Support World View Weekend


Posted: 04/15/11

Tim Keller and "Social Justice"

I was so surprised to see an article posted here - on my own website about my former pastor, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York city!  I went to Tim Keller's church for nearly 20 years and in fact I left just last year because of my growing concern that the church and Tim were far more liberal, theologically and ideologically than I had ever imagined.

However, I never intended to write anything about it here because it just didn't seem like a relevant topic on FreedomTorch.  But since conservative FreedomTorch members are writing about him and doing so in a most positive way, I feel I must warn my conservative political and conservative Christian friends that Tim Keller, despite all claims to the contrary, is not a theological or an ideological conservative and he is most definitely not a traditional Evangelical.  He is in fact very liberal on both counts.  And this is something of concern, because as J. Gresham Machen so well put it in his book "Christianity & Liberalism" liberal Christianity really isn't Christianity at all.  And I might add the corresponding political statement that liberal Americanism isn't Americanism at all either!  

The Christian media is fond of telling us that Tim Keller is an Evangelical Christian… just like us, they seem to imply.  So one thing Christians need to know about Tim's teachings is that they are really anything but what we have come to know as "Evangelical" Christianity.   To sum it up most succinctly, you should know that Keller says "the primary purpose of salvation is – cultural renewal – to make this world a better place."  Whether you agree or disagree with that statement – it's certainly not an "Evangelical" or conservative Christian belief.

As if to prove the point that he is in fact not an Evangelical Christian, Keller goes on from there to actually attack traditional Evangelicals for their, what he believes, wrong emphasis on helping people see their need for a way out of their sin by introducing them to Christ as the only way to personal salvation.  He suggests that Christians need to put a lot less emphasis on that - because as he says derisively, Evangelicals with all their emphasis on evangelizing are just "building up their own tribe."  He says this is not doing any good for people who aren't in the "tribe", (like secularists, Buddhists and atheists).

In 2006 at an "Entrepreeur's Forum" sponsored by Redeemer, Keller said:

"Conservative churches say 'this world is not our home -- it's gonna burn up eventually and what really matters is saving souls... so evangelism and discipleship and saving souls is what's important'.  And we try to say that it's the other way around almost. That the purpose of salvation is to renew creation. That this world is a good in itself. ... And if you see it that way, then the old paradigm if you're going to put your money and your time and your effort as a Christian into doing God's work in the world, you wanna save souls which means the only purpose of your ministry and your effort is to increase the tribe, increase the number of Christians.  ...

In the past Christians have tended to do things that only Christians would be interested in and only Christians would give to. I mean who else besides a Christian would give money to get something started that's going to win many many people to Christ? Just pretty much only Christians.

BUT, when you have something that's going to improve the schools in a particular city for everybody. When you have a venture that's going to reweave creation physically -- that's going to deal with health problems that's going to deal with poverty. When Christians do that - out of their theology - they do that effectively because they're dealing with the common good... you're going to find that all kinds of non-Christians are not only going to invest in that and want to partner with you in that but a lot of them are also going to be attracted to the gospel because of that. ...

Most Keller devotees will really get on me for being too harsh on him here.  But if you didn't get it, read that quote again and look how harsh Keller actually is on conservative and Evangelical Christians.  He's actually mocking them and their "traditional" ideas that saving souls is important, and suggesting that their only interest is to "increase the tribe".  That expression "increase the tribe" is terribly derisive and insulting.  He's actually suggesting that Evangelicals had no sincere desire to see people come to Christ, but their only concern was building up their numbers and their own earthly empire.  I cannot think of anything more insulting that a Minister of God could say about another group of Christians.   

Disingenous "Justice"

His book, "Generous Justice" is literally dripping in the language of the Left.  Although Keller apparently perceives himself as one who is neither Left nor Right.  But his words reveal something quite different.  The book will leave you with a definite distaste for America - because of all the evil that has come from America.  Another very leftist man who calls himself an Evangelical Christian, Jim Wallis would be very pleased with Keller's work. 

The post that I'm responding to here on FreedomTorch heralded Keller as one who has "reclaimed" the term social justice for the Right!  However there is nothing to reclaim.  The term has always originated only from within liberal/socialist/progressive thought.

Socialists and Progressives pushing for Communist societies use this phrase most enthusiastically.  They use it to agitate the people and motivate them to revolution.  And it can't be overlooked that it is today's Communists and radical liberals who constantly use this phrase to make us feel that things here in the most just society on earth - are horribly unjust.  (If you doubt this just check out the Communist party website - and search on "social justice").

In fact, this quote from the CPUSA site would be perfectly consistent with Keller's take on "social justice":  "We fight for the daily needs of working people … as a matter of social justice..."  ( No, I'm not calling Tim Keller a Communist!  I am only pointing out that his use of the term "social justice" has a historical context and that context is decidedly on the far Left of the political spectrum.

With that history behind the term "social justice", there really is nothing for conservatives to "reclaim" or claim at all!  It has never meant anything else.  When Keller says 'conservatives have suspicions about the term' – he's right, we do – and for well-founded historical reasons.

Odd Interpretations

One thing I found especially disturbing about Keller's book, "Generous Justice" is that in footnote #15 in Chapter 1, he says that while he normally uses the NIV (New International Version) translation of the Bible that, "Sometimes I provide my own translations."  This was stunning to me when I read it.  I've never seen a Christian writer provide "their own" translation of the Bible!  Not that they couldn't if they've learned Hebrew and Greek, but I've just never seen anyone else do that.  Normally a writer will use whatever translation he uses and then expound upon it if he has some broader insight that he has gained from reading it in the original languages.  But Tim, in the instances where he quotes Scripture, simply provides his own translation at various points without bothering to notify us of when!

This sets a dangerous precedent because one, it insinuates that there's something fundamentally flawed with the existing translations.  And it leads people to treat them as less dependable than they deserve to be treated.  And two, the official translations have a whole system of checks and balances in place to insure that they are done as accurately as possible and with as little bias as humanly possible.  When a single author decides to provide his own translation, what checks and balances keep his biases out of the process?  Who is he accountable to?  And how can we the readers ever challenge the author when his personal translations make it seem as if the Bible is in complete agreement with his views?

Keller provides us a couple examples of his personal translations.  One is taken from Psalms 33:5 which in the NIV says:  

"The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love."

And Keller retranslates it to say this:

"The Lord loves SOCIAL JUSTICE; the earth is full of his unfailing love."

A Socialist reading this would think the Bible was in perfect alignment with socialist thought. 

Keller did two disturbing things here. First he took out the word "righteousness" altogether (which conveniently removes the idea of sin, something Keller tends to avoid) and he replaces the word "justice" with the term "social justice" which when looked at from its historical usage is most definitely NOT what the Lord loves!  There's a reason the Bible translators have not used the phrase "social justice" there!  Because they are presumably aware of its socialist connotations derived from the historical context and usage of the phrase.  However, by providing his own personal translation, Keller makes it appear as if the Lord is in complete agreement with a socialist view of justice.  

At this point anyone familiar with Keller's teachings would scold me for saying he has a "socialist" view on anything.  Because he fastidiously tries to remain above the political fray by never revealing his true political leanings.  And he is fond of saying that the Right gets some things wrong and the Left gets some things wrong, making it appear that he is evenhanded when it comes to politics.

However, a closer look will show that he is indeed quite liberal politically – even though I believe he himself is probably not even aware of how much.  I know from personal experience that it is easy living in New York for a radical liberal to believe he is in the mainstream and for a moderate liberal to believe he's downright Texas-style conservative!

There is a lot in this book that all Christians would agree on – including the importance of justice in the Christian's life.  But for the purpose of this article, I really wanted to get to the heart of Keller's political philosophy which is most outspokenly contained in Chapter 6 "How Should We Do Justice?" I was curious if Keller would maintain his near complete silence on politics and talk only of private individual acts of justice or if he would get into the public aspects of justice.  The concept of justice almost necessarily connotes something that's in the public sphere.  And "social" justice definitely does because the word "social" makes it about society.  So it would be a surprise if he didn't address the public/political aspects of "social justice".

And we are not to be surprised!  He does touch on the political aspects, although he never mentions politics overtly.  It's all very subtle and if you're not a careful reader you might miss it altogether. 

In Chapter 6, Keller gives several examples of individual Christians working for "social justice" in their personal lives, (although that's a bit of an oxymoron as the word "social" in "social justice" implies it is a public, society-wide matter – not just a personal matter).  He tells of a business owner who does wonderful things for his employees and community.  These are things that everyone, conservative and liberal alike, would applaud.  But when he gets into public policy – that's where conservatives should begin to take issue.  

He tells of how his own church (my former church) works through the Diaconate to provide care for the needy.  And I know from personal experience they do an excellent job.  They don't just throw money at people, but they help people get back up on their feet materially, mentally and spiritually.  (However, they t
end to refer people to government programs first, when they can).


Distributed by

Disclaimer: Worldview Weekend, Christian Worldview Network and its columnists do not necessarily endorse or agree with every opinion expressed in every article posted on this site. We do however, encourage a healthy and friendly debate on the issues of our day. Whether you agree or disagree, we encourage you to post your feedback by using the feedback button.


Printer Friendly Version | Return to home | Send this article to a friend


Caution is needed and names are not.
Posted On: 06/08/11 11:37:39 PM Age 0, WI
As with any case, incredible care must be given when attaching labels to an individual, and sadly this article seems a good example of what not to do. To say Tim Keller is "liberal" in his theology is to say he is "heretical" in his theology for that is the definition of "liberal" in theological paradigms. Such should not be said lightly, and certainly not with the sad lack of evidence this article evidences. Regarding the term "social justice," it is a logical fallacy to argue that liberals and others have used it (or even originated it) and therefore it should not be used. The term "contextualization" was coined and originally used by social gospel types, but that has not kept it from being an excellent word in many (even conservative) circles now. Furthermore, when one considers what Tim Keller is responding to in his quotes, they are more theologically sound then we are meant to understand in this article. Regarding his own translations in his book, several authors and theologians do this, so it seems a moot point. Furthermore, to claim Tim Keller is not preaching the gospel (as one of those leaving feedback have claimed) is to blatantly or ignorantly lie. Read or listen to him and his presentation of the gospel is rather clear. (Read the confession of the Gospel Coalition if you doubt this) In the end, it seems christians need to understand what he is actually saying in context before labeling him a liberal or false prophet or any other such label out of hand.

concerned Christian
Posted On: 05/05/11 12:32:36 PM Age 0, TX
Thank you for this article. My church is starting to use his material in our small groups. The name nagged me until I remembered Brannon talking about him & theistic evolution. He is dangerous. Our churches need prayer. Thank you for this website

Social Justice
Posted On: 04/22/11 06:12:20 AM Age 0, NC
The real issue with all of the postmodern so called pastors is the sovereignty of God. In their elevation of man as the measure of salvation and lowering of the Creator as sovereign, egalitarianism is the only course they have left. It is antithetical for them to think that God would not give everyone an equal chance. Our view of scripture falls on a watershed, either scripture is infallibly inspired or the authors who were inspired. The words are the very words of God. If we don't believe them, we are unbelievers. The word is placed on the lectern and everyone in the church is supposed to be under it. Especially the pastor.

Tim Kelller
Posted On: 04/16/11 11:37:42 AM Age 0, NY
I posted this on another thread when I did a search on Tim Keller and found Jonathan's most important article. Pastors as Tim Keller are starting to grow in size, they are not men who are preaching the gospel of Christ, but men who are using the gospel of Christ for gain. I thank Jonathan for posting on this man and hope all who go to his churches start to rethink the message he preaches. Christ says "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" KJV Mat 24:11 My prayer for Tim Keller is he is convicted and apologizes to all he has lead astray or that he goes the way of the prosperity preachers. But I will end with this in case Mr Keller and pastors who preach the devastation of the social justice teachings that originate in communism read this thread; "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." KJV Gal 6:7

Post Feedback

Ebook Documentary
Special Video

Click Here to Watch Now

Limited Time
Special Offer:

Ebook + Hard Cover
Click Here for Details

Sign up to receive our
FREE Biblical Worldview Newsletter!

* Your Email Address:
* State: 
* Country:
for even MORE alerts sign up here
Bookmark and Share
Find us: Twitter / Facebook
Search Worldview Weekend:
Worldview Tube
Watch the latest commentary by Brannon Howse
Worldview Radio
Listen to the latest Worldview Weekend Radio with Brannon Howse
Roku Channel

iPhone/Android App

Worldview Weekend Online Academy for Students and Adults

Worldview Weekend
Family Reunion

Branson, Missouri
April 26, 27, 28, 2013

Worldview Weekend Radio
with Brannon Howse

Listen live to Worldview Weekend Radio with Brannon Howse M-F at 1-2 pm CT.

Brannon Howse
Worldview Weekend
President and Founder
Find us on Twitter and Facebook!
Contact Us
Copyright © 2010 Worldview