The Revolt Against Big Evangelical

A reader points out the fallout from the war between the pews and the converged pastors of Big Evangelical who hated – and still hate – President Trump and the nascent anti-Babelism in their churches.

This is an important article because the blowback from the pews is now reaching places like First Things. The major war was fought and won by the people in the pew, and Big Eva is now in a tactical retreat–their articles are all about unity and not slandering now.

This came to a head because “winsome nuance” Keller won’t come out and say abortion should be illegal because of nuance. It’s a stupid take, but one that likely made his NY church reach people it couldn’t have otherwise. Anyways, the emperor’s clothes are apparent now and his fans are gently trying to tell him to retire in peace or something.

If you were an evangelical in America during the 2000s, Tim Keller was a name you couldn’t avoid. After completing theological studies at Gordon-Conwell in 1975, Keller accepted a senior pastor position in rural Virginia. There he honed his preaching craft, delivering multiple sermons a week for nine years. In the late 1980s he decided to plant a church in New York City, which became Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Starting in 1989 with only fifty members, Redeemer eventually drew upward of 5,000 people on Sundays and launched a church planting network that has led to over 800 new churches in cities throughout the world. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus noted in these pages that impressive work was happening in Keller’s church. The city-focused church-planting movement as we know it today simply would not exist without Tim Keller.

More generally, Keller has helped many young people embrace orthodox Christianity in a culture that made the faith seem strange. Keller has served as a C. S. Lewis for a postmodern world, through his public ministry—which began in the 1990s as ministers began circulating his essays on culture and ministry, but which really picked up steam in the mid-2000s when he helped launch The Gospel Coalition and began publishing a steady stream of books. For years, he provided sociological and theological analyses of the late-modern city and the “secular age,” supplying insightful conceptual tools for ministering in these contexts.

In his writings and sermons, Keller modeled competence, compassion, and conviction that helped render the claims of the faith more plausible in the eyes of Christianity’s cultured skeptics. This was manifest most clearly in his blockbuster book: The Reason for God. And he provided a compelling vision of the core message of the gospel, which he argues avoids legalism on the one hand and egoistic relativism on the other. This is encapsulated in his signature phrase: “The gospel says that you are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe and more accepted and loved than you ever dared hope.”

Keller’s winsome approach led him to great success as an evangelist. But he also, maybe subconsciously, thinks about politics through the lens of evangelism, in the sense of making sure that political judgments do not prevent people in today’s world from coming to Christ. His approach to evangelism informs his political writings, and his views on how Christians should engage politics….

I decided to pursue a doctorate in political theology after the 2016 election. 

At that point, I began to observe that our politics and culture had changed. I began to feel differently about our surrounding secular culture, and noticed that its attitude toward Christianity was not what it once had been. Aaron Renn’s account represents well my thinking and the thinking of many: There was a “neutral world” roughly between 1994–2014 in which traditional Christianity was neither broadly supported nor opposed by the surrounding culture, but rather was viewed as an eccentric lifestyle option among many. However, that time is over. Now we live in the “negative world,” in which, according to Renn, Christian morality is expressly repudiated and traditional Christian views are perceived as undermining the social good. As I observed the attitude of our surrounding culture change, I was no longer so confident that the evangelistic framework I had gleaned from Keller would provide sufficient guidance for the cultural and political moment. A lot of former fanboys like me are coming to similar conclusions. The evangelistic desire to minimize offense to gain a hearing for the gospel can obscure what our political moment requires.

Keller’s apologetic model for politics was perfectly suited for the “neutral world.” But the “negative world” is a different place. Tough choices are increasingly before us, offense is unavoidable, and sides will need to be taken on very important issues. 

How I Evolved on Tim Keller, James R. Wood, 6 May 2002

There is a time for peace and a time for war. As the writer notes, what works in a neutral world is not applicable in a negative world. But I am not as generous as the writer. Keller sounds suspiciously like Moore of the Southern Baptist Conference, which is to say, at least a potential Babelist snake in the grass.

Evangelism for the sake of a converged churchianism is not genuine Christian evangelism, no matter how many institutions are created.