March 23, 2017

Keller, Kuyper and Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway once entered an Ernest Hemingway Look-a-like competition.  He came second.

Tim Keller just entered an Abraham Kuyper Look-a-like competition and was disqualified. For looking too alike.


Ernest Hemingway


Not Ernest Hemingway

Princeton has just withdrawn its awarding to Keller of the Kuyper Prize, presented every year in recognition of a person’s commitment to Reformed Theology and witness, in honour of neo-Calvinist and Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper.

The reason for the withdrawal of the award – and the decision not to award it at all this year -, is as familiar as it is depressing: there was an outcry from those within the seminary’s denomination (the PC USA) over Keller’s complementarianism and his stance on LGBT clergy.

As one tweet read this morning that gave rise to my Hemingway musing:

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 4.23.54 pm

But lest you think it’s a laughing matter, those out to get Keller off the books were deadly serious, with one critic decrying the fact that:

“we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades.”

The writer goes on:

I know that people are angry that Tim Keller doesn’t believe in women in the pastorate. But, my friends, this goes much, much deeper than women not being able to be ordained as Pastors, Elders, and Deacons. Complementarianism means married women have no choice over their lives at all. (bold text is in the original)

Well that’s clearly not what complementarianism means, but that’s besides the point.

Here we were thinking that this is the most irenic man who effortlessly crosses into the secular world and engages with it in a most winsome manner, and whose wife sounds like a quality leader in her own right. Not so, apparently. Perhaps the writer should, like Keller does so often, allow Kathy Keller to speak for herself about whether she has choice over her life.

The primary concern is not that the secular world has the problem with him. He would have no beef with that, and indeed is particularly adept at wooing that world with his wit, humility and wisdom.

The issue is that the church world, or at least a particular theological wing of it has a problem with him.  Which particular theological wing? Why the particular theological wing that has overseen the collapse of mainline Protestantism in the USA and beyond of course.

This is a great opportunity for orthodox Protestants, both complementarian and egalitarian to unite around their disapproval of these conclusions about Keller and the rescinding of the prize. I hope such a unity still exists.

I hope that evangelical egalitarians will acknowledge Keller’s commitment to a Scriptural conviction on an issue that, while not historically adiaphora, necessitates both sides holding to distinct ecclesiastical alignments, while still maintaining a gospel unity.

The most telling comment comes from the Princeton President, Craig Barnes, who when quoting the above dissenting letter with approval in his announcing of the withdrawal,  said this:

“We are a community that does not silence voices in the church.”

Plainly it does.

Barnes concluded:

…we strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues. 

Clearly it doesn’t.

Unlike of course, Keller who, when notified of the decision to withdraw the award, still generously agreed to deliver the address on mission at the college’s Kuyper Centre next month that he was scheduled to give. Respectful as ever. Princeton could take some lessons.

Why does Keller feel so free and relaxed to speak in a place that has snubbed him?  Maybe it’s something to do with his commitment to the truth of Kupyer’s most famous quote of all:

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!

A “Mine!” that extends even to a college that shamelessly shouted “Ours!” in Keller’s face.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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