What would He Think of Machen?

This is about the reporter who has had many fruitful interactions with Tim Keller:

The late writer Christopher Hitchens had what you might call an intellectual jumper cable routine: he would wake up in the morning, open the New York Times, read its front page motto “All the News Fit to Print,” and allow that hackneyed boast to enrage him into carrying out his polemical duties. Lately I’ve found myself accidentally mimicking Hitchens, but with the Washington Post, which since Trump’s election has been running with the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” So long as that shamelessly self-aggrandizing, wokeness-overdosed, low-rent Dashboard Confessional refrain-cum-greasy fortune cookie slip remains the ethos of my local paper, it’ll only take one cup of coffee to wake me up, thanks.

This week, though, it’s the Times that’s got my goat, probably because, unlike the Post, I read as much of it as possible every morning (for its excellent foreign coverage, not its masthead). Last week the Gray Lady published a column by op-ed page fixture Nicholas Kristof, the Tom Bergeron of liberal internationalism, titled “Trump’s Threat to Democracy.” Kristof cites two political science academics at Harvard who list four omens as to whether a “political leader is a dangerous authoritarian”: he “shows only a weak commitment to democratic rules,” “denies the legitimacy of opponents,” “tolerates violence,” and “shows some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media.” “Donald Trump,” the profs ruefully announce, “met them all.” And then the clincher: “With the exception of Richard Nixon, no major-party presidential candidate met even one of these four criteria over the last century.”

Come again?

That timespan easily covers Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, during which the mildly anti-civil liberty policy of rounding up 120,000 Japanese Americans and interning them in camps was implemented. But you don’t even need to go back that far to refute Kristof’s professors: events still in the public memory can provide. The George W. Bush administration instituted a surveillance regime that stretched the Fourth Amendment into cellophane, and then tried to browbeat a hospitalized (and possibly addled) John Ashcroft into granting it his approval; it allowed prisoners to be indefinitely detained and tortured, and even mulled using the military against terrorism suspects on U.S. soil. Barack Obama assassinated American citizens with drones, invoked the Espionage Act to spy on reporter James Rosen, launched a war against Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi without congressional authorization, and set a record for the most Freedom of Information Act requests denied in American history. Bush and Obama didn’t just “show some willingness to curb civil liberties or the media,” to use the academics’ soupy words; they rammed right through them with the brunt power of the federal government.

With friends like these. . .

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Christians and the Life of the Mind

A popular perception out there is that Tim Keller is a version — maybe the most popular one — of a Protestant intellectual. Back when Nicholas Kristof interviewed Keller in the pages of the New York Times (can you believe it? A CHRISTIAN IN THE PAGES OF THE NEW YORK TIMES!!!!! No, I’ve never heard of Ross Douthat), Scot McKnight wrote a favorable piece about how Keller is defending Christianity against the skeptics and cynics of our times:

Kristof is no H.L. Mencken and Tim Keller is no Willam Lane Craig nor is he a Rob Bell. He’s a conservative, Reformed, Presbyterian pastor with a lot in his noggin’ about how to respond to Manhattan singles and marrieds and wealthy-wannabes and educated. He’s done this well. He just told Nicholas Kristof he will need to join the throng of believers in the resurrection. In a pastorally sensitive way. No doubt Kristof got the message.

Maybe his critics would do themselves a favor by looking in the mirror and asking if they are reaching with the gospel and converting skeptics and cynics and doubters. If not, maybe they could look at Tim Keller and ask Why is he? I know I do.

Maybe.

But can’t we ask if Keller has as much in his noggin’ as the promoters promote? Here’s one reason for asking: the recent piece in ByFaith magazine which indicates what Keller will be doing once he retires from regular preaching. He will be training pastors for ministry in urban settings:

When it comes to the urban environment, ministry here requires also a knowledge of urban life dynamics, urban social systems, cross-cultural communication, non-western Christianity, and many other subjects not covered in ordinary seminary programs. I also want to give more than the usual help on both expository preaching, on developing a life of prayer, on leading the church in an adverse cultural and financial environment, and on reading that provides cultural analysis and insight. The combination of the M.A. (which in two years covers all the academic material, including languages and exegesis) together with the City Ministry Year will provide much more space for these than an ordinary M.Div. can.

For one thing, this was precisely the sort of agenda that William Rainey Harper took to the University of Chicago Divinity School almost 120 years ago — the idea that modern (read urban) times need new ways of doing ministry.

For another, how does someone with at most a D. Min. have enough intellectual chops to discern which books to read on urban life dynamics, urban social systems, cross-cultural communication? And is Keller proposing for pastors what medical specialists endure — 12 years of training (9 beyond the basics of Greek, Hebrew, exegesis, systematics, church history, etc.)?

In other words, the different parts of an urban setting require specialists in academic disciplines that go way beyond the competency of a specialist in the Bible or even a Ph.D. in historical science. To suggest that a person with a D. Min. is competent to adjudicate sociology, political science, urban studies, history, economics, demographics, anthropology and communications is not intellectual but borders on middle brow if not anti-intellectual.

And not to be forgotten, once you’ve mastered planting a church in Manhattan, are you really prepared to minister to the outer boroughs — Trump country?