I attended Redeemer Presbyterian Church on a regular basis for about 6 years. While not a member of Redeemer Church, and while my attendance was not faithful or consistent, nevertheless, I was there on many Sundays. My main recollection is of Pastor Tim Keller frequently quoting or referring to CS Lewis, Michel Foucault, (a French philosopher and social theorist), Henri Nouwen, (a Dutch-born Catholic priest and author) and author Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).
I recall him mentioning Madame Guyon (a French Catholic mystic) and Julian of Norwich, whose theology, according to Wikipedia, “was unique in three aspects: her view of sin; her belief that God is all-loving and without wrath; and her view of Christ as mother. According to Julian, God is both our mother and our father. Feminist theology in the 20th and 21st centuries has developed along similar lines.” Tim Keller also referred to the work of movie director Martin Scorsese. A host of movie lines, scenes or themes — most of them from R-rated movies — were mentioned in his sermons.
My introduction to the church was by a friendly person who came from a sinful past but who had not left sin’s paths. This person informed me that she, with a homosexual friend and others, was part of the origins of Redeemer, which I was told had started as a Bible study in Tim Keller’s apartment. These friends and I still lived a very worldly lifestyle, which involved heavy drinking at informal gatherings among Redeemer people, such as a yearly party related to “Holy Week”.
At one point, my fiancée and I attended a Redeemer membership class that included several of our co-workers who were also unsaved. In the class I do not recall the mention of the remotest things about new birth or conversion, or we would have all run away screaming since we were all unconverted, and really had not the slightest interest in the true things of God, and certainly none of us were manifesting any signs of grace or evidence of a God-fearing life.
The overall message I recall hearing was yes, that God was glorious and sovereign, but very little about sin. A key exhortation was that we were to love-our-culture. I recall one message regarding how much Christ loved cities and we ought to love our city too.
When I left New York for the UK, several people from Redeemer suggested I contact All Souls in London, saying it was the place most like Redeemer in the UK.
You could take anyone to Redeemer and they would not be offended or upset, from a religious aunt, a homosexual friend, a Catholic friend, a Jewish fiancés, someone you met out late the night before, and no one would be offended for the message was so seeker-sensitive and culturally-focused.
I was moved to tears many times by the beauty painted in sermons preached by Tim Keller, but had no idea of sin, repentance, or regeneration and recall no pricking of the conscience. Instead, Tim Keller’s words painted a wonderful picture of a glorious God, but he did not give the right information on how to really know this God. It was vague, “if you could just see it this way” type of reasoning. In fact a phrase I always recall him using was “Don’tcha see?” as the line of reasoning continued to portray God as much bigger, less boring, and less religious than we had all been brought up to see him. In other words, frequently a “religious” way of life was brought into disrepute and treated as mean and insubstantial, and unsophisticated. If we could just be brought to see how big God was, then our lives would be transformed, and we could transform the city and the world.
My unconverted mind found Keller’s messages comforting, for it meant I could go on living in sin. Much of what he said in sermons included the ideas of philosophers I had never heard of, such as Foucault, Nouwen, Guyon, and Annie Dillard of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
There were many performers and performances during the Presbyterian-style services. Almost all were highly trained classical or opera-type musicians or singers from the stages of New York. Very classy— nothing was distasteful. This created an aura, a sort of city sophistication. Very amiably visitors were told to let the offering bag ‘pass them by’—that this was not their responsibility, but the members. Frequently after services there was a Q & A session held in the auditorium (services took place in a large auditorium of Hunter College) when Tim Keller, patiently and often humorously, answered questions from the most mundane to the outlandish. I stayed often for these and do not recall hearing any seeker being told that repentance was a necessary part of the Christian faith, as I believe that would have frightened even me in my dead spiritual state.
I personally arranged a meeting in with Tim Keller and my fiancée before we married. (Coming from a church-attending background I thought I had been a Christian for years and had no idea I was not one.) I was not sure where my fiancée stood, and had no grounds upon which to make a decision. My unsaved, un-churched fiancée asked Tim Keller something along the lines of how we could love our Jewish friends if we believed they were all going to hell. That was his whole impression of the ‘gospel’ as he understood it. I recall nothing in the answer that pointed to the new birth, conversion, regeneration, the exclusivity of the Gospel or any of the easily conveyed truths that might have led us to question our own professions, let alone our friends’ spiritual state. In any case, neither of us left the meeting troubled as to our state before God or our salvation, which I believe would have been obvious to anyone with any spiritual discernment after a five minute conversation with either of us—we were hopelessly self-righteous Pharisees, and blatant sinners.
Many of my friends in NYC attended Redeemer (close to 15 years ago now) from all walks of life. Most of them I still know of, or am in contact with them. I cannot say that one of them gives any biblical evidence of saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The books I was referred to by my Redeemer ‘mentor’ (which is not to say they spoke for the church – but this person was one of the longest-attending members at any rate) included Hannah Hurnard, Hind’s Feet in High Places (at the end of her life Hurnard had turned toward the occult) and Oswald Chambers – (My Utmost for His Highest) and I was taken to buy a Ryrie Study Bible. (Dispensationalist Arminian)
I trust that these remembrances will help others to be pointed to the truth that there is in Christ Jesus our Lord, and to realize that Redeemer’s message is essentially of this world, for Redeemer is teaching a false gospel—however much earthly wisdom, truth, and palatable good taste may surround it. I pray that others will be enabled to repent and believe the Gospel of Truth.