Luther’s theology of the cross might require having to give up Billy Graham.

Where's the Boeuf?

Via Justin Taylor comes Mark Dever’s top-ten list on the factors that spawned the New Calvinist phenomenon (given Tim Keller’s precise definitions, I’m loathe to describe the young and restless as a movement). Here’s the list (each one receives a separate post at Dever’s blog):

1. Charles H. Spurgeon
2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
3. The Banner of Truth Trust
4. Evangelism Explosion
5. The inerrancy controversy
6. Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
7. J. I. Packer
8. John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul
9. John Piper
10. The rise of secularism and decline of Christian nominalism

Before offering an OldLife perspective, it is worth noting that Dever buries his lead by ranking John Piper at number nine. My impression, after reading Collin Hansen’s book, is that Piper and Desiring God (DG, you know, not always about me) is largely responsible for turning Millenials into Jonathan-Edwards-is-my-homeboy T-shirt wearing evangelicals. Dever agrees even if number nine doesn’t reflect the agreement:

When all those seminarians and ministers in their 20’s stood up at Together for the Gospel in April of 2006, if I couldn’t give a 10-part answer, but if I had to give a 2-word human explanation for their presence there, I know what two words I would utter: “John Piper.”

What is curious about this list, with all due respect (going Hollywood alert) to my friend, Mark Dever, is how culturally and historically thin it is. Granted, as an OPC elder, I am surprised that the PCA (nos. 4 and 6) gets more credit than my own communion and its influential scholars such as Machen, Van Til, Young, Murray, Stonehouse, Kline, VanDrunen, Fesko, and even — dare we say — Trueman.

But denominational bragging rights aside, the list is decidedly Anglo-centric and recent. Nothing on the list suggests the sixteenth-century origins of Reformed Protestantism in Zurich and Geneva, nor the huge contribution that French-speaking Protestants made in the initial phases of Calvinism (Calvin, after all, was not English). Nor does this list acknowledge the remarkable nature of the Dutch Reformation, both in its hiccups and fits during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in its modern phase guided and inspired by Abraham Kuyper. And not to be discounted is the influence of Scottish Presbyterianism (though Banner of Truth is in Edinburgh) again in the initial phases of reformation, a presence at the Westminster Assembly, and the important struggles of the nineteenth century in which Thomas Chalmers figured so prominently. This does not begin to admit the important influences on American Calvinism by immigrants from these various communions who settled in North America and established denominations and schools to propagate the Reformed faith. Princeton Seminary would surely be high on such a list, as would its step-child, Westminster. So too would be the Dutch-American contribution from western Michigan.

All of this raises a question about how well the New Calvinism represents the Old Calvinism. Does it stand in continuity or is it really new? And if new, how much might it need to learn from the old, especially if wearing the Calvinist badge? If most of your sources of influence and inspiration come from the twentieth century when a theological tradition is four hundred years older, and if it draws largely on the English variety of experimental Calvinism without listening to French, German, Dutch, Scottish, and Swiss voices, you may be guilty of selling a Wendy’s hamburger when you could be serving Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.

Adolf, Justin, and Mark

This is a pretty amusing video, if not for the abuse of a profoundly good movie. But the juxtaposition may supply needed perspective on all the coalitions, alliances, and group hugs going on out there among celebrity pastors and their enabling bloggers.

Mark Dever Needs to Start His Own Gospel Coalition

This frank and open conversation about multi-site churches among Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, and Mark Dever is, from this Old Schooler’s perspective, down right scary. (Thanks to one of our readers.) It shows how words like “missional” and “video-campus” have undermined any clear understanding of ecclesiology at the Gospel Coalition. For instance, if I were an overseer at GC, I would have spiked this video and not let it go public. It is not fit for aspiring pastors or evangelical congregations if only because the views are so far from a biblical understanding of the church and — ding, ding, ding, ding — worship. But for some reason the folks at GC believe this is a valuable exchange about the work of the local church. Who’s in charge of quality control, or does a celebrity’s presence make it good?

Props go to Dever, though, who around minute 6 asks the question that should haunt all celebrity preachers — “What happens when you die?” That is a concern about which an ordinary pastor does not have to worry, as long as he has a good set of elders and as long as his congregation belongs to a presbytery. Shepherding is not rocket science since the objects of ministry are — well — sheep. Feeding a flock certainly has its challenges. But God calls other men, he equips a variety of teachers and pastors to provide training, and the recipes for sheep food are basic — word, sacrament, and discipline.

I do not know how you feed or care for a real live human being through a television screen. MacDonald and Driscoll not only need to read the pastoral epistles. They need to read Wendell Berry on how to care for sheep and for human beings.