Not (exactly) Another Keller-Gets-Snubbed by PTS Post

If you didn’t know, just this past week, Princeton Theological Seminary was about to give their Kuyper Award to Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s pastor, Tim Keller. But after a large outcry from students and alumni, they rescinded the offer1.

The main issue, according to PTS president Craig Barnes, is that the Princeton community didn’t want to be seen as endorsing Keller’s conservative views on women’s ordination and the LGBTQ.

As others have already pointed out, the problem is that if a potential recipient’s position on those issues needs to align with the views of the seminary in order to be eligible to receive such an award, Kuyper himself as well as a sizable portion of their own student body would be excluded from ever receiving the award.

But here’s something that caught my attention about this whole incident.

Just 7 years ago, in 2010, PTS awarded the Kuyper prize to former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks without much, if any, blowback.  Sacks is an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi who does not endorse gay marriage2 or having women as Rabbis3.

The question then is why did he not receive the same treatment?  

What Changed between 2010 and now?

Now, let me say upfront that I don’t think that PTS is being hypocritical.

Instead, I think what happened was that two very different systems of morality arose sometime during that period in Neo-Evangelicalism. One is conservative/traditional and the other is more progressive/left leaning.

Now, conservatives and what we now call progressives have been clashing over values since way before 2010. What’s changed is that the moralities these two groups espouse aren’t just different systems of ethics; they now function so as to be mutually exclusive of each other.

In other words, both groups now have systems of morality that anathematizes the other as immoral. And like sharks and dolphins, they no longer can tolerate the other in their territory.

Where am I getting this idea?

Jonathan Haidt is a research psychologist at the University of Virginia whose specialty is morality and moral systems. He was also a former speechwriter for former President Bill Clinton during his 1993 campaign4.  

In 2008, he wrote a widely circulated article called “What Makes People Vote Republican?”5.

The issue was that Democrats were having a hard time reasoning with their Republican counterparts. Haidt basically argued, it’s because Democrats have a different set of values that colors their ability to understand Republicans.

Haidt defines morality as a system of values that limits destructive selfishness so that people can peaceably live in groups.He then takes moral systems from all over the world and reduces them into 6 categories:

  • Harm/care. It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.
  • Fairness/reciprocity. Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.
  • In-group loyalty. People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.
  • Authority/respect. People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.
  • Purity/sanctity. The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.

How Does This Apply?

Most (socio/political) liberals value the first two categories but tend to dismiss the last three. But conservatives comparatively value the last three very highly.

So if a conservative is anti gay marriage, the reason he or she is against it is because of the moral category of purity/sanctity. Certain life-promoting institutions are sacred. Society (the group or tribe) needs them to function well and therefore they need to be protected from being warped so as to be rendered unable to be useful.

For Conservatives, morality is maintained by the group for the group. This is why institutions are so important to them. But for Liberals, morality relies more in individual growth and choice. It’s also more about avoiding harm and promoting care in a fair and just way.

If this is really how liberals think about morality, it makes sense why they would believe that the only way someone could be against gay marriage is if they were homophobic.

Now, when Haidt wrote this article and later a book with the same topic, he was talking about socio-political liberals.

But today, the socio-political spectrum and the religious spectrum are thought to overlap more than at any other time in American history.  To be a conservative in many people’s mind is to be both socio-politically and religiously conservative. More and more this seems to be the case on the other side as well.

And this conflict, whether people realized it or not, played a large part in what happened to Keller at PTS.

Are We Headed Towards Schism?

If what I am saying is true, than what we are witnessing is a march towards schism. And I cannot stress enough how bad this is.

My old systematics professor Richard Gaffin wrote a book on Paul and the Ordo Salutis called “By Faith, Not by Sight”. In it, he says this:

“ matter how close justification is to the heart of Paul’s gospel, in our salvation there is an antecedent consideration, a reality that is deeper, more fundamental, more decisive, more crucial: Christ and our union with him, the crucified and resurrected, the exalted, Christ. Union with Christ by faith—that is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.”6

What Gaffin was saying was that while the doctrine of justification is really important in Paul’s gospel, there actually is a more important issue. The heart of the gospel isn’t merely us being justified; it’s that we are permanently united to Christ by faith.

This is the reason why unity is so important to Paul. In 1 Corinthians, we are called to used the greatest gift (love) so that we can be unified. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer asks that we may be one as the Father and Son are One.

If the gospel’s effect in our lives could be broken down to a deeper, more fundamental, more decisive, more crucial element, it would be unity–with Christ and subsequently with each other.

I think this is what inspired New Testament scholar, NT Wright to say something similar.

In 2010, Wright was at a conference at Wheaton College. In the Q&A time, he was asked under what circumstances separation and/or schism were justified.

After a few quips by the moderator and some laughs from the audience, Wright, in his most serious and sobering tone answered, “Nothing justifies schism.”

The whole audience went dead silent. It was as if everyone understood the gravity and reality of his words, as well has how short we’ve all fallen in that area.

I bring it up now because I’m worried.

I’m worried that there are too many people on both sides who don’t seem to hold unity as a fundamental Christian value.

I’m worried that both of our morality systems don’t make enough bones about why unity is important to fight for.

In Closing

When this PTS incident first happened, I posted about it on my Facebook page. Shortly after it went up, a PTS graduate wrote the following response:

“Just for consideration, the freedom of Rev. Keller to be invited and to speak on campus was not the divisive matter (for most) – it was the awarding of a large financial prize.

To the credit of my student and alum friends, there has not been a plan to in any way disrupt his lecture. There has only been efforts to allow people to speak their truth as well – and encouragement for people to attend both a preaching engagement with women and LGBTQ+ voices AND Rev. Keller’s lecture.

And to Rev. Keller’s credit, he has been quite gracious in agreeing to still lecture on campus as scheduled.

Speaking for myself – as a woman called to preach and an alum of PTS – the freedom of speech and scholarship will always be more important than those things which divide us.” –Geneva Rae McAuley, PTS class of 2016

And there it was…a message for both sides that in retrospect, neither side would be happy with but needed to hear. My friend Geneva is a woman who is called to preach. But she understood that division is to be avoided. It’s a message that should be preached from every pulpit in America, conservative or progressive.

  6. Gaffin Jr., Richard B. (2013-11-01). By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation (p. 49). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Joe Kim

Joe Kim is the English Ministry pastor at Emmaus Ministries in Bayside, NY. He was born and raised in Levittown, Pa. He has a BA in Music from Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia and an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is married to Emii and has a daughter Norah. Joe has been in ministry to various age groups since 2001. He enjoys reading, playing the guitar, eating, sleeping and breathing…in that order.

7 thoughts on “Not (exactly) Another Keller-Gets-Snubbed by PTS Post

  • March 29, 2017 at 8:07 am

    I will assume that you agree we are to divide from so called Christian denominations that preach a different gospel. For example, the prosperity or health and wealth gospel. If we continue to allow those who claim to be Christians to water down the gospel, how will we ever be able to truly teach and preach the gospel once for all delivered to the saints? Case in point, your friend is not called to preach. She must have called herself. So, yes we will divide over Biblical truth. The new age, Christian lite, fluffy, all inclusive gospel is false religion. We have to be brave enough to say it.

    • March 29, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Hi Lisa. Thank you for getting the conversation started. I wholeheartedly agree that the gospel is and should be a nonnegotiable thing. And there are essential things that we cannot compromise on. But when Neo-Evangelicalism started, it was built on the idea that some things are simply not gospel issues. Baptism, for example is a hotly contested thing even to this day. But in Evangelicalism, we have decided that while it still is hugely important, it is not an essential thing and thus should not be something that divides us. In my experience, the problem started about 10 years ago when (at least in conservative Reformed circles), things that were not considered essential before, were now being raised to essential status. Before you knew it, EVERYTHING was considered essential, and a weird militancy that was not there before, rose to enforce adherence. Now I really am glad that you commented, and I don’t want to give you a hard time. But the case you brought up is Women being called to preach. I will defend your right to believe that, even tho I don’t agree. I understand the argument and won’t seek to change your mind here. But this is NOT an essential thing. It has no bearing on one’s salvation or orthodoxy. But for some reason, in many conservative circles, it has risen to the level of essential and is treated (in practice, if not in theology) as grounds for anathema. Either that, or its treated as a moral transgression, and worthy of demonization. This is not something to divide over. It is not the same as heresy. And in this post, I am asking ppl of all sides and persuasions to consider prioritizing unity over dividing over non essential theological differences. I’m hoping you agree. Please let me know what you think.

  • Pingback:The Early Bird Gets The Link – Intersections

  • Pingback:Princeton Theological Seminary is “Unworthy” of its traditions, says Kuyper Conference alumni › A Journey through NYC religions

  • April 8, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Hey Joe,
    I appreciate the thoughtful post and there are definitely a lot of great things mentioned that I appreciate and I agree that schism is something truly to be feared.

    Two things I’d like to pick your brain about.
    With regards to your previous response, you mentioned in a sense that to make everything non-negotiable is kind of militant, do you think that may be a little strong? Certainly, there are people who will disagree with everyone too much about everything. But there are lots of people who are able to see the logical reasoning behind certain positions. If certain logical conclusions were made, it has implications for other things. Sometimes we may not see it, but others can.

    Second, are there really no reasons for schism? I don’t believe that schism is a good thing and I agree that sometimes we go for the nuclear option too quickly. But I believe that Scripture itself does give some clarity with regards to what things are “debatable” vs. what things are not. There are times and concrete cases in Scripture when church discipline is called for. There are also times where Jesus himself warns the church he will remove their lampstand unless there is repentance. Unity itself is not necessarily an ultimate good. There are forms of godly unity and ungodly unity. I’m not sure unity for unity’s sake is the answer. Dialogue certainly. Courtesy and respect without a doubt. But for the sake of truth, fellowship, the gospel and God’s glory, I would say there are times when schism is necessary when great things are at stake. I generally agree with you, but I’m wondering if there could be more nuance.

    • April 8, 2017 at 1:06 pm

      Hi Jeff. Thank you for that comment. Both of the points you bring up are important and highly relevant for today.

      On your first point, I don’t think I’m being too strong or “over the top”. As I explained before, the Neo-Evangelical movement was founded in part on the idea of “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”. The idea is that there are somethings that are essential and there are somethings that tho important, are not essential (for salvation). The 2 examples I brought up in the last response was Baptism and Women’s ordination. Many, if not most consider those things HIGHLY important. With Baptism, at least for Baptists, its CRUCIAL to ecclesial or denominational identity. But even then, for the purposes of unity, its not essential. This is not to say that people cannot have strong convictions or impeccable reasoning on those topics. This is also not to say that within the umbrella of Evangelicalism, individuals or even whole churches or even denominations cannot remain Baptist or a complimentarian. Of course they can. Instead, what I am saying is that these things are not more important than Christian unity. The problem I was bringing up before was that in many reformed circles, the line between essentials vs non essentials is disappearing. An essential is something so important that we need to fight for it, because the gospel and/or the faith itself is at stake. Those things include the Trinity and Christology. They do not, or at least previously did not include mode of Baptism or the timing of Jesus’ return. I have very strong opinions on both of those things and am always ready to defend my convictions vociferously. But they are not essentials. We need to give charity to those we disagree with on those kinds of issues. That was my point. And its something that sadly, I see less and less of from all sides everyday.

      Btw, if you want a list of what I consider essentials, I am a TE in the EPC. Here is our list:

      On the 2nd point, I will grant that the way I mean it is (ever so slightly) hyperbole. But I meant it hyperbolistically the same way that I mean it when I say that murder is NEVER OK. So when ppl hem and haw over whether Bonhoeffer was justified in trying to assassinate Hitler, I can show him a little charity, if not empathy without having to wonder if I’m being inconsistent with my stance on murder. We can separate/divorce over essential issues. But that wasn’t my main point. What I’m trying to allude to is that somewhere along the line, we started to value unity less and less. In the hearts and practices of far too many it has seemingly become not as essential, so much so that non essential things become reasons to schism or anathematize.

      I must admit tho, that it does bother me a bit when you say “unity itself is not an ultimate good”. If by that you mean that unity above everything else, including fealty to God, of course I agree with you. In fact, I’m guessing that is most likely what you meant. But what I’m concerned about is the many many professing Christians who don’t see that salvation only happened because of our unity in Christ. And that unity must then lead to a unity on earth. And that whole enterprise of unity really is an ultimate good, i.e. a good that truly Glorifies God and allows us to enjoy Him forever. Accordingly then, it is a grave sin if we use 2ndary issues to judge whether or not people are in fact “worthy” of being unified with. Please let me know what you think.

  • April 26, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Hey Joe,
    I appreciate the time and effort for the reply. Your explanation definitely clarifies where you’re coming from. I’m in agreement with you on the tone and the interaction that we should have with those we disagree.

    I suppose much of the differences of perspective is that I hang out with different circles and different contexts. Many of the people I hang out with are not the type who would have agreement over secondary and primary issues. I appreciate your mentioning the area of women’s ordination and baptism. I’m in agreement with charity in those areas. I also appreciate the list- if people agree on the list, it does make things easier.

    My hesitation for a full jump into unity comes more from two areas:
    If there is disagreement over the list that can make things more complicated. There have been moves in many denominations to ordain openly practicing homosexuals into the pastorate (which was one of the issues raised at PTS). Many are already saying that this issue is like women’s ordination.

    Additionally, I know many lay people who feel passionately about unity, but it can be an excuse not to go deeper in understanding the deep truths of the gospel. The conversation just ends because well- “there’s different views”. Jesus becomes a wax nose that conforms to whatever we like.

    What I meant about unity as not being the end all be all, is to push against the idea of unity at the expense of Biblical truth (as you rightly assessed and I don’t think you’re saying). I also appreciate pointing out our unity with Christ as the source of our own unity and pointing out that there should be some physical manifestation of this unity. I suppose the disagreement could be that we hang out in different circles? I’m coming from the other side of things with my relations- I have been in situations where there is unity without a centrality in Christ.

    Thanks again for responding. I really enjoyed your post and response. Blessings!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.