First Things: How I Evolved on Tim Keller

This article is weak and a big yawn, but…if First Things has now come to the point where they are tired of Tim Keller, it may signal something or other.

How I Evolved on Tim Keller | James R. Wood | First Things


Lol. Perfect way to put it.

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As soft as the First Things piece may be, it was enough to immediately raise the ire of David French.


Yes, it is telling how defensive Keller’s defenders–and Keller himself–are after the publication of this article.


Aaron, a friend, is wrong. Nothing’s changed. There was no neutral world which went negative. But he’s too young to know. The last significant change was the Sixties. Since then we’ve had nothing other than spurts interrupting increments.

Then the FT article. Says James Wood, “Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Keller, and to praise him.” The piece struck me as a son trying to escape his father without dishonoring him, which is the way of the world and must necessarily happen. Something about age and death.

What’s sad is that he had a bad father, but doesn’t know it. So he honors Dad for the very things that were horrendous to pass on to any son. That Tim Keller was effective as an evangelist is the most common mistake of the man’s disciples. “He must be good at something since he’s my hero,” say they. What then does he claim to be good at?

Contextualization and (almost) apologetics, except that the man’s method of apologetics is to dull his scalpel in such a way that he presents a nice choice opposite men who copy the true evangelists, and most notably the Apostle Paul in the Areopagus, by sharpening their scalpel. No, there has never been a man who was a true evangelist whose numbers came from dulling their preaching of the fire and hammer of Scripture, operating on men’s consciences and hearts in such a way as to keep the men from objecting (or maybe even noticing).

Never. This is the central error of Evangelicalism this past century, and Tim Keller will, I hope, be the end of it. But of course, I have no reason for such a hope. It’s just that I can’t help myself: hope springs eternal from this human pest.


PS: One of my favorite parables from one of my favorite books, Attack Upon Christendom:

When I think of what in my father’s time was understood by a shopclerk:
an awkward Jewish bumpkin—and of what now is understood by it:
a nimble, brisk fellow, a chevalier, etc.—this indeed is progress of a sort.
It is pretty much the same now with a modern clergyman: a nimble,
adroit, lively man, who in pretty language, with the utmost ease, with
graceful manners, etc., knows how to introduce a little Christianity, but as
easily, as easily as possible. In the New Testament, Christianity is the
profoundest wound that can be inflicted upon a man, calculated on the most
dreadful scale to collide with everything—and now the clergyman has
perfected himself in introducing Christianity in such a way that it signifies
nothing, and when he is able to do this to perfection he is regarded as a
paragon. But this is nauseating! Oh, if a barber has perfected himself in
removing the beard so easily that one hardly notices it, that’s well enough;
but in relation to that which is precisely calculated to wound, to perfect
oneself so as to introduce it in such a way that if possible it is not noticed
at all—that is nauseating.


I’ve often thought about the men who have been providentially played some role in shaping my life and theology – men who have been “fathers” in one capacity or another at different times.

One such man I am particularly fond of was the pentecostal Bible teacher I had in high school (a parachurch Christian school).

My family was not rooted in a church, though we had loosely attended an Evangelical Free church for many years. My parents had been part of founding the school with a handful of other families in town back when I was in 2nd grade. Mom and Dad might be characterized as first-generation believers, who knew very little about what God required of them as parents, though they felt an acute burden that their children be raised with a Christian worldview, even if they didn’t fully grasp what that even was.

I would characterize my Dad as a good man of simple faith. He loved his wife faithfully and worked with his hands. He loved me and my siblings well. But he never really had any pastoral care in his life. He read the Bible, and followed along with the Sunday sermon. He had good sense and was a man of integrity, but I don’t believe he had a clue as to what it would look like to teach his children the word of God, or even a sense of exactly what that responsibility might look like.

Anyway, by the time I got to high school, with all the lovely horrors entailed in those adolescent years – everything ranging from a young man’s attempt to understand life, sex, true religion, etc – I had little guidance. But that pentecostal Bible teacher loved his students well.

I was so theologically ignorant back then, but the man was used of God to grow me greatly in the faith, and to simply help me navigate those difficult years. I had no real pastoral care, and though my father was a good man whom I greatly admired and learned many lessons from, he offered little guidance in bridging the gap between the faith and all of life.

I trust the reader will understand that this is not an indictment of my father. Looking back, I am just thankful that in God’s providence, this pentecostal Bible teacher, in this imperfect parachurch paradigm, filled in some real fatherly gaps. And later in life I came to see that in a very real sense, the ministry of this Bible teacher was, by extension, a ministry of my father, who despite whatever shortcomings decided it was important to work that his children might be in this Christian school – such that it was.

God is so kind to his people.

Anyway, why do I share all this? Two thoughts.

First, as relates to the article and your comment about the man not knowing he had a bad father (Keller), I suppose you highlight the problem that he had no father at all. What a blessing it is to have fathers in our churches, so that we need not even be compelled to speak of the random internet preachers and book writers as our fathers.

Second, I’m also just reminded of the kindness of God to use imperfect men – even those same internet preachers and book writers and pentecostal Bible teachers – to affect us at particularly vulnerable times in life. Not that we would remain with such men as perpetual fathers, but as providential evidences of God’s kindness to us.

Whether we like it or not, Keller did stoke the flames of the neo-Calvinism movement, which brought many men to reformed theology for the first time. While my “thoroughbred” reformed brothers may roll their eyes at the movement, I can’t help but have a special gratitude for it – for all its shortcomings – as it helped me along to where I am today.


Has nothing to do w/likes or dislikes, nor with “reformed” tribalism, dear brother. It’s a matter of the truth concerning the law and Gospel. But I repeat myself

I understand. I certainly wasn’t attempting to put up a defense for Keller, or make things about tribalism (that “thoroughbred” comment was largely in jest). I affirm all you’ve said.

I just have compassion for the author. I guess that’s all I meant to convey.


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When I was new to the Reformed faith, the archived Keller posts at Bayly Blog were helpful to me, as well as personal conversations. It was God’s kindness. I sympathize with men who count Keller as a father, but if I may flatter our hosts, the old Bayly Blog Keller posts speak for themselves. If you are teachable, the truth is there. Especially with the passage of time, you see that our hosts here were precisely right while Keller was carefully wrong.

The kneejerk circle-the-wagons defense of Keller is disgusting. Decadent. Gay. It’s all tribalism and money and book deals and speaking fees. Did you know that Keller used to charge for people to download mp3s of sermons? I learned it in a Bayly Blog post. Doesn’t that just say it all? If all you knew about Tim Keller was that, wouldn’t that by itself be enough to keep away from him?

May God help us all to be East Coast so we will never be someone’s Company Man.


I guess it’s my attribution to Tim of many things which torment pastors who try. Love

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I’m not ignorant concerning the longstanding problems of Keller. Again, the purpose of my post was not to make a defense. Thanks.

I do remember a time when President Clinton was going through one scandal or another, he was photographed coming out of church carrying a big Bible. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I (and others) perceived it as an act of religiosity to help him get through political trouble. Some person (I don’t recall who) contrasted “Saturday Night Bill” with “Sunday Morning Bill”. I don’t think any president today would find it politically advantageous to show up at a church carrying a big Bible, so that’s a change.

So far as I remember, President Obama never engaged in any public display of faith, such as carrying a Bible, but at the time of his first presidential run, it seemed politically necessary for him to profess a generic Christian faith and have membership at a Christian church of sorts, but I don’t think that would help a candidate nowadays.

IIRC Trump waved a Bible around at the Episcopal church across from the White House that he and his crew walked over to during the Summer of Floyd.

I believe Clinton was our last president to regularly attend church while serving as President, which probably says something about how America has changed over the last 25-30 years.


On a related note:

The paradox of a celebrity pastor | Opinion News (

This tells the story of someone who ended up at Stephen Furtick’s church (I think) in NC. Providentially, she fell in with a group of people who discipled her pretty well - well enough to help her in time to move on and move out into something much more robust.


James Wood released a video essay today related to the original article.

Nolan, what are your thoughts on Wood’s follow-up?

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I watched the video. Like Wood’s original piece, it’s right enough. He’s turning himself away from Keller and toward something better. He’s not all the way there but he’s going in the right direction, so good for him.

It’s also a good sign for First Things. They’ve gone from puffing Eve Tushnet and the celibate gay aesthetic to showing more backbone. What they publish now vs. What they did publish shows improvement.

There’s still something that is just unsatisfying about Wood’s presentation. His critique of Keller is welcome but remember, this man is a Protestant, a former editor and now professor, with ministry experience. He’s capable of understanding rhetoric and communication and meaning. Arguing against Keller, he still presents like Keller. Keller is unhelpful but there’s no danger or forcefulness in his words.

Furthermore, there’s not enough humilty from this clearly intelligent Protestant to admit that others saw what Kellerism was long before he did. Instead of telling us what he has come to believe and how he has grown, could he say, “I was wrong”?

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I would concur with Ben on a lot of points. I appreciate more people willing to have these conversations. But they unwillingness for people to ever say “I was wrong” is frustrating. I also hope they don’t gatekeep and act like they are the first ones to raise these questions/concerns. It also still feels like third way-ism but just where the conclusions of the third way are conservative leaning and not liberal leaning.

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