Following, rather sharpish, on the heels of last weeks impromptu covering the easy manipulation of “evangelical elites” by the government. I new wish to rise to the occasion and encourage charity or at the least call for the majors to stay the majors and the minors the minors. Tim Keller has managed to be at the center of both the Rona drama and a new discernment blogger/podcaster hissy fit. One of these issues is serious and the other is a side show of a side show. And the problem is not even that Keller may have been wrong, it is how overly serious something so mild is being taken.
I Tell You a Story
The background to this storm in a teacup is that Tim Keller put out a tweet linking to a clip from Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. In it Colbert is asked about how much his catholic faith influences his comedy. Colbert gave a slightly above mediocre answer that, considering his past few years of material, was one of his clearer statements about what he believes, vis a vis the church in Rome. Obviously there are gnats to be strained, but they are not necessary. Keller called the clip “a brilliant example of how to be a Christian in the public square…” He added a few other things, and has since followed it up with a thread addressing the fit hitting the shan.
Keller is Keller
All of it is classic Keller, and should be expected. And that is my point, just a few years ago everyone and their mom, in emerging/emergent/young restless and reformed circles loved this kind of thing. Nothing about what Keller tweeted diverges from any of his writing on contextualization, evangelizing cities because culture is down stream, presenting a thoughtful and attractive gospel, etc. The only thing that has changed is his audience. Sadly for Tim, he lives in a world that has passed him by, and is eager to remind him of it. Ten years ago if Colbert did that, and Tim tweeted it, he would have been applauded and his guru glow would have increased. And bear in mind the point of this exercise is not to criticize Keller, it is to call us to kindness.
In the years since Center Church was published and Keller has had many pony rides around the conference circuit, many things have happened. Not leas among them his theories were tried. And as it turns out, the result was a mixed bag. One of the unforeseen (though we probably should have seen it coming) was the creation of a new evangelical elite, of which Keller is a member. Like those who came before it, see the Moral Majority, there came a pretty standard fascination with celebrity, or accolades from the Poobah’s in charge, and if criticized the easy response was that you were against being missional, incarnational, winsome, all things to all men, gracious or you were just an old school legalist. Like those who came before them the slightest nod in our direction was met with ecstatic rejoicing, like a real advance had been made. And not surprisingly for all of the talk of influence, no real influence was had. Keller may have prayed with George Bush, but Rick Warren did with Obama, and Joyce Meyer did with Trump, and I don’t think those were anything to be proud of.
In short a good bit of Keller’s contribution has turned out not the be exactly what anyone had hoped. And now the crowd, as it is wont to do, has turned. It would be one thing if Keller had just faded into obscurity, but the online world does not allow that. Keller may not be preaching but he can still say things to thousands. And a lot of those thousands rode Kellers coat tails when he was popular, then threw him under the bus the first moment they could claw up the food chain a smidgen. And quire frankly they are not even doing the tossing well, forty-three words do not need forty five minutes to be condemned with in the strongest terms. And again, it should be kept in mind that this was a middling tweet. It was well meant, and on pop culture. This was not high heresy, it was Keller just saying he liked what he saw as a good example of a christian in the public square. Sure there were some things I disagreed with, none of them serious.
In the first year of this blog I wrote about gratitude for ministers that have fallen but their ministries still did good for thousands. And that I think we should be grateful for the good God did though or in spite of them. As well the virtue of charity has become entirely ignored, to our detriment. Charity, looks at Keller’s well meant, but possibly, ill advised tweet (and I still say the jury is out on it.) and takes the good it can, is grateful for that little bit of good, is more grateful for all of the excellent ways God has used Tim Keller to spread the gospel, and then ignores what is not useful. Full stop. Strife, envy, jealousy are all the things that motivate picking it apart. Those things are masked by the label of, “theological purity.” But let us be honest, that was never the point.
I enjoy debates over theological minutiae, there is a point where arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin is edifying. Kellers tweet is not one of those points. It just isn’t. If a person was so full of grace and gratitude to God for Keller that the nit had to be picked then I think the conversation might be worth having, in private. But this public, stirring up, by people looking for clicks and views is revolting an in desperate need of repentance. Twitter can largely serve as nothing but a kept, “list of wrongs.” Keller is a christian brother, he is a sinner, just like the rest of us. We are not the almighty judge of him, and it’s high time we realized it, for the good of our own souls.
Some slopes are slippery and evangelicalism has been sliding down one and a brisk pace for some time now. To make my point, I will quote my master, who Keller also has a deep appreciation for.
“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity