Tim Keller’s Concerning Thread
As the final days of April flew by Tim Keller took to Twitter posting some thoughts about Christianity and politics. He said:
“Churches must not maintain unity at the expense of the gospel. Churches should not destroy unity or fellowship over political differences.”1
Of course, immediately, the question comes to mind what political differences does Dr. Keller have in mind? In our current cultural context, he could be talking about anything from abortion to the LGBTQ movement to whether a spending budget for a local city should be increased or decreased. A few days later he came out with a thread that gave more clarity to his thoughts. I am going to quote the entire thread at length to give the complete context:
“THREAD: I recently wrote about how churches should not destroy unity or fellowship over political differences. The replies show that many American Evangelicals have no coherent understanding of how to relate the Bible to politics. Here’s the original tweet:
Churches must not maintain unity at the expense of the gospel. Churches should not destroy unity or fellowship over political differences.
Here are two Biblical MORAL norms: 1) It is a sin to worship idols or any God other than the true God & 2) do not murder. If you ask evangelicals if we should be forbidden by law to worship any other God than the God of the Bible—they’d say ‘no.’ We allow that terrible sin to be legal. But if you ask them if Americans should be forbidden by law to abort a baby, they’d say ‘yes.’ Now why make the first sin legal and NEVER talk about it and the second sin illegal and a main moral/political talking point?”
At the very least, it shows a lack of knowing how to apply the Bible to politics. Since we can’t simply say, “If the Bible says its sin it should be illegal”-how do we choose which morals to politically champion? Please don’t say, “I just want to see the 10 commandments made law in society.” That’s too simplistic and we don’t do this already. The Bible tells us that idolatry, abortion, and ignoring the poor are all grievous sins. But it doesn’t tell us exactly HOW we are to apply these norms to a pluralistic democracy.
We are to help the poor, but the Bible doesn’t tell us which political strategy (high taxes and government services vs low taxes and private charity) to use. The Bible binds my conscience to love the immigrant-but it doesn’t tell me HOW many legal immigrants to admit to the U.S. every year. I know abortion is a sin, but the Bible doesn’t tell me the best political policy to decrease or end abortion in this country, nor which political or legal policies are most effective to that end. The current political parties will say that their policy most aligns morally with the Bible, but we are allowed to debate that and so our churches should not have disunity over debatable political differences! It is also why I have never publically or privately told Christians who they should vote for. I have also never told anyone they should vote Democrat or Republican. Depending on the policy we can find more or less alignment with Biblical morals. I believe all Christians should be active in politics, but it is unwise to identify Christianity with any particular party. For more see: (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/opinion/sunday/christians-politics-belief.html)
Sigh. People are focusing on the example (abortion is physical harm) and not the principle. You can do the same object lesson about gay marriage…why codify that moral in law and not others?”2
Now, here we begin to see Dr. Keller doesn’t just have in mind something like discerning whether our congressman should receive a 2% raise or not, but core moral issues of our worldview. I want to dissect his comments here bit by bit while simultaneously seeking to lay out some foundational issues as it pertains to Christians thinking about the realm of politics.
Morality By Who’s Definition?
First of all, we see Tim Keller bringing up this entire issue of seeking to understand how to apply morality in society. A couple of points need to be made here first of which being that we do not live in a “pluralistic democracy.” I understand that our culture has a plurality of individuals who hold to differing worldviews. However, we are not a democracy, America is a constitutional republic. Our founding fathers were explicitly against establishing a democracy believing it to be simply mob rule. Here are two quotes:
“[D]emocracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” -James Madison
“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” -John Adams3
So, Dr. Keller definitionally misunderstands the governance of our nation. As Americans, we have a document called the Constitution which was written by men who believed in God and that we have a duty before Him. Whenever we are looking for authority on anything, as Christians we foundationally know that we don’t seek to understand issues in the light of what will help us get along best with others around us. No, we go to God who has spoken in His Word with authority. To be frank, when seeking to understand what is right and true I don’t care what the majority of people in our nation or even in the world believe. The only thing that matters is to understand what God has said!
Biblical Morality and Politics
All of this now brings us to the question of seeking to understand how to bring Christian morality grounded in Scripture to bear in the public square. Dr. Keller brings up this entire notion of trying to use the examples of idolatry and abortion. First of all, these two areas are completely distinct. The government has the explicit mission given to it by God to reward good and punish evil. Here are a few texts pertaining to this area:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. -Romans 13:3-4
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” – 1 Peter 2:13-14
What is the foundational duty of the government according to these verses? It is to administer justice in the rewarding of good and bringing judgment upon those who do evil. This institution should understand it is a servant of God which necessitates they should seek to submit to Him. Notice that there is not a call upon the government to kill those who are not believers in Christ. In other words, the government is not given the charge to execute someone because they are an atheist who has not placed faith in Christ. However, neither does the Apostle Paul say the governing authority should govern as though they are equally a servant of the atheist and a servant of God nor does he say they should govern according to pagan morality! Yet, what is foundational to the duty of government is the protection of the sanctity of life. Amazingly, the Apostle Paul made this comment in Acts 25:10-11:
“But Paul said, ‘I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.’”
The Apostle Paul operated based upon the understanding that God had given the authority to the government to execute capital punishment when it was right to do so. I am going to quote from Exodus 20:13 which lays a foundational principle saying “You shall not murder.” A chapter later in the book of Exodus we read:
“But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar that he may die.” -Exodus 21:14
The death penalty is clearly prescribed for those who murder another human being. I fail to see how Dr. Keller’s example even holds up under the slightest scrutiny. Abortion is murder, and it needs to be treated as such by law. In Genesis 9:6, God prescribed the death penalty for anyone who murders a human being. One of the basic functions of the government is to bear the sword against evildoers for the sake of the preservation of life. Equivocating on that reality is like questioning whether or not a pastor should preach, a teacher should teach, or a doctor should heal. These are all duties definitional to the office and realms we are discussing.
The Heart of The Matter
We can discuss many different issues with Dr. Keller’s words, but at the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not one is willing to extend biblical morality into the realm of politics. The political is not ultimate in the sense of us seeing America or any other nation as the ultimate purpose of the kingdom of God. However, since Christ is the sovereign Lord with all authority on heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18-20) and has spoken authoritatively on politics, and every other realm of life, we are duty-bound to obey Him in this sphere as in every other. What amazes me even more is that Dr. Keller wrote the foreword to Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was known for his stand against the Nazis and the atrocities they committed. He stood for the sanctity of the lives of those who were being brutally murdered even when it cost him dearly.
My sincere question for Dr. Keller and those like him is to ask you point-blank, do you or do you not believe we have a duty as believers to stand for the sanctity of human life at all stages? Scripture is abundantly clear on this issue. I for one will stand for the sanctity of life calling upon the government to bear the sword for the murder of a human being from fertilization all the way through each and every season of life. That is called consistency, because biblical teaching is always firmly stable. Dr. Keller, if someone were to say they should take your life because you are over sixty, I should pray the entirety of the Christian church would raise a holy ruckus using every means possible to defend the sanctity of your life and the value of it because you are a human being made in God’s image. I am calling for the same on behalf of those who have not come out of the womb. The state has a duty before God, we all have a duty before God. I pray we will not fall prey to this kind of proclamation by Dr. Keller whereby we misunderstand the biblical teaching about morality and the political realm. Christianity is not a halfway religion pertaining to your private life while having nothing explicit to say about the public square. No, it is a worldview whereby we are called to live all of life to the glory of our great Lord. May we undertake that call for the sake of His name!