Tim Keller's Non-Offensive Gospel
As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
– Galatians 1:9,10
…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
– I Thessalonians 2:4
I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is that the world has so much influence over the church.
– Charles Spurgeon
R. C. SPROUL: THE GREATEST THREAT is to try to improve the gospel; and to try to substitute something else for the Word of God. Like Luther said in his very last sermon, ‘The poorest student in the universe is God.’ Everybody wants to be his teacher. Everybody wants to educate him. Everybody wants to improve upon his work. We don’t really believe that it is in the gospel that God has invested his Word. He’s not given us a guarantee for the success of our programs or our gimmicks, or our methodologies. The only guarantee is if we are faithful and bold to proclaim the gospel, and relying upon the Spirit of God to strike that Word into people’s hearts.
Tim Keller: When I first began ministry in Manhattan, I encountered a cultural allergy to the Christian concept of sin. I found that I got the most traction with people, however, when I turned to the Bible’s extensive teaching on idolatry. Sin, I explained, is building your life’s meaning on any thing — even a very good thing — more than on God. Whatever else we build our life on will drive our passions and choices and end up enslaving us.
By Robert McCullom
The idea of ‘rebranding’ a biblical doctrine such as sin is an interesting proposition. To do this successfully would mean that the presentation is altered but the content remains the same. Is Keller’s attempt to ‘rebrand’ sin a success? The only way to decide is to see how he describes the human condition in his published works and to assess his doctrinal position in the light of Scripture…
If this statement affirming the absolute necessity of Scripture to inform our relationship with God is true, as it undoubtedly is, what is very strange is that the Bible is not called as an authority on the nature of sin as the fundamental problem of the world. If it had been, then perhaps Keller would not have been so quick to dismiss a definition of sin as a breaking of God’s rules. For that is the Bible’s own definition.
Dr. Keller on Apologetics & Evangelism
DEFINING GOSPEL, R.C. SPROUL refers to the Old Testament to understand Gospel in its most basic form. He states that “This word euangelion, which means ‘good message’ or ‘good news,’ has a rich background in the Old Testament…That is the concept of gospel in its most rudimentary sense.” (Source) But the good news of the Gospel is bad news for some. John the Baptist preached that “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” And Luke then comments that “with many other exhortations [John] preached good news to the people…” (Luke 3:17,18)
So the good news of the Gospel includes the fact that Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff, and the chaff “will burn with unquenchable fire.” Our question is this: When we share the Gospel but don’t mention sin, hell, and repentance, are we sharing Christ’s Gospel, or are we sharing our own non-offensive version of it? And if we are sharing a non-offensive gospel, is this the Gospel we are commanded to share with our fallen world? It most certainly is not Christ’s Gospel!
The following is Dr. Keller’s “brief gospel presentation.” He calls it “The attractive gospel.” Count how many times he mentions sin, hell, and our need for repentance. Is this really the Gospel?
Dr. Keller’s paper:
By Tim Keller:
Many books on reaching post-moderns today give the impression that people now need virtually no arguments at all. The “apologetic” is a loving community, or the embodiment of social concern. I couldn’t agree more that post-modern people come to Christ through process, through relationships, through mini-decisions, through “trying Christianity on.”
Kevin DeYoung: It is not the church’s responsibility to right every wrong or to meet every need, though we have biblical motivation to do some of both. It is our responsibility, however–our unique mission and plain priority–that this unpopular, impractical gospel message gets told, that neighbors and nations may know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, they may have life in his name.
J. Gresham Machen: The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life–no, all the length of human history–is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it, a treasure compared with which all the kingdom of the earth–no, all the wonders of the starry heavens–are as the dust of the street. An unpopular message it is–an impractical message, we are told but it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life.
Dr. Keller on Worship
R. C. SPROUL: One does not structure the church to meet the felt needs and desires of [unbelievers]. The purpose of corporate assembly, which has its roots in the Old Testament, is for the people of God to come together corporately to offer their sacrifices of praise and worship to God. So the first rule of worship is that it be designed for believers to worship God in a way that pleases God.
By Tim Keller:
Christians will instantly sense if a worship experience will be attractive to their non-Christian friends. They may find a particular service wonderfully edifying for them and yet know that their nonbelieving neighbors would react negatively. Therefore, a vicious circle persists. Pastors see only Christians present, so they lack incentive to make their worship comprehensible to outsiders. But since they fail to make the adaptations, Christians who are there (though perhaps edified themselves) do not think to bring their skeptical and non-Christian friends to church. They do not think they will be impressed. So no outsiders come. And so the pastors respond only to the Christian audience. And so on and on. Therefore, the best way to get Christians to bring non-Christians is to worship as if there were dozens and hundreds of skeptical onlookers. And if you worship as if, eventually they will be there in reality…A worship service that focuses too much and too often on educating Christians in the details of theology will simply bore or confuse the unbelievers present.
Tim Keller describing Redeemer worship: So no publicity, not at all hip, almost no use of technology, definitely consider it a worship service, do not do much in the way of pat answers and how-tos in the sermons but really have people wrestle with the issues but we do it in such a way that the interests and aspirations and hopes and doubts of non-Christians are constantly addressed. When a person who doesn’t believe comes they’re often surprised at how interesting, intelligible, non-offensive the thing is. So it’s relatively subtle at this point.
Sinclair Ferguson: Where there is a true, living church of Jesus Christ, its very existence challenges and subverts the culture in which it’s placed because it’s different. Where on earth did we formulate that nutty idea that if only our churches could be more like the world, and people could see that we are not really any different from them, then they would be attracted?
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The glory of the gospel is that when the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it.
Comment from the FFP “News&Views Concerning the PCA” Facebook page:
“Unfortunately the church is over-‘capitulating’ to the ‘culture’. You know it’s coming when your pastor announces from the pulpit that he has to watch his language and not mention ‘sin’, etc., so as not to make visitors uncomfortable. You pity this stand because you know this man is controlled by the local ‘group’. You can’t even explain why you are leaving because they will never understand. So, LEAVE!!!” (Verification)
By William M. Schweitzer
We have considered three basic questions concerning the doctrines of judgment and hell: who sends people to hell, who keeps them there, and who metes out the punishment in hell? The traditional and biblical answer to all three questions is God. God sends people to hell, God keeps them there, and God inflicts the punishment in hell. Keller’s teaching for postmoderns, on the other hand, gives a rather different set of answers. Man sends himself to hell, man never asks to leave hell, and man inflicts upon himself the punishment of hell.
Kevin J. Bidwell
At each point we have sought to allow Keller to speak for himself and then to evaluate the strength of his arguments accordingly. We have summarized that the ‘divine dance’ explanation of the Trinity has no biblical warrant: its appeals to perichoresis, historical theology and etymology have actually undermined Keller’s presentation, rather than upheld it. While Keller constantly affirms his intention to teach the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, the six problematic implications of the ‘divine dance’ idea have led us to conclude that this metaphor undermines the orthodox belief in the Trinity.
By Tim Challies quoting Jared Wilson:
In fact, the old ways of doing church erect unnecessary barriers between people and Jesus, barriers of religion, tradition, judgment, and intellect…the attractional church serves the end of attracting people in two ways: music and creative elements that appeal to the desired audience and teaching that is designed to be both inspirational and practical.
by Sinclair Ferguson
(Courtesy of Ligonier Ministries)
By David McWilliams quoting Colin Dunlop, Dean of Lincoln:
“To try and entice a nonbeliever by obscuring the ‘whole counsel of God’ is as fruitless as it is unprincipled… What is fashionable today will be unfashionable tomorrow; the bait that is attached to the liturgical hook in one decade will have lost its savor in the next, even if it ever had any! There is always a ‘scandal’ or stumbling block in Christian faith, and the liturgy, no less than the Creeds, cannot rid themselves of it if they are to be true to divine revelation.”
The Whole Counsel of God
by David McWilliams
(Courtesy of Ligonier Ministries)
By John MacArthur
The world considers the message of the cross to be insanity, but it is the only hope this world has. John MacArthur urges Christians not to shrink back from declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I Am Ready
by David McWilliams
Charles Spurgeon: We are told today that this is an age of progress, and therefore we must accept an improved gospel…We want no new gospel, no modern salvation…To talk of improving upon our perfect Saviour is to insult him. He is God’s propitiation; what would you more? My blood boils with indignation at the idea of improving the gospel. There is but one Saviour, and that one Saviour is the same forever. His doctrine is the same in every age, and is not yea and nay…We stand fast by the unaltered, unalterable, eternal name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
By John MacArthur
Today, Christians are told that if you can make sinners comfortable, they’ll be more open to the gospel. If you can convince them that the Bible’s message poses no threat to their way of life, perhaps they’ll believe. Remove the offense of the gospel, and maybe they’ll accept it—and you. This dangerous nonsense isn’t new. Charles Spurgeon battled the same pragmatic philosophy more than a century ago, faithfully arguing that the Word of God alone is sufficient to penetrate sin-hardened hearts.
By William H. Schweitzer, ed.
“Dr Keller is committed to a culturally-contextualized version of the Christian faith designed to attract urban intellectuals. He frankly acknowledges that he has, at least in the cases of the doctrines of creation, sin and hell, come to an alternative rendering with the objective of making it less offensive. On one hand, this strategy in the hands of such a highly gifted man means that his writings have become among the most popular and influential in Christendom. On the other hand, the resulting teaching in his writings is predictably at variance with Scripture on a number of important points.
This being the case, the need for this book unfortunately remains. The contributors of this book do not relish this kind of work and would much prefer to devote ourselves to purely positive pursuits. Nonetheless, the need to clarify the truth for Christ’s flock is unequivocal and so we have been urged to publish this second edition. It is my hope that there will be no need for a third edition. Rather, I pray that Dr Keller would retract the aspects of his teaching that are identified in the chapters of this book. This would be best for the church and best for his legacy.
Finally, in this age of growing divergence between progressive and conservative schools within Reformed denominations, please join with me in praying for the unity of the church—a unity based on our common Head and his eternal truth. ‘…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4:13).” – William M. Schweitzer, ed.
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
– Mark 8:38
Every attempt to render the gospel more acceptable to men, by softening down any of its offensive doctrines, is itself an act of conformity to the world in the very worst form.
– William Rushton, Jr
Much of today’s leadership in the church may be well intentioned, but is doomed to failure. Why? Because it is leadership that has descended into cultural accommodation propelled by the desire for the culture’s affirmation.
– Harry Reeder
Please note that by offering these observations and recommendations, the Firm Foundation Partnership is not assigning motive. We are asserting, however, that Dr. Keller has taught and promoted error that has undermined the worship, edification, and witness of the Presbyterian Church in America.
For simplicity of presentation, we have not provided citations on this page.
However, if you would like that information, you may request it here.