by Mark Tooley
Popular preacher and author Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan addressed a “Q” event for evangelicals in New York this morning. He spoke of how Christians can proclaim the Gospel in post modernity when moral absolutes are commonly rejected. Modernity morally castrated men and then bid them to be fruitful, Keller recalled C.S. Lewis saying. Post modernity is even more problematic. But Christianity gives moral compass that goes beyond what is merely legal, which many confused post moderns need and sometimes welcome.
“Secularism makes people selfish,” Keller observed. Faith gives inner ballast that protects from ups and downs, an often welcomed message people to professionals who define themselves by their work, he said. A materialistic culture minimizes non professional work, while Christian theology gives appreciation for and recognizes dignity in all kinds of honest work.
Keller speculated that if only 10 percent of Christians seriously applied their faith in their work and living, the culturally transformative effect would be enormous. A renewed culture would alter social application of and views about power, wealth, sex and civility. Key to the church’s success and impact is showing racial and ethnic diversity, he said, noting his congregation is about half Asian. Pentecostals are “way ahead of everybody else” in multiracial congregations,” he noted.
Although Keller’s church includes many in big business and high finance, he “tries very hard not to be too boosterish about capitalism.” Adam Smith almost deified the market with faith in the “invisible hand,” he regretted. “I don’t lionize or demonize the market,” he said, calling for critical thinking about economics.
Keller called James Davison Hunter’s recent book “To Change the World,” the best critique of Stanley Hauerwas and the Anabaptist ultra counter culture stance towards society. He noted that Hauerwas himself had written Hunter citing his work as the most effective critique. Keller also echoed Hunter in recognizing the “tremendous intellectual firepower” of the New Monasticism.
“We’re not doing well on the sex side,” Keller admitted of the church’s attempt to model and teach a Christian ethic. “We’re just like the rest of the city,” he said of his church. “If I preach like that [on sexual ethics], everybody gets real quiet. Not sure how you create community like that.”
Keller commended Christianity as the “one non totalizing meta narrative.” Unlike Islam and other systems, it offers an “absolute principle of truth that doesn’t oppress.” It is the “only religion that says God gave up power.” And it commands a life about service not power. He also cited Christianity as the only “truly universal and culturally diverse faith.” He warned that without a meta narrative like Christianity “there is no basis for opposing injustice,” as “you can’t have ethics without beliefs.” The “idea of human rights is based on the image of God,” Keller observed, and many secular appeals for rights and reforms are unknowing “plagiarism” of Christianity.
Postmodernism is reaching a dead end and is in trouble, Keller surmised. Citing marriage debates, he noted many gays think secularism is best for their cause. But he urged them to consider that stigmatizing and attempting to silence all traditionalists would replicate what happened to gays decades ago. And he noted that same sex marriage absolutists unreasonably expect traditional religious believers to reject core teachings of their faith. He lamented that “good arguments are being shouted down” in the public square in defense of traditional marriage. Keller urged Christians to show “no disdain” for anybody while both modeling and arguing for a Christian ethic.
“Religion is not dying out, white people are dying out,” Keller bemusedly observed, noting Christianity’s continued growth globally.