Keller’s political motivation

Dr Tim Keller is one of the biggest names in the New Calvinist movement.  Newsweek magazine has referred to him as ‘a C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century’; Christianity Today calls him ‘a pioneer of the new urban Christians’.  Keller 2 copyHe graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry degree in 1981. Eight years later he founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York.  In 2007, together with theologian Don Carson, he co-founded the Gospel Coalition. He is viewed by many as a great Christian intellectual, and has even been called the CS Lewis of our day.

Keller’s first book, The Reason for God, published in 2008, has been a New York Times best-seller. According to the back page blurb: ‘Keller uses literature, philosophy, real life conversations, and reasoning to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief…’  He is up front that his purpose is to use philosophy and human reasoning to make belief in the Christian God appears to be an eminently rational choice.

But Keller is building on a flawed foundation, for Scripture deals with the wisdom (so-called) of the wise philosopher, and the arguments of the disputers of this world, and shows them to be foolishness in God’s eyes. ‘Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?’ (1 Corinthians 1.19-21). According to the King James Study Bible, all humanly devised philosophical systems have a wrong concept of God and his revelation. ‘It is God’s intention that that worldly wisdom should not be the means of knowing Him.’ We find God through his revelation in Scripture, not through rational, philosophical arguments, even if presented with the skill of a disputer of the age, like Dr Tim Keller.

Keller’s Background

The Reason for God speaks of Keller’s upbringing in the Christian faith. As a teenager in a Lutheran confirmation class, he was impressed with a teacher whom he describes as ‘a social activist… filled with deep doubts about traditional Christian doctrine’.[1]  From that teacher, he learned about a ‘spirit of love in the universe, who mainly required that we work for human rights and the liberation of the oppressed’.[2]  In college he was ‘heavily influenced by the neo-Marxist critical theory of the Frankfurt School’. He writes: ‘In 1968, this was heady stuff. The social activism was particularly attractive, and the critique of American bourgeoisie society was compelling…’[3] He admits that he ‘was emotionally’ drawn to the social activism of the neo-Marxists. ‘How could I turn back to the kind of orthodox Christianity that supported segregation in the South and apartheid in South Africa?’ [4]

 The Frankfurt School of neo-Marxism

The Frankfurt School, to which Keller refers, was a Marxist think tank that originated among a group of German intellectuals in the 1920’s. The school initially consisted of dissident Marxists, who were concerned that some of the prophecies of Karl Marx regarding the eventual collapse of capitalism, and the triumph of a classless socialist proletariat, were not coming to pass.  From their point of view, the opposite was happening. Capitalism was growing in power and influence, with, what the neo-Marxists saw, as inherently oppressive social consequences. These intellectuals were, however, repelled by the Leninist call to violent revolution and sought other pathways to change society.  The primary goal of the Frankfurt School was to translate Marxism into cultural terms, to provide the ideas on which to base a new political theory of revolution, based on culture, and the harnessing of new oppressed groups. Using Marxist economic theory, emerging sociological theories, and Hegel’s dialectic method of arriving at ‘truth’, these intellectuals and their followers laid the foundation for their understanding of the cause and correction of social injustice. Today, Cultural Marxism is cultivating the ideas of political correctness in many Western nations.

Keller explains that when he found a ‘band of brothers’, a group of ‘Christians who had a concern for justice in the world… grounded in the nature of God’, things began to change for him.[5] Increasingly, he ‘became interested in shaping and initiating new Christian communities’, and thus he ‘entered [the ministry] just a few years after college’.[6] Living out the neo-Marxist ideology of the Frankfurt School in the church became Keller’s goal.  In The Reason for God, he looks forward to his followers being the ‘vanguard of some major new religious, social and political arrangements’.[7]

This influence on Keller’s interpretation of Scripture is evident in chapter fourteen of The Reason for God, entitled ‘The Dance of God’. He writes: ‘The purpose of Jesus coming is to put the whole world aright, to renew and restore the creation… not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom’.[8] Keller says that another way to look at the Christian life is from the perspective of the final restoration. He writes: ‘The world and our hearts are broken. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God’.[9]  Keller explains: ‘When Jesus suffered with us he was identifying with the oppressed of the world, not with their oppressors.’[10] He boldly declares: ‘Jesus identified with the oppressed.’[11]

 Liberation theology

Liberation theology is a political movement which interprets the teachings of Christ as a manifesto for the liberation of the oppressed and marginalized from unjust economic, political, and social conditions.  It encourages political activism in the name of Christ, especially in relation to social justice, poverty, and human rights. Catholic theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez gave the movement its name with his book A Theology of Liberation (1968). Gutierrez also popularized the phrase ‘preferential option for the poor’, which became a slogan of liberation theology. Gutierrez asserts that God has a preference for those people who are ‘insignificant’ and ‘marginalized’. He said: ‘The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat…’

Keller begins Generous Justice by reminding us that ‘the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor’.[12] In response to the question: Is God on the Side of the Poor? He writes: ‘This emphasis in the Bible has led some, like Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, to speak of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor.’[13] But Keller does not tell his readers that Gutierrez is a Dominican priest, who is regarded as the father of Liberation Theology.

Keller writes: ‘God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to do justice.’[14] He explains: ‘He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause.’[15] The God of the Bible, according to Keller, is ‘a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor’.[16]

 What Keller describes as his ‘new way of thinking about the Bible’ is essentially the old liberation theology of the Roman Catholics.  Like them, Keller ignores the central biblical truth that Jesus was sent to be ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:20).

 Redefining the Cross

In The Reason for God, Keller attempts to explain why Christ died on the Cross. He writes: ‘Jesus did not only suffer for us but with us… He voluntarily took his place beside those who were without power and suffering from injustice… But when Jesus suffered with us he was indentifying with the oppressed of the world, not with their oppressors… God himself would come down off his ultimate throne and suffer with the oppressed so that they might be lifted up.’[17]   Keller asserts that ‘Jesus’s life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalised… to be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation…’[18]

Keller is presenting Jesus as a political saviour, who is especially concerned about the world’s poor and oppressed people.  He asserts that God came into the world to identify with the oppressed of the world ‘so that they might be lifted up’.

In The Prodigal God, Keller confidently asserts: ‘The ultimate purpose of Jesus is not only individual salvation and pardon for sin but also the renewal of this world, the end of disease, poverty, injustice…’[19]  He writes: ‘Christians therefore can talk of saving the soul and of building social systems that deliver safe streets and warm homes in the same sentence… God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it.’[20]  The inference is that Christ is instigating a political rescue for oppressed people.  But this is a false gospel, for Scripture says that Christ came into the world to save sinners. ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1.15).

 Keller’s New Arrangements

In Generous Justice, Keller distorts the Gospel by using Christian-sounding phraseology to promote an essentially Marxist view of the problem of man (victimization of the proletariat by capitalist bourgeoisie) and its solution (restoration of rights and redistribution of wealth achieved by non-violent socio-political action).  Keller skillfully uses biblical jargon in the attempt to convince his readers of the same Frankfurt School ideology that first fascinated him as a college student. Nowhere in The Reason for God or Generous Justice is the reader directed to the true mission of the church of the living God, to ‘make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). For Keller, the problem of man is not rebellion against a holy God—it is social injustice. The solution for man is not faith in Christ alone—it is social justice.

In the closing chapter of The Reason for God, Keller expresses the hope that his readers, moved by his descriptions of ‘our world’s need’, will become ‘true revolutionaries who work for justice and truth in expectation of a perfect world’, and will ‘go from here’ into churches that are devoted to actions of social justice.  According to Keller, Christians who believe in the reality of justice are to ‘do restorative and redistributive justice wherever they can’.[21] The Reason for God is a religious socio-political manifesto calling for a radical ‘new arrangement’ for the Christian church.  We must conclude that Keller’s approach to ‘social justice’ and his understanding of the problem of poverty is thoroughly that of the Frankfurt School of Marxism.

You can learn more about Dr Tim Keller, Pastor Mark Driscoll’s and Pastor John Piper in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing.


[1] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Hodder & Stoughton, paper back edition, 2009, pxi

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. pxi-xii

[4] Ibid. pxii

[5] Ibid. pxiii

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. pxix

[8] Ibid. p223

[9] Ibid. The Reason for God, p224-25

[10] Ibid. p195

[11] Ibid. p197

[12] Generous Justice, p6

[13] Ibid. p7

[14] Ibid. p5

[15] Ibid. p6

[16] Ibid. p6

[17] Ibid. pp195-96

[18] Ibid pp224-225

[19] The Prodigal God, p110

[20] Ibid. p112-113

[21] Ibid. p225