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Tim Keller’s N.Y. Times Interview Reveals American Evangelical’s Problem In A Single Sentence

Tim Keller’s N.Y. Times Interview Reveals American Evangelical’s Problem In A Single Sentence

A recent New York Times article making its way around my social media feeds highlights in a single sentence what is fundamentally deficient in American Evangelicalism.  In the article Times writer Nicholas Kristof asks prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller whether one needs to believe in every Christian tenet in order to be a Christian, particularly the resurrection of Christ as well as his Virgin Birth.

Keller deftly does the difficult job of attempting to navigate 21st century sensibilities while still holding and defending cornerstones of the Christian faith…

…but then he drops one little sentence; one little bit of information that would be easy enough just to zoom past without giving it any thought whatsoever.

But this sentence hit me like a hammer!

I believe this sentence is the root cause of the rumblings being felt right now in American Evangelicalism between the old guard and a younger generation.

This sentence is the crack in the foundation ignored and overlooked for too long.

And what is this sentence?

Kristoff: And the Resurrection? Must it really be taken literally?

Keller: Jesus’ teaching was not the main point of his mission. He came to save people through his death for sin and his resurrection. So his important ethical teaching only makes sense when you don’t separate it from these historic doctrines.

Did you get that?  For evangelicals like Keller, Jesus’ teachings are of secondary importance.  They are “ethical teachings” to be incorporated after believing a death and resurrection occurred.

But what Keller calls “ethical teachings” Jesus calls The Kingdom of God; and it was the very reason Jesus came, to announce it’s arrival!  And it was through these teachings that he taught us how

  • the Kingdom of God is established (compassion)
  • the Kingdom of God advances (compassion)
  • the Kingdom of God is shared (compassion)

Jesus went on to say that we could identify other citizens of this new country not by their theological affirmations and beliefs but simply through the compassion they demonstrated to those around them (John 13:35)

Now I agree with Keller the resurrection of Jesus is important but the resurrection of Christ is the confirmation (and promise) by God of everything Jesus  taught and proclaimed. Both at Christ’s baptism as well as the Transfiguration, the Father shows up to affirm his love for his son and that all should listen to him!

What Jesus was teaching was not of secondary importance.  It was the MAIN thing!  Evangelicalism has been crippled by forgetting to keep the main thing the main thing

Just before Jesus left his disciples he challenged them to make new followers by teaching them everything he had taught them (Matt. 28:19-20)

  • When you have an extra coat and see one in need, give them one
  • When you do spiritual stuff do it low key and don’t draw attention to yourself
  • When you are in leadership, serve those who you lead rather than have them serve you

These are not “ethical teachings”.  These are not nice things to try to incorporate once you get the theological furniture in your head “correct”.

No, when you see these things in your midst you will know the Kingdom of God is at hand.




  • 1. To reduce the Kingdom of God to simply “compassion” is wrong. It means the reign of God.
    2. The irony of the article is that by trying to argue that Jesus’ message was His main mission, the author ignores what Jesus taught about his mission.
    3. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

    • Steve

      Hi John,

      I believe its impossible to reduce the Kingdom of God to compassion. Compassion and love are generally understood to be the same characteristic. Essentially as God IS Love then the Kingdom of God could also be called the Kingdom of Compassion where, to use your language, compassion reigns.

      I also believe the teaching of Jesus are his seeking and saving the lost. He taught us to do it, and now we are to teach others…

  • Rev Tim Keller

    Keller before The Veritas Forum, interviewed by Martin Bashir
    The Veritas Forum holds university events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life. In August 2011, Tim Keller was invited to deal with the subject, ‘The Reason for God? Belief in an Age of Skepticism’, drawing upon the arguments laid out in his book. Interviewed by NBC journalist Martin Bashir, Dr Tim Keller presents intellectually rigorous reasons why believing in God makes sense. In the course of the interview he is asked a series of questions having to do with Jesus Christ being the only way to God. Please view the video clip for it tells us much about Tim Keller and the flawed gospel he proclaims.

    Ashamed of the Gospel of Truth?
    In this interview what do we see? A great theologian defending the gospel of truth? An intellectual giant contending for the doctrines of the Bible? No. What we get is a glimpse of the real Tim Keller, for we no longer see an intellectual giant, but a confused, bumbling man that seems to be unwilling or unable to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.
    His response to the question, Is Jesus the only way to God? is to prevaricate, for he says he can only answer a question about eternal salvation “if Jesus is who He says He is”. Why, is there some doubt in his mind? But this is the point. Right here Keller could have quoted Scripture to make clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. He could have quoted Jesus’ famous statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). He could have quoted the apostle Peter: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). But he quoted neither text, for, as we shall see, Keller’s gospel is not based on Scripture.

    Keller says to be a Christian means that your soul has to ‘get Jesus’. What does this mean? Is Jesus some commodity, like a bar of soap that you can ‘get’ from a supermarket shelf? And then he makes the remarkable statement, before a large audience, that God may have a trap door for unbelievers that “I haven’t been told about”? He is surmising that God may actually have a secret way to heaven for those who do not repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ. But Keller’s ‘trap door’ possibility is unbiblical and deeply heretical, for it implies that Christ died in vain. Christ said, “I am the Door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10.9). “He who does not enter by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10.1). There is only one Door to heaven, Jesus Christ.

    Keller asserts that unbelievers are ‘miserable’ now, and in a billion years from now will still be miserable. Why? Because according to Keller, unbelievers ‘will eternally shrivel’. But Scripture says that on the Day of Judgment Christ will say: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25.41). So unbelievers will be not only miserable, but will be cast into hell with the devil and his angels. This is the message of Scripture.

    And the final shock—the great theologian admits that he does not know what happens to unbelievers who die without Christ. He says: “If they die and they don’t have Jesus Christ, I don’t know” what happens to them. But how can he say he does not know when Scripture is clear? Is he ashamed of the gospel? Scripture says: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3.36). The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) says that at the Last Judgment: “The wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”

    This interview tells us much about Tim Keller. Note that he did not once refer to Scripture. And the reason is obvious—Keller’s gospel is not based on Scripture. Before our eyes a so-called intellectual giant has shrivelled into a theological pigmy. He was faced with the difficult task of trying to make his flawed version of the gospel appear to be the gospel of truth, once delivered unto the saints. But this is an impossible task, even for the clever Rev Tim Keller.

    • Michael, your argument is undermined by the very scripture you quote. You wrote, “But Scripture says that on the Day of Judgment Christ will say: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25.41). So unbelievers will be not only miserable, but will be cast into hell with the devil and his angels. This is the message of Scripture.”
      Tim’s point is that Jesus’ teachings matter – they are an essential part of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus teaches and a keystone to faithful discipleship. The very scripture you quoted here supports Tim’s argument. You say in reference to Matthew 25 that “Unbelievers” are cast into hell. However, that is not what Matthew 25 says. (Even demons believe – James 2:19). The ones cast into hell in this scripture are the ones who did not show compassion to their fellow suffering humans – the ones who did not feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger (commonly understood as “alien” or “foreigner”), clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. There is no mention of belief in this passage. On the contrary, those who live these lives of compassion are welcomed into heaven. This alone should give many Christians pause when we consider the political policies we do or do not support, particularly evangelicals.

  • Larry

    Not gonna listen to someone who writes, every xian “tenant.”

    • Paul

      To make it clear: Tenant is someone who rents a place to live. Tenet is a closely held belief. Tenet is the word you’re looking for, Steve.

      • Steve

        Thanks Paul, I made the change. Sometimes when you are focusing on one thing you miss another. Poor Larry, I assume he still won’t listen to me nonetheless! 🙂

        • Paul

          De nada.

  • Keller’s false gospel

    The gospel that Keller is encouraging Christians to preach is not the gospel once delivered to the saints, but a false gospel. Note the words that Keller avoids in his gospel presentation—sin, rebellion, God’s wrath, judgment, holiness, justification by faith, repentance and so on. Keller presents the problem of mankind as choosing “to center our lives on ourselves, and this has resulted in the lost of peace—within ourselves, between ourselves, and in nature itself.” Here we see the depth of Keller’s heresy, for his gospel does not teach that mankind has rebelled against a holy God, and is under the wrath and condemnation of a righteous God who is too holy to look upon man’s sin. Keller’s gospel does not teach the total depravity of man, or that sin is an outrage against God. “Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done this evil in your sight” (Psalm 51.4). Keller’s gospel does not teach that unregenerate man is dead in trespasses and sins and walks “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2.2).

    Keller’s gospel knows nothing of God’s holiness. Keller’s gospel does not teach that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1.18).

    Keller’s gospel teaches that “by his sacrificial life and death he [Christ] both exemplifies the life we must live and rescues us from the life we have lived”. So the Jesus that Keller has invented is a Jesus who came to be an example, the one who shows us how we should live. Scripture teaches that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1.29). He came to die on the Cross of Calvary for the sins of his people. He came to lay down his life for sinners. He came to die that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God. Charles Wesley captured these gospel truths in his great hymn.
    “He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free;
    His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.”

    Keller teaches that purpose of the Christian life is to put the world right, to make the world a better place. Scripture teaches that purpose of the Christian life is to be transformed into the image of Christ, to take up the whole armour of God in order to stand against the wiles of the devil, and to preach the gospel to all nations. Christ said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14.15). “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12.2).

    God’s purpose is to redeem for himself a holy people, a royal priesthood, who will forever live with God and his Christ in the new heaven and new earth. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21.1-4).

    • Phillip Gregg

      You should actually read some of Keller’s stuff. Or at least read the article in question.

      You wrote, “Keller teaches that purpose of the Christian life is to put the world right, to make the world a better place.”

      The article makes it clear that Keller says that isn’t the main point of Jesus’ teachings. Did you just copy and paste that stuff from some other website?

  • Vance Mullis

    Currently the resurrection is important, because it confirmed the claims of Jesus. In fact, it is critical. And the teachings are also critical.

    One way to view the kingdom of God is to recognize that it is the people of God doing the work of God, and it is work that counters the kingdom of darkness.

    The message of Jesus was so important — He revealed the God we could call Father, which was a view that shocked and appalled the ruling religious people. The God (mis)represented in the Old Testament had been so misconstrued that it took great miracles to correct. And the greatest of these was the resurrection.

    So Jesus came to correct the wrong views of God and to overturn hundreds of years of misrepresentation. The credibility of the message was solidified with the resurrection.

    And we should remember that there is not a relationship between entities without some level of sacrifice. And God wants a deep relationship with people, and this necessitated a deep sacrifice.

    • Steve

      Well said Vance and I would agree that relationship is made more deep and intimate often through trial, tribulation, and sacrifice but would stop at suggesting God NEEDS it in order to forgive.

  • Carol

    I so agree with this. Christ came to show…and tell.us how to live our lives and to die in his Grace…..

    • Steve

      Thanks Carol! God Bless!

  • Charles L. Middleton, Sr.

    Are you suggesting that one can reject the bodily resurrection and the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sins and be justified by demonstrating ” kingdom character” ?

    • Steve

      The paralytic Jesus heals in Mark 2. Jesus proclaims his sins are forgiven. This is before his death and resurrection and the man didn’t even ASK for his sins to be forgiven. God can just forgive…and it is the goodness of God that leads us to him, not fear. Our system killed God when he came. God judged that system by raising Christ from the dead with the promise that we to would be resurrected to life. Death has no sting. My fear is we have reduced Christ working through us to heal the world gets almost sidelined as “good works” or “kingdom character” when it is what brings life. As James says, even the demons “believe” what they can’t do is bare fruit.

      • KJS

        Sorry pet peeve here…. Many love to misquote James about his “Believe” statement…..

        The quote is …”you believe there is one God – Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder…”

        The point is not believing in one God, or even believing in God … The point is believing in What Jesus Christ accomplish through His death, burial, and resurrection.

        It is His (Jesus) accomplishment that starts the whole process of what a Christian is and the production of fruit that you mentioned. The cornerstone is the resurrection- for it is the proof that God sealed the deal.

        • Steve

          I have to say I don’t think I misquoted KJS. Even the “demons” believe in what Jesus accomplished…what they can’t do is bare fruit in keeping with repentance (agreeing with the Christ Way)

  • Bill N

    Why does your argument have to oppose what Keller said? Is it possible Jesus as Savior and Jesus as teacher are two halves of a single unit? Is it possible people can come to a deliberate relationship with Christ by either path? Before Christ commanded his followers to follow his teaching, hadn’t his followers witnessed the resurrection? And we’re there not doubters among them? Finally, Matthew is not the only account of what Jesus said to and did for his followers. I think a fuller response to Keller would require more than one selected verse from the end of Jesus’ ministry.

    • Steve

      Hi Bill,

      My point was not “oppose” what Keller said. (If anything I say he deftly handles the questions) What I suggest is a foundational flaw in the evangelical position which reveals itself within the conversation. I am on Keller’s side as he is a brother in Christ.

  • David Prieto

    I don’t think Timothy Keller is saying Jesus teachings are “secondary”, as in importance or as to weight. He is just saying Jesus’s Death and Resurrection comes first, or should come first in one’s understanding.

  • kevin

    Oh my word. This kind of article is far better suited for a politician or news anchor. Parsing, not asking follow-up questions – that’s the work of someone who is trying to play the “Gotcha!” game. It was a CONVERSATION Steve and Keller probably took you up on your request in good faith. Why not ask Keller to further explain his comment FOR THE GOOD OF THE READER — instead of running a piece like this about a devout man of God who has written so many great pieces, helped so many Christians find their hope in Christ, evangelize to those who are perishing. Keller ain’t a heretic, Steve, so paint him in the right light. It’s called “good journalism”.

    • Steve


      As I’ve indicated I thought Keller did a “deft” job at answering the questions. I like Keller… I am simply pointing out as some one who is raised evangelical myself that the teachings of Jesus were ALWAYS secondary and I think it is much to the detriment of evangelicalism as a whole. The world NEEDS us to get back to making Jesus’ teaching the MAIN thing.

  • Kevwe Michael Oyinvbi

    Beautiful post brother

    • Steve

      Thanks friend!

  • Becky Castle Miller

    N.T. Wright would agree with you. This is the premise of his book “How God Became King.”

    • Steve

      Thanks Becky! I’m the first to say I owe a lot of where I am now to N.T. Wright! Especially How God Became King 😉

    • Stephen Murray

      I feel like NT Wright would say that the atonement for sin and the resurrection from the dead are crucial beliefs. While at the same time I believe he would say intellect must never come at the expense of charity.

  • Stephanos

    The whole of the Gospel can be distilled to three words: destruction of death. To strive to be compassionate, you don’t need to be Christian. In fact, for that you don’t need Christ at all. Ethics of compassion is nothing new; ancient Romans lived these principles better than modern Americans.

    • Steve

      I appreciate the comment Stephanos but would suggest that Christ is needed for death to be overcome!

  • As pastor here at North Presbyterian, I completely agree, Steve. Practicing the teachings of Jesus is how we experience his resurrection; “believing in it” comes with the experience of it in our lives. Paul makes that very clear, I think, when he says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” Paul embodies the resurrected Christ through a life of love and compassion.

  • Charles L. Middleton, Sr.

    Steve,it doesn’t appear that you’ve given a definitive answer to my question. Under the New Covenant, what is the basis upon which God forgives sin, imparts divine life, and declares us righteous? Does our participation in the ministry mandate in Matthew 28:19 presuppose or require that we be ” new creations in Christ Jesus ” ? It just seems to me that,” relationship must precede ministry “, and somehow that’s not coming across anywhere except maybe in brother Cassady.

  • Charles L. Middleton, Sr.

    Wow! I am so glad to be among so many friends who love N.T. Wright the way I do . Thank you Steve for an excellent post, and for giving me a chance to ” come out of the cave.”

  • The article implies that evangelicals do not take seriously the teachings of Jesus. I reject that assertion totally. It is Christians generally but evangelicals specifically that are involved in compassion ministries. In my community the evangelicals are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and visiting those in prison. The church I once served started the county Literacy Coalition, supports the local Rescue Mission, is involved in a ministry in the strip clubs, and tithes to missions. This is not some afterthought. It is who we are and we are who we are because we have been claimed by Jesus Christ. In the Mennonite Bible School I attended years ago the first passage we memorized was the Sermon on the Mount (the whole thing I believe). Saying all of this the teachings of Jesus are not themselves “the gospel.” The gospel is the good news of the kingdom made possible by the presence and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to classic Christian truth, at least as set forth in the Article of Religion of the Church of England and the United Methodist Church, the person of Jesus Christ “The Word, thea Son of God Who Was Made Very Man,” “was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile the Father to us, and to b e a savrifice, not only for original guilt, but for the actual sins of men.” The key is “to reconcile the Father to us,” or as the Wesley hymn affirms “My God is reconciled.” Thus the Kingdom is the presence of God working in the world working primarily through the redeemed humanity. The Reformation principle on Bible interpretation is that the epistles (or that written after Christ) interprets the gospels. Without this, that is, with only a supposed ethic as the end all of religion, we end up with something that looks like Communism or at least socialism, an attempt to force people to be something they are not. I asked a major liberation theologian one day where this kingdom could be found today that she was insisting on (what had gone on before was the critique of America generally and evangelicals specifically). She replied, “Well, it is not perfect but probably Cuba comes the closest to realizing the kingdom ideals. The UM UMW study materials of some years ago said that China was really doing the gospel and without a strong belief in God at that. I am sorry “evangelicals” have to go by the label “evangelical.” It basically is basic Christianity.

    • Steve

      Riley, I never said evangelicals don’t teach Jesus teaching seriously, I suggested they had made it secondary. Evangelicalism is diverse and their are many that are doing great works of compassion but if you asked the average non-Christian on the street what evangelicals are known for I suggest “compassion” would not come to mind

  • Sharron

    Disappointing premise of your argument. He doesn’t say teachings are secondary, just that they’re inextricably interwoven with resurrection.

    • Steve

      He does say Jesus’ teachings are not the “main point” so they at best have to be “secondary”

  • Phillip Gregg

    Do you have any extra coats in your closet?

    Keller would argue that you are not compassionate, at least as not as compassionate as you must be. Keller would argue that the point of Jesus’ teachings is to show you your need for the gospel.

    Jesus would label us all as murderous adulters in need of a savior. Have you ever called a man a fool? If so, you are a murder. Lusted after a woman? If so, Jesus says you are an adulterer.

    If righteousness comes though being compassionate, Christ died needlessly. The truth is none of us are as giving and compassionate as we should be. We all have extra coats in our closet. We don’t always serve, and sometimes we draw attention to ourselves.

    We needed a savior. Jesus teachings all point to this truth.

    That doesn’t discount compassion as needed. In fact, once the gospel makes us new, we find that compassion comes much easier.

  • Aaron

    Steve, you misunderstood Tim Keller. I have read numerous books by him and he would be the first to talk about the importance of Jesus’ teaching. He made that statement to a non-believer who merely likes Jesus’ teaching to point out that the purpose for Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection wasn’t to merely be a “good teacher.” It was to offer redemption to us. His teachings are critical of we are to become followers but if we like Jesus’ teachings without placing our faith in His life, death, and resurrection we are just fans and not followers.

    I hate to say this, but you COMPLETELY misunderstood Tim’s words, took him out of context entirely, and this entire post is predicated on that false assumption.

    • Steve

      Thanks Aaron, my point was not to critique Keller who, I agree with you, has been better than most evangelicals at highlighting the importance of Christ’s teachings. It was to address a fundamental shortcoming in evangelicalism that just happened to pop out in a a highly visible article.

  • Ron Sider

    Steve is absolutely right in putting his finger on a key weakness of contemporary evangelicalism:ie, reducing the Gospel to Jesus’ death for our sins. What we need is the WHOLE Jesus: his life, teaching, death and resurrection and the rest of the New Testament’s explanation of who He is and what He did. It is no better, however, to replace a one-sided emphasis on Jesus” substitutionary death with a one-sided emphasis on his life and teaching. Let’s embrace the whole Jesus!

    Ron Sider

    • Steve

      Thanks Ron! Cheers

  • Sean Mcclurkan

    Thank you. That sentence jarred me right out of my seat and I’ve been trying to formulate a response ever since. Now I don’t have to.

    • Steve

      Glad to be of help 🙂

  • RAfi

    you are misinterpreting what Keller said. He said that you can not separate the two, meaning that they go hand on hand, they work together, as a synergy. If we remove the teaching of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, then the gospel just become a social gospel, just doing good works, but Paul said: I can give all my material things to the poor, and if I lack Love, I am nothing. But the social gospel and the doctrine of the significance of His Death and Resurrection, are two sides of the same coin, they can not function independently one from the other. They are both equally primary.

  • Quixotequest

    Thank you for this article!

    I encountered this very similarly in a sermon a couple months ago by one of our founding pastors, in a sort of aside-and-assumed statement. He said (referring to Acts 8:4) that Jesus didn’t have a gospel to preach until He had died. (See timecode ~29:45 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5htGRfyYxnE)

    And it also hit me in a very disheartening way. The first thing I thought of was of Jesus reading from the Isaiah scroll mentioned in Luke 4. Assuming that there was a real event upon which Luke 4 is based, then plainly it seems my pastor is preaching a limited “Keller-esque” view of the Good News, too.

    • Steve

      Thanks, yes Jesus always had Gospel (Good News) to preach. He was forgiving people for their sins who hadn’t even asked to be forgiven long before he died and rose again (Mark 2)

  • Bryan Carrubba

    Do believe you’ve got the cart before the horse. He doesn’t die on the cross you and me got no chance. He doesn’t walk out of the tomb you and me got be afraid our whole lives. Hard to have compassion you afraid.

    • Steve

      Are you suggesting no compassion was shown before Jesus dies and was resurrected?

      • Kevin Humphreys

        Steve, you keep bring up Mark 2 and Jesus forgiving sins before he was resurrected. What is the point you are making? Are you arguing that the teachings of Jesus are in force without the resurrection?

        • Steve

          Kevin, The resurrection is the confirmation and validation by God of the Kingdom Jesus was announcing and inviting all to join. So yes, they were in force before and after the resurrection. The point I am making in Mark 2 is God does not need a “sacrifice” in order to forgive. He just forgives!

          • Kevin Humphreys

            Steve, Appreciate the clarification. I do, however, disagree. God never forgives absent sacrifice. He can’t as a holy and righteous judge forgive (grant mercy by absorbing the brunt of sin in an atoning way and restore to relationship) without justice being served. It’s impossible for God to violate his own nature of perfect justice.

            So how is a paralytic saved in Mark 2? The same way anyone is saved – by trusting in Jesus or in the case of OT saints, trusting in the One to come. Immediately prior to forgiving his sins, the paralytic and his friends show faith. Jesus sees their faith and does what only God can do, which is forgive sins. This forgiveness is only available via the Resurrection which although is temporally later, it is applied logically earlier from the divine decree.

            You are looking at the Resurrection in a causal-temporal sense, not an intentional or sematic-logical sense. The salvation in Christ is applied logically prior to its temporal event for the paralytic as well as the OT saints. I’ll draw on Bill Dembki a bit here because he articulates it well: “as creatures confined to space and time…our activities and those of the rest of physical creation are subject to a causal-temporal logic that treats time as linear and sees events as unfolding in tightly linked chains of cause and effect.” Dembski goes on to explain: “Because God knows the future and can act on this knowledge by anticipating events and directing their course, divine action follows not a causal-temporal logic but an intentional-semantic logic…God has always existed and acted on the basis of intentions and meanings. The world, by contrast, has a beginning and an end. It operates according to the causal-temporal logic because God, in an intentional act, created it that way. Divine action is therefore a more fundamental mode of causation than physical causation.”

            I really get what you are saying about the need for compassionate action by Christians, but the idea God forgives absent the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus is false. And compassion absent the resurrection may be used by God by his general grace for good, but it is worthless for restoring relationship with God which can only be by grace. The Resurrection exists in the mind of God and can be applied to those who respond based on the point in progressive revelation they are in. Moses, saved by Jesus and the resurrection. Abraham, Saved by Jesus and the resurrection, Job, the Ninevites, etc., saved by Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection.

            BTW, just came across your blog after reading the Kristoff article. Enjoying it!! God Bless Brother.

  • Jim Neumann


    While it is true that many American evangelicals maintain and preach a truncated gospel, I must disagree with your take on Keller’s comment for at least three reasons.

    First of all, I think you’ve fundamentally misread him. There is no implicit chronology in Keller’s comment, no “after.” Keller’s comment (and his larger body of writing and preaching) actually imply a continuous both/and. That is to say, Jesus’ death and resurrection must always be affirmed with his ethical teachings and vice versa.

    Second, what Keller does say – that Jesus’ ethical teachings only make sense in light of his death and resurrection – is demonstrably true from the teachings themselves since Jesus continually bases his ethical teachings off of a.) his identity; b.) his achievement in his death and resurrection.

    Third, I think you misunderstand the kingdom of God, which is certainly not a matter of ethical teaching. There are kingdom ethics, and they do matter, but the kingdom of God is the reign of God within those ethics are normative, and which is founded on the death and (especially) resurrection of Jesus. Very, very few NT scholars today would consider the kingdom of God to be Jesus’ ethical teaching. That idea went out with 19th century liberalism (the likes of Adolf Harnack, for instance), for the most part.

    Ultimately, to say that anyone “reduces” the gospel to Jesus’ death and resurrection can only be an erroneous statement; the right statement is that a correct understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection in all of its implications necessitates living according to Jesus’ ethical teachings. You cannot affirm Jesus’ death and resurrection without affirming his ethical teachings. If you do so, you do so in error – and that would be a truncation.

    So while I think I agree with what you want to affirm and some of the problem you identify, I find the way you have done so here illegitimate and problematic.

    God bless,

    Jim Neumann
    New Testament PhD Student
    Princeton Theological Seminary

    • Steve

      Jim, But I would suggest that is the problem. They are not “ethical teachings”. Because Jesus’ proclamations and sermons are viewed as “ethical teachings” within mainstream evangelicalism they become inherently a secondary, albeit important, addition to the Christian life rather the central focus of Jesus mission. The death and resurrection are intrinsic to the faith in so many ways but undeniably as a “stamp” of approval by God validating and affirming the Kingdom Jesus came to initiate.

      • Jim Neumann

        Well, I think you have a point there. I don’t particularly like the term “ethical teachings” either because it can imply a sort of compartmentalization that I think we (even Keller himself) want to avoid. I suppose I continued to use the same term because most people (even in academia) do, and we have to call them something. But I think it would be better to take the “ethical” off and just say “Jesus’ teachings,” at least.

        Still, I have to wonder if we are not reading the Gospels quite differently at one point, namely the matter of what is central. I, too, want to avoid a truncated gospel, but as I don’t think this can be done by moving Jesus’ death and resurrection to “a ‘stamp’ of approval by God,” while Jesus’ teachings are made central. The teachings themselves will crumble if we do so, and there is already evidence that this is what ultimately happens in denominations and communities of faith that have historically done just that.

        The gospel, as I read it, is the message that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. The kingdom (reign) of Jesus is inseparable from his identity as Lord, and his teachings are (should be!) normative where he reigns. The problem (again, as I see it) is not the place that has been given to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but rather the individualistic and often anthropocentric focus of American (if not Western) culture at large, from which American evangelicalism has failed to distinguish itself.

        But the comment that American evangelicals do not take Jesus’ teachings seriously is, in any case, only half true. What is more true is that evangelicals tend to focus on individual, personal morality, whereas mainline Christians focus more on social morality. Both represent there own truncation: their own failure to live out the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the fullest.

        I’m happy we can have this discussion in a civil manner. It’s an important one.


  • Marc

    Steve, while I appreciate the point you are trying to make here about how evangelicals seem to emphasis doctrinal purity over ethical engagement in the culture, I don’t think you have found the smoking gun in this exchange between Kristoff and Keller. I attended Keller’s church for a decade and I assure you he does not preach doctrinal purity over ethical engagement. (In response to another commenter, he also does not neglect to preach on sin, rebellion, God’s wrath, judgment, holiness, justification by faith, repentance and so on.) As a former deacon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, I can assure you that Dr. Keller’s church is very much concerned for the care of the poor.

    This exchange between Kristoff and Keller is not about the centuries old tension between works and grace or doctrine and ethics. It is not about Resurrection vs Compassion; it is about literal Resurrection vs not-literal Resurrection. Keller’s emphasis on this point is valid. Compassion without the literal Resurrection is a very different thing from compassion with the Resurrection. While there may be formal overlap between the two, clearly the ethical standards start to diverge at a certain point, which is why evangelical Christianity can be seen as a kind of evil by the secular world; as a monstrous fable that inhibits human flourishing. There is no completely neutral space for acts of compassion. Compassion is determined by various and competing ideologies and matters of ultimate concern, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Marxist, or pragmatic natural materialist.

    Evangelicals differentiate themselves from Protestant Liberalism by maintaining, among other supernatural doctrines, the literal resurrection. They believe that surrendering these doctrines to modern de-mythologizing undermines the heart of Christianity itself. The Christian Church has always, since the early Church Fathers, emphasized some points of belief over others in order to address what it has considered the errors of the age. Dr. Keller’s emphasis here is no different in that regard.

  • Reinhold Scharnowski

    Steve, you nicely put – and illustrate – it: the main problem of us (not only US:-) Evangelicals is “creating either-or´s” where the Bible states a truth with two focal points. So few people can think the Biblical way, that is “holding tensions together”. The Kingdom teaching (and the Kingdom reality) is one focus (regarding the whole cosmos, ultimately), and the personal application of the Death and Resurrecion of Jesus is the other focus (regarding my personal fate, and more). They are intertwined, and there is no hierarchy between them 🙂 Blessed 2017 🙂

  • Robert Hunt

    The problem is that Jesus’ ethical teaching was a commonplace in 1st Century Jewish communities, even if it did rub some religious authorities the wrong way. What made him different was that he “taught with authority” and backed up his claim that the Reign of God was immanent with his miraculous works and his claim that sins were forgiven. This last claim, central to the claim that the Reign of God was immanent, was tenable only if Jesus was God. And it was relevant beyond his lifetime only if he was continually present among the believers. Jesus teaching makes sense only in light of his death and resurrection and thus the claim that he is the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God. The problem here is the focus on “belief” or most often for Christians of all types the intellectual assent to certain doctrines. The resurrection doesn’t confirm Jesus teaching in the sense of making it believable. It makes the power of God available to those who need to be released from the burden of sin and sanctified to both see and live out the reality of God’s Reign. What is necessary is faith, which precedes doctrine as the expression of its intellectual content and is far more than just belief. There is no first and second in Jesus’ witness to God’s Reign, no primary or secondary. If one has faith he is the Christ, a faith possibly only when the Spirit of Christ is at work in one’s life, then obedience to his teaching is inevitable. Without such faith it is irrelevant. Keller’s real problem is that he appears to put belief before faith, which can never work but is typical of post-Enlightenment Christianity.

    • Steve

      But the breakdown in your reasoning Robert in regards to my own 40+ years as an evangelical / charismatic (and 25 years in ministry) is that obedience to his teachings is not inevitable once a faith that Jesus came as the Christ to take a way sin is embraced. (And far to often it’s just invisible.) It’s because Christ’s teachings were never emphasised even at the point of acceptance. I have been at hundreds of alter calls in my time and explaining the Kingdom “Way” was never mentioned that I can remember. As I mention, for most evangelicalism that Kingdom “Way” simply becomes “ethical teachings” that a Christian should try to implement AFTER they got their theological “belief” organised. Ask a person on the street what evangelicals are known for and I’d bet money “love or compassion” never gets mentioned…the very attributes Jesus said were to be our identifiers.

      • Hmmm, for many years I held beliefs very similar to Roberts, even though personal observation tended to align more so with what you are saying. When my late wife would take issue with the behaviors of some Christians, I’d counter with, well, we are all at different places in our walk with Christ. I would often add in that the holy spirit works on things in different folks at different times, thinking of a Baptist pastor friend who after 40+ yrs had some light bulbs come on to totally change his behavior in one area. He’d certainly preached and taught on the scriptures addressing this multiple times over his career… but it never reached his heart until he was 58. As one who is loosing much hair on top, I see this within myself as well. The thing is, its one thing to have struggles or even a lack of awareness over narrow parts of one’s Christian walk, its a whole other ballgame when the fruits of the spirit seem pretty much invisible.

        What I wonder about is the causal aspects. I would tend to think that most folks either prior to, or within a year after a decision would have been pretty exposed to the kingdom way, provided even a modest use of the scriptures within a worship environment. That being said… if folks are being taught that they such pursue such only after they have their theological ducks in a row, that’s a whole other story. I totally get the bit in Acts about even the servers of widows being prepared to give testimony… but such is not a full blown pastoral education or something left for folks to leave as a legacy on their death bed. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on this.

  • Rosie

    Yes we need the kingdom so bad in these times. The teaching of Jesus is a no brainer. Thy Kingdom Come oh Lord. Here am I Lord send me.

  • Barbara Mogush

    I wonder if it will take another 2 thousand years before people will realize that there is no truth to a “virgin birth”, or a physical “resurrection” or a “second coming”!!!

  • Brian Smith

    Splitting hairs.Jesus teachings are the desire of a life purchased by His blood-the historical crucifixion, and raised to new life by the power of His resurrection-His historical resurrection and His future historical return to gather his redeemed and set all things right and true

  • Stan Irvin

    Mr. Hackman, there is a huge glaring fallacy in your post, which is so obvious that you seem blind to the chink in your logic that the ethical teachings of Jesus are “the main thing”, and that the resurrection is merely to confirm his teachings. If one engages in careful hermeneutics of New Testament scripture, a neutral scholar would conclude that the empty tomb and the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus was the driving force behind the formation of Christ’s church and of the growth of early Christianity. Indeed, the resurrection is easily argued to become the central focus throughout the Gospels, histories and letters of the New Testament. Jesus himself spoke multiple times of his coming death why he was to die, and of his resurrection. Why Jesus was to die is picked up by Peter in his Pentecost speech in Acts 2. And Paul highlights the ultimate importance of the resurrection in 1st Corinthians 15. In this chapter Paul never states, as you do some almost 2,000 years later, that it is the teachings of Jesus which provide eternal life. Your premise unfortunately ignores these and a multitude of other scripture.

    But, these are not the glaring fallacy in your post. The sand in the foundation of your position is that had it not been for the death and resurrection of Jesus, the odds are overwhelming that we would have no idea of his ethical teachings today. Few Galilee itinerant teachers had their oral teachings preserved. We know that those who did have their teachings preserved, were the more recognized “establishment” rabbis such as Hillel the Elder of Jerusalem, who died when Jesus was around 16 years of age. Indeed, one of the original “golden rule” utterances was made by Hillel, prior to Jesus beginning his ministry. It could be contended that the sayings of Jesus were recorded in short hand by one or more scribes, as scholars think possible through Q, the source, which some believe to be the basis of Mark and of the Gospel of Thomas. However, it is a major leap of faith to contend, as you confidently imply, that the teachings of Jesus would have been preserved to withstand the test of time without the empty tomb and the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus. Even if they were recorded by a scribe. After all, even today how many Christians, let alone none Christians, have heard of, let alone have read, the Gospel of Thomas?

    Would you seriously contend that we would even know of the teachings of Jesus, and that the church of Christ would have been formed and grown to what it is today, had the resurrection not occurred? Indeed, it is because of the empty tomb and the resurrection, that the teachings of Jesus are known to the extent that they are today. Thus, as Dr. Keller correctly states, the resurrection is of foremost importance, and his ethical teachings only made sense when they are not separated from the resurrection.

    • Steve

      Thank you Stan, As I suggest in previous comments, I don’t think it’s an either / or discussion. I believe the resurrection is of incredible importance and yes, was the catalyst for the church we have today. But as long as you refer to the announcing of the Kingdom of God as “ethical teachings” we will argue past each other. Jesus was NOT giving us “ethical teachings” but was describing an alternative society at odds with the systems of this world. We have not made that alternative society (The Kingdom of God) the main point of our Christian message…much to the world’s loss.

  • paul whittaker

    Hey Steve,

    Great blog.

    I have been reading only the Gospels for around a year now as I felt God remind me that it is always about Jesus. What he did, what He said, how He lived His life. Then I read Tim Keller’s response (and I deeply admire Tim Keller) and it dismays me.

    Jesus never watered down who He was/is or why He came or shirked from using words that in 2017 seem to scare us – sin, forgiveness, repentance etc yet He id it all in love.

    Times have certainly changed but Jesus never has. I read a great deal of Charles Spurgeon’s devotionals and past sermons – maybe we need a little more of his teaching and preaching in these dark days !



    • Steve

      Hi Paul, wonderful to hear from you! Thanks, and yes I like Keller as well. I just think there is a foundational issue in modern evangelicalism that needs to be addressed. Cheers!

  • Kevin Humphreys

    Amen Brother. One minor point. You said, “The gospel is the good news of the kingdom made possible by the presence and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Rather than “life”, the formula repeated again and again in Scripture is the deity, death, and resurrection. I am assuming by ‘life’ you mean the God-man Jesus, but thinking of the formula in terms Jesus’ deity better reflects the Biblical account and is a better semantic representation of the necessity of Jesus’ deity.

  • Micah McMeans

    I think you are missing the point. Keller is simply saying that without the resurrection, Christ’s teachings are nothing more than another ethical system. His “ethical teachings”, or the Kingdom of God is only applicable to humanity BECAUSE Jesus died for the sins of the world and reconciled us to Himself. By this, we now have the power to carry out his teachings from the sermon on the mount. Therefore, for his teaching to be applicable to one’s life, one must also believe and trust in the resurrection. Keller is simply saying the two have to go together, not that the teaching is secondary. His resurrection was more than a conformation, it was what made his entire “ethical” teachings possible.

    Also, his main message was not necessarily ethical teachings of compassion. HIs message about the Kingdom of God being at hand is a message about Man having the chance of being reunited with their creator in a personal relationship. When we enter into that relationship, we then enter into His kingdom. That is the Gospel, that is the good news. And with this new life we are also given a new heart, which then in response acts in accordance with his “ethical teachings”. The teachings of Jesus are impossible to carry out unless you have been given a new heart of complete love and selflessness. This is why the resurrection is key. Compassion, as you say, is something that stems from entering his Kingdom (the Divine relationship), which cannot be done without the resurrection.

    In Christ,

    • Steve

      Hi Micah,

      I appreciate your thoughts and it is a good description of the “evangelical” message. As a life long evangelical and long time pastor I can say though that the “evangelical message” is at best an incomplete message (i.e. focus on “personal relationship” at the expense of systemic judgment, which Christ’s crucifixion accomplished) as well as not accurately correlating belief with produced result (i.e. many non-believers produce fruit from the Sermon on the Mount and many believers fail to.)

      At the end you suggest compassion can’t be done without the resurrection? I’m not sure thats true.

      • Micah McMeans

        It is hard to put the evangelical message is such a box. Many focus too heavily on the personal relationship, while plenty of others focus to heavily on the systematic judgement. Sometimes God teaches us different aspects of our faith at different times, it is a lifelong process of understanding. At the end of the day, no one understands everything perfectly. The best we can do is focus on the essentials and be appreciative that someone such as Tim Keller for making such a positive impact in the secular world.

        I am sorry for the miscommunication at the end of my comment. I did not mean to imply that compassion can’t be done without the resurrection. I am saying that we would not be able to enter the Kingdom of God without the resurrection. (i.e. your focus on the systemic judgment). And now because of this, we have been given the power not just to have compassion, but to do the seemingly impossible things that Jesus says should be done on his sermon on the mount. Compassion is something the world has always had.

        • Steve

          Thanks Micah, As I said in earlier comments I like Tim Keller and believe he does a lot for the Kingdom of Christ. I think though guys like N.T. Wright are helping to bring a little balance to the conversation in regards to the life of Christ and the sections between the birth and crucifixion

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