Should We Tag Tim Keller With A Trigger Warning?

                      Timothy Keller
Timothy Keller

Nothing matches the closed-mindedness of the supposedly open-minded.

I say that as the authorities at Princeton Theological Seminary smear gobs of egg off their faces. The school’s Kuyper Center was about to grant its Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness to the Rev. Timothy Keller, the prestigious soon-to-be-retired lead pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller would lecture on the work of theologian Leslie Newbigin. The Rev. Craig Barnes, the seminary’s president, hailed Keller as an embodiment of Newbigin’s “aspirations for extending the mission of the church in society.”

But the move upset the sensibilities of the intolerantly tolerant. Redeemer is a member of the Presbyterian Church of America, which neither ordains women nor affirms the LGBQT agenda, and Keller advocates a complementary view on marriage. At its best, Complementarianism says men and women have different but complementary marriage and leadership roles; when warped, it wields male dominance.

Carol Howard Merritt, a Princeton seminary graduate ordained with the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (Princeton’s denomination) branded Keller’s theology “toxic.” Others protested. Barnes stood firm at first (“my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree …”); but, eventually, relented (“In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.”). Barnes characterized Keller’s reaction as “gracious.” He will still give the lecture.

No surprise there. Keller is known for his graciousness.

For the record, I don’t agree with Keller on everything (I’m not a Calvinist and I see women in leadership in the Bible), but dismissing his theology as “toxic” and rescinding this award belies Princeton Theological Seminary’s alleged “openness.” He doesn’t fight the culture wars; he argues with respect; he endorses the ministry of Biologos; and he teaches care for God’s creation.

If I were a Calvinist, I’d want to be just like Tim Keller. In fact, I wish I were more like him right now.

I suggest this to all who claim that every complimentarian is a male Neanderthal: You need to get out more. Do lunch with them. Many are are assertive women; most are honestly grappling with difficult biblical passages invoking male headship. Branding them “toxic” conveniently ignores their sincere quest to understand and apply God’s Word. The church that brought me to Christ in the early ’70s was complimentarian. Its men showed more respect for women than agnostic egalitarians (they kept their hands to themselves, told no off-color jokes, and deeply loved their wives and served them). Our pastor said that, ultimately, the husband and wife serve one another. That’s my take-off point on marriage: much of our teaching begins with the wrong question, “Who is the leader?” The right question is this: “How do we serve one another?”

Is my view complimentarian or egalitarian? I don’t know and don’t care.

But, I guess, we can’t have that discussion in some PCUSA circles. We might be branded “toxic.” And it seems that Mother Theresa, Pope Francis, and Kuyper himself would be rendered ineligible for any seminary award because of their “toxic” theology — as would all traditionally Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Suffice it to say that this is not Princeton’s finest hour.


Naturally, the internet has lit up with commentary. Jonathan Merritt, a more “progressive Christian” than I, hit the bull’s eye. An excerpt:

I’ve had the pleasure of being with Tim Keller on two occasions. Each time, I recognized areas where his theology and mine did not align. But I also walked away feeling I had been in the presence of someone who was eminently reasonable, thoughtful, kind. Tim Keller is no extremist. He is no misogynist. He is no bigot. He is not hateful. Anyone who has paid attention to his Manhattan ministry can attest to this. If Christians like Tim Keller are unworthy of honor and deserve to be marginalized, American Christianity is in serious trouble. Keller is like the tens of millions of American Christians who hold to traditional interpretations of the Bible on these issues. Most of them do not hate gay people (though some do). Most do not believe women are inferior (though some do). They are doing their best to love their God and love their neighbors and live their lives according to what they believe the Bible teaches.”

Find Merritt’s full article here.

Grayson Gilbert has some fun with his satiric, “Princeton Appalled Kuyper Prize Named After Kuyper.” His point: Abraham Kuyper would be denied the Kuyper prize. His mock letter from the seminary’s president:

On March 22 I sent an update to faculty and staff addressing the unfortunate predicament regarding Timothy Keller being the recipient of the 2017 Kuyper prize. While it is true that we do not wish to stifle academic freedom, critical inquiry, and theological diversity, it has been further brought to our attention that the name of the Kuyper award might also suggest sanction of views found within the biblical corpus. We strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues, yet it is quite clear the name of the award must be changed to better reflect the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Princeton has hardly been a bastion of orthodox Christian belief and practice for many years now. It is our earnest desire to continue in good faith toward that aim. Furthermore, we shall commission another design of the here-to-be-named award, which shall depict waves tossing to and fro, as it strongly reflects our understanding of the Christian faith.

See all he wrote here.

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