Engaging with Keller — thinking through the theology of an influential evangelical
Ed. Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer
EP Books, 240 pages, £9.99
Star Rating: 4
Tim Keller is the pastor-teacher of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is widely known in the evangelical world, both for his gospel work and many books. He exercises a far-reaching influence and speaks effectively and relevantly to our present generation.
This book has been written by men who admire his work and are grateful for it, but who are also concerned about some aspects of his teaching — in his desire to present a relevant Christian message, they believe Keller does not always give a full-orbed presentation of biblical truth.
There are seven areas of concern and a chapter is given to each. These are the doctrines of sin, hell, the Trinity, mission, evolution, and the church, to which is added a chapter on the hermeneutics that underlies Keller’s approach to Scripture.
The most important chapter, in my view, is the one on the Trinity. Keller uses the notion of ‘divine dance’ in explaining the Trinity, something for which there is no evidence at all in the Bible. To introduce into the heart of the Godhead an unbiblical motif, one which is also capable of carrying various unhelpful associations, is surely a serious matter.
Of next importance I would put the chapter on hermeneutics. If your approach to Scripture is inadequate, then it is likely that your understanding will be distorted. This chapter helpfully poses three questions: Do the interpretations represent the truth that is chiefly taught in the place? Are the clearer parts of Scripture used to interpret the less clear? And finally, are the deductions from Scripture good and necessary consequences?
While it is clear that Keller’s interpretations do not always match up to these criteria, those of us who preach the Word need to make sure that we too examine our own methodology in preparation.
The chapter on the church’s mission questions the view that the church is sent to ‘do justice’ in the world as well as preach the gospel: ‘One crucial question only is before us. Should the church (as a corporate, organised body) work directly for social and cultural transformation?’
I believe the negative answer given here is correct, but there are other questions: May the church (or a church) work directly for social ends? Or even: Are there circumstances or occasions when the church (or a church) ought to engage in such work? This chapter is good, but I think there is more to be considered.
The final chapter is headed, ‘Looking for communion in all the wrong places: Tim Keller and Presbyterian ecclesiology’. At first glance this chapter is very much an ‘in-house’ concern. Yet it brings to mind many questions which arise when we look at the evangelical scene in the UK.
With networks and partnerships springing up here and there, and church planting often taking place without regard to other churches of a slightly different flavour in the vicinity, the biblical teaching on church communion needs fresh exploration and a more principled obedience.
This is an important book, which gospel ministers, in particular, need to read and discuss; Keller both influences and reflects a number of trends amongst evangelicals which are likely to lead away from a fully biblical understanding and ministry of the gospel. We can be thankful that it has been published.
Paul E. Brown