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: Biblical Critique of Secular Justice and Critical Theory.

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


Wealth, Wages, and Ways of Life

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.


Straw-Manning Critical Theory

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.


Others Coming to Keller’s Defense

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?



The blog above was originally published on the original version of this website.  Since then the site has been completely reformatted and upgraded. With this change, the blogs needed to be re-uploaded to correct corruptions that occurred with the transition. While doing this, some additional information is added at the conclusion of these early blogs in a “postscript” section that did not appear in the first draft that was published on the first website. Think of the new content as “bonus material”.


Response to News Articles

The headline reads, “People Are Dying Here” as Indian Health Service facilities have been sanctioned for dangerous, faulty care.  Will people fearful of government-run healthcare ever change their view as long as this is what government-run healthcare looks like?

Responses to this (12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church) impassioned article, one point at a time.

Point 1. Just because some don’t like what church leaders have to say after they listen, this doesn’t mean the leaders aren’t listening. Many church leaders do, in fact, listen.

Point 2. It’s true that our true Leader, Jesus Christ, has given His church their values and mission statement.

Point 3. There is nothing, absolutely nothing at all, that stops Christians from serving the poor. Waiting for church leadership to organize a program for this is merely a cop out.

Point 4. Too often the church in America confuses and conflates the Christian church with a Christian society. So, this article offers a fair critique.

Point 5. Similar to point 3, individual Christians can and should do the work of connecting with others. Church leadership can teach this and model this, but they cannot accomplish this unilaterally.

Point 6. Financial transparency is super important, but one must wonder what churches are in view within this article. The churches to which I’ve belonged as a member over the years have always been public about their finances.


The Final Half-Dozen of the Dozen

Point 7. No one likes being “preached at”, but let’s not dismiss the value of being “preached to”. Relationship is of great importance, for sure. But having church leaders who “create a database” and “ask people to be intentional” will not solve the problem. As the well worn phrase says, horses led to water cannot be made to drink.

Point 8. People need to know that they are LOVED. To say what this article says comes dangerously close to denying the Gospel. None of us is ENOUGH, which is why we need Jesus Christ. He is enough. And He expects obedience as the evidence that we love Him back.

Point 9. The solution offered in this article is basically to create four church programs. As was mentioned for points 3 and 5, why can’t any and all Christians start up these sorts of programs without using the excuse of waiting on church leadership?

Point 10. The article is again waiting on church leadership to do what individual Christians can and should be doing.

Point 11. It’s not just the “millennials” who need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All age groups have this need. The tone of what’s said in this article seems to potentially undercut the unity that believers have due to their union in Christ.

Point 12. “Playing church” is of no use to anyone. This issue isn’t unique to only the twenty-something person. Can church leadership do better? Of course. Can older generations reach out to younger generations better? Yes. But the younger generation can do a better job of this, as well. Correct?


Final Word Goes To a Friend

A dear friend added that her personal “favorite” part of the article was: “the use of a quote from Bill Clinton; obviously someone at the top of my list for moral and spiritual guidance.” She added:

“My biggest issue with the Millennial generation is that rather than creating their own opportunities, they expect everyone else to do the work so they can just show up and “participate”. They turned everything, even serving their church and community, into something they expect others to get all set up and organized. You wanted to raise money? Organize a bake sale, find a place to hold it, bake the items, package and price them all, set up the table and chairs, and manage the money from the actual sale. Too often the Millennial generation has become one of “this is what YOU should be doing to make things better” instead of “this is what I’M doing to makes things better”. Helping and serving is what we’re all to do. If the reason given for “losing faith in the church” is that they don’t have adequate community outreach, then when sitting in one of those 90 minute meetings that you zone out during, how about suggesting you’d like to organize the effort? Do this and your church would have exactly what you’re looking for.”


Many blessings to you,

Pastor Troy Skinner