In part one of this two part series, I talked about some multiple bad choices offered by evangelicalism and fundamentalism. I suggested none-of-the-above. Today let's look at another example.
Calvinism has some attractive features to me. Of course, I would say they are the scriptural ones. I read a God-centered approach to evangelism and church growth in scripture. I've thought that Calvinism agrees with that, but I'm not so sure. If Calvinists really do believe that God is sovereign in salvation, so that one needs to step out of the way and depend on God, you would think that's what you'd see from them. Often you don't. This is where I say that I'm more Calvinist than Calvinists. I practice the scriptural part of Calvinism and especially a part of Calvinism one would see as most Calvinist. It's like these Calvinists are convenient Calvinists, Calvinistic where they like the Calvinism, and then not Calvinist when it comes to actual practice.
As exhibition number one today, I bring to you Tim Keller, very popular Presbyterian evangelical, who recently wrote Center Church, a church growth manual modeled after his church in New York City (I wrote about Center Church in my "Lure Them In" series). Keller writes on p. 24:
We will show [in this book] that to reach people we must appreciate and adapt to their culture, but we must also challenge and confront it. This is based on the biblical teaching that all cultures have God’s grace and natural revelation in them, yet they are also in rebellious idolatry. If we overadapt to a culture, we have accepted the culture’s idols. If, however, we underadapt to a culture, we may have turned our own culture into an idol, an absolute. If we underadapt to a culture, no one will be changed because no one will listen to us; we will be confusing, offensive, or simply unpersuasive. To the degree a ministry is overadapted or underadapted to a culture, it loses life-changing power.
This paragraph touches on the "centrist" theme that I discussed in my first review---the perfect position being somewhere in a sweet spot between overadapting and underadapting. Adapting to culture has actually been pretty important in Keller's approach to church growth. Keller continues in a couple of other quotes first on p. 96:
They don’t see any part of how they express or live the gospel to be “Anglo”—it is just the way things are. They feel that any change in how they preach, worship, or minister is somehow a compromise of the gospel. In this they may be doing what Jesus warns against—elevating the “traditions of men” to the same level as biblical truth (Mark 7:8). This happens when one’s cultural approach to time or emotional expressiveness or way to communicate becomes enshrined as the Christian way to act and live.
And then on p. 97:
If they have been moved by a ministry that has forty-five-minute verse-by-verse expository sermons, a particular kind of singing, or a specific order and length to the services, they reproduce it down to the smallest detail. Without realizing it, they become method driven and program driven rather than theologically driven. They are contextualizing their ministry expression to themselves, not to the people they want to reach.
Keller sees adapting the preaching, the worship, and the ministry to the culture as crucial to church growth. If you don't "adapt," he says, you'll even lose "life changing power." Life changing power comes from adapting to the culture, according to Keller. This, Keller says, is "theologically driven." And the Calvinist fan boys come out of the woodwork with praise for the book.
This adaptation to people's felt needs parallels with the Hybels seeker-sensitive church, the Warren purpose-driven church, and even has parts resembling the Hyles Church Manual. These are your kinds of bad to choose from, and people are making the Keller choice, shucking the Hybels and Warren model for the Keller one. None of these are God centered. If they are theologically driven, it isn't biblical theology. And it surely isn't Calvinist. It's more pinning the needle on the far side of Arminianism. It's pragmatism. It's "be like'm to win'em."
Keller argues using bad theology and several straw men. He says his theological basis is that "all cultures have God’s grace and natural revelation in them." First, all cultures do not have God's grace "in them." In them? God's grace appears to all men, but grace is in a culture that has been converted already, not one that you evangelize because it's lost. Doesn't this too contradict the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity? I'm sure it does. It contradicts my view of man's depravity. Second, he has a false view of natural revelation. Natural or general revelation is understood by all men, that is, it is general in its audience. Everyone is without excuse. There isn't some unique brand of revelation found in a particular culture. That would not be "general" and, therefore, natural. His view of natural revelation is the modern psychological view that fits with Christian psychology, that general revelation is general in its content and so it is discoverable Revelation is by nature non-discoverable. You can't study a culture to discover natural revelation there. This false premise buttresses his point. In my opinion, like with Christian psychology, he starts with what he wants to do and then adapts (ironically) his doctrine to fit his successful method. He would say this is how to keep from underadapting, adaptation a fundamental of life-changing power.
A change in how we preach, worship, and minister can and does compromise the gospel. When you are adapting your method as he describes to fit unsaved people, you are compromising the gospel. When you hand out the candy and small toys and adjust your junior church to a near carnival atmosphere, people get a wrong understanding of Jesus and repentance and faith. Do we understand that this isn't new, what Keller is proposing? This has been around from revivalists for over a century. Finney and generations after him took the carnival style music and a particular preaching style as new measures for the cause of evangelism. There were theological underpinnings to Finney too, as seen in his systematic theology. This is sheer pragmatism through and through.
People will say that Keller is conservative, has a conservative approach, because his church uses classical music on Sunday mornings. I'm in the classical music world. Well done classical music is a draw to a New York City crowd. People in Tennessee might not get that, but it's true. He's not adapting to a Nascar audience. The urbane, metrosexual community he targets listens to classical music like Rick Warren's crowd in Southern California listens to pop and Mark Driscoll's to grunge. Keller has a jazz Sunday evening service, so he's not taking a conservative stand. The intellectuals he kowtows for see this as the hoity-toity that they want. "You can come on a Sunday night and get some good jazz at Center Church." The adaptation is not to the grace of God "in them," but to their own view of themselves. They like the idea of, "I can be a Christian and fit into the world too." That's also how it changes the gospel.
The message of Jesus clashes with culture. It contradicts human nature. Jesus presented Himself as King. If you wanted Jesus, you needed to deny self to follow Him. You had to give up your life. He presented following Him as hating father and mother, having no where to lay your head, and being a slave. Jesus didn't come to get to our level. He came to bring us to His. What Keller is advocating is another form of bait and switch. If you read him other places, you see that he has a way of dealing with homosexuality that is non-offensive, since not being offensive is part of his template, his adaptation. And evangelicals are bragging on this approach as if it is something somebody missed. A biblical church exploding in New York City surprises me. Keller's church and churches exploding doesn't surprise me. He is mixing the broad road with the narrow one. They are actually entirely separate.
Keller is acceptable in, even the leader of, the gospel coalition. This should tell you something about that organization and those in it. But you don't have to choose between that bad and another bad. Again, you do have none-of-the-above.