Tim Keller gave a lecture at the Faith Angle Forum on “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right” last year that I only just managed to get a transcript of recently (HT: Andrew Fulford). While I’d encourage you to go read the whole thing, I thought I’d just pull some clutch observations on various subjects to whet your appetite. Just a note, when Keller speaks, he admits it’s all tentative and that he’s mostly talking about white Protestants, except when he explicitly addresses other demographics. So, take that into account.
3 Trends in the Future of American Protestantism:
One is that conservative Protestant Christianity is going to be growing moderately in numbers and greatly in cultural diversity and racial diversity in a fragmented culture. Secondly, conservative Protestant Christianity is going to become consciously outside the box politically, but not consciously outside the box theologically. And, thirdly, it is going to get both more and less culturally influential simultaneously, with the end result in doubt.
On the loss of the Religious Umbrella:
It used to be that the devout and the mushy middle — nominal Christians, people that would identify as Christians, people who would come to church sporadically, people who certainly respect the Bible and Christianity — the devout and the mushy middle together was a super majority of people who just created a kind of “Christian-y” sort of culture.
Luis is right in saying lots and lots of unaffiliated people are not atheists or agnostics. But what has happened is that the mushy middle used to be more identified with the devout. Now it’s more identified with the secular. That’s all.
So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth…What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force, that was just never there. It was very tiny. And that’s because the middle ground has shifted, so it is more identified with the more secular, the less religious, and it’s less identified now with the more devout.
On White Religion v. Global Growth:
First of all, as we have already seen, it is mainly white people who are getting more secular in the world. White people. Just keep that in mind, since most of you are. And there is a tendency…for us to think it is just impossible to overcome this practically. That we are reality, and because so many of our people are getting more and more secular and unaffiliated, and so forth; this is the way the world is going. It’s just not true. I understand that by 2050 maybe only 30 percent of the world will be white, something like that. So white people are definitely getting more secular, but they are not the majority of the world.
…There has been an enormous influx, and now almost certainly out of the eight million New Yorkers, 10 percent are Pentecostal Christians. My son is an urban planner, works for the city of New York. He says when you go to Manhattan community boards, they are very secular. But if you go out into the Bronx and Queens and Brooklyn, places like that, he says community boards…he says, “They are opened and closed in prayer,” especially in the Bronx, because it is all led by black and Latino Pentecostal ministers. They are the community leaders.
On seeking the Good Without Assimilating:
There is a huge movement inside conservative Protestantism right now to say, “The best thing you can possibly do with your faith is just go get a job and be a thoughtful, non-triumphalistic, but also non-assimilated Christian in the major cultural industries.”
Did you hear that? It’s a very powerful movement that says the best thing you can do is not try to take over the country. After all, we’re not supposed to be a Christian nation. All right? “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” We don’t do that. We’re a pluralistic nation.
On the other hand, we don’t want to just assimilate. The Bible gives us views of human nature and human thriving and human good and the purpose of life that are very different than the secular. So go out there and get involved and be very thoughtful Christians in your job. Serve other people, but do it on the basis of what your own understandings are, your own moral intuitions are, and integrate your faith with your work, and in a non-triumphalistic way, but a non-assimilations way, get out there.
On Preaching to Connect with Cultural Narratives:
As I have already said, you have to connect to baseline cultural narratives. You have to say that Christianity is better than secularism at dealing with cultural difference. I’ll give you an example of that. It is better at making sense out of suffering. It is better at actually giving you a basis for human rights and justice.
You have to learn to go inside and say these are things you want. Charles Taylor’s great book Secular Age says secularism actually doesn’t have the intellectual resources to support many of its own commitments.
You’ve got to learn how to say that in more accessible language. And if you learn how to reason and not just say, “Jesus will make you happy,” but, on the other hand, not just beat on people from the outside but come inside their own beliefs, find their own cultural narratives and say, “Look, Christianity can…” — your life narrative will only have a happy ending in Jesus. And whatever your narrative is, there is no happy ending except in Jesus.
There is a way of doing that, and a lot of churches don’t know how to do it. I think if they do do that they are going to get a lot of traction. Secondly, you’ve got to pull off creating real communities that at least take seriously the fact that people are individualists.
Part of Answer on Louie Giglio and Bigotry (find it to see the full context):
DR. KELLER: To the Louie Giglio thing. I don’t know, other than to say one of the dictionary definitions of bigotry, one of them, is lack of respect for or an effort to silence contrary opinion.
Now, I know that the comeback is that, “We don’t let white supremacists have equal say in the public square. We won’t put you in prison for believing in white supremacy, but you are not going to have a license for your radio station, you’re not going to get an accreditation for your school. And we need to treat the view that homosexuality is a sin exactly the same way. It doesn’t deserve respect. It should be silenced.” That’s one view.
And that is the view I think that was represented by the people that said you can’t have anybody in the public square representing God and representing the faithful at a situation like this if you have a view that there is something wrong with homosexuality.
The only comeback would be Jonathan Rauch’s approach, which is to say if it’s really true — I doubt it, I personally don’t believe it at all — but if it’s really true that orthodox religion –…He says if orthodox faith does morph to the place where people still have that high view of the text, they are still people “of the Book”, and we have completely embraced the idea of homosexuality as one way of loving and marriage, if that does happen, it will take a long time, a very long time. Not the sort of thing that could happen in 20 years or 50 years, in which case we need to learn to live together. We really have got to be civil to each other on the way.
We can’t do what we did in the civil rights movement, which is basically shame the one group out of the public sphere. Don’t do that or you are going to find it is not going to work. It is going to create terrific civil strife because that 30 percent of devout people is a big number of people. Not enough to win an election, but you certainly can’t just marginalize them and say you are beyond the pale. You’ve got to show respect. They have to show respect, too.
So I would just plead for civility and say to Christians, because of what Miroslav Volf says about Christian identity — it is not based on difference, at least it shouldn’t be, it doesn’t have to be — therefore, in some ways, we should be the peacemakers. We should be the people who are the least threatened. We should be the people who are most willing to say, “Let’s talk” and be civil and the most gracious. And we should at least try to take the lead in that. We may not be listened to. So there are some ideas.
On the Decline of the Mainline:
By the way, mainline churches, for example, just don’t start new churches. And part of the problem — Lyle Schaller, who was kind of a church consultant pundit, said years ago because mainline churches flooded the country, so that almost every square inch was part of some parish, it made it almost impossible to start a new church, even when there were all sorts of populations in a community that couldn’t be reached by the older Episcopal church, but you couldn’t start a new Episcopal church because we’re the Episcopal church of this area.
But Lyle Schaller said that evangelicals like to say mainline churches declined because of their liberal theology. But, actually, he says they declined because they stop starting churches, whereas evangelicals have always started new churches.
There’s far more to it, especially in the Q & A sections.
Soli Deo Gloria
My problem with this is that Keller is defining a certain group as “devout,” when their allegiance is more to a certain brand of politics and theological tradition than to the ideals Jesus actually taught.
The “mushy middle” might be more devoted to God than those he labels “devout.” Intensity does not equal truth.
In Jesus’ day, the Zealots & Pharisees saw taking over the government as the solution. Jesus said otherwise. They were very devout, but Antichrist. The “devout” Keller speaks of reject the actual teachings of Jesus on so many issues it breaks my heart. Neither Jesus or Paul promoted government take over as the way to bring the Kingdom. The approach and attitudes of Keller’s “devout” are in total opposition to the Kingdom Jesus describes.
Perhaps the self proclaimed “devout” have alienated every other segment of society by being unChristlike, not by being like Him. Perhaps they are the ones who hate the people who seek Jesus’ way with all their hearts instead of being “politically devout” according to extreme conservative definition. They judge and condemn anyone who chooses an approach that is s different than theirs. Choosing to seek God’s truth on every issue instead of accepting the whole Republican package is the quickest way I know of to get labeled “mushy” or not Christian in such circles. It’s impossible to even attend conservative churches once you decide to love immigrants or support free lunch for poor children, or heaven forbid, express the opinion that very occasionally, a pregnant woman whose doctor says her life is severely at risk might should be allowed to choose life for herself in order to raise the 5 kids she already has.
I won’t be surprised at all if the Antichrist comes to power fueled by the wholehearted support of the conservative “devout” crowd. They have courted another “bridegroom,” named Christendom, under which many crimes against Jesus & his true bride were committed for generations.
God have mercy on any who cross them.
Did you read more than a paragraph? Because you’re criticizing Keller for things he didn’t say; in some cases he said the opposite. One of his central points is that younger evangelicals are becoming less tied to politics and that this is mostly a good thing. Keller says he’s old to have been a conservative Christian before the “Christian right” was a thing. And he says that the Bible doesn’t really fit well with libertarian economics.
Joel, I confess I just read Dereck’s quotes and summary. I’ll read the article and see what else Keller said.
I remember the evangelical church before the extreme right infected the movement. I was 11 or 12 when I first became aware of the changes. I fell prey to it, as did most of us, and have spent the majority of my adult years trying to sort it out.
Now age 53, I’ve ended up not feeling at home in most churches, “liberal” or “conservative.” It’s hard to find any that are not far left or right of common sense or holy ground.
This talk reminds me of why I’ve always liked and respected Keller. Though I have to say that various things in the Gospel Coalition, especially recent events, have made me more wary of him.