Keller’s Marxist sympathies

Timothy F Kauffman, writing in The Trinity Review in March 2014, has produced an article, in two parts, with the provocative title, ‘Workers of the Church, Unite!: The Radical Marxist Foundation of Tim Keller’s Social Gospel’.[1] Part 1 reviews of Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavour: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (2012) and demonstrates that his view of work is deeply entrenched in Marxist ideology. Part 2 shows that Keller has been heavily influenced by several prominent socialists or Marxists economists and theologians, whom he cites regularly to support his theses.[2]

Kauffman’s analysis is entirely consistent  Trinity foundationwith the sentiments that Keller expressed in The Reason for God (2008), where he writes about his emotional attachment to the ideas of the Frankfurt School of Neo-Marxism. He confesses that in college he was ‘heavily influenced by the neo-Marxist critical theory of the Frankfurt School’, and admits that he ‘was emotionally’ drawn to the social activism of the neo-Marxists.[3] Keller closes The Reason for God hoping his readers will become ‘true revolutionaries’ and will ‘go from here’ into churches that are devoted to actions of

Tim Keller - Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York

Tim Keller – Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York

social justice. He seeks to spawn the realization of the ‘desperate need’ he felt as a college student ‘to find a group of Christians who had a concern for justice in the world but who grounded it in the nature of God rather than in their own subjective feelings’.[4]

The Reason for God is a religious socio-political manifesto calling for a radical ‘new arrangement’ for the Christian church. Keller’s Generous Justice (2010)builds upon the ideological foundation, which he attempted to establish in The Reason for God,revealing in more detail what he means by ‘social justice’. In so doing, he confirms that his understanding of the problem of poverty is thoroughly that of the Frankfurt School of Marxism.

So when Keller writes about the concept of work, and claims to do so from a biblical perspective, we already know that we must be on our guard. In Every Good Endeavour, Keller’s claim that God’s radical plan is that ‘we are to work together to make the world a better place, to help each other, and to find purpose for our lives’.[5] In his article Kauffman explains the Marxist view of work, and examines Marx’s theory that ‘wage labor’ leads to alienation of the worker.

 Tim Keller – a high-profile Marxist

Kauffman writes: ‘There is one high-profile Marxist who is particularly effective at repackaging Marxism for a Christian audience, but due to his ability to disguise his economic philosophy, he is largely flying “under the radar.” That Marxist is Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

‘It may come as a surprise to his conservative evangelical readers that Tim Keller’s recent book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, is simply a recapitulation of Marx’s theory of alienation, and Good endeavorthat Keller’s solution to the problem of alienation is indistinguishable from Marx’s. It will surprise his readers to know that Keller’s theory of wages is derived from Marxism. It will surprise his readers to know that when Keller recommends modern examples of churches that implement a Christian economic ideal, he identifies churches and organizations that are thoroughly Marxist, and are inspired by leftist Saul Alinsky, the author of Rules for Radicals. In this article, we will review Keller’s words and his sources to establish his economic theory. What we shall find is a consistent call for a transition from a capitalist economy to a socialist economy through class struggle based on Marxist principles—all cloaked in the language of Biblical Christianity.’

 Marx’s Theory of Alienation

Kauffman writes: ‘According to Marx, alienation occurs in society when “private individuals or groups of individuals…carry on their work independently of each other,”[6]and wage labor is the “most profound form of alienation.”[7] According to Marxists.org, “Since wage workers sell their labour power to Marx1earn a living, and the capitalist owns the labour process, the product of the workers’ labour is in a very real sense alien to the worker.”[8] When a man works in order to obtain money by which he procures food in order to live, he has been unjustly alienated from the product of his labor. Tim Keller’s recent book, Every Good Endeavor, is marketed as a Christian approach to work, but it is actually Keller’s defence of a Marxist economic paradigm within the church. Keller makes this clear:

Karl Marx was the first person to speak of “alienated labor” in the heyday of the early-nineteenth century European industry… The great shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge and service economy has improved the immediate working conditions of many but has locked countless others into low-paying service sector jobs that experience the same alienating disconnectedness from the fruits or products of their work.[9]

‘Keller has simply restated the basis of Marx’s economic theory: because the capitalist owns the labor process, the product of the workers’ labor is in a very real sense alien to the worker. In such an environment, Marx wrote, “my work is an alienation of life, for I work in order to live, in order to obtain for myself the means of life.”[10] But Marxists have a solution: “Alienation can be overcome by restoring the truly human relationship to the labour process, by people working in order to meet people’s needs, working as an expression of their own human nature, not just to earn a living.”[11]

‘Keller explains from the beginning that the purpose of his book is to overcome alienation by doing exactly what Marxists suggest. He is not nearly so candid, but this is exactly what he proposes to do. Keller writes: Robert Bellah’s landmark book, Habits of the Heart, helped many people name the thing that was (and still is) eating away at the cohesiveness of our culture—“expressive individualism.” … [N]ear the end of Habits, the author proposes one measure that would go a long way toward reweaving the unraveling culture: “To make a real difference… [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.” That is a remarkable statement.[12]

Kauffman continues:‘The “expressive individualism” that is “eating away at the cohesiveness of our culture”, is just another way of expressing Marx’s concept of alienation, i.e, when “private individuals or groups of individuals…carry on their work independently of each other.” Bellah’s challenge, italicized above, is simply a recapitulation of the Marxist solution to it. Keller dives in and takes Bellah’s challenge:

If Bellah is right, one of the hopes for our unraveling society is the recovery of the idea that all human work is not merely a job but a calling.… And so, taking our cue from Bellah’s challenge, in this book we will do what we can to help illuminate the transformative and revolutionary connection between Christian faith and the workplace.[13]

Kauffman says that what Bellah proposed was government intervention to end capitalism by reducing the punishments of failure and the rewards of success. What offends Bellah is the capitalist idea of Bellah3linking wages to productivity, and risk to reward. To correct this problem, Bellah recommends a Marxist solution to effect a ‘great change in the meaning of work in our society’. Keller passes it on to the church for consumption by first sanitizing it of its Marxist context. This is no passing or accidental reference to Bellah’s work by Keller. It is rather the core of Keller’s thesis. Later in Every Good Endeavor, Keller re-emphasizes this, reminding the reader that the purpose of the book is to respond to Bellah’s challenge to implement a Marxist solution: ‘Bellah called us to recover the idea that work is a “vocation” or calling, “a contribution to the good of all and not merely… a means to one’s own advancement”, to one’s self-fulfillment and power.’[14]

Kauffman notes that the origin of Bellah’s affinity for Marxism is evident from his own words. Bellah wrote: ‘I was a member of the Communist Party as a Harvard undergraduate from 1947 to 1949. During that period I was mainly involved in the John Reed Club, a recognized student organization concerned with the study of Marxism.’[15]It is no accident therefore, that Bellah’s challenge is simply a call to implement Marx’s solution to the problem of alienation. According to Kauffman, ‘What is surprising is that Keller takes it up and expects the church to swallow it whole as the hope for our unravelling society!’

 Keller’s Marxist Advisors

In Part 2 of his article, Kauffman makes the point that Keller’s Marxism was not developed in a vacuum, for ‘he has been heavily influenced by several prominent economists and theologians, whom he cites regularly to support his theses… They lean heavily to the economic left, either as Socialists or Marxists, and consistently verbalize the need for economic revolution to take down capitalism.’ We mention two of Keller’s favourites.

 Gustavo Gutiérrez – Father of Liberation Theology

In Generous Justice (2009) Keller writes:

This emphasis in the Bible has led some, like Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, to speak of God’s ‘preferential option for the poor’.[16] At first glance this seems to be wrong, especially in light of passages in the Mosaic Law that warn against giving any preference to rich or poor. (Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:16-17) Yet the Bible says that God is the defender of the poor; it never says he is the defender of the rich.[17]

Kauffman comments: ‘If God had a “preferential

Gustavo Gutierrez - founder of liberation theology

Gustavo Gutierrez – founder of liberation theology

option for the poor,” as Gutiérrez describes it, He would have released the captive servant girl and let Naaman, a Syrian general, rot in his leprosy. Instead, Naaman was cured, and kept his slave (2 Kings 5:1-19). God apparently had different priorities than Gutiérrez asserts (Luke 4:27). It is true that the Bible never says God “is the defender of the rich,” but God defends the righteous (Psalm 5:12) and sometimes the righteous are wealthy (Proverbs 13:11)… In matters of justice, God favors the “haves” over the “have-nots” if the latter are guilty (Proverbs 6:30-31, 1 Kings 3:16-28). The Scriptures have God defending the poor when they are defenseless in a matter of justice (Psalm 72:4, 82:3, 4; James 5:4). But when the poor are themselves doing injustice, God does not defend them, but defends the property rights—yes, the property rights—of the rich.’

Kauffman continues: ‘This offends the sensibilities of Gutiérrez who is not merely a “Latin American theologian”, as Keller calls him. He is a Roman Catholic priest and the founder of the Marxist Liberation Theology movement. As is evident from Gutiérrez’s writings, what he calls “God’s preferential option for the poor” is actually just Gutiérrez’ preferential option for Marxism.

Gutiérrez writes, “For some, participation in this process of liberation means not allowing themselves to be intimidated by the accusation of being ‘communist’. On the positive side it can even mean taking the path of socialism.… This transformation ought to be directed toward a radical change in the foundation of society, that is, the private ownership of the means of production.”[18]

In other words, Gutiérrez is a Marxist revolutionary. But Keller takes Gutiérrez’ Marxism and recasts it as the embodiment of God’s zeal for justice.’

 Reinhold Niebuhr: ‘Socialism Must Come in America’

Kauffman writes: ‘In Every Good Endeavor, Keller takes aim at the “idol” of elevating “the interests of one’s own tribe or nation over others”, and calls on Reinhold Niebuhr to help determine the cause: “American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr understood that the tendency to privilege the interests of one’s own tribe or nation over others is due to the ‘cosmic insecurity’ of our sinful hearts.”[19]

Kauffman continues: ‘Here, Keller draws from Niebuhr’s Gifford Lectures, delivered in 1939, and later published in his opus, The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941). But Niebuhr, as a Marxist, could not conceive of the sin of pride except through that Marxist lens… In the end, Niebuhr predicted, because of class conflict, capitalism in America “will inevitably be followed by the emergence of the American Marxian proletarian”.[20] He was among the men who “gained control of theNeiburgh2 Socialist Party in 1936” at which point this “victory for the left of the party” brought it new life.[21] Though he eventually gave up on the Socialist Party, he never gave up on socialism: “Elements of socialist theory continued to play a significant role in his thought as late as 1947 or 1948, but his loyalty to the socialist party ended with Roosevelt’s third-term campaign”.’[22]

Like liberation theologians of today, Niebuhr argued that social radicalism and Marxism owed their existence to Christian inspiration.[23] Biographer Ronald H. Stone provides the background of Niebuhr’s Marxism:

Late in the 1930s [Niebuhr] outlined his essential agreement with Marxist thought. Marxism furnished an analysis of the economic structure of society that was essentially correct. It correctly perceived the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie as inevitable. He agreed that private ownership of the means of production was the basic cause of periodic economic crises. Marxism was right in its judgment that the communal ownership of property was the prerequisite of social justice. He accepted Lenin’s view that capitalism was responsible for the economic imperialism that characterized the advanced nations.[24]

 Conclusion

Timothy Kauffman has examined Keller’s claim that God’s radical plan is that ‘we are to work together to make the world a better place, to help each other, and to find purpose for our lives’, and demonstrated that it does not come from biblical wisdom, as Keller wants us to believe, but from a Marxist worldview. KellerTo convince his readers of ‘God’s radical plan’, Keller quotes from the writings of three Marxists, Robert Bellah, Gustavo Gutierrez and Reinhold Niebuhr, without mentioning their political affiliation. In effect, Keller has surreptitiously replaced the gospel of Christ with the utopian ideology of Marx, and presented it as biblical truth. The importance of Kauffman’s analysis is that it demonstrates how Marxist ideology can masquerade as Christian truth.

Marxism’s opposition to Scripture

But more importantly, the fundamental problem with Marxism is that it rests solidly upon a notion of reality that is in every respect utterly

opposed to Scripture, and from which springs false understandings of the nature of man, his purpose in life, the cause of his problems, the solution to his problems and the understanding of history and progress. It is not sufficient to state that Marxism doesn’t ‘work’, has a history of tyranny, or proposes a radical re-construction of western society. The problem with Marxism is much more fundamental, more Satanic than even its disastrous effects. The problem with Marxism is that it is a false gospel, offering man false understandings, false solutions and false hope. When professing Christians advocate ideas and practices similar to those of Marxist ideology they are advocating more than Marxism—they are embracing a false gospel. They are in every scriptural sense of the word, false teachers.

In the later nineteenth century, Satan unleashed upon mankind his perfect trifecta of evil, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin. Each of these men was equipped with the ideal mixture of skill appealing to the natural rebellious heart of man. This set in motion ideas so profound, powerful and attractive that to this day they have wide ranging and determinative influence on mankind worldwide. Each of these men had the same false understandings of reality and man. Each denied the existence of any god or the validity of any sacred text. Each of these men offered eager followers a promise that is entirely false and utterly opposed to Scripture. Rebellious men took up these promises with relish. Even professing Christians adopted many of their ideas. Thus today we have theistic evolutionists, “Christian” psychotherapists, and the likes of Tim Keller, supposedly “Christian” Marxists calling the church to re-construct society claiming that such effort is itself the good news of Christ.

Marx, along with Freud and Darwin, was fundamentally a philosophical materialist. For him there could be no supernatural reality. Thus for all of reality he offered only materialistic explanations. For him, there was no creator God, no sovereign God of providence. Man exists in this materialistic world in a systematic relationship with it, is influenced by it and is destined to re-construct it according to his own pleasure. Into this material reality man is born innocent with a natural inclination to goodness. Whatever problems arise for men can only be the fault of the environment since man has no such thing as a sin nature, having never “fallen”. For Marx, with a doctorate in economics, the problems of man were understood as resulting Marx2from the economic environment. Thus Marx railed against the prevailing economic structure of his day, the dehumanizing nature of work and wages, the destructive results of private ownership of property and the oppressive relationship between owners and workers, the haves and the have nots. Additionally, Marx viewed all of history as conflict between economic classes of people, owners versus workers. What he offered as a solution and prophesied would come to pass, was a radical re-construction of the economic structure of society in accordance with his ideas, a utopia on earth made by man and man alone. Marx prophesied that his utopia would be the necessary final resolution of the historic conflict between owners and workers. Thus when Keller claims that the church is called to “restore the creation”, he is speaking from the same view of reality as Marx: the environment is the problem, man can fix it and when he does all will be well. So Keller’s problem is not merely the adoption of Marxist practices and goals, it is his very understanding of material reality and man’s place in it.

Denial that man is naturally inclined toward sin from birth along with the insistence that he is born innocent is epiphenomena of a materialistic view of reality. This supports the claim that the problems of man are environment-caused with the solution being environment-correction. This philosophy says that man is not a natural born sinner in need of grace; he is a victim in need of a better environment in which his natural goodness will blossom forth. Marx saw this better environment as communal in nature in which each man would pleasurably exercise his natural talents, naturally contribute to the well-being of all and naturally receive in return what he needed for a pleasant life. This utopian promise is so attractive that even professing Christians, attempting to draw upon descriptions of communal living in Acts 4:32-35 become convinced that such is God’s will for Christians today. The problem of course is the reality that man is not naturally good. In truth man is naturally filled with evil, laziness, greed, pride, and all manner of sinful attitudes and practices. (Jeremiah 17:9-10) Communalism doesn’t “work”; it cannot work because of what man is. Marx’s views are based on a false understanding of the nature of man. For fallen man selfishness always overtakes sacrifice. Thus when Keller advocates ideas and proposals of “social justice” that echo those of Marx, he is not just being a “communist”; he is advocating a false, anti-scriptural understanding of man and offering a false gospel as the solution. This false gospel is attractive not only to pagans, but also to the “old man” (Ephesians 4:17-24) of many professing Christians. The sinfulness of man, the wrath of God upon lost sinners and the need for repentance is rarely preached today. This is not the “good news” that the apostate or seeker-friendly church preaches. Thus even professing, church-attending Christians are ill-prepared to resist this alluring false gospel.

The idea that the environment is the problem and that man can and must fix it is the capstone of the edifice of lies that Marx built and offered to the eager ears of rebellious man. This idea has become so ingrained in the ideology of our times that, like evolution and Freudian psychology, it is assumed to be true. In our times, it is fueled by the environmental movement which claims that man has injured the world’s environment, can fix it and must do so even if it requires a radical re-construction of society and the manner of man living in it. The modern church has all-too- commonly adopted this idea under the rubric of “social justice”, insisting that God’s call to the church is not just to help fellow believers in duress (James 2:15 and others), but to bring about improvement in society at large, even to the extent of joining forces with pagan organizations. Christians who hold to a-millennial or post-millennial views of the future are especially vulnerable to this since their eschatology does not fit Scripture’s prediction that society will become ever more depraved and lawless (2Timothy 3:1, Luke 18:8 and elsewhere). As this becomes increasingly obvious, the church gropes for social justice endeavors replacing traditional evangelism claiming this “service” is somehow the gospel. This idea has overtaken modern missionary endeavors which are now called “holistic” or “transformational”. Thus when Keller advocates social activism redolent of Marxist or left-wing ideologues, it is not just that he is Marxist or “left wing”, the problem is more fundamental than that. He is acting out a false understanding of the purpose of man on earth. Nowhere in Scripture is the church called to rectify the ills of society. Neither Jesus nor his Apostles ever called for believers to throw off Roman oppression. The church is called to witness the gospel to the lost. The saved are called to obedient living. Out of that may come some improvements in society, but that is not the end-goal. And if no improvement is visible anywhere, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Kauffmann is correct that Keller is a Marxist masquerading as a Christian, but more importantly he has adopted fundamental beliefs, and advocates practices that are in stark opposition to the truth of Scripture, beliefs that constitute a very seductive but utterly false gospel. Scripture warns: in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils (1 Timothy 4.1). To avoid being deceived by Keller’s seducing spirit, all who read his books should be aware of his underlying Marxist sympathies.

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] The Trinity Foundation, The Trinity Review, Timothy Kauffman, March-April 2014, ‘Workers of the Church, Unite!: The Radical Marxist Foundation of Tim Keller’s Social Gospel’ Part 1.  Website: www.trinityfoundation.org

[2]The Trinity Foundation, The Trinity Review, Timothy Kauffman, Part 2, May-June  2014

[3]Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Hodder & Stoughton, 2008, pxii

[4]Ibid. pxiii

[5]Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, Hodder and Soughton, 2012, front cover blurb

[6] Marx. Capital, 1, 1: “Commodities and Money,” 1: “Commodities,” 4, “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof.”

[7] See “Alienation” at http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/a/l.htm.

[8] See “Alienation” at http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/a/l.htm.

[9] Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Penguin Group, 2012), p104, 105.

[10] Karl Marx, Comments on James Mill, Éléments D’économie Politique, 1844, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/james-mill/, accessed January 5, 2014.

[11] See “Alienation” at http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/a/l.htm.

[12] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, p18, 19 (brackets in original, emphasis added).

[13] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, p18, 19.

[14] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, p66 (ellipses in original).

[15] Robert Bellah, “To the Editors,” The New York Review of Books, (July 14, 1977), http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1977/jul/14/veritas-at-harvard-another-exchange/, accessed September 27, 2013.

[16]Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988)

[17] Keller, Generous Justice, p7.

[18] Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), p 65, 116, emphasis in original.

[19] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, p138, 139.

[20] Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, 144.

[21] Ronald H. Stone, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr: A Mentor to the Twentieth Century, (Louisville, KY, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), p96

[22] Ibid. p96

[23]Ibid. p87

[24]Ibid. p89