When I checked my email after the EMNR conference a good friend had sent me a link to Stephen Macasil’s blog article Apostasy Warning: Tim Keller For those who don’t know him Dr. Tim Keller is the founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of the new book The Reason for God. As I read the Macasil’s article the words of my friend and MCOI Advisory Board member, Jahn Moskowitz, began forcing their way into my thinking. Jhan is the North American Director of Jews for Jesus and in his workshop at EMNR this past weekend he said, “I don’t like apologetics.” At which point nearly everyone in the room sat up and paid attention. After all this was an apologetics conference and he is on the Advisory Board for a national apologetics ministry (MCOI). So why would he dislike apologetics?
Jhan followed up with, “apologetics thinks that if we give all the right answers then the unbeliever will believe. But faith is an act of the will not the intellect.” Jhan and I have had this discussion before and is at least one of the reasons he is an MCOI Advisory Board member. He allowed me to respond and I suggested that apologetics doesn’t teach that, but some apologists may at least behave that way and may even think that is true. He conceded the point. He is right, though, that faith is an act of the will not an act of the intellect. I may have all of the right answers and could possibly argue unbelievers into submission on the issues while they still remain unbelievers. The saying that, “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” proves to be true more often than not.
Apologetics, or defense of the faith, has two roles I think. Outside the church it is the hand maid of evangelism. It isn’t evangelism itself for it gives a defense of the truth or reasons for faith vs. false claims by other world views. It is used to prepare the ground of the soul or heart of an individual in order for them to be able to hear the gospel and believe as the Holy Spirit is at work in the discussions.
Inside the church apologetics is used to train believers in defense of the faith and to test for false teaching within the church. It is in this setting that I have heard pastors and church leadership say, “I don’t like apologetics.” Apologetics is often viewed as divisive and apologists are regarded as high maintenance. There is unfortunately some truth to that. We fixate on minutia and will argue at the drop of a hat. Often we will drop the hat. That is something we who are involved with this type of ministry have to guard against. Not all battles are worth fighting. Not all issues carry the same level of importance and learning to choose the important battles is difficult. The skill of choosing the battle is as important as the battle itself. Occasionally it appears that the only exercise apologists get is jumping to conclusions and running off at the mouth. I say that as one who has done that myself. Sometimes we may jump into the fray too soon on little solid information and begin a critique of someone that may or may not be true and based on out limited knowledge we are left to resort to playing on emotions. That is why I so highly value those who are close to me who say “Be sure. Be kind. Don’t misrepresent.
That brings me back to Stephen Macasil’s article Apostasy Warning: Tim Keller. I have heard a few of Keller’s talks and been impressed with his teaching ability and clear godly thinking but I haven’t read his book. As it turns out Stephen Macasil hasn’t read the book either. Nevertheless he writes:
This is a warning to all Tim Keller fans to raise their discernment levels and be extra cautious in appraising Keller from here on out. If Billy Graham could fall away before our eyes and deny the Gospel, then it could happen to Keller
The truth is that we should all be discerning of all teachers at all times, including Tim Keller, Stephen Macasil and myself. All of us could possibly wander from orthodoxy. That is where accountability and correctability come in to play. The higher one is in spiritual leadership the more accountable they are to a larger number of people. Leaders live in glass houses and everyone around them has Windex! That also means we need to be correctible. But this is more than a general warning and there is a real sense of urgency as he writes:
I really wish I didn’t have to do this. Many of you will be disappointed, shocked, and angry. I won’t blame you. But in the New Reformation we must be quick to act since the electronic methods of communication these days will always be quicker.
But, I wonder, is this in keeping with James 1:19?
But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger:
Asking this question becomes more important since by Macasil’s own admission he hasn’t read the book. If he hasn’t read the book where would he get the idea that Keller has left orthodoxy and have to quickly speak out? It is based on:
… an interview this week with Anthony Sacramone, managing editor of First Things, Keller was asked several questions regarding his new book.
As we read Mascasil’s article we discover that the sense of urgency is based not on anything in the book or anything heretical that was stated in the interview but rather on what wasn’t stated. Keller didn’t state that Rome has a false gospel or that they are enemies of the gospel. But then his book wasn’t about Rome but about demonstrating the existence of God. The interview wasn’t about Rome but was about the book and the publication is a Roman Catholic publication. There may have been some wisdom in not poking a Roman Catholic interviewer from a Roman Catholic magazine in the eye over a book defending the existence of God. Mascasil seems to realize the precariousness of his warning that Keller may be embracing the RCC when he writes:
It would be too presumptuous to attempt to answer that off of such a small bit of information, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, being Reformed and all, maybe he meant something else.
This comes in a section in which Keller is commenting on evolution. I certainly couldn’t support or endorse the view that God used evolution in the creation process. Darwinian Evolution by definition is the unguided process of chance change over time. For God to guide the unguided process is an oxymoron. I would also suggest that if this implies that God used death and destruction to guide the unguided process of evolution to bring about humans then death is not the result of sin in the garden. If death is not the result of sin, but was integral to God creating, wouldn’t that render Christ’s death on the cross meaningless? I am not saying it does but am just asking the question for in truth this is a different discussion for another day. The warning of apostasy has been issued because of what Keller did not say, Rome is an enemy of the gospel, not for what he did say. The statement by Keller that seems to have raised the concern is:
Oh, it’s a little confusing, but actually I’m just in the same place where the Catholics are, as far as I can tell. The Catholic Church has always been able to hold on to a belief in a historical Fall—it really happened, it’s not just representative of the fact that the human race has kind of gone bad in various ways.
I cannot know what Tim Keller fully intended on that. The discussion was about evolution not the gospel. It was attempting to demonstrate that one could believe in evolution to some degree and believe in the fall. It had no bearing on whether or not Keller believed Rome has or proclaims the true gospel. There has never really been unanimity in the church as to young or old earth. If I recall even in the Fourth Century Augustine argued that the universe may be 175,000 or so years old (I don’t recall exactly). Although I believe this is ill-informed and raises other theological issue it still does not suggest the Keller is aligned or intends to align with Rome or affirms that he believes they are orthodox on the gospel.
Again, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t contacted or attempted to contact Keller. I haven’t contacted or attempted to contact Mascasil. For all I know Keller may be moving to Rome and abandoning his Reformed roots. But none of that can be demonstrated based on what he didn’t say. As a result it does give fodder to pastors to be able to say, “I don’t like apologetics.” I am writing this as much as a reminder for myself as I am for Stephen Macasil. What we write has a profound and far reaching influence on many others. Making personal note of our concerns and talking with a few close confidants is good. But is seems that rather than being “quick to act” the words of James to “be quick to hear, slow to speak” take on greater meaning.