Rusty Reno Gets Backup From Tim Keller (sort of)

Rusty Reno Gets Backup From Tim Keller (sort of) April 2, 2020

Reno is not happy with how the church in NYC or the Governor of New York is responding to COVID-19.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor?

Lots of people are unhappy with him.

Some think he’s inconsistently pro-life. Some follow the science and insist it’s unwise if not deadly for priests or pastors to minister to the sick if it means they spread the virus to non-carriers. Some don’t like the way Reno performs a risk/reward calculation on mortality rates and economics. Some think the value of one life is so sacred that the economic cost of the response is beneath Christian reflection. Some also think that Christians fundamentally value life and regard death as part of the curse. And the curse, if you haven’t heard, is bad.

Tim Keller doesn’t comment on Reno but seems to side with him just the same by saying that Christians view death differently than non-Christians:

Today we have abandoned the old underlying beliefs in God, heaven, and hell, and therefore have lost the older resources for repentance, showing grace, and granting forgiveness.

All this triggers a crisis for modern people in the face of death. As a pastor I’ve spent many hours in the presence of dying people. As death approaches, people look back on their life and feel tremendous regret. The unbehagen, or deep dissatisfaction with oneself, comes to the fore. There may be guilt for things not said or done for loved ones, for apologies not made or received, for kindnesses refused or unkindnesses done and now beyond forgiveness, for wasted opportunities or even a wasted life….

So despite all the great efforts, guilt persists, and never more than when we consider death. Modern culture gives us little to deal with it, but the Christian faith has some astonishing resources to give us.

Rather than living in fear of death, we should see death as spiritual smelling salts that will awaken us out of our false belief that we will live forever. When you are at a funeral, especially one for a friend or a loved one, listen to God speaking to you, telling you that everything in life is temporary except for his love. This is reality.

Everything in this life is going to be taken away from us, except one thing: God’s love, which will go into death with us and take us through death and into his arms. It’s the one thing you can’t lose. Without God’s love to embrace us, we will always be radically insecure, and we ought to be.

Maybe there is more to life than avoiding death and maybe there’s more to death for Christians than the end.

Keller interacts with Paul’s letter to the Philippians but he stops short of quoting Phil 1:21, “to die is gain.” To see death as a good is an odd perspective, and Reno could use it in support because it is of all things biblical. In fact, it’s odd that so many Christian critics of Reno don’t seem to be aware that the Bible could lead you to regard death as beneficial for saints (in a Protestant sense).

Here’s Calvin’s own strong medicine on Paul’s thinking:

Having a desire to be set free and to be with Christ These two things must be read in connection. For death of itself will never be desired, because such a desire is at variance with natural feeling, but is desired for some particular reason, or with a view to some other end. Persons in despair have recourse to it from having become weary of life; believers, on the other hand, willingly hasten forward to it, because it is a deliverance from the bondage of sin, and an introduction into the kingdom of heaven. What Paul now says is this; “I desire to die, because I will, by this means, come into immediate connection with Christ.” In the mean time, believers do not cease to regard death with horror, but when they turn their eyes to that life which follows death, they easily overcome all dread by means of that consolation. Unquestionably, every one that believes in Christ ought to be so courageous as to lift up his head on mention being made of death, delighted to have intimation of his redemption. (Luke 21:28.) From this we see how many are Christians only in name, since the greater part, on hearing mention made of death, are not merely alarmed, but are rendered almost lifeless through fear, as though they had never heard a single word respecting Christ. O the worth and value of a good conscience! Now faith is the foundation of a good conscience; nay more, it is itself goodness of conscience.

I’m not sure how long it’s been since Reno assigned Calvin in his theology classes (when he was a professor), but it seems he could have made his point about reactions to COVID-19 better had he uses sources like the Geneva pastor.

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