Dr Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, is a leading voice in American Christianity. Through his book The Reason for God, a New York Times top ten bestseller, his thoughtful sermons and conference presentations, Dr Keller has developed a worldwide ministry among evangelical Christians. He has produced a steady flow of books on a wide range of issues, including The Prodigal God (2008), Counterfeit Gods (2009), Generous Justice (2010), King’s Cross (2011), Every Good Endeavour (2012), Prayer (2014) and Preaching (2015).
Keller graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1981 with a Doctor of Ministry degree. Eight years later in 1989, together with his wife Kathy, he founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church. For over 25 years he has led a diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of around 5,000.
In 2001, Keller started Redeemer City to City Church planting network, which has helped plant over 300 churches in many cities across the world. In 2007, together with theologian Don Carson, Keller co-founded The Gospel Coalition.
Today, 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’. He refers to himself as a Reformed convinced Protestant and is viewed by many as a great Christian intellectual.
Dr Keller is in demand as conference speaker. In 2010 he delivered two keynote addresses to four thousand Christian leaders at the Third Lausanne Congress for World Evangelization in Cape Town. Keller’s addresses, entitled ‘God’s Global Urban Mission’, dealt with the need for contextualized churches to meet the needs of city dwellers. Keller has spoken at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London on five separate occasions. He was invited to preach at John Stott’s memorial service in the USA in November 2011. He addressed a special gathering of Presbyterian leaders at Sydney Harbour, Australia in 2014.
The Gospel in Life is the official website of Keller’s vast range of resources, which include sermons, books, study guides, DVD’s and CDs promoting the Keller brand.
Keller’s first book, The Reason for God, published in 2008, has been translated into 15 languages. The back page blurb informs the reader that Keller uses literature, philosophy and human reasoning to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief.
But Keller is building on a flawed foundation, for Scripture shows the wisdom (so-called) of the wise philosopher, and the arguments of the disputers of this world, 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 Scripture, all humanly devised philosophical systems have a wrong concept of the one true God, who has revealed Himself in Scripture, and not through rational, philosophical arguments, even if presented with the skill of a disputer of the age, like Dr Tim Keller.
Critique of Keller
In this article we show that there is a vast difference between the celebrity image of Dr Keller, and the reality of what he actually teaches. We offer a critique of both Keller’s theology and of his political agenda. We also draw attention to Keller’s sympathetic view of the Church of Rome, and his promotion of mysticism in the church.
Dr Keller is a keen advocate of what he calls ‘progressive’ evolution. Reformed Christianity believes in creation as taught in Genesis. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647, ‘It pleased God… in the beginning, to create the world, and all things therein, in the space of six days; and all very good.’
But Keller does not accept the teachings of the Westminster Confession. He seeks to persuade the Church of the ‘truth’ of theistic evolution, a theory that allows Christians believe in both ‘creation’ and evolution at the same time. In The Reason for God, Keller propagates his theory of theistic evolution. He accepts the science of evolution, and adapts the account of creation to fit the claims of science. And Keller does this by asserting that that the first chapter of Genesis is a poem, and therefore cannot be taken literally. Tim Keller writes: ‘I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened… For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory.’
Keller’s article, ‘Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople’, published by The Bio Logos Foundation, aims to help ordinary Christians understand what the Bible teaches about creation and evolution.
Keller provides advice for Christian lay-people: ‘My conclusion is that Christians who are seeking to correlate Scripture and science must be a “bigger tent” than either the anti-scientific religionists or the anti-religious scientists. Even though in this paper I argue for the importance of belief in a literal Adam and Eve, I have shown here that there are several ways to hold that and still believe in God using evolutionary biological processes.’
In an interview in 2008, Anthony Sacramone of ‘First Things’ asked Keller: ‘How do you talk about evolution without confusing people?’ Keller replied: ‘Oh, it’s a little confusing, but actually I’m just in the same place where the Catholics are…’
In response to the questions about Adam and Eve and the Fall, Keller says: ‘So here’s what I like—the messy approach, which is I think there was an Adam and Eve. I think there was a real Fall. I think that happened. I also think, that there also was a very long process probably, you know, that the earth probably is very old, and there was some kind of process of natural selection that God guided and used, and maybe intervened in. And that’s just the messy part. I’m not a scientist. I’m not going to go beyond that.’
Keller continues: ‘How could there have been death before Adam and Eve fell? The answer is, I don’t know. But all I know is, didn’t animals eat bugs? Didn’t bugs eat plants? There must have been death.’
But Keller is wrong, for according to Scripture, there was no death before the Fall. The Bible teaches that death is the consequence of sin. The Bible teaches that through one man, Adam, ‘sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned’ (Romans 5.12). And, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6.23). The apostle Paul explains: ‘For as by one man’s disobedience [Adam], many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience [Jesus Christ] many will be made righteous’ (Romans 5.18-19). Keller’s assertion that death came before Adam’s sin undermines the doctrine of justification by faith taught in Romans 5. Keller also undermines the teaching of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthian Church. ‘For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15.21-22).
Keller frequently misuses Scripture to further his own agenda. In his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says that the Pharisees, who are represented in the Parable by the elder brother, studied and obeyed the Scripture. Keller writes: ‘They worshiped faithfully and constantly.’ And they are the religious people ‘who do everything the Bible requires’. Here we see a fault-line in Keller’s theology. The Pharisees were not people who believed and obey the Bible, as Keller asserts. On the contrary, the Pharisees held to the tradition of men. Our Lord said to the Pharisees, ‘For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do’ (Mark 7.13). The Pharisees feigned obedience to God’s Word, but they did not really obey it—they were hypocrites who did not obey God’s moral law, they only kept the ceremonial rites, like hand washing. Jesus called them hypocrites seven times in Matthew 23.
In The Prodigal God Keller makes the amazing statement that ‘you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently. It’s a shocking message: Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God.’ The clear inference is that obedience to God’s law is not necessarily a good thing. Indeed careful obedience to God’s Law maybe a way of rebelling against God. Keller’s statement is not only entirely without biblical backing, it may promote antinomianism. God’s word is clear: ‘Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, His judgments, and His commandments always’ (Deuteronomy 11.1) Scripture teaches that we should obey God’s moral law, which holy and just and good (Romans 7.12).
In the Reason for God Keller offers a biblical critique of religion, and writes: ‘We should not be surprised to discover it was the Bible-believing religious establishment who put Jesus to death.’ But this is wrong. It was not Bible-believing people who conducted the religious trial of Jesus. On the contrary, in the trial of Jesus biblical principles of justice were totally disregarded. ‘Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death’ (Matthew 26.59). Jesus answered and said to the Sadducees, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God’ (Matthew 22.29).
Another example of Keller’s flawed use of Scripture is the incident with Miriam in Numbers 12. According to Scripture, ‘Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married… So they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it’ (Numbers 12. 1-2). In Generous Justice, Keller interprets: ‘The Bible strikes numerous blows against racism. Moses’s sister Miriam was punished by God because she rejected Moses’s African wife on account of her race (Numbers 12).’ But Keller’s interpretation is misguided. Scripture is clear that God judged and punished Miriam because of her rebellion against the divinely-ordained authority of Moses. ‘The Lord defended his prophet Moses as the one he spoke with face to face, and said to Miriam and Aaron: “Why then were you not afraid, To speak against My servant Moses?” So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them’ (Number 12.8-9). Keller has twisted Scripture to make it appear that the Lord’s anger was aroused by Miriam’s racism, not by her rebellion against God’s servant, Moses.
In Reason for God (2008), Keller has a 14-page chapter devoted to ‘The Problem of Sin’. He starts by informing his reader that ‘the concept of sin is offensive or ludicrous to many. This is because we don’t understand what Christians mean by the term.’ To help his reader understand the doctrine of sin, Keller refers not to Scripture, but to the famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Keller writes:
‘Most people think of sin as “breaking divine rules”, but Kierkegaard knows that the very first of the Ten Commandments is to “have no other gods before me”. Keller explains: ‘So, according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin… is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose and happiness than your relationship to God.’
Keller says that sin ‘destroys us personally’, causing a loss of self-worth and threatening our identity.
Keller’s first biblical reference appears after 10 pages of philosophical discussion. So it is not surprising that his definition of sin is void of biblical truth.
In Every Good Endeavour Keller presents his unbiblical concept of ‘thin’ sin and ‘thick’ sin. He says that the reaction of Christians to popular culture in the last eighty years has been some form of disengagement. ‘Why this disengagement with our culture? One reason is a ‘thin’ or legalistic view of sin, where sin is seen as a series of discrete acts of noncompliance with God’s regulations’. In Keller’s eyes, a discrete act of adultery, theft or murder, is a ‘thin sin’. Yet when Jesus taught his disciples about sin, he listed a number of discrete acts. ‘For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries’ (Mark 7.21). By Keller’s definition, Jesus held a legalistic ‘thin’ view of sin.
Keller encourages his readers to adopt what he calls a ‘thick’ view of sin that allows them to engage with popular culture. He writes: ‘The complex, organic nature of our sin will still be at work making idols out of good things in our lives—such as our moral goodness, financial security, family, doctrinal purity, or pride in our culture.’ Keller’s thick view of sin encourages Christians to engage with worldly culture. He asserts that a ‘wholesale withdrawal from culture increases the likelihood of slipping into other more ‘respectable’ idolatries. A theologically “thick” view of sin, by contrast, sees it as a compulsive drive of the heart to produce idols.’
Scripture defines sin as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4): and all unrighteousness in sin (1 John 5.17). Sin is an offense against the holiness of God. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Romans 1.18).
Keller’s unbiblical rebranding of the doctrine of sin, has subverted the gospel of Christ. This is because the doctrine of sin is central to a proper understanding of the gospel of salvation. For Keller to obscure the true nature of sin is an offence against God’s holiness and a serious blow to the gospel of Truth.
In The Prodigal God (2009), we see how Keller uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to downplay the importance of repentance. According to Keller’s interpretation, the prodigal son, while still in the pigsty, worked out a business plan for repaying his father’s debt. Scripture, however, says nothing about a business plan; it says that the rebellious son came to his senses and made up his mind to confess his sin to his father.
But Keller gives us his amended version of the parable. The prodigal son, on his way home, is surprised to see his father running to meet him. Keller writes: ‘Flummoxed, he [the son] tries to roll out his business plan for the restitution. The father interrupts him, not only ignoring his rehearsed speech, but directly contradicting it.’ According to Keller, the father says: ‘I’m not going to wait until you’ve paid off your debt; I’m not going to wait until you’ve duly groveled. You are not going to earn your way back into the family; I am going to simply take you back.’ According to Scripture the son said to his father, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’ (Luke 15.21). But Keller’s amended account of the parable has excluded the message of repentance.
Indeed, Keller implies that repentance is groveling, which he regards as unnecessary and demeaning. He presents the picture of a benevolent father who simply takes the prodigal son back. No mention of sin, no mention of confession, no need for repentance. Keller expresses it like this: ‘God’s love and forgiveness can pardon and restore any and every kind of sin or wrongdoing.’
It is not difficult to see that Keller presents a false unbiblical view of sin that leads to a false view of salvation that is without repentance. But Scripture urges the sinner to repent and turn away from his sins, and place his faith in Christ, who according to the scriptures died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15.3).
Keller’s way of salvation
Despite Keller’s massive reputation and popularity among evangelical Christians, he does not proclaim the historic gospel once for all delivered to the saints, but a gospel of his own making. Two examples demonstrate the truth of this assertion. First is Keller’s appearance before The Veritas Forum, and the second is his paper on ‘Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs: Leading the Secular to Christ’.
In August 2011 at the Veritas Forum, Tim Keller was interviewed by NBC journalist Martin Bashir. Keller’s aim was to present an intellectually credible defense of the gospel, and give reasons why believing in God makes sense. In the course of the interview he is asked whether Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
His response to the question is to prevaricate, for he says he can only answer a question about eternal salvation ‘if Jesus is who He says He is’. Keller could have quoted Scripture to make clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, but he did not do so. Keller could have quoted the words of Jesus, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’ (John 14.6).
Keller says to be a Christian means that your soul has to ‘get Jesus’. What does this mean? Scripture says that to become a Christian means confessing our sin, repenting and placing our faith in Christ. A true believer is born again of God’s Spirit (John 3.3).
Asked about the eternal destiny of people in other religions Keller responds: ‘People in other religions, unless they find Christ, I don’t know any other way (to heaven), but I also get information on a need-to-know basis. If there’s some, if there’s some trapdoor, or something like that, I haven’t been told about it. But I also don’t know.’
He makes the remarkable statement, before a large audience, that God may have a trapdoor for unbelievers that he hasn’t been told about. He is surmising that God may actually have a secret way to heaven for people who do not believe in Christ. But Keller’s ‘trapdoor’ possibility is unbiblical and deeply heretical, for it implies that Christ died in vain. Christ said, ‘I am the Door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved’ (John 10.9). ‘He who does not enter by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’ (John 10.1). There is only one Door to heaven, Jesus Christ (John 10.7).
Keller asserts that unbelievers are ‘miserable’ now, and in a billion years from now will still be miserable. Why? Because according to Keller, unbelievers ‘will eternally shrivel’.
And the final shock—Keller admits that he does not know what happens to unbelievers who die without Christ. He says: ‘If they die and they don’t have Jesus Christ, I don’t know’ what happens to them. But how can he say he does not know when Scripture is clear? Is he ashamed of the gospel? This interview, which can be viewed online, tells us much about Tim Keller. Note that he did not once refer to Scripture. And the reason is obvious—Keller’s gospel is not based on Scripture.
At the Veritas Forum we saw a picture of the real Tim Keller. His attempt to use human reasoning to explain the gospel of Christ was a miserable failure. ‘Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?’ (1 Corinthians 1.20). Tim Keller later admitted that he had made mistakes during the interview.
In his article, ‘Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs: Leading the Secular to Christ’, Keller sets out to show the kinds of arguments that should be used to make the gospel appear attractive to a postmodern society. A set of ‘common-sense’ consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible are what philosophers call ‘defeater beliefs’. Keller says that ‘it is widely assumed that Christianity can’t be true because of the cultural belief that American culture, based on Christianity, is unjust and corrupt’.
In Keller’s thinking, preaching the gospel is all about understanding cultural issues. People must be shown that their best cultural aspirations will have a happy ending in Christ.
Keller wants the gospel to be made so attractive that it seems almost too good to be true. But such an approach is pure folly, for it leads to false disciples who come to Christ for what they can get out of it. Keller says the gospel must ‘be presented in connection with baseline cultural narratives – Jesus must be the answer to the questions the culture is asking. Don’t forget—every gospel presentation presents Jesus as the answer to some set of human-cultural questions… every gospel presentation has to be culturally incarnated, it must assume some over-riding cultural concern… Christianity must be presented as answers to the main questions and aspirations of our culture.’
Keller gives an example of a gospel presentation that does not mention the word sin or the need for repentance. Clearly Keller does not believe that the gospel is the answer to sin. Indeed, the article does not offer any hope of salvation from the power of sin. The gospel that Keller is encouraging Christians to preach is not the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1.16), but a false gospel.
Keller on fanaticism
In The Reason for God Keller discusses the issue of fanaticism. He claims that the biggest deterrent to Christianity for the average person is the shadow of fanaticism. He writes: ‘Many non-believers have friends or relatives who have become “born again” and seem to have gone off the deep end. They soon begin to express loudly their disapproval of various groups and sectors of our society – especially movies and television, the Democratic Party, homosexuals, evolutionists… When arguing for the truth of their faith they often appear intolerant and self-righteous. This is what many people would call fanaticism.’
Keller then makes his argument. ‘Think of people you consider fanatical. They’re overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving or understanding – as Christ was.’
But Keller is presenting an unbiblical caricature of born-again Christians. He seems to be irritated that born-again Christians are opposed to evolution and take a stand against the immorality and ungodly agenda of certain movies and TV shows. Here we need to remember that Keller supports progressive evolution.
But Scripture teaches us that born-again Christians are genuine believers. Our Lord said we must be born-again. When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, our Lord said to him: ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God… Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again” (John 3.5-7).
But Keller characterizes ‘born again’ Christians as harsh fanatics, insensitive, self-righteous and intolerant, who loudly expresses views on politics, homosexuality and evolution. Dr Keller, it appears, has an intense dislike of born-again believers. Indeed, his ridicule of born-again believers, whom he labels as fanatics, demonstrates a major fault-line in Keller’s understanding of the Christian faith.
Redefining the Cross
In The Reason for God, Keller explains why Christ died on the Cross. He writes: ‘But when Jesus suffered with us he was identifying 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.’ Keller asserts that, ‘Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalised’.
In 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, violence, suffering, and death.’ And more: ‘Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, he came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world clean of it.’ He writes: ‘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.’ The inference is that Christ is instigating a political rescue for oppressed people. But this is a false understanding of the Cross of Christ, for Scripture says that Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1.15), not to lead a socio-political revolution.
The dance of reality
In his book, King’s Cross (2011), Keller explores the life of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel, and explains his theology of the Trinity, which he calls ‘the dance of reality’. Following his description of the Trinity as a ‘divine dance’ in The Reason for God (2007), Keller again asks his readers to believe that according to the Bible, ‘each person of the Trinity glorifies the other. It’s a dance. In the words of my favourite author, CS Lewis, “In Christianity God is not a static thing… but a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance”.’ Keller has taken this quote from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
Describing the triune eternal God as a dance is irreverent and trite, and entirely without biblical foundation. Keller reasons ‘that they [the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit] are infinitely seeking one another’s glory, and so God is infinitely happy. (A true statement). And if it’s true that this world has been created by this triune God, then ultimately reality is a dance.’ (A false statement; it does not follow that because God is the Creator that ultimate reality is a dance). Keller again quotes Lewis: ‘The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us… [Joy, power, peace, eternal life] are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very centre of reality.’ Keller develops his view of God: ‘No person in the Trinity insists that the others revolve around him; rather each of them voluntarily circles and obits about the others. If this is ultimate reality, if this is what the God who made the universe is like, then this truth bristles and explodes with life shaping, glorious implications for us. If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about.’
Keller speculates that God must have created human beings ‘to invite us into the dance, to say: If you glorify me, if you center your entire life on me, if you find me beautiful for who I am in myself, that you will step into the dance, which is what you are made for… To serve me unconditionally. That’s where you’ll find your joy. That’s what the dance is about.’ Keller goes on: ‘If life is a divine dance, then you need more than anything else to be in it. That’s what you’re built for. You are made to center into a divine dance with the Trinity.’
This is remarkable nonsense. Keller’s theory of the divine dance is pure speculation. There is nothing in Mark’s gospel, or in the rest of the Bible, about a divine dance. Yet Keller, following the wisdom of CS Lewis and entirely without biblical warrant, declares that God is ‘a dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama. Almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance.’ In Keller’s mind God is a pulsating activity – almost like a dynamic life-force – which he calls a dance. This mystical idea of God is very near the new age concept of the Life-force.
Keller’s political motivation
We now turn to Keller’s political motivation. In the introduction to The Reason for God, Keller tells us that as a teenager in a Lutheran confirmation class, 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.’ 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…’ 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?’
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’. 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’. He says:
‘This emphasis in the Bible has led some, like Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, to speak of God’s “preferential option for the poor”.’ 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.’ He explains: ‘He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause.’ 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).
In The Prodigal God, Keller confidently asserts that, ‘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.’ Keller presents Jesus as a political saviour, who is especially concerned about the world’s poor and oppressed people.
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’. Part 1 reviews Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavour (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.
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.’
Timothy Kauffman examines what Keller’s refers to as God’s radical plan, and demonstrates that it does not come from biblical wisdom, as Keller wants us to believe, but from a Marxist worldview. To 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.
Keller and the Catholic Church
In Reason for God, Keller makes it clear that his definition of Christianity includes all Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians who affirm the traditional creeds of the Faith. He asks: ‘What is Christianity? For our purposes, I’ll define Christianity as the body of believers who assent to these great ecumenical creeds… I am making a case in this book for the truth of Christianity in general – not for one particular strand of it.’
Keller explains that he could show the way of grace ‘in a hundred famous spiritual biographies, such as those of St Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley… But my favourite example of the trauma of grace is the one depicted by Flannery O’Connor in her short story Revelation.’ But Keller does not let his readers know that O’Connor is a devout Roman Catholic.
In an interview with First Things, Keller says: ‘I don’t want to defend just one kind of Christianity. I think I want to defend the Apostles Creed.’ Keller makes no distinction between reformation Christianity and Roman Catholicism—he defends both.
During an interview MSNBC Morning radio, Keller made the remarkable statement that Jesus lived like famous Catholic nun, Mother Teresa, whom he describes as beautiful and kind and humble.
In Reason for God Keller writes: ‘There is a long list of martyrs who stood up for the oppressed in Jesus’ name, such as Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Romero was made archbishop for his conservative, orthodox, doctrinal views. In his new post he saw irrefutable evidence of chronic and violent human rights abuses by the government. He began to speak out fearlessly against it, and as a result he was shot to death in 1980 while saying Mass’ In 1997, a cause for beatification and canonization into sainthood was opened for Romero, and Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the title ‘Servant of God’. The canonization process continues.
Here we should note that Keller, a Presbyterian minister, actually refers to the beliefs of a Roman Catholic archbishop as doctrinally orthodox. What does Keller mean? Here a definition is helpful—orthodox means ‘sound or correct in opinion or doctrine’. What message is Keller trying to impart to the reader? And so we must ask, does Keller believe that Roman Catholic dogma is doctrinally sound? Does Keller believe that Catholic dogma on papal infallibility is doctrinally orthodox? Is Catholic dogma on the Eucharist doctrinally sound? Is Keller’s theology orthodox?
We have already seen Keller’s reference to Latin American theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, widely regarded as the father of Liberation Theology, without mentioning that Gutierrez is a Dominican priest.
With regard to theistic evolution Keller said: ‘Actually I’m just in the same place where the Catholics are…’ Keller does not defend the Reformation.
There is a large difference between Keller’s image as a Reformed Presbyterian, and reality of what he actually teaches. Keller’s series of lectures on meditation and prayer to Christian leaders in 1998 can still be accessed on the Redeemer website. In his lecture entitled, ‘What is meditation?’, Keller mentions ‘two streams that are filled with good, helpful material on meditation—the Catholic stream and the Quaker stream.’ He refers to the ‘great stuff’ that emanates from Roman Catholic mystics, and mentions Ignatius Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), St Francis de Sales, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila. Keller endorses Catholic mystical writings with these words: ‘The best things that have been written are by Catholics during the Counter Reformation. Great stuff!’
This series of lectures provide incontrovertible evidence that Dr Keller actually promotes and practices Catholic mysticism and is devoted to the mystics of the Roman Catholic Church. Redeemer Church has held classes on how to pray by way of lectio divinia, contemplative prayer, and even how to create ‘your own private monastery’. The class was called The Way of the Monk.
We believe that the information presented in this article provides overwhelming evidence that Keller is not orthodox in his theology, and he does not demonstrate a commitment to sound Reformed doctrine. We have seen nothing that convinces us that Keller preaches the true gospel of Christ.
Our Lord warned: ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’ (Matthew 7.15). The Apostle Paul warned church elders of many ‘which corrupt the word of God’ (2 Corinthians 2.17). ‘For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock’ (Acts 20.29). The Apostle John commanded the church: ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God’ (1 John 5.4). False teachers oppose to the gospel of truth, and surreptitiously bring another gospel into the Church. Our Lord said we will know them by their fruits.
So is Keller a reformed convinced Protestant, as he claims or is he a false teacher? We would be unfaithful to the Lord if we did not consider the possibility, for we are to ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares…’ (Jude 3-4). The answer to our question is surely obvious to every discerning Christian.
Fair Use Disclaimer: Under Fair Use principles as set forth in U.S. copyright law, Fair Use Clause, Section 107, allowance is made for fair use purposes. We are using content for comment, news reporting, education and/or critiquing.
You can learn more about Pastor John Piper, Dr Tim Keller and Pastor Mark Driscoll in the book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing. The book is available from The Metropolitan Tabernacle bookshop or from Amazon More on John Piper and his Christian Hedonism at The Real John Piper website
 Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pp 93-94
 An interview with Timothy Keller by Anthony Sacramone, 25/02/2008
 Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, p 8
 Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, p 37
 The Reason for God, pp 58-59
 Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p 123
 Reason for God, p 159
 Ibid. p 162
 Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavour, p 192
 Ibid. p 193
 Prodigal God, pp 22-23
 Keller’s interview with Martin Bashir, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGX1fHWU1TA
 The Gospel Coalition website, Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs: Leading the Secular to Christ, Tim Keller | January 1, 2000, http://www.case.edu.au/images/uploads/03_pdfs/keller-deconstructing-defeater.pdf
 Reason for God, pp 56-57
 Ibid. pp 195-196
 Ibid. p 224
 Prodigal God, p 110
 Ibid, pp 112-113
 Tim Keller, King’s Cross, Hodder & Stoughton, 2011, p 6
 Ibid. p 8
 Ibid. p 8
 Ibid. pp 8-9
 Ibid. p 10
 Reason for God, introduction, p xi
 Ibid. p xii
 Ibid. p 223
 Generous Justice, pp 6-7
 Ibid. pp 5-6
 Prodigal God, p 113
 The Trinity Review, Workers of the Church, Unite!: The Radical Marxist Foundation of Tim Keller’s Social Gospel by Timothy F. Kauffman, number 318, May-June 2014
 Reason for God, pp 116-117
 Ibid. p 237
 Ibid. p 66