Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Tim Keller Controversy at Princeton: And What It Means for the Church

OOOOPS!!  It was a shocker when the Oscars mistakenly first awarded Best Picture to “La La Land,” instead of “Moonlight.” But who would think that a leading Protestant seminary would do the same type of thing? (photo credit: Kevin Winter/ Getty Images)

Normally, when a theological seminary gives an award to someone in the greater community, the announcement brings about as much excitement as saying how many millimeters your grass has grown up so far this spring. But when the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary announced that Tim Keller, a New York City pastor, was to be awarded the esteemed Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness… and then later rescinded the offer, it created quite a stir.

Tim Keller is probably one of the most well-known, conciliatory voices in the conservative evangelicalism movement. His books on the Bible, marriage, and particularly, apologetics, like Reason for God and Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, have helped millions to better understand how the Gospel of Jesus Christ effectively relates to the challenges of living in a postmodern culture. The Gospel Coalition, an organization that Keller helped to found, is a “go to” resource for many evangelicals, for encouragement, Bible teaching, and cultural analysis.

Interestingly, Keller in the past has had his critics on the extreme conservative side. Keller’s openness to some aspects of evolutionary creationism has come under a suspicious eye, for some, while others have branded his book, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Justas uncritically paving the way towards an embracement of socialism. But most evangelical Christians, who know anything about Tim Keller, regard him as a gracious and thoughtful spokesperson for evangelical faith, even if there is disagreement on relatively minor matters, according to Richard Mouw, former president at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a past recipient of the very same Kuyper prize, awarded at Princeton Seminary.

Tim Keller

Tim Keller: A type of evangelical thinker who models the kind of irenic approach to Christian apologetics, that Veracity tries to follow.

However, when some members of the Princeton Seminary community realized that Keller was a member of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), a Christian denomination that does not confer ordination on women, or practicing gay or lesbian people, they became angry over the Seminary’s plans to honor Keller with the Kuyper award, leading to the rescinding of the award offer. Apparently, you just can not make everybody happy. As a type of compromise, Keller has still been invited to speak on the topic of mission at the seminary, an invitation which he graciously accepted. Yet the controversy regarding Keller forebodes several signs, that do not look good for the health of the Christian community in America in our day. I will list four, but see if you agree with these assessments:

  • Oversimplifying Complex Points of View. Keller’s position on both women’s ordination and gay/lesbian ordination was the stated reason for rescinding the award. Issues concerning how men and women relate to one another, and how the church can best address the concerns of the LGBTQ community, are quite complex, so it seems rather flatfooted for dissenters at Princeton to base their protest over Keller’s theology of ordination. While it is true that the large majority of evangelicals do oppose both women’s and gay/lesbian ordination, there is also a significant voice among evangelicals that opposes gay/lesbian ordination, but believes that the question regarding women’s ordination is still a matter of vigorous debate. Yet there is even another debate among Christians as to what constitutes ordination in the first place. Presumably, Tim Keller’s wife, Kathy Keller, who at one time advocated for women’s ordination, but now opposes it, would never be eligible for the Kuyper award, per the dissenters at Princeton. Keller’s dissenters at Princeton do not seem to be aware of these divergent, complicated factors, apparently out of step with the discussion in the evangelical church body at large. Jim Daly, of Focus on the Family, insightfully remarks that Princeton Seminary needs Tim Keller more than Keller needs Princeton. Is Princeton in danger of unnecessarily conflating complex issues together?
  • The Intolerance of Tolerance. For years, progressives in various churches have complained that conservatives have shut down conversations on sensitive, controversial issues. So, it seems strange that progressives at Princeton would attempt to try to “marginalize” a moderate figure like Tim Keller. Even a few progressive types, like Jonathan Merritt, of the Religion News Service, believes that Princeton’s actions are over the top, observing that Keller is no misogynist and no bigot. So, when did an attempt to maintain fidelity to the long standing traditional interpretations of Scripture make someone a misogynist or bigot?
  • The Flipping of “Orthodoxy” Upside Down. For much of the 19th and early 20th century, Princeton Theological Seminary was self-consciously the guardian of conservative evangelical orthodoxy. Abraham Kuyper, for whom the Princeton award is named for, was one of the distinguished leaders of confessional evangelicalism, in the latter 19th century and early 20th century, at one time the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. Kuyper’s doctrinal commitments mirror much of what Keller’s denomination, the PCA, believes. Some even argue that Kuyper negatively would be greatly more conservative than Tim Keller. Is it not strange that if Abraham Kuyper were alive today, that he would not be eligible to receive an award that bears his name?
  • The Polarization of American Christianity. It is as though the extremes on both sides, conservative and progressive, are getting more extreme, and those who propose a more measured, moderate approach to sensitive issues, are caught in the crossfire. Will divisive rhetoric continue to polarize Christians, or will voices be allowed to emerge that promote dialogue and unity, while preserving orthodox faith?

While there are some at Princeton who begrudgingly will allow Tim Keller to come and speak, anyway, we here at Veracity have no hesitation in offering the kind of thoughtful engagement with contemporary issues that Tim Keller offers to the church, as well as the largely secular folks at Google. Here is Keller’s talk at Google last year, articulating the main ideas found in Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (be sure to hear the question that is relevant to the fundamental concern of the dissenters at Princeton, and Keller’s response, starting at the 52:45 mark).

UPDATE: March 29, 2017


Botticelli and the Search for the Divine

Sandro Botticelli, Sant’ Agostino nello studio (Saint Augustine in the studio), Fresco, Chiesa di San Salvatore in Ognissanti, Florence.

It is worth your time, if you are in the Williamsburg, Virginia area, to consider viewing the Sandro Botticelli exhibit at the Muscarelle Museum and the College of William and Mary, on tour in the United States, but only at the Muscarelle until April 5.

As an Italian renaissance painter, who counted Michangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci as contemporaries, my favorite painting is that of Saint Augustine, in his study. Augustine is in the process of writing to St. Jerome, who had recently died, though Augustine was not aware of this, when he began his letter. As the story goes, the scene anticipates Augustine’s reaction to a vision of hearing St. Jerome’s voice, rebuking him for trying to understand the mysteries of Heaven, with Augustine’s earthbound reason.

Many of Botticelli’s works were lost when an exuberant 15th century Dominican priest, Girolamo Savonarola, sought to rid Florence, Italy of objects that might tempt one to sin, on the Mardi Gras festival. Thankfully, not all of Botticelli’s works were destroyed during the Bonfire of the Vanities, so be sure to catch a glimpse of them at this, the first traveling exhibit of Botticelli’s work, to the United States.

Enjoy.


Does Baptism Save a Person?

 

(37) Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (38) And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38 ESV).

Acts 2:37-38 is one of the most controversial set of verses in the New Testament. Particularly in verse 38, the larger issue concerns the order of salvation; that is, what is the process by which a person becomes saved? This doctrine of ordu salutis, from the Latin, has been discussed in various ways by different Christian traditions, ranging from Catholic, to Calvinist, to Wesleyan. We will save this bigger question for a later discussion but will focus here on one narrower, particular part of the puzzle, namely water baptism.

Does water baptism save a person? According to some traditions, such as a few branches of the Churches of Christ in Protestantism, water baptism is a requirement for salvation. In fact, in some cases, if you are not water baptized in certain churches, then these church traditions will not consider you to be a true Christian. This doctrine of baptismal regeneration argues that Acts 2:38 describes a sequential process prescribing what salvation entails, specifically, that water baptism leads a person to be forgiven of their sins.1

Critics of baptismal regeneration say that this flips the New Testament teaching on salvation by faith, and not by works, upside down, suggesting that the physical act of baptism is somehow a work that saves a person. How can this be?

If baptism can save a person, what does this mean? Continue reading


The NIV Faithlife Study Bible: A Review

Plumb LineAre you curious about the Bible?

Thankfully, there are a number of great study Bibles available today, with helpful tools to get you into God’s Word. But I want to tell you about a new one, the NIV Faithlife Study Bible, that I am really excited about, and why I recommend it.

The NIV Faithlife Study Bible has actually been available online for sometime now, from Faithlife, the company known for its Logos Bible Software. The NIV Faithlife Study Bible was designed for online use, either from an iPhone, iPad, Android, Logos Bible Software package, or via web browser on your desktop computer (and it is FREE!!!). It has detailed verse-by-verse notes, to aid your understanding, plus some visually engaging graphics, charts, timelines,  and sidebar articles. Plus this online version, links into other helpful study resources, including Veracity’s “blogger-in-chief,” John Paine’s favorite, the NET Bible.

Now, the NIV Faithlife Study Bible has been released as a standalone book, something that you actually hold in your hands. I like the digital stuff, but there is still something about having a bound stack of paper in my hands, that I can take to a Bible study small group. Here is a sample.

But aside from the helps, there are some other fundamentals as to why this is such a good Bible. First, they used a really good Bible translation, the NIV 2011. I did a pretty extensive review between the ESV (English Standard Version) and the NIV 2011 (New International Version) a few years ago here on Veracity, and my verdict in my analysis was close. For me, the ESV just barely edged out, for the purposes of doing in-depth Bible study, but the NIV 2011 is right there behind it, too.

Secondly, Faithlife sought to give a broad perspective, with respect to various denominational traditions, as to the content of the study note materials. They are committed to this idea that the study of the Bible should not be conducted inside an echo chamber, where all you hear and read is from a single evangelical tradition. Unfortunately, there are some study Bibles out there that only give you one point of view, typically the perspective of the guy with his name of the cover (In other words, if you ever see something like the Morledge Study Bible in your local Barnes and Noble, you are better off if you take a pass on it).

Thirdly, the NIV Faithlife Study Bible has a great team of scholars behind the project.  Only four editors are listed, but the scholar that I know and respect the most is Michael S. Heiser. Heiser has a great blog for Bible nerds, like me, and he is the host of the Naked Bible Podcast. These are solid, orthodox believing scholars, with their hearts and minds set on the plumb line of Scriptural authority, who have a passion for making the background and details behind God’s Word accessible to the ordinary person.

Are there any downsides to the NIV Faithlife Study Bible? Well, from what I have seen, the maps in this study Bible are not as good, as compared to what you find in my ESV Study Bible. With respect to the online version, it takes some time getting used to the navigation, which at first can be confusing. But once you get the hang of it, it is rather cool.

I am still wedded to my trusty ESV Study Bible, with the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, a close runner up, but the NIV Faithlife Study Bible is right up there near the top of the list. You can always try it out online or via a SmartPhone app, to see if you really like it, first. Michael Bird is an Australian Bible scholar, who is an enthusiastic endorser for the NIV Faithlife Study Bible. View his videos below, and consider getting this study Bible for you, or a friend, who really wants to dig in deep into God’s Word.

Read other Veracity reviews of study Bible material, including my review of The Reformation Study Bible, my review of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, and a general survey of available eStudy Bibles. Also, do not miss this from John Paine, the Veracity “blogger-in-chief”, with his analysis of online study tools.


The Shack, Is Genesis History, and the False Dichotomies in Christian Films

God, The Bible and The Shack is a short pamphlet, designed to help readers of W. Paul Young’s The Shack navigate through some tough theological issues.

In the study of logic, a false dichotomy is when only two options are presented, either believe this or that, even though there might be yet a third option available. The fallacy of the false dichotomy is that it excludes other reasonable alternatives.

I really hope I am wrong. But sadly, it appears that several recent Christian films (and their associated books) are trying to exploit certain false dichotomies that are increasingly popular in the church today.

On one side, stands something like Del Tackett’s Is Genesis History?, blogged about several times here on Veracity (#1, #2, and #3). According to some reviewers, such as Alan Shlemon at Stand to Reason, though there are some very positive elements in the film, Shlemon thought that Is Genesis History? plays into the notion that the church is divided into two different groups: the sole defenders of the Bible, who unswervingly hold to a view of the earth as being young, around 6,000 years old, versus compromised Christians, who undermine the Bible by accepting anti-Christian, scientific evidence of an earth that is millions of years old. Of course, Del Tackett, in an admittedly kind, warm and unassuming way, urges Christians to pursue the first option, and shun the second.

For Del Tackett, the question of, “Is Genesis History?,” is of great interest, in terms of the age of the earth. But it is often a misleading question. “Is Genesis True?,” is a much more profound and disturbing reality to consider. Alan Shlemon rightly sees the fallacy here, regarding the fundamental argument from the movie as a false dichotomy.
Continue reading


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