I recently had the pleasure of reading a New York Times interview by Nicholas Kristof of Timothy Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. While I enjoyed the interview, I think Kristof is an amazing interviewer, I was set back by some of Keller’s responses. The one that hit home for me was his statement, “Jesus’ teaching was not the main point of his mission.”
To say Keller had his hands full trying to maneuver Kristof’s questions, while striving to place 18th century theology into a 21st century dialog, is to put it mildly. But, Keller missed the boat all together when he stated that the teachings of Jesus weren’t his main point of his life. If not, why have them? If they’re not the center of his life and ministry, why are we reading the narratives of his life? But I see this as one of the major issues of those who are seen as The New Calvinists.
Think about his words, “Jesus’ teaching was not the main point of his mission.” Keller is saying that the teachings of Jesus are secondary, and in this case, secondary to doctrine. Keller claims, “his important ethical teaching only makes sense when you don’t separate it from these historic doctrines.” There in rests the problem; here’s the twist, and I’m not sure Keller can grasp this reality: if the teachings of Christ place second to doctrine, what is he using to created doctrine? If, what Keller calls “ethical teachings” have very little meaning, what does one do with what Jesus called, “the Kingdom of God?” You see, for Keller [and all New Calvinists] the words of Jesus aren’t used to create doctrine, they focus on Paul for doctrine. This idea that Jesus’ words are secondary brings to life the issue that many in Keller’s stream of thought, are seeking to be informed, and not transformed.
For me, it’s simple. Knowing doctrine doesn’t make one a follower of the teachings of Jesus; relegating the teachings of Jesus to simply “ethical teachings” down plays the importance of living a life transformed. Throughout the Collective Narrative Jesus is confronting religious leaders who are driven by laws, rules, and doctrine, and telling them they are wrong. Doctrines are not something that drives the compassion of Christ in us, it does not focus our love, our grace, our willingness to help others as needed, our willingness to move to the margins, and bring grace and love to the marginalized. Doctrine can never be expressed in terms of love, grace, acceptance, forgiveness, or care – doctrine is not something that drives the heart with passion. Doctrine will never be an attractor to the Divine. Doctrine, in fact, can be a detractor from living the teachings of Jesus. If the teachings of Christ come second to doctrine, and are viewed simply as ethical teachings, we miss the reality that they are the words of the Divine, incarnate [living in the neighborhood]. If they are secondary, why did Jesus challenge his first followers to teach others everything he had taught them? (Matt. 28:19-20). Keeping in mind that Jesus did not teach doctrine, me taught salvation, forgiveness, grace, love, peace, acceptance, and so much more. Some can turn those ideas into doctrine, but when they do, those ideas lose their power to transform lives.
What Jesus was teaching was not of secondary importance. His teachings are the MAIN thing! Those walking in the path of Keller have been crippled by forgetting to keep the main thing, the main thing.
[NOTE]: Generally speaking, Keller has made some rather interesting statements in the past – ones where I see him wrestling with the ideas of Social Justice and being a Follower of the Teaching of Jesus. In his books, Generous Justice and Ministries of Mercy, he does have some good points. But in this case, he is wrong.