I appreciated the comments and challenges on last week’s blog I Don’t Like Apologists As I and several others within the ministry of MCOI went back and reread Stephen Macasil’s article Apostasy Warning: Tim Keller and the interview in First Things we were not persuaded that our conclusions were wrong. And yes, we did read them contrary to assertions that we “really didn’t.” That is not to say that Macasil’s intention wasn’t to base his warning on what he believed that Keller might be saying rather than what he didn’t say, but rather that the attempt was unsuccessful. The reason I say that is because it appears a great deal is being read in to the statements Keller made which simply isn’t there. This is not a defense of Roman Catholicism and anyone who has read our Journal or blog very much is fully aware that we believe that Rome proclaims a false gospel. For those who are new to MCOI, Journal articles such as Thus Saith Rome would probably be helpful.
While rereading the material I also went back and reread an excellent article by our friend, Rob Bowman at Parchment and Pen titled WHADDYA MEAN, MORMONS ARE NOT CHRISTIANS? SHEDDING LIGHT ON A HOT TOPIC. Though this seems disconnected at first glance Rob’s blog has a bearing on the question about Keller’s statements. Rob outlines various groups which fall under the heading of Christianity:
Christianity includes an incredible diversity of belief and practice. (The numbers I use here are extremely rough approximations for sake of getting the big picture.) (1) About a billion people—about half of all Christianity—are found in the Catholic Church. (2) About a quarter of a billion people belong to one of the Orthodox or Eastern churches (which includes Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc., and also the Coptics and other groups). (3) Nearly a third of a billion people are associated with some conservative Protestant church or movement, either evangelical Protestant or Pentecostal. (4) Another quarter of a billion people belong to mainline, mostly moderate to liberal, Protestant denominations.
Bowman then includes a fifth category he calls “none-of-the-above”:
(5) This leaves roughly a quarter of a billion people whose forms of Christianity do not fit into any of the aforementioned categories. Within this none-of-the-above category is a wildly diverse assortment of religious communities. If each major type of Christianity represented in this fifth category were its own species, it would look like the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine or an assemblage of delegates to a parliamentary meeting of the United Federation of Planets (take your pick!). It includes (deep breath) Adventism, British-Israelite groups, Christian Science, the Family, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter-day Saints, Messianic Judaism, Metropolitan Community Churches, New Thought, Oneness Pentecostalism, Rosicrucianism, the Sacred Name movement, Swedenborgianism, the Unification Church, Unitarian Universalism, The Way International, and many, many others.
At first blush this sounds positively heretical to a Protestant and/or Evangelical. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics are Christian??? Or worse yet, Mormons Christian? Has Bowman lost his mind or apostatized from the faith? How does Bowman reach this conclusion?:
Let’s be clear. Mormonism does not belong in the world-religions classification of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, or Neo-Paganism.
A reading of his full article would be helpful for I think he makes his case well. Biblically Mormonism preaches a different gospel, has a different Jesus and a different way of salvation but they grew out of Christianity and don’t fit in another category. Further reflection on the classification question can take us back to the first century. The Jews had been entrusted with the deposit of the faith (Romans 9:4-5). The Pharisees were the most orthodox of the groups classified as “Jews.” They affirmed a number of essentials of biblical teaching, angels, demons, resurrection, etc. Sadducees denied these. However no individual within any of the sects of Judaism had a relationship with God due to their affiliation with a particular group nor did Jesus suggest that they weren’t Jews (part of the Jewish faith and traditions) even though they were desperately lost. They had placed their trust in their Jewish classification and religious performance for salvation. Jesus repeatedly pointed out that a relationship with God would come about by belief, trust, faith in God and is something God does without their efforts not because of them.
Here is how this bears on Macasil’s blog. One of the statements which he indicates raised concern for him was:
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.
In none of his comments did Tim Keller affirm the gospel of Rome but neither did he denounce Rome as non-Christian. Why? Like it or not we have a shared heritage with the RC and have a lot in common. Evangelicals (Reformed and otherwise) and the RC believe in the original fall of a literal Adam and Eve regardless of the when and how of creation (which is what Keller was stating here). The RC affirms the full deity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity, the death, burial and physical resurrection of Christ, the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture and a host of other things. Rome rejects the 5 Solas, Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gracia (grace alone), Sola Christus (Christ alone), Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone). Keller doesn’t shy away from stating there are differences between Roman Catholics and his Reformed tradition but recognizes that both fall within the umbrella heading called Christian. I would assume that Macasil would agree that the Roman Catholic Church would not rightly fit under the world religion classification of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Shinto, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, etc. If so then we are left with my initial thought that the reason Keller is being viewed as going in to apostasy is because what he did not state to the interviewer, or at least if he did it isn’t noted, that the gospel of Rome is a false gospel.
It is right and proper to call Rome to task but isn’t necessary to do so in all circumstances. In this case the interview was about his book making a case for the existence of God. The primary purpose of the book is to give evidence and reason that God exists and Christianity is true.
In rereading all of this over the last few days something else caught my eye in the interview which seems especially appropriate since this is the week many of us celebrate the remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Keller states:
When I was recovering from thyroid cancer, from the surgery, I actually had time on my hands, something I never have had in years and probably never will again unless I have something else like that. And so I read every word of N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God—all eight hundred pages, even the indices (laughs), because I didn’t have anything else to do. And it was kind of startling to me, because we do live in a less rational sort of anti-foundationalist approach, and he was just taking a nice old-fashioned approach: There’s no historically viable alternative explanation for the birth of the Christian Church than the fact that the early Christians thought they saw Jesus Christ and touched him and that he was raised from the dead. As I was reading it, I realized I was coming to greater certainty, and that when I closed the book, I said, at a time when it was very important to me to feel this way, I said, “He really really really did rise from the dead.” And I said, “Well, didn’t I believe that before?” Of course I believed it before—I defended it, and I think before I certainly would have died for that belief. But actually, there were still doubts in there, and the doubts were taken down 50 percent or something. I didn’t even know they were there. And it was a wonderful experience It was both an intellectual and emotional experience: You’re facing death, you’re not sure you’re going to get over the cancer. And the rigorous intellectual process of going through all the alternative explanations for how the Christian Church started, except the resurrection—none of them are even tenable. It was quite an experience.
That really is the capstone evidence for the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul writes:
…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless, you are yet in your sins.
The resurrection can become so much part of the fabric of our belief that it can become little more than a tradition we participate in, like celebrating a birthday, while we are thinking on something else. If we take the time to reflect and be reminded of the truth and certainty of the resurrection we can gain a greater confidence in the validity of the faith. As we celebrate this event we can use it demonstrate to those who hold to a Jesus plus plan of salvation the totality of the debt Jesus paid for all mankind. We can then use that to show those who are within the tradition of Christianity but without the biblical gospel that it is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone which we discover through the Scripture alone. Isn’t that after all what Jesus did with the Jews?
© 2008, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.