All About (Liberal) Me

It doesn’t get much better for one of Machen’s warrior children to be lumped with folks who provoke combat but never fight:

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that three men have been standouts in the volume of Baylyblog posts warning against them: Tom (N. T.) Wright, Darryl Hart, and Tim Keller. Each of these men has shown himself adept at drawing away disciples after him who will join in his rebellion against crucial parts of Biblical faith. Tom Wright denies God’s Creation Order, Darryl Hart denies the Church’s calling to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation, and Tim Keller denies the Biblical doctrines of sexuality, Creation, and Hell.

The most striking thing about these men is their abuse of language…

All three write to the end that their readers and listeners will pride themselves over being among the chosen ones smart enough to appreciate their deep insights: “What erudition!” “What command of the language!” “What rapier wit!” Truth set to the side, flattery is a writer’s best friend. A man’s chest swells with pride as he tastes Tom, Darryl, and Tim’s dainty morsels, but their flattery of their readers carries a stiff price.

That noise you hear is Kathy Keller cackling.

Christ and City, City and Celebrity

I followed Dr. Kloosterman’s advice (is this a two-way advice street?) and listened to Tim Keller’s sermon on politics. It strikes me that Keller’s rendering of Render unto Caesar is a way to avoid partisan politics while also keeping the flame of political engagement bright and inflaming. TKNY will not be captive to either liberals or conservatives but he won’t abandon N.T. Wright or Abraham Kuyper.

What I found difficult to fathom was the harmony between Keller’s understanding of the gospel and how it upsets worldly ambitions with his own standing not just in Presbyterian circles but in American Christianity more generally. After all, if he had been a pastor in Kalamazoo (think Kevin DeYoung in Lansing or any pastor in Birmingham, Alabama), he might have achieved a spot in the Gospel Coalition’s roster of speakers and bloggers. But without his apparent success in the most powerful and wealthiest city in the world (or at least the West), would people listen as attentively when TKNY speaks? Yes, celebrity is in view, but celebrity includes all sorts of American associations with numbers, size, success, wealth, and influence.

Think, for instance, of what Keller says about the meaning of the gospel:

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

All of that is true. But it is not true of Keller’s or Redeemer’s reputation, status, or celebrity. In fact, my jaw dropped when I recently saw that Redeemer NYC’s expenses for 2012 were over $21 million. (In contrast, the entire budget for the OPC’s General Assembly this year — which includes foreign and home missions — is about $3.8 million.) New York is an expensive place to live and work. It, like the federal government, sure do take a bite. In Keller’s case it is a considerable part of his visibility and fame. At the same time, using NYC’s power and wealth to enhance ministerial reputation is not exactly the fruit of the gospel that Keller understands and preaches it.

A better city for cultivating a gospel sensibility, one that reverses our world’s expectations for success and wealth, is Istanbul, which Orham Pamuk describes in the following manner:

. . . in Istanbul the remains of a glorious past and civilization are everywhere visible. No matter how ill-kept they are, no matter how neglected or hemmed in they are by concrete monstrosities, the great mosques, and other monuments of the city, as well as the lesser detritus of empire in every side street and corner — the little arches, fountains and neighbourhood mosques — inflict heartache on all who live among them. . . . [F]or the city’s more sensitive and attuned residents, these ruins are reminders that the present city is so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to the same heights of wealth, power, and culture. It is no more possible to take pride in these neglected dwellings, in which dirt, dust and mud have blended into their surroundings, than it is to rejoice in the beautiful old wooden houses that as a child I watched burn down one by one. (Istanbul: Memories and the City, 91)

The Secular Litmus Test

Contemporary conservatism — religious, political, cultural — is defined at least in part by opposition to secularism. Jerry Falwell and Francis Schaeffer scored early and often when throwing around the phrase secular humanism, for instance. Meanwhile, one of the complaints (or worse) about 2K is that it tolerates — even welcomes — a secular world. (For some reason, folks don’t seem to notice that the secular is actually a Christian notion that designates a specific time in salvation history.)

Because of the associations between opposition to secularism and conservatism, I was surprised to read that Pete Enns is glad to see a reduction in secularity even if he is not exactly a conservative. In a post that lauded Oprah’s discovery of Rob Bell, Enns appealed to N.T. Wright for help in making the case that spirituality is the natural human response to the unsatisfying demands of a secular world:

The official guardians of the old water system (many of whom work in the media and in politics, and some of whom, naturally enough, work in churches) are of course horrified to see the volcano of “spirituality” that has erupted in recent years. All this “New Age” myticism, the Tarot cards, crystals, horoscopes, and so on; all this fundamentalism, with militant Christians, militant Sikhs, militant muslims, and many others bombing each otherwith God in their side. Surely, say the guardians of the official water system, all this is terribly unhealthy? Surely it will lead us back to superstition, to the old chaotic, polluted, and irrational water supply? They have a point. But they must face a question in response: Does the fault not lie with those who wanted to pave over the springs with concrete in the first place.

“The hidden spring” of spirituality is the second feature of human life which, I suggest, functions as an echo of a voice; as a signpost pointing away from the bleak landscape of modern secularism and toward the possibility that we humans are made for more than this.

Along then comes Rob Bell (and others) to the rescue, according to Enns:

I think what Bell is doing is helping unstop the springs, and I’m glad he’s doing it. Those who lose sleep over the damage he’s causing may, even in the name of Christ, be more in league with the dictator than they may realize. As many have noted: American fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism have more in common with modernity than many may be able, or willing, to see.

But why Bell? Why not someone with “better theology” (some might ask) for such a time as this? Because the tools of evangelical theological fine-tuning are not suited for excavating concrete. Plus, Bell is a truly gifted communicator who doesn’t use in-house lingo. He knows how to market his ideas, i.e., to get people to listen.

This suggests that Enns, Wright, and Bell have more in common with many conservatives than they might imagine. If you’re going to frame the question as one between the secular and the religious, then the nature of Christianity is going to look different from the way that confessional Protestants understand it. Why Enns is willing to welcome Bell’s aids to spirituality but keeps fundamentalist or evangelical helps to devotion at arm’s length is anyone’s guess (though Bell is hipper than John Piper). It would seem to me that if you’re in the business of pulling down the secular order, you take help from inerrantists as much as from militant Sikhs. (It is precisely that kind of expansiveness in opposition to secularism that produces the Manhattan Declaration.)

But if you believe the church is called, in the words of the Confession of Faith, to minister the “ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world,” (25.3), then you may not care if your tool box has tools to excavate concrete. The spiritual weapons you’re carrying are a lot more powerful and responsive than that.

Stellman Nails It

N. T. Wright’s recent appearance at the Evangelical Theological Society has most evangelical biblical and theological professors swooning the way that teenaged females greeted the Beatles almost fifty years ago. What is it with the American obsession with English accents (or Scottish for that matter)? In response to a post by Doug Wilson on yet further discussion of Wright’s views in which Wilson criticizes Scott Clark, Stellman spots the subtext of Wilson’s beef with Clark:

But when you stop and think about it, it becomes immediately clear that the errors for which Clark faults Wright are the very same errors for which he faults Wilson. Wilson’s mocking dismissal of Clark’s disagreements with the New Perspective, therefore, can seemingly be explained by the fact that they also apply to the Federal Vision.

It would appear, then, that the reason Wilson wants people like Clark banned from the New Perspective discussion is not really because of the overly-scrupulous nature of his attacks, but because those attacks aren’t narrow enough to just zero in on Durham, but they also set their sights upon Moscow, Idaho. In a word, Wilson’s problem isn’t that Clark is too nitpicky, it’s that he’s not nitpicky enough, for if he would agree to pinpoint only those errors of Wright’s that Wilson agrees are erroneous, then all would be well and Clark would welcomed back into the discussion. But since his attacks on Wright are broader than what Wilson is comfortable with, he is branded a mere irritant and dismissed with a wave of the hand.

Not only a ding ding ding ding moment, but Stellman’s outlook is further proof that 2k is far more reliable than its hysterical opponents suppose. In fact, we are still waiting for the anti-2k folks to step up to the plate on justification.

This and That's Big Adventure

For those who may be wondering why N.T. Wright is speaking at the church of one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition – as in justification by faith alone coalition – Justin Taylor may have a clue. Here is a quotation from a piece in Christianity Today from 2008 on Keller and the gospel:

Tim Keller and his Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City fall somewhere between Wright and Dever. Writing for Leadership [JT: , Keller answered this year’s question for the Christian Vision Project, “Is our gospel too small?” (The article is not yet available online.) In so doing he took a stab at defining the gospel. “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from the judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”

It’s the last clause of this sentence that makes the difference. Is God’s plan to renew creation part of the gospel message? If so, is it the center of the gospel or a peripheral component of the Good News? Again, how you answer these questions affects how you will live, and how you will expect fellow church members to act.

“When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out, Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters,” Keller wrote. “Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.”


Doug Wilson is sounding more and more like Mark Horne.

So, saving faith yields, trembles, and embraces. It yields obedience, it trembles at threats, and it embraces promises. But its principal acts are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification. These are indeed its principal acts, but saving faith does other things. It hunts down the red law passages and yields obedience to them. It comes across passages which threaten divine displeasure, and saving faith trembles at these red law passages also. But what is saving faith doing responding to the law passages at all? Don’t the law passages just beat you up? No — in the broader context they are part of God’s saving intention for us. They are gospel. They are totus lex, part of the covenant of grace.

Then what do you do with Paul’s assertion that “the law is not of faith”? Or what do you do with the Protestant protest against Rome that we are saved not by works but by faith?


Apparently Craig Higgins, who pastors one of the congregations in the Redeemer New York network of Redeemer-like churches in the New York vicinity, is still a Presbyterian. Will N. T. Wright tempt him to become an English Christian?


If abortion is an abomination, why isn’t this blasphemy?