A Response to Tim Keller's
New York Times Article
I have a deep appreciation for Dr. Tim Keller as a church leader, church planter, author, theologian, and communicator. Additionally, his ability to give great insight into God's Word, to heighten awareness of it through powerful illustrations, and to speak wisely on varioius subjects is honored and admired across the world.
However, with regard to that sensitive matter of church and state, which is constantly frustrating to most church members, there are other Christian leaders, like Mariam Bell, more qualified to speak and advise in this area:
She has years of legislative experience in Congress and emphasizes the importance of being both Good Samaritan and Good Watchman at the same time. Mariam recently wrote concerning the signatories of a letter to President Trump and Vice President Pence (Tim and Kathy Keller were the first of 50 to sign) and published by the Washington Post regarding their view of the refugee resettlement. I quote Mariam:
Mariam Bell, Board Member WORLD MAGAZINE, former Deputy Assistant Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services; Associate Director of Public Affairs (Reagan Administration); National Director of Public Policy, Prison Fellowship Ministries; and Legislative Assistant, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA)
Read full article by Mariam Bell, “World Relief Recalls the Samaritan, but Forgets the Watchman,” at the Washington Post:
In his article, Dr. Keller argues that Christians don’t “fit into the two-party system” and that “they are pushed toward two main options.” He also states, “Christians should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one.”
In the past this would certainly have been true, and there would have been no argument. However, things are different today.
For instance, when one political party in our two-party system votes into law that which is Godless in every way, and disciples others (especially our children) in this same godlessness while in public schools; and when the other party does not, and even upholds the Moral Law of God, isn’t this party the only one supporting Christian teaching (especially in the areas of biblical marriage, born and un-born children, and gender)? Aren’t we just stating the obvious? I would say it this way: where there is clear evidence that one party supports Christian values and the other party absolutely does not (and even opposes Christian values at every opportunity, doesn't common sense show us the foolishness of not identifying with the supporter of Christian values? Christians don’t have to agree with 100% of a party platform, but they do have to agree 100% with God’s Moral Law.
Dr. Keller goes on to tell a story about a man from Mississippi. Although Keller's story is interesting, I find his use of an imprecise definition of “socialism” might give the impression that true, historic socialism is acceptable and that any political position held by other (even admirable) Christians is trustworthy:
I know of a man from Mississippi who was a conservative Republican and a traditional Presbyterian. He visited the Scottish Highlands and found the churches there as strict and as orthodox as he had hoped. No one so much as turned on a television on a Sunday. Everyone memorized catechisms and Scripture. But one day he discovered that the Scottish Christian friends he admired were (in his view) socialists. Their understanding of government economic policy and the state’s responsibilities was by his lights very left-wing, yet also grounded in their Christian convictions. He returned to the United States not more politically liberal but, in his words, “humbled and chastened.” He realized that thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies.
Keller's "man from Mississippi" was “humbled and chastened,” but by what? By someone else’s view of socialism? Can historic socialism really be softened, or should another term be used for what the man from Mississippi witnessed in the Scottish Highlands?
The older definition of socialism in the purest sense (N. Korea, Venezuela) is “government ownership of goods and services,” which is no longer a good working definition for socialism or socialistic tendencies in governments today. So rather than trying to argue from the vantage point of an outdated definition, or from a nuanced definition (what Dr. Keller did), I think it is better to look at the examples and results of what happens when moving from capitalism to socialism, and then to radical socialism, which is the situation in Venezuela:
Socialism has turned oil-rich Venezuela into a place where there are shortages of everything from toilet paper to beer, where electricity keeps shutting down, and where there are long lines of people hoping to get food, people complaining that they cannot feed their families.
Are all “thoughtful Christians” trying to obey God’s call, as Dr. Keller’s acquaintance says? I don’t think so, otherwise “thoughtful Christians” on the Left and “thoughtful Christians” on the Right would all agree that abortion is killing; that the definition of marriage is given by God, not the state; that gender is determined by God, not the individual; that bearing false witness is very serious to God, even if our political parties don’t think so. Such thinking is biblically and politically naïve. In the short run, it may bring about a so-called “peace in our time;” but in the long haul, it will only end in tragedy and despair.
Is it reasonable in America today to think that our two political parties, with diametrically opposing viewpoints regarding God’s Moral Laws, can reach agreement without moral compromise? Such collegiality no longer exists. Today, the differences between good and evil are stark, with the Democrat Party supporting infanticide, euthanasia, gay marriage, gender identity, and the list accelerates every day. Is it possible for “thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call” to “reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies?” The answer is no, it is not possible if we honor the same God and His Word.
Consider a recent headline:
“Senate Democrats Fail to Protect Infants Born Alive”
So, does the church take Keller’s advice: [Believers] “should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one”? But doing just that would seem normal and logical given the regular occurrence of one party—The Democrat Party—opposing the Moral Law which protects infants born alive.
Let’s be perfectly clear, saying privately or publicly that one political party supports Biblical Moral Values (pro-traditional marriage, pro-life, biological gender, etc.) and another party does not is not the same as saying I or my church endorse a political party or candidate. Biblical clarity of Christian teaching is God-honoring; but silence, temerity, ignorance (of God’s laws and man’s), and fear is anything but.
The church’s mission is to speak of Saving Grace, of Sin, of Common Grace to everyone. This involves knowledge of God’s Moral Law and action on the believers’ part. This is true whether we are speaking to the individual or a group of people. When Billy Graham held a Crusade in Jackson, MS in the 1950’s, he noticed upon arriving at the stadium that ropes were set up to separate blacks from whites. He did not need anyone’s permission to tear them down—and he did—and warned the officials that he would leave if they were put back up. No one dared to interfere with Dr. Graham. Why? Because he was totally dependent upon God. He feared no man or organization in Jackson, Mississippi.
Remember the Church at Laodicea and what it was criticized for. They were “lukewarm.” Laodicea in modern day Turkey was wealthy, but they had to pipe in their water from hot springs. The hot water was great for bathing, but when it reached Laodicea, it was lukewarm and not suitable for either bathing or drinking.
What Jesus is saying is that a lukewarm church (one not dependent on God) is useless. Churches today not dependent on God, especially in something as critical as the state’s ability to legislate immorality, are in danger of becoming “useless” in God’s eyes. Being useful, on the other hand, by confronting corporate as well as individual sin, and showing Grace, is exactly what the church should be doing all the time.
Liberty University is not a church
Finally, Keller's article is introduced with a beautiful Getty picture of students singing hymns at Liberty University just before an appearance of Donald Trump in 2016. What is odd is why this particular picture would be used as a visual lead to this article? Is it mere coincidence or does the New York Times really think that singing hymns and raising hands in Liberty’s chapel is not appropriate when a future President is about to speak? Knowing the New York Times, I think this is exactly what they think. To be clear, Liberty University is not a church, it’s an educational institution, and there is nothing wrong with this scene. I sincerely hope Dr. Keller doesn’t either. It could be any Christian-based educational institution; it just happens to be Liberty. However, I feel the New York Times would have a problem with it, and perhaps that’s why its placement is so obvious.
This article, and others like it, whose focus is the Church's responsibility to address corporate (The State) violations of God's Moral Law is part of a new book by Charlie Rodriguez, Raising the Standard of Morality. Pre-order now!