A Response to Tim Keller on "Demonizing Language"
Dear Pastor Keller,
I’ve been a longtime admirer of you and your work. Counterfeit Gods was an extremely influential book for me as a young Christian, and I listened to most of your sermons dozens of times when I was in graduate school. In an environment where Christians were regularly derided as immoral, stupid, or repressed, I found so much comfort and inspiration in your intellectual approach to the Christian faith and understanding the Bible.
My admiration for you remains very strong, but I’ve been noticing a troubling pattern in the way that you are currently speaking about cultural issues, particularly when it comes to notions of “justice” and political discourse. It seems clear to most people who follow your work closely that you are sympathetic to - and even influenced by - left-leaning narratives when it comes to these subjects, and that is concerning for multiple reasons. Others like Neil Shenvi and AD Robles have been contending with some of your more controversial assertions about race, equality, and “corporate sin,” so I won’t get into that here, though I do encourage others to consider their arguments.
What I want to address today is your recent Facebook post about Christians “speaking of their opponents in demonizing and dehumanizing ways.” The reason this is of significant interest to me is because I’m the editor of an online platform called Staseos where we regularly publish sharp criticism relating to culture, politics, and the Church from a Christian point of view, and we do it without the many qualifiers and distortions that progressive Christians insist are necessary in 2020.
We also frequently "demonize" secular progressivism because it is the strongest demonic force at work in our society today. Perhaps we could use gentler language if there was more discernment in the Church and widespread condemnation of evil, but that’s not the case. Now is the time to speak up in a way that will be heard and heeded.
To give our case as an example, as Staseos we do not write what we write critically about others because we feel that we do not deserve God’s condemnation. Both I and my co-editor are acutely aware of our sin natures and what a staggering gift it is that Jesus Christ saved us from Hell. The reality of that life-saving gift is what compels us to share it boldly, urgently, and without apology.
I’d like to raise a few points for your consideration. The first is that strongly condemning evil—something that Christians are called to do throughout the scriptures—is not the same thing as elevating one's own moral status. St. Paul, who you quoted, clearly has a low view of his moral status in Romans 7 - but Paul also said some very harsh things about those who reject or distort the gospel, including that he wished they would castrate themselves. Jesus, likewise, had many things to say that progressive Christians would find “demonizing” or “dehumanizing” if they actually took the time to consider all of His statements instead of just the ones they like. For an example, in Matthew 22 He insults to the cosmopolitan, culturally-conscious Sadducees and their Greek-influenced skepticism of the Resurrection.
You also reference “historic Christians” as evidence to your point, but I think your view of history is too near-sighted and perhaps influenced by “chronological snobbery,” as C.S. Lewis put it. Prior to the last 150 years or so, Christian leaders often used bold, strong, and offensive language when dealing with those who opposed Christ and the Church. Do progressive Christians truly believe that they understand humility and effective ministry practices more fully than leaders like Ambrose of Milan and Gregory VII? If so, that would not be a particularly humble point of view.
Lastly, I think your assessment is too vague to be particularly helpful, but one part is just plainly false. You say, in your final sentence, that “our social fabric is tearing apart…because of mutual increasing demonizations ON BOTH SIDES.”
You are describing a symptom rather than the cause. Our social fabric is being torn because people love evil and hate good - and too many Christians are more concerned about offending sinners than they are concerned about saving them from their sin. For decades, American evangelicals have chosen a non-confrontational, counterfeit “love” over
hard truths. It is no coincidence that modern Americans struggle so much with self-discipline, humble submission, and restraint. The Church has done the culture no favors with endless concessions and compromises. We have seen that fleeting feelings of warmth and winsomeness are clearly not enough. People need an anchor in this sin-soaked world, and that anchor is the Truth in all its uncompromising glory.
One side of the church—the “conservative” side—is riddled with numerous imperfections, but, unlike its liberal counterpart, it has not abandoned its adherence to Christian ethics in favor of more popular, cosmopolitan trends that dominate our cultural institutions. It is for that reason that conservative Christians have been subject to every form of vile slander. It is also for that reason that people who hold orthodox Christian beliefs about sexuality or the unborn or the sin of partiality experience a real risk of their reputations and livelihoods when they don’t bow down to the secular gods of Planned Parenthood or Black Lives Matter. The same simply cannot be said for the other "side."
Rather than call for more quietness or niceness, my encouragement to those currently being dehumanized in nearly every media outlet, academic institution, and art form because of their faith is this: Press on with your eyes on Christ. Speak the truth, especially to those within the Church who are trying to meld the Christian identity with a progressive worldview. Anyone with the most basic Bible literacy understands that they are not compatible, and those people are in danger.
My encouragement to you, Pastor Keller, is to speak up with more sharpness and specificity. No one becomes a sincere Christian without first realizing they are a grievous sinner. No one realizes they are a grievous sinner until they understand that they are participating in real, objective evil towards God and their neighbors. No one realizes the consequences of their evil actions until they are boldly confronted with the truth. You can and should provide clarity where is this confusion and deflection. You are equipped. Many people will reject you and slander you for it, but I think many more will listen.
You have done many great things for Christians in the twenty-first century, but please do not encourage them to shrink back now. The American Church had done that for far too long, and it’s time for her to rise up.