Tim Keller on how to preach the gospel in the city

Here’s a great little Tim Keller video we made for the Evangelical Alliance Council meeting a while back. If you have not come across him before there’s a great intro but if you are a long term fan there’s some fresh insights into how we preach the gospel in our cities and towns.

I am not sure I am comfortable with his view on contextualisation but you’ll have to wait for another post on that.

Hope you enjoy it.

Tim Keller, Women and Ignoring your own rules

Just in case it needs reiterating- the views represented on my blog and in this post are my own – I am not speaking on behalf of any organisation that I work for.

Why Is TGC Complementarian? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.


If you know me a little or if you have read this blog before you know I love Tim Keller. He is one of my favourite authors and preachers. His gracious tone makes him one of a very small number of people I know of who have the capacity to take on the role of Global elder statesman in the mold of John Stott and Billy Graham (in his prime). I have had the opportunity to tell him this in person. I also had the opportunity to ask him directly about one area where I found his position puzzling. It was on the role of women. Tim was one of the founders of the Gospel Coalition whose name suggests that it is a gathering of Christians around the gospel. Indeed on the Gospel Coalition website it says “We are a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.”

Included in the Gospel Coalition’s founding documents are very clear statements around the distinctive roles of men and women in church and home:

God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.

Now ofcourse groupings such as these have the right to include and exclude any one they like from their membership. What saddened me was that Tim Keller speaks very highly of the work of Intervarsity and IFES and in fact I have heard him talk about the fact that his theological and apologetic formation happening through such groups. IFES has always taken a clear distinguishing line between first and second order issues and never sought to make views on gender roles an issue that would exclude others from fellowship or ministry. So as one of the founders of GC I was surprised that Keller would include this in his list of entry requirements.

When I had the privilege to spend some time with Keller I asked him if he thought views on the role of women were part of the gospel, he said they weren’t but that they were very important. I came across this video recently on the GC website where along with Don Carson and John Piper he goes a lot further. To say I found this video discouraging is an understatement:

Very recently I commended Keller on some fantastic rules of engagement he had produced on how to deal with views that he didn’t agree with. Particularly:

  • Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not hold.
  • Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.
So it was sad to hear the arguments used in this little 17 minute video. Yes I think that Keller was the person offering the most conciliatory and bridge building role in this dialogue – but he neither disagreed nor challenged those expressed by his fellow participants. Here’s what I heard being used as arguments against including egalitarians in the gospel coalition, I am open to be corrected of course.

1. Having a non-complementarian view of gender roles means you have a “loose approach to scripture.” (Keller)

This seems to transgress two of Keller’s main rules in engaging with “opponents.” As an egalitarian I have a very high view of scripture so I am being attributed a view that I don’t own. Secondly no one in this discussion has engaged with egalitarianism in its “strongest” form. Carson dismisses other views of reading Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2 as reconstructionist and does not tackle any of the biblical texts or theological themes that egalitarianism at its best draws upon. Yes it is true that some egalitarians use purely cultural and sociological arguments – just as it is true that some complementarians do ( I was at a told recently that women buy more new age books than men so they obviously are not fit to teach or lead.) But again using this kind of argument is not dealing with the theological position in its strongest form.
Even when Keller tries to soften his statement by saying that “there are plenty of people” only loosen things on this issue and then “keep it tight everywhere else,” the point is still that egalitarians cannot hold to a high view of scripture and come to their conclusions – it has to involve loosening their grip on scripture at some point.
The problem with the argument that people who take a different view on the role of women are “loose with the scripture” is that it assumes that there is only one way of reading scripture on this issue. As Carson rightly notes in his opening comments – that is not how the GC understand the way that evangelicals read scripture when it relates to Baptism or Church Government. For me to argue that I have met more people that have turned away from gospel doctrines such as belief in the resurrection or the uniqueness of Christ that also held paedobaptist views – see for example the large number of self described liberal presbyterians or anglicans – would be a facile and prejudiced line of reasoning.

2. Trajectories (John Piper)

Piper’s line of reasoning here is that to take a different view on gender roles will lead to changes in view on homosexuality. This seems to contradict Keller’s rule “never attribute to your opponent a view they do not hold” or even more explicitly never “attribute to antagonist no opinion that he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” It is true that some egalitarians have argued that the church should change its views on the role of women and our views on the practice of homosexual sexual intercourse. But it is also true that some have argued that male headship in the home is license for domestic violence against women. Neither of these views are “necessary consequences” and so Keller is wise to argue that you shouldn’t assume the worst when engaging in conversation. But this is precisely what Piper does. As an egalitarian I believe that leadership roles are available to men and women in the church, this does not lead me to change my views on homosexual sex.

Perhaps there is a contextual issue at stake here. Perhaps things are different in the US? Two examples from the UK. The first UK denominations to ordain women were the Salvation Army (c.1870 ) and the Baptist Union of Great Britain (c.1920); neither are liberal today. (Thanks to Steve Holmes for this information). Perhaps a wider contextual awareness may help. But the bigger point is – just because some egalitarians change their minds on homosexuality -doesn’t necessitate that all will. For example just as many complementarians end up becoming AngloCatholic doesn’t mean all will.

3. Egalitarians apparently dont know the difference between men and women – we have nothing to say to 8 year old children on the issue of gender (cf John Piper).

This is a straw man/woman (!) argument. To argue that men and women both have the opportunity to lead in the church does not mean that all egalitarians see no differences between gender. It is true that we may not agree with some of gender differences that some complementarians attribute to men and women – mainly because we think that those differences owe more to culture than biblical exegesis. I have heard a number of complimentarians argue that all women want to be “rescued” and lead by strong men. But this leaves little room for biblical women role models such as Esther, Deborah or Priscilla.

4. Gender is an issue of this time ( baptists and paedobaptists used to argue but this is not the issue that is addressing our culture) (Carson)

I would love to understand how Carson understands the polyvalence of the Bible on the issue of baptism and why it is different from the role of women. I can’t believe that Carson is arguing that our willingness to believe the hermenteutical best of those who read the Bible differently to us on baptism is just an accident of history. As Keller argues your view on women is not a central gospel truth but surely your views on how someone is saved is part of the gospel. Some of my Anglican paedobaptist friends believe it is possible for someone to be saved without personal faith in Christ and that on the basis of promises made by Godparents an infant is regenerate and included into the body of Christ. To argue that this is not an important issue for our time seems to reduce the importance of the gospel. To elevate gender roles above the issue of how salvation operates seems strange to me – but I may have misunderstood Carson on this one, or it is possible he is not being entirely consistent.
I find it hard to believe that the rise of egalitarianism is seen as one of the most pressing dangers facing the church and the culture – above global poverty, gun control, the environment…

5. Confusion on Gender is part of what is at the heart of what is wrong with our culture (Carson)

It seems that Carson is arguing that the breakdown of the family in many western contexts is due to a more egalitarian view of gender roles. I would love to see the evidence for this. Isn’t it possible to argue that while the church has been predominantly complimentarian we have seen the greatest increase in family breakdown.

6. Lack of courage (Piper) “If you arent willing to stand against the tide on this issue you will cave on other issues – gospel issues.”

This doesn’t seem to be portraying egalitarians in their strongest terms. It also contradicts Keller’s fifth rule of engagement “Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.” Writing off egalitarians as cowards is hardly a theological critique. I would like to understand why Piper and Keller who participated fully at the Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization seem so completely unaware of its commitment on the issue of unity across views on gender roles:

We recognize that there are different views sincerely held by those who seek to be faithful and obedient to Scripture. Some interpret apostolic teaching to imply that women should not teach or preach, or that they may do so but not in sole authority over men. Others interpret the spiritual equality of women, the exercise of the edifying gift of prophecy by women in the New Testament church, and their hosting of churches in their homes, as implying that the spiritual gifts of leading and teaching may be received and exercised in ministry by both women and men.[96] We call upon those on different sides of the argument to:

  1. Accept one another without condemnation in relation to matters of dispute, for while we may disagree, we have no grounds for division, destructive speaking, or ungodly hostility towards one another;[97]

7. We are not listening to what scripture says on its own terms “it is not listening to what God says” to take a contrary view on this is “not to tremble at God’s word” (Carson)

Carson joins in the attack on the character of egalitarians – again contradicting Keller’s rule “Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.” Basically we are trembling at God’s word if we agree with Carson’s apparently infallible reading of the gender texts.


I contend that it is possible to have a high view of scripture and believe that women can take on leadership roles in the church.
I contend that egalitarians are not all cowards – sometimes egalitarians have faced significant opposition from conservative friends and colleagues because of where their reading of scripture have taken them.
I contend that the role of women in leadership in the church is not an unasailable division – if we have found a way to find unity in diversity on baptism surely we can on this issue.
I have benefitted greatly from the ministry of all of the men in this video, they have produced some brilliant books and materials, its such a shame this video is not up to their usual high standards.
I would like to encourage the Gospel Coalition to reconsider its position in light of Keller’s very helpful rules of engagement and consider removing this inflammatory and insulting video. I would like to suggest a dialog between evangelical complementarians and egalitarians modelled on Keller’s rules that can genuinely engage with each other’s convictions at their best and explore ways we can find unity in the gospel rather than division on this matter.

Post Script

I have been asked to provide some reading material to help read Egalitarianism at its best.
Here’s my limited list – very happy for other suggestions:
6. Women in the Church: A biblical Theology of Women in Ministry, Stanley Grenz
Here are some others recommended through social media ( I have not read them… yet)
Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters’ by Philip B Payne
Women and Authority, Ian Paul , Grove Booklets
I suffer not a woman’. Kroeger & Kroeger;
‘Women & Religion’ Clark & Richardson.

Tim Keller and Gospel Graciousness

I have enjoyed reading Tim Keller’s Center Church recently. I will publish a full review shortly. In the meantime I have always been struck by the gracious manner that Keller conducts himself. As a conservative evangelical he shares a lot of core beliefs with people like Mark Driscoll and John Piper, but the way he engages with those he disagrees with is often very different. Some of it will be due to temparement and personality i am sure, but towards the end of Center Church. Keller relates 4 guiding principles he has when engaging with other people’s views. I’d like to adopt them myself as New Year’s blogging resolutions- so feel free to hold me to account on this.

All Christian movements must be characterized by a willingness to unite around commonly held central truths and to accept differences on secondary matters that —in the view of the partners —do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. To maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. Yet in doing so, we must show respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not punish them.

In a section marked “Gospel Polemics” Keller presents his rules of engagement:

  1. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not hold.
  2. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively.
  3. Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.
  4. Seek to persuade, not antagonize–but watch your motives!
  5. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.

It is number one that I am most interested in:

Attribute to antagonist no opinion that he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence. In other words, even if you believe that Mr A’s belief X could lead others who hold belief X to hold belief Y, do not accuse Mr A of holding belief Y if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent but this is not the same as insisting that he holds belief Y when he does not….A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr A quotes a particular author favourably at any point then Mr A must hold all the views held by the author. If through guilt by association we hint or insist that he must hold other beliefs of that particular author then we are both alienating and misrepresenting our opponent.

This is a great piece of advice – even if I am not sure about the language of “opponent” think I would have liked to talk about familial terms like “brother or sister.”

But the demonisation and guilt by association that Keller talks about here is a big problem in the world that I live.

I have been told that to quote Rob Bell positively makes me a heretic, (indeed someone threatened to ban one of my books because I included a reference to Rob’s fine work on the sabbath. Others have said that to quote NT Wright means that I “have gone liberal.” Similarly to be positive about John Piper’s work makes me a chauvinist. Keller models in this book a willingness to quote from lots of authors that he doesn’t agree with on every point: Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch etc. To be fair – these are acceptable “non-conservatives” to quote almost as acceptable as CS Lewis. Keller himself doesn’t quote positively from many of the “emergent” church thinkers nor from many/any? non western world thinkers (and very few women) – but that’s a point for another blog or two. In the mean time I love these proposed ways of gracious engagement, lets hope we can make good use of them.

Keller on answering difficult questions

I was privileged to spend some time talking with Tim Keller after his recent university mission at oxford university. One of the best parts of the mission for me was the structure of the evening event.

20 minute talk – Tim Keller

5 minute student testimony

15 minutes questions – answered by Tim

10 minute wrap up – Tim Keller

This was for an evening evangelistic event and in some circles this would have been pretty radical / controversial as the only kind of talks that counts is 40 minute exposition. Interestingly the lunch time talks were more of a 35 minute exposition with very few questions.

I think answering questions ought to be more normal than it currently is for preachers – especially as we live in web2.0 kind of world – where people expect the right to reply and engage when listening / watching.

Tim is singularly brilliant at answering questions and so when I caught up with him after the event I asked him how someone could develop the skill of answering difficult questions.


What are your tips in becoming better at answering difficult questions?

Keller reflects on Preaching to Brits

Here’s the second of two interview I did with Tim Keller at the OICCU mission this year. The first one on CS Lewis and Keller is here.

Which Gospel?

These interviews were conducted just after he had given a talk about the cross of Jesus and what it had accomplished. The text he chose to do this from was John 2 the wedding at Canaan. Which I thought was interesting choice of passage. I asked Tim about it and he explained that he had been given pretty strict instructions from the mission organisers that he should speak on:

1. Who are we

2. What’s wrong with us

3. Who is the one that puts it right – Jesus

4. What did he come to do about it – Jesus on the cross.

To fulfil the brief for night 4 Keller chose to speak on on John 2 the wedding of Canaan – as an evangelistic text – I asked him why he chose this as his text. He explained that he wanted to try a more narrative approach to exploring the implications of the cross and interestingly the response at the end of the talk from not-yet-believers was “I wish this were true.”

Its also interesting the topics he was given – that this is what has become a pretty typical formula for what counts as the gospel (see my review of the Explicit Gospel and article The Gospel is Bigger than you think). The gospel was a predominantly vertical gospel – talking solely about our reconciliation with God and very little about the transformation that the gospel brings to the whole of life . It is very interesting that this outline doesn’t fit with the rest of Keller’s writings for example: Generous Justice or Ministries of Mercy.

What do I conclude from this?

1) Keller is a very humble man – for a leader of his stature to come and serve the OICCU and really speak to the brief they have asked him to is very generous. He was also humble enough to receive critique and feedback from the other volunteers on the mission.

2) Sometimes those of us who write speakers briefs should allow those older and wiser than us to push back a little and challenge us to reconsider them.

This was a huge opportunity to hear vintage Keller and allow his preaching to help UK Christians to contextualise the gospel for our time. He did some really interesting things – including mixing up the usual mission talk format and offering a more narrative approach to preaching the cross for all of which we must be grateful.



CS Lewis and Tim Keller

Many thanks to the students at Oxford University (OICCU) who agreed to us interviewing Tim Keller at the end of a long week of evangelistic outreach. Tim commented that this had been one of the most challenging mission weeks of his life. I will post the full evangelistic presentation that he did in an upcoming post. As part of the Evangelical Alliance’s “Confidence in the Gospel” project that I am working on with my colleague Phil Green you will see more of these kind of resources popping up – so keep your eyes peeled. This video was filmed and produced by the excellent John Bowen – so thank to John for his time and energy and thanks to God for his many skills.

Tim Keller is a very generous person – giving his time after a gruelling schedule. I believe he is the elder statesman that can best fulfil the role that John Stott and Billy Graham leave vacant. He is conservative, more conservative than me on things like the role of women in ministry for example. But he offers a gracious and humble role model of putting the gospel first and not attacking those that disagree with him on these kinds of issues.

The video is 6 minutes long, it would be worth passing on to any preachers or evangelists you know – would love to know which questions you would have asked him?

Photo Credit: John Bowen


Tim Keller in Oxford

Tim Keller is visiting the UK at the moment, leading a mission at Oxford University. Its an exciting time. One of the guys that I am mentoring sent me the following report: The mission is fantastic thank you, 500 at Lunchtimes and 750 in the evenings – thinking it is going to get bigger as well.’ And also after I said we’d pray for him ‘Please do, the more prayer the better. We are starting to see some angry pushback from people who don’t like it, but that’s cool. The Town Hall overflowed yesterday evening (first evening) and so St Aldate’s Church is being cleared in the evenings for us to use as overflow (another 500 seats max) very exciting! I had the chance to spend some time with Tim last year. My friend John Bowen made the following video that we showed at the Evangelical Alliance Council meeting . It’s well worth giving 10 minutes to watch it as he provides some wise gems for helping us as individuals and churches think about growing in confidence in the gospel. It makes a great conversation starter in a house group meeting.

This is part of an ongoing project I am doing with my role in the EA. Any insights you have as to how we help develop confidence in the church for the gospel I would love to hear from you – so do leave me a comment.

As part of a group of leaders I am going to be meeting with Tim tomorrow. What question would you like me to ask him? I’ll report back on the blog tomorrow.