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March 23, 2017

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The myth of “open-ness” at PTS

Nothing matches the closed-mindedness of the supposedly open-minded.

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Tim Keller

I say that as the authorities at Princeton Theological Seminary smear gobs of egg off their faces. The school’s Kuyper Center was about to grant its Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness to the Rev. Tim Keller, the soon-to-be-retired lead pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller would lecture on the work of theologian Leslie Newbigin. Craig Barnes, the seminary’s president, hailed Keller as an embodiment of Newbigin’s “aspirations for extending the mission of the church in society.”

But the move upset the sensibilities of the intolerantly “tolerant.” Redeemer is a member of the Presbyterian Church of America, which neither ordains women nor affirms the LGBQT agenda, and Keller advocates a complementary view on marriage. At its best, Complementarianism says men and women have different but complementary marriage and leadership roles; when warped, it wields male dominance.

Carol Howard Merritt, a Princeton seminary graduate ordained with the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (Princeton’s denomination) branded Keller’s theology “toxic.” Others protested. Barnes stood firm at first (“my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree …”); but, eventually, relented (“In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.”). Barnes characterized Keller’s reaction as “gracious.” He will still give the lecture.

No surprise there. Keller is known for his graciousness.

For the record, I don’t agree with Tim Keller on everything (I’m not a Calvinist and I see women in leadership in the Bible), but dismissing his theology as “toxic” and rescinding this award belies Princeton Theological Seminary’s alleged “openness.” He doesn’t fight the culture wars; he argues with respect; he endorses the ministry of Biologos; and he teaches care for God’s creation. If I were a Calvinist, I’d want to be just like Tim Keller. In fact, I wish I were more like him right now.

I suggest this to all who claim that every complimentarian is a male Neanderthal: You need to get out more. Do lunch with them. Many are are assertive women; most are honestly grappling with difficult Biblical passages invoking male headship. Branding them “toxic” conveniently ignores their sincere quest to understand and apply God’s Word. The church that brought me to Christ in the early ’70s was complimentarian. Its men showed more respect for women than agnostic egalitarians (they kept their hands to themselves, told no off-color jokes, and deeply loved their wives and served them). Our pastor said that, ultimately, the husband and wife serve one another. That’s my take-off point on marriage: much of our teaching begins with the wrong question, “Who is the leader?” The right question is this: “How do we serve one another?”

Is my view complimentarian or egalitarian? I don’t know and don’t care.

But, I guess, we can’t have that discussion in some PCUSA circles. We might be branded “toxic.” And it seems that Mother Theresa, Pope Francis, and Kuyper himself would be rendered ineligible for any seminary award because of their “toxic” theology — as would all traditionally Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians.

Suffice it to say that this is not Princeton’s finest hour.

________________

Naturally, the internet has lit up with commentary. Jonathan Merritt, a more “progressive Christian” than I, hit the bull’s eye. An excerpt:

I’ve had the pleasure of being with Tim Keller on two occasions. Each time, I recognized areas where his theology and mine did not align. But I also walked away feeling I had been in the presence of someone who was eminently reasonable, thoughtful, kind. Tim Keller is no extremist. He is no misogynist. He is no bigot. He is not hateful. Anyone who has paid attention to his Manhattan ministry can attest to this.

If Christians like Tim Keller are unworthy of honor and deserve to be marginalized, American Christianity is in serious trouble.

Keller is like the tens of millions of American Christians who hold to traditional interpretations of the Bible on these issues. Most of them do not hate gay people (though some do). Most do not believe women are inferior (though some do). They are doing their best to love their God and love their neighbors and live their lives according to what they believe the Bible teaches.”

Find Merritt’s full article here.

Grayson Gilbert has some fun with his satiric, “Princeton Appalled Kuyper Prize Named After Kuyper.” His point: Abraham Kuyper would be denied the Kuyper prize. His mock letter from the seminary’s president:

On March 22 I sent an update to faculty and staff addressing the unfortunate predicament regarding Timothy Keller being the recipient of the 2017 Kuyper prize. While it is true that we do not wish to stifle academic freedom, critical inquiry, and theological diversity, it has been further brought to our attention that the name of the Kuyper award might also suggest sanction of views found within the biblical corpus.

We strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues, yet it is quite clear the name of the award must be changed to better reflect the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Princeton has hardly been a bastion of orthodox Christian belief and practice for many years now. It is our earnest desire to continue in good faith toward that aim.

Furthermore, we shall commission another design of the here-to-be-named award, which shall depict waves tossing to and fro, as it strongly reflects our understanding of the Christian faith.

See all he wrote here.

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March 22, 2017

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Why Churches Are Folding, Book 1,504,002, Chapter 1,354,700,1650,001, 97,000th Draft

Image result for one nation under godI’m weary of dooms-day articles signaling American Christianity’s demise. Salivating secularists hail an on-coming age of light while woe-begone evangelicals prophesy deeper darkness, with the latter writing new books offering innovative solutions. Strangely, the remedies look like repackaged programs from previous eras. Add them together, mix and stir: Sermons should radiate theological depth while emulating market-driven sales pitches and churches should welcome all while zeroing-in on their fixed target groups. And always aim for youth, because supposedly apathetic millennials are our last hope.

Please, above all else, reject previous programs, often offered up as sure-fire formulas for revival.

So I viewed the first lines of Peter Beinart’s Atlantic Monthly piece (“Over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers …”) and thought “yawn.” I shelved it.

I finally took it off the shelf. I was surprised. It’s actually good. Thoughtful, even — with subtlety and nuance and logic and … everything. A key paragraph:

When pundits describe the Americans who sleep in on Sundays, they often conjure left-leaning hipsters. But religious attendance is down among Republicans, too. According to data assembled for me by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990. This shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. During the campaign, commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals. But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.”

That substantiates the truth behind the statistics: Most self-identified white evangelicals don’t even believe in basic evangelical doctrines. They’re evangelical in name only, veritable wolves in sheep’s clothing — or maybe harmless poodles, but definitely not sheep. Studies show that 71 percent believe Jesus was a created being and 56 percent believed the Holy Spirit is “divine force but not a personal being.”  Only 52 percent said sex outside traditional marriage is a sin. Billy Graham would invite most of today’s “evangelicals” to walk the aisle and accept Jesus. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century theologian who led colonial America’s Great Awakening, would say they’re sliding down the slippery slope, certifiable “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”

Beinart’s article helps me reconcile with all the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen. To wit: Most of the people at my church, which is lily-white evangelical, voted for Clinton and feared Trump (granted, that church is in a university town); many holding evangelical beliefs don’t identify themselves as “evangelical” (read the Facebook religious identifications; see all the “followers of Jesus.” They’re probably more orthodox in their creeds than “evangelicals.”). The upshot: Those 81-19 polls showing white evangelical favoritism for Trump are skewed.

Complicating everything is this: Most evangelical Trump voters I know found the candidate as attractive as diphtheria. They simply could not fill-in Clinton’s ballot box oval because the Democratic National Committee, which lives in its own little world, snarls at anything pro-life. Its members even disdain holistically pro-life voters favoring climate change mitigation, gun-control laws, and elimination of the death penalty. They just can’t stomach abortion because, like it or not, they view abortion as taking a human life. It’s a matter of conscience. Many of them could live with former President Clinton’s safe-legal-and-rare language, but the latest DNC position moved abortion from a matter of rights to a matter of policy.

In other words, the DNC did everything it could to alienate evangelicals and traditional Catholics, then stood mystified when those very voters didn’t whoop it up for Hillary. Howard Dean hasn’t helped. When asked if there was still room in the Democratic party for pro-life progressives, he responded: “No. Because the young generation isn’t that way. I think the old left/right is an anachronism.[…] They are not ideological. They are extremely interested in social justice, so we are never going back to maybe making compromises on abortion, and gay rights is another one.”

Message to Howard: First, you’re standing on ideological purity (never flex on abortion) while invoking the practicality of younger voters. That doesn’t make sense. Second, polls show that one third of all registered Democrats are pro-life. Some remember Robert Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, Sargent Shriver, Hubert Humphrey, Harold Hughes, and other Democratic lions. They opposed abortion.

But I digress. Breinart says much more. Read the article. Please.  I’ll even give the link again. It’s here.

Meanwhile, here’s my solution to the empty-church dilemma: I hereby invite evangelicals to come to Christ. Fall in love with Jesus. Begin by praying the sinner’s prayer for the first time.

 

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March 21, 2017

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A saint sees the Lenten whole

I stumbled on a quote from St. Peter Chrysologus, a fifth-century  Bishop of Ravenna, that eloquently wraps private devotion and public obligation in a bow. Which wasn’t unusual for Peter: He was known for short, theologically rich sermons, understandable to laity and clergy alike. The quote gives us a great perspective as we plow through […]

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March 7, 2017

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Warning: Resistance fighters could sprout marmalade hair

It’s clear. Some of us , me included , should slow dance to Lent’s beat. Be cool. Chill. Stroll through the woods. Hear the water drip. And let’s trim our social media tirades to no more than one every 24 hours (I’d urge replacing all harangues with thoughtful, constructive criticism, but I’d be laughed out of the […]

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March 5, 2017

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Evangelical Environmental Network: Back the EPA

The Evangelical Environmental Network publish this 30-second ad encouraging us to contact our federal representatives and shore up the embattled Environmental Protection Agency. It erases the false dichotomy that pits the environment against the poor.

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March 5, 2017

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Somehow, Katharine Hayhoe says it like no one else can …

Katharine Hayhoe talks about myths in the climate change debate, and she sounds so inoffensive and friendly. Maybe it’s her awe-shucking Canadian heritage.

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February 4, 2017

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Stop invoking the “liberal” bogeyman

Trumpians are banging the “liberal” drum again: Alleged softy progressives whine because the ’16 election didn’t go their way. Memes pile on memes, like this one: Yup. It’s just liberals. Take Eliot Cohen, for instance: To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, […]

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February 2, 2017

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Hundreds of demonstrators flock to … West Hartford (?!?)

I love ribbing West Hartford, Connecticut. Because I can. So I posted this on my Facebook site: “I’m driving today [February 1, 2017] to West Hartford for a protest rally, scheduled to begin at 4:30, which means the Mayans weren’t wrong. They were just a little off. To explain: West Hartford is inhabited by pin-striped […]

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January 27, 2017

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Albright to Trump: Nuts to your refugee scheme

President Trump’s race to upend American ideals in the name of patriotism is achieving a cheetah’s speed. Remember that phrase, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”? Forget it. He’s maneuvering to cut the refugee flow.

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January 22, 2017

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Praying for Trump as we resist

Mea culpa. John Piper John Piper and I sing a different theological song, so I naturally assumed we’re in political disharmony. After all, the chancellor of Minneapolis’s Bethlehem College and Seminary is as Calvinist as they come. Not only does he agree with the 16th-century Reformer’s take on predestination, he relishes it. I’m an Arminian, […]

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