Sunday, 5/21/23

Tim Keller, RIP

A major Protestant pastor has died at age 72, yet I’m surprised how many people have never heard of him. I left Protestantism roughly 26 years ago, but Tim Keller (who I doubt I’d heard of while still Protestant — everybody was talking about Bill Hybels or, if they were more intellectual, Ravi Zacharias) — once he came onto my radar, seemed a thoroughly admirable man.

In the measure of the world, Tim Keller wasn’t a newsworthy mover or shaker because he stayed away from partisan politics. If I were still Protestant, I hope I’d be a Tim Keller kind of Protestant:

Christianity’s unsurpassed offers — a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.

Tim Keller via Alan Jacobs

A few other things I’ve read about Keller upon his death:

  • “Fifty years from now,” the journal Christianity Today wrote in 2006, “if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.” (New York Times obituary)
  • He defined a fully formed Christian as “somebody who finds Christianity both rationally and intellectually credible, but also emotionally and existentially true and satisfying.” (New York Times obituary)
  • In 2022, he began speaking of the six social marks of evangelicalism, which he essentially equated with fundamentalism. These were moralism over gracious engagement, individualism over social reform, dualism over a comprehensive vision of life, anti-intellectualism over scholarship, anti-institutionalism over accountability, and enculturation over cultural reflection. (Dale Coulter)
  • He focused on grace because he believed that most people understand how broken they are. (Dale Coulter)
  • In 2017 Princeton University awarded him a prestigious prize named for Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. But the once proudly Christian institution rescinded the award after intrepid critics discovered, to their chagrin, that Keller, like Kuyper, took the Bible’s teachings on sexuality seriously.** Yet the New York pastor was also known for his warmth and gentleness, even toward those with whom he disagreed. **When Princeton withdrew his prize, Keller went and delivered lectures associated with the award anyway, a magnanimous gesture that belied (sic) his generous spirit. (Daniel Darling)
  • He wasn’t embarrassed to be associated with Jesus, nor was he embarrassed to be associated with Jesus’ followers. (Daniel Darling)

That last one almost felt accusatory.

Faux Christianity

I believe that I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Populist Christianity

Even when Fundamentalists set out to defend the truth, their temptation was to rally large constituencies to the cause rather than to prepare for scholarly exchange.

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

Autonomy, community

I sadly cannot recommend Rod Dreher’s recent writing, and my subscription to his Substack is set to expire, not renew. But I owe him a debt of gratitude for much of what he has written in the past, which I’ve followed non-stop since Crunchy Cons.

I strongly suspect that Rod would defend his recent turn by saying the world has changed, and so must his writing if it’s to remain relevant and true. My response would be, I think, that human nature has not fundamentally changed, and that ephemeral things appeal less to me than constant things. That’s my first draft outline of my imaginary conversation with him, at least.

Meanwhile, this Dreher excerpt was particularly frank and, frankly, is true of me and probably of many others:

I have to tell you, spending time with the Bruderhof folks caused an unsettling reaction within me. I was glad that theological differences would keep me from considering living in a Bruderhof — glad because to be honest, I know that I’m too much of a coward to surrender so much autonomy to live in close community. For me, this was a real moment of painful honesty. The Bruderhof communities have some of the things I desire, but they have them because people have voluntarily given up a degree of liberty and autonomy that we all take for granted. I felt like the Rich Young Ruler of the Gospel — the one who wants what Jesus offers, but won’t surrender everything to get it. I talk a good game about community built on religious belief and mutual obligation, but if there were an Orthodox Bruderhof, would I join?

With the Bruderhof

His concluding question may amount to “can I practice the Benedict Option I’ve preached?”

One of Reno’s most tightly-packed thoughts

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

True, that

An active and deeply engaged liturgical life is especially important for anyone who is seeking to truly become Orthodox in mind and heart.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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