Tim Keller sent out this tweet on Saturday,
“the demonization and dehumanization of the other side must stop. When professing Christians do it, it is triply wrong.”
The statement shouldn’t be controversial for Christians, but in today’s America (and to a lesser degree, Australia), it was outrageous for Tim Keller to make this suggestion.
Despite many people appreciating his comment (and others that he has recently made on social media), there has been a lot of backlash and complaints. For example,
“Another comical and tone deaf statement by Keller. It’s triply wrong when Christians do it because we expect non-Christians to be awful people that do crappy things.”
Tim Keller is observing a very real and concerning problem in our societies. Public debate no longer has room for grace, kindness, and patience. Genuine conversations are hard to find and even more difficult to start because of the cacophony of stereotypes, insults, and shouts that now dominate public space. The force of political diatribe is sweeping aside nuance and fairness and patience. There is little toleration for paving a new path in this age in intolerance. Keller is rightly noting how it is all too easy for Christians to slide into the assumed poles that are being defined by left and right, progressive and conservative.
Today’s posture is the opposite of Proverbs 18:13 which says,
“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”
The reality is, Christians may agree with a moral principle but we may believe that there are different ways to approach the issue and we might feel more or less passionately about the issue than the next Christian. Among these matters are abortion, racism, refugees, and climate change. We can agree that these are important ethical issues. We grieve over how our culture buys into and even celebrates theories and policies that dehumanise our fellow human beings. It is quite possible, indeed it is inevitable, that while concurring that a certain belief or action is wrong, there is often diverse opinion about how to best approach the issue. It may be unpopular to suggest this, but these disparate positions often have less to do with shared theological convictions and more to do with political philosophy (ie. what is the role of Government?) and personal experience. Instead of recognising the way we form our views, we have wrongly purchased the arrogant absolutism that is now pervading our society.
I have seen this happening even in Australia as the nation deals with the latest manifestations of the sexual revolution, with a bushfire emergency and now with the COVID-19 pandemic. A person may rightly identify an important issue, but if we respond to evil with more sin, how have we contributed in any constructive way? If we only react according to our sense of ‘righteous indignation’, are we not in danger of relying upon rhetorical power to fend off terrible things rather than ‘grace seasoned with salt’?
If I need to resort to slander, gossip, and caricature, in order present my case, I have already lost.
As I casual onlooker of American culture and someone who lives inside Australian culture, it is clear that we have foot-faulted and we’ve convinced ourselves that because others are getting away with it, so can we. One of the consequences is that instead of adorning the Gospel, we attached a pugnacious moralism.
The harder path is the road less trod. A myopic culture may not see much benefit in taking this road but as Christians we are surely looking ahead toward eternity, not just the next social schism or election.
Another response to Keller’s tweet said this,
“Are we implying Christians have NO BATTLE to fight? Demolishing arguments and exposing unbiblical ideologies ≠ attacking individuals. Let’s not forfeit the battle to “the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”
The comment is quite revealing, for it makes the very mistake that Tim Keller is urging Christians to avoid. There is a battle, but we do not fight as the world fights. We don’t resort to the same tactics that are employed by Government and corporations, by Hollywood and by social media platforms. The Bible is clear, we take our stand with truth and faith and righteousness. Our feet are readied with the ‘gospel of peace’. Notice this, Paul describes God’s good news about Jesus Christ as the gospel of peace. The staggering truth is, this is inauguration of peace for those who are not at peace with God. This is a peace for people who are not at rest but who are struggling against God and even ourselves. In this way, the Christian path in our secular age is to proclaim reconciliation and forgiveness through Christ.
When our political and social commitments speak louder than our Gospel convictions we inevitably begin to mirror the culture and not the Church of Jesus Christ. The cross is not a weapon to beat down opponents, it is God’s amazing news of salvation for sinners, of whom I am the worst.
This is the place to begin each day and every conversation,
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
When we view ourselves in light of the cross, it changes the ways we understand ourselves and the way we view others. We can mourn the days in which we live (and there is much reason for mourning). There are sometimes godly reasons for anger. But the cross will surely recompose our attitudes and ambitions and avenues.
As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
How can a Christian live and speak and act without seeing that it was my sin that held him there?
“It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom”