NOTE: The following is protected by federal copyright law and is an excerpt from the book Marxianity written by Brannon Howse and is not to be published online. The footnotes that document the content in this article are found in the book Marxianity or the eBook.
In the last chapter, we looked at the reality of cultural Marxists using the dialectical process to undermine the church. As we said, this results in greater influence of progressives on the values and teachings of church leaders. But there’s another extremely significant implication of this process that warrants detailed attention.
What is not at first obvious in this regard is that when you undercut biblical teaching, you open the door to creating a “church” in which it is normal to have non-believers as members. The idea should be an oxymoron, but unfortunately, the presence of unbelievers as part of the church is now welcomed as normal by some of today’s most influential “evangelical” leaders.
Adding to the Church by Subtracting from Truth
At Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, Pastor Keller seems comfortable advocating the building of a congregation without regard to the biblical principles about exactly who should be part of the church. In one of his teaching videos, he proclaims that “we need to build churches for non-believers.” And he’s not just using a creative twist on the idea of being “seeker sensitive.” He’s serious about this church growth strategy. Here’s how he explains the approach:
[quote] The New Testament Church doesn’t have a book of Leviticus. It doesn’t lay down absolutely everything we ought to be doing all the time, and because it doesn’t lay down the book, it gives us all this freedom. That means that, in the church, we should use this freedom basically to ask ourselves not, “Oh, how can we get our way,” but how—if you’re the mature ones—how do we have a church not for ourselves, but for non-Christians? How do we have a church not for ourselves, but for the poor? How do we have a church not for ourselves, but for new Christians, or less mature Christians?
See, the people running a church tend to be not-poor, usually. They tend to be doctrinally more well-schooled. They certainly tend to be Christians. And as a result, when they look at non-Christians, when they look at non-poor people, and they look at other people who are not like themselves, Paul says, “You should be driven to say I’m going to do everything in my church for them, not for me.” Don’t build a church to please yourself. Build one that is not unnecessarily alien to the people around you who are different than you. [end quote]
At first blush, this actually may come across as a respectable sound-bite. But the discerning question to raise is: Where does the Bible say to build a church for non-believers?
You will not find a single verse in Scripture that calls us to do that. In fact, the idea of non-believers in the church is antithetical to the very meaning of the word “church.” Church comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which means “called out ones.” Christians, not non-believers, are the only people in the world who qualify as that. They are the people called out of the world to serve Christ. Ephesians 4 further clarifies this essential point in describing the purpose of the church: it is to equip the saints (i.e., believers) for the purpose of ministry. Similarly, the Great Commission charges us to “go . . . into the world preaching.” So, we, as members of the church, are admonished to go and preach the gospel to non-believers. We go from the church to the non-believing world. Clearly, this implies that non-Christians are outside the church.
The Bible also describes exactly who is supposed to be inside the church. The book of Acts says God added to the church the people who were being saved. That doesn’t mean we don’t want non-believers to come to church, but it does mean we don’t cater to them. We don’t build a church around their “felt needs.” We don’t survey the community and ask non-believers what they want in a church. For a biblical church, such an exercise would be pointless because, as Scripture points out, the things of the cross are foolishness to the unbeliever. The church is made up of people who believe in “the foolishness of the cross.” As we carry out the function of a New Testament Church that God builds—that God gave His Son for, that Christ died for—we disciple and train believers, and then go forth to carry out the Great Commission.
This leads me to the conclusion that Tim Keller has a completely unbiblical view of the purpose, function, and makeup of the church. We’re not meant to build a church for a specific economic group—here’s a church for the poor, here’s one for the middle class, this one’s for the rich. No, the church is the church for anyone who accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, but not for anyone else.
Part of Keller’s intent is to promote social justice. It’s a common agenda and admittedly in some cases, well-intended. However, any justification for promoting it ends when the wrong-headed mixture of Christianity and Marxism comes into play. Keller tries to make it sound good, though, as this excerpt from one of his videos reveals:
[quote] Listen, the Bible does not condone irresponsible behavior, but by and large, it sees the frequent irresponsible behavior as a response to poverty rather than as a cause of poverty. That’s why, for example, you have in Proverbs 10:15, . . . “The wealth of the wealthy is their fortified city, but the poverty of the poor is their destruction.” Doesn’t say, this is very unusual . . . your destruction is your sin, your destruction is your wickedness. But no, here . . . the destruction of the poor is their poverty. . .
You see, the wealthy have a fortified city, but the destruction of the poor [is] their poverty. To be poor is to be a city without walls. Now common sense, and the Bible, tells you that a fifth of the people in the world today—who are in incredibly deep poverty—they are not in deep poverty as a result of their irresponsible behavior. Their frequent irresponsible behavior, their frequent crime, their frequent cynicism and hopeless behavior is a response to the poverty.
When you sit in the subway and you see the kids—tons of kids—that you can see are coming to maturity, and when they get to maturity they will have nothing the world values. They won’t have the skills, they won’t be able to relate to people, they won’t have the marketable skills, they’ll have nothing. And you look at them and you know that some of them are going to escape that if they’re unbelievably super ambitious, and if they’re unbelievably lucky, but most of them won’t. Did they ask for that? [end quote]
Keller uses scripture to talk about the rich versus the poor. Specifically, he’s taking Proverbs 10:15 wildly out of context. Here’s what it says: “The rich man’s wealth is his fortress. The ruin of the poor is their poverty.” Keller twists this to say that poor people break the law or live in a moral mess because poverty has driven them to it. Yet, that is not what this text is teaching. Proverbs is simply stating a truth about the poor person’s condition—that bad choices have poverty as a consequence.
But how do we really know what this text is teaching? Putting the verse in context shows that the flow of thought begins in verse 2 with this statement: “Ill-gotten gains do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.” In other words, cheating people doesn’t work. But if you are involved in ill-gotten gains it can lead to financial ruin, or financial death. Then the writer says, “The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, but he will reject the cravings of the wicked.” There are consequences for people who do not do what is right. Then verse 4 makes this pronouncement: “Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Most people will find that, if they are honest, hardworking, conscientious, and have a good reputation, over time their work will pay off. Regardless of the specific line of work, if you work hard over time, most people will achieve financial success.
The sociological facts agree with this scripture, not with Keller’s interpretation of it. Theodore Dalrymple’s significant book Life At The Bottom explains that an aberrant worldview creates the underclass. Dalrymple writes out of his vast experience as a doctor serving in psychiatric wards and prisons throughout Europe, and he is not specifically writing as a Christian, merely as an observer of social reality. He reveals that the single most common trait of all who live in poverty is their belief in moral relativism or situational ethics. And in explaining the source, he says that the intelligentsia—the academic elite, educrats, and postmodern moral relativists in the educational system—are the most responsible for the situation. They foisted on the underclass a worldview destined for their destruction.
Keller, on the other hand, says the activities of the poor cause their poverty, not their worldview. I believe, and the studies prove, that people have economic problems because of their bad choices. Ideas have consequences, and their moral choices—based on their ideas about morality—have, in many cases, created poverty. That’s the reverse of the Keller model. He says poverty causes moral problems, but poverty is often a consequence of the lack of pursuing the things of God. Poverty could be a judgement from God, the consequences of the way these people think.
Interestingly enough, biblical principles work for both the saved and the unsaved. An unsaved person can follow a biblical model in the area of economics, not really recognize it as such, and yet reap the blessings that come from following a biblical worldview. This would include honesty (“thou shalt not steal”) and maintaining a good reputation (“better to have a good name than great riches”). The result? Any hardworking, honest person with a good reputation—whether believer or nonbeliever—will grow his or her business as these traits bring more clients or customers.
The principles that make our free market system work come largely from the Bible and were implemented by the second-generation reformers. The free market system was largely promoted by these men. The long-time classic on this principle is a book called The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. The authors explain that the average millionaire at the time the book was written, was a person involved in a service business—most likely what is considered a blue-collar line of work. The people cited in the book owned sanitation companies, roofing companies, painting businesses, siding companies; some were brick masons. The key is that all of them worked hard and gained wealth over time.
The continuation of Proverbs 10 drives the point home even further. Consider verse 16: “The wages of the righteous is life. The income of the wicked, punishment. He is on the path of life who heeds instruction. But he who ignores reproof goes astray.” Then look at the impressive sequence of promises, starting with verse 21:
- 21—“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of understanding.”
- 22—“It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.”
- 23—“Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”
- 24—“What the wicked fears will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted.”
Reward comes to the righteous, and a curse (consequence)! comes to the unrighteous. So, the rich man’s “fortress” is wealth that protects him from the elements, against the unexpected, and in the face of hard times. The ruin of the poor, on the other hand, is his poverty. He has nothing to flee to in his troubles.
Money does, indeed, help us, at times, to avoid trouble, and Proverbs acknowledges that reality. If your car breaks down, having money to fix it mitigates a lot of the problem. With your car in working condition, you can go to the grocery store, get to work on time, get the kids to school. You can fulfill all kinds of responsibilities because you have transportation. Money can solve the problems you encounter in life, but if you have not worked hard, been diligent, and put away money in savings, you have no way to mitigate problems, and your financial straits can quickly spiral downward.
Keller would have us believe that the wealth of the rich is somehow connected to the ruin of the poor, but Proverbs 10:15 is simply part of the scriptural “ping pong” between the righteous and the unrighteous. The writer of Proverbs contrasts the two. He points out the blessings that come to the righteous, the hard working, and the diligent on the one hand and contrasts them with the consequences for those who are slothful, dishonest, unjust, immoral, and lazy. Although the economic system in America is not a perfect reflection of these principles in action, it works better than any other system because it is based on biblical principles.
Keller has such an ax to grind that he twists Scripture in order to imply that poor people are poor because they’ve somehow been taken advantage of; they’ve been exploited (can you say, “Marxism?”). Keller teaches this clearly, as you can see from this video excerpt:
[quote] And the Bible says, “Therefore, because poverty is an economic condition, we respond to it as believers with mercy, but then secondly because it’s a social condition we must respond to it with justice.” Because there’s injustice, because there’s exploitation. (emphasis mine) [end quote]
The notion that exploitation causes poverty is Marxism 101—workers are poor because the owners exploited them. This is typical class warfare.
Lamentably, Keller’s influence from Redeemer Presbyterian Church reaches far beyond his local congregation and even his denomination. For example, he was selected to write the foreword for a popular book called Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary by J. D. Greear. And what is the significance of his writing this foreword? Simply that J. D. Greear, pastor of the 10,000-member Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, was elected as the president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2018. The SBC, of course, is the largest Protestant denomination in America. This suggests that the Southern Baptist Convention elected a president who promotes cultural Marxism. Greear promotes white privilege, racial reconciliation, and a lot of other social justice buzzwords. Some of these ideas, like racial reconciliation, sound great until you understand what they really mean. “Racial reconciliation” is code for needing to make reparation for past injustices. In reality, it is simply race-baiting and the manufacturing of racial offenses that create division and justify the confiscation of property or wealth from one to give to another what is not justifiably theirs.
Promoting these concepts doesn’t fix any problems. In fact, it makes many of them worse by highlighting racial offenses—many of which no longer exist—and blaming the problems of a sinful society on race. A common manifestation of this is to blame high unemployment in the black community on Christians and capitalists because they are “racists.” Yet, it is socialist, big-government policies that have limited the opportunity for entry level jobs in the black community, and the high crime in these communities is often black-on-black crime, rarely involving white people at all.
Lest you think my mention of Tim Keller’s influence on Greear is merely “guilt by association” because Keller wrote the foreword for Greear’s book, note what Greear says of Keller on the dedication page of Gospel:
[quote] To Tim Keller, whose thinking has so permeated my own that I can no longer really tell where his stops and mine starts. I’m heavily indebted to him for many of the ideas in this book, particularly in chapters two, three, and six. I’ve listened to and read Tim Keller so much that I tend to plagiarize his interpretation of a passage before I even hear him teach on that passage. [end quote]
Elsewhere in the book, Greear also credits emergent church leader Rob Bell as a major influence.
At his church, Greear has added to the vocabulary of “newspeak” to hammer the cultural Marxist agenda. His church website, for example, promotes one of his teaching series this way:
[quote] This three-week course will provide a Christian perspective on America’s history in the future regarding ethnic relations. Come and discuss black history, white privilege, wokeness, together with your fellow believers in a saving gospel centered environment. Leave with practical action steps to make the church and our society a multiethnic haven. (emphasis mine) [end quote]
And what is ‘wokeness,’ you might wonder? It is a relatively new term meaning to awaken to an understanding of that which you didn’t even know existed—in this case, your white privilege. Greear wants white people ‘woken’ to the understanding that, because they’re white, they automatically get privileges other people don’t get.
In my estimation, the “oppression” of non-whites by non-woken whites is a bit hard to see in practice. A black man has been elected president of the United States—twice! Supreme Court justices in recent memory include Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Colin Powell served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and then as Secretary of State. And Condoleezza Rice managed to become secretary of state “even though” she was a woman and black. Add to these accomplishments by black Americans the hundreds of black senators, representatives, governors, and state assemblymen, and it’s difficult to swallow the allegations of white privilege. The concept is manufactured as part of the dialectical conflict we discussed in the last chapter. Yet J. D. Greear, leader of millions of evangelical Christians, would have us wake up to invisible privileges the “white folks” among us don’t even know about.
More than anything, white privilege is the promotion of anti-capitalist, free market, anti-Christian values. How do we know this? One of the speakers at the 15th Annual White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconsin offers these telling remarks:
[quote] So, what do I mean by Christian hegemony? Very simply, I define it as the everyday pervasive, deep-seated, and institutionalized dominance of Christian values, Christian institutions, leaders, and Christians as a group primarily for the benefit of Christian ruling elites. So that’s very similar to how we might define racism . . . or other systems of oppression. [end quote]
So, racism is defined as “Christians”—people with Christian values.
Capitalism, too, comes under direct fire as evidenced by this excerpt from speeches at the same conference:
[quote] So, in this particular study, it showed that if you were more inclined to free market capitalism, you had a higher tendency of holding ethnocentric values. For me, capitalism is like the all-consuming thing. Capitalism maintains white supremacy, white privilege, racism, sexism, patriarchy, hetero-normativity you name it—capitalism. [end quote]
Apparently, capitalism, white privilege, racism, and oppression all go together. This ‘Newspeak regimen’ loops around on itself. If you say “white privilege,” you’re talking capitalists. If you talk about capitalists, you mean those with white privilege, and either term refers to people who are racist. Add in Christian values, and you’ve added “oppressors” to the vocabulary. But what is the real goal here? It’s to create a Marxist-friendly worldview that believes suffering and oppression result primarily from the “toxic” mix of Christianity and capitalism. And did I mention that—again—this is precisely the formula of the Frankfurt School?