Even Tim Keller Can Be Wrong

1+1=3 written on a black chalkboard

Tim Keller wrote a widely distributed article titled “A Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory. Here’s a link: https://quarterly.gospelinlife.com/a-biblical-critique-of-secular-justice-and-critical-theory/.

A fellow pastor messaged me about the article, recommending it in glowing terms. The initial reaction I shared with him included these thoughts:

Tim Keller is brilliant and an exceptionally gifted wordsmith. His intellect and talent are far superior to most (including mine). And yet one quick read through his article exposes some of his most important assertions to be flat out wrong.

He writes: “Others have a claim on my wealth, so I must give voluntarily.” This is not only wrong, it is incoherent. Others (who are not God) do not have a claim on my wealth. This is why stealing is a sin. And if others did have a claim on my wealth, I would not need to give voluntarily, but rather would need to give what is owed… giving others their due.

This is not charity, this is paying an invoice.

Keller writes, “Leviticus 19:13 and Deuteronomy 24:14-15 speak of unfair wages.” They do not. They speak about delaying or holding back wages. This is shocking eisegesis from a biblical scholar. Shocking because it’s so obvious and provably incorrect.

Keller writes, “God holds whole families responsible for the sin of one member.” Indeed. God does. People do not. The justice questions he’s tackling in the article are addressing what people should do, not what God does.

Keller writes, “Socially institutionalized ways of life become weighted in favor of the powerful and oppressive over those with less power. Examples include criminal justice systems (Leviticus 19:15).” Leviticus 19:15 doesn’t say this. In fact, it argues against what Keller claims. This verse teaches that partiality can be sinfully shown to the powerful AND the poor.

Keller writes that James 5:4 is about “unfairly low” wages. No, it’s not. James 5:4 is about withholding the payment of wages.

Keller assumes the validly of two leftist talking points when he writes, “In the feminists vs. transgender debate, who wins and on what basis? Loudest voice, most money?”

Keller overstates the view of Critical Theory when he writes, “Postmodern critical theory argues: First, the explanation of all unequal outcomes in wealth, well-being, and power is never due to individual actions or to differences in cultures or to differences in human abilities, but only and strictly due to unjust social structures and systems.” Phrasing things in such absolute terms actually builds a straw man, and Critical Theory adherents can deny their love affair with Critical Theory by simply saying, “I haven’t said ‘all’ or ‘never’ or ‘only’ or ‘strictly’. So, you can’t call me a critical theorist.” In other words, very few proponents of Critical Theory (particularly those who have embraced it out of some measure of ignorance) would accept Keller’s definition. I wonder if Keller possibly did this on purpose. He’s really smart and very careful regarding what he says and how he says it. So, while I’m not formally accusing him, I am keeping my eyes open.

Keller does say some good things. Of course. But on the whole, this article is unhelpful. By the way, we must grapple with Ezekiel 18:19-20. Also, bearing other’s burdens and supporting a widowed mother are not matters of dealing with sin.

Part of my pastor friend’s reply was to agree with many of my distinctions, particularly seeing that it is God Who has a claim on his wealth and that his charity is a response to His priorities as he stewards His resources. He even joked at one point that if he understood my argument better, then he was sure he would agree… ha! But seriously, he acknowledged that God’s Word warns against things differently than does Keller, and that these are very important distinctions to be made. My friend even tossed me a bone a few times, saying “You are right again. Very important! Noted. Your concerns take things to a new level.”

He pushed back in some areas, saying that the Bible verses quoted speak of unjust wage practices concerning when those wages are given. Also saying that he wasn’t sure he understood my argument in all places and that he was choosing to simply ignore some of the concerns. He added that in his experience families should be held accountable for the sins of one member. Adding, “If a son/daughter sins, the parents should be held accountable. If my brother sins, after he is an adult, he alone should pay, not the family. If my wife sins, I am responsible at times as a financial partner. Certainly, sins affect whole families and not just the sinning individual. However, what should be done? There are times when it is right for me to bear my brother/parents burdens and other times when I should not. For example, a widowed mother should be my responsibility before the church’s.”
And he added a defense of Keller saying, “I don’t believe he anywhere comes close to being transgender positive. Though he might be egalitarian not complementarian, I believe he has spoken critically of feminism per se’.”

All in all, I’d say my friend is a work in progress. Aren’t we all?

-Pastor Troy Skinner