CrossPolitic and Keller the Cultural Communist

On Sunday I had the joy of being interviewed on the CrossPolitic programme – You can watch the whole programme here – (my part begins around the 26 minute mark).

 

I throughly enjoyed talking to these guys (although drinking malt from a mug is almost beyond the pale!)  and hope it is the beginning of a fruitful relationship, but I suspect that they might find that difficult.  The latter part of the show (when I was gone!) was largely a critique of Tim Keller and his ‘making peace with socialism’.   They asked what I thought – when I wasn’t there – so here is my answer. (sorry guys – but you did ask!).   I thought this article from Tim Keller in the New York Times was spot on.  But the stable from which CrossPolitic comes is of a somewhat different view.

Their Pastor, Doug Wilson was scathing about Keller….Prophetic or Political accusing him amongst other things of ‘cowardice’.  Why?  Because he didn’t mention abortion or Planned Parenthood.   He also stated “Socialism is theft. Christians who support it are supporting theft, and I am afraid Keller is among them.”

Tim Keller-√r
Karl Keller at work!

Of course, as with all Doug Wilsons work, this was well written, amusing and contained some good things.  I thought some of his critique was fair – but on the two points above he was not just OTT but wrong.  Firstly accusing someone of cowardice, who has made a stand in the midst of secular New York and seen the Gospel flourish and a significant difference being made, is not advisable – not least when you do so from the safe confines of your own community in Moscow, Idaho.    I know Tim Keller and he is no coward.  You can argue he was wrong.   You can argue he was unwise – but to accuse him of cowardice is not helpful.  It is also simplistic – was Jesus cowardly because he didn’t mention the Roman occupation or abortion in the sermon on the mount?

Carl Trueman has a good answer to those who accuse Keller of being a cultural Marxist – I loved this paragraph..

Let me be clear—while respecting him as a brother in Christ, I am not an acolyte of Rev. Keller. I disagree at points with both his theology and philosophy of ministry. Nor do I share his love of the city. For me, cities are a necessary evil whose sole purpose is to provide country boys like me somewhere to go to the theatre once in a while. And I am definitely not an optimistic transformationalist as he is—trust me, things are going to get worse before, well, they get even worse than that. But he is no cultural Marxist, and to call him such is to reveal not the politics of the good doctor but the ignorance of the troll. It is to indulge in the spirit of this age, which eschews thoughtful argument about difficult issues for moronic and often malicious soundbites. It is not a helpful way of locating him in current debates in order to further the discussion, but rather a cheap way of pre-emptively delegitimizing him and his opinions. It is an unwarranted slur on his character, for we all know that cultural Marxism is not intended as a morally neutral term. And—I almost forgot—it is to break the Ninth Commandment about a Christian brother. And that’s a sin—not so much a sin against Tim Keller as against the God he serves.

Wilson, who normally presents a thought out and carefully constructed argument, lets himself down with this rather simplistic ‘logic’.  Premise one – socialism is theft.  Premise two – Christians don’t steal.  Keller is a socialist therefore Keller is a thief.  The trouble is (apart from the crass, crude name calling) is that the whole argument is based on a false premise.  Socialism is not necessarily theft.  Its as though I said – Capitalism is murder.  Christians don’t murder.  Doug Wilson is a capitalist therefore he is a murderer.  Its a dumb argument- not least because I don’t know, and I don’t care whether Wilson is a Capitalist.    I do know that Tim is not a socialist….in fact he’s a bit right wing for my liking!   I guess it comes from mixing with all those New York bankers!  And in case you wonder – I don’t think capitalism is necessarily murder any more than I think that socialism is necessarily theft.

Rather than repeat all the arguments I refer you to two articles I wrote on this subject –

Is Socialism Satanic? – Why has the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals gone all Political?

Is Capitalism Satanic?

This quote answers Doug’s simplistic charge:

 Socialism is not stealing – unless you are prepared to say that all forms of taxation are stealing. If so, then you are of course going against Christ who said “Give to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s.” So what Mr Phillips is really saying is that if you do not like what the government is using your money for then you just call it stealing. This strikes me as a somewhat illogical and cavalier way to use the Scripture as some kind of justification for your politics. We may disagree about what precisely the role of government is but that does not give us the right to claim that only our view is scriptural and all other views are evil. Defence, protecting the weak, punishing evil doers etc. are accepted by all but the most extremist libertarians. However, there has been a long Reformed tradition that argued that the role of government extends beyond that.

“Calvin saw civil government as an opportunity for good. Schools and roads could be provided to benefit both the rich and the poor. New hospitals and prisons were also a part of the social reforms he encouraged.” Gary Z Cole – John Calvin on Civil Government.
Imagine that. Calvin was for ‘Socialised Medicine! Besides which there is a far stronger case to argue that unfettered market capitalism, with its reliance on high interest rates (which always harm the poor most), is far more unbiblical.

Finally this from Keller’s NYT article sums up my position (as one of the Scottish Highland Presbyterians referred to).  Don’t de-Christianise those who disagree with your political viewpoints…and don’t make your political viewpoints the test of Christian orthodoxy.  The American church has largely gone down that route.  You have sown the wind and now you are reaping the whirlwind.

I know of a man from Mississippi who was a conservative Republican and a traditional Presbyterian. He visited the Scottish Highlands and found the churches there as strict and as orthodox as he had hoped. No one so much as turned on a television on a Sunday. Everyone memorized catechisms and Scripture. But one day he discovered that the Scottish Christian friends he admired were (in his view) socialists. Their understanding of government economic policy and the state’s responsibilities was by his lights very left-wing, yet also grounded in their Christian convictions. He returned to the United States not more politically liberal but, in his words, “humbled and chastened.” He realized that thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies.

CrossPolitic – loved being on your show….if you are still speaking to me happy to come back I’m game!

Engaging with Keller – A Review

 

 

9 thoughts on “CrossPolitic and Keller the Cultural Communist

  1. The problem conservatives have with socialized medicine and pretty much every other social program is the “ignorance” of the bureaucrats and politicians running them. The same reason you don’t want the EU’s heavy, intrusive hand in Scotland is the same reason why we don’t want socialism at all! I also find it illogical that you would point out the imperfections of capitalism as a justification for social programs. There is no perfect system in this fallen world, if a nation is post Christian then there will be corruption in both the free market and government in which both fail. If a nation is Christian and ethical then capitalism will do a great job serving the needs of the people while the Church would serve the needs of the poor, not the State.

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  2. I listened to your interview on CrossPolitic and thought you were great by the way. What do you think about remarriage after divorce? To me it is the Trojan Horse brought into the Church that has opened the door to all kinds of sexual perversions in the Church and culture.

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  3. What these guys are calling us to do, David,
    — whether they know it or not — is to put aside the overriding commission to be salt and light in the place where God has called us to be in order to parade their(ever-decreasing-circles) credentials. Theirs will seem to be very convincing arguments to some who live very far away from Moscow, Idaho but — to put it mildly — there is no support structure in Liverpool for someone who wants to make ‘Socialism is Theft’ a slogan to display the attraction of the gospel.

    And doesn’t sexual sin become an abomination only when it’s linked to idolatry? It’s certainly not helpful for evangelism when Stonewall, for example, tries to portray all kinds of homosexual activity as love-is-love, good-as-you respectability. Nor is it helpful, in my considered opinion, when we in turn lump every kind of damaging sexual behaviour into one amorphous mass and assume guilt of everything in all.

    It doesn’t matter how loudly a minister of the Gospel shouts his credentials into the wind, or how quietly. In the end it is as true now as it has ever been that ‘you will recognise them by their fruits …’ [Matt. 7:16a]. These will not be the last foreigners to think that Scots Presbyterianism must be free from all problems simply because of romantic notions of the good old days.

    [Ecclesiastes 7:10] Say not,’Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

    Keep on.

    Yours,
    John/.

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  4. Calvin’s (a nd the continental reformed tradition’s more broadly) view of the role of the state cannot be separated from their Erastian conception of the relationship between church and state. The Scottish Presbyterian church (not least in the Free Church!) has for a long time repudiated this conception. If you reject this conception, the grounding of most of their arguments loses force.

    In this connection, I’d quote the words of Louis Berkhof, who while from the continental tradition, was no Erastian:

    “It is to be feared that this function of the Church [of offering support to the poor] is sadly neglected in many of the churches to-day. There is a tendency to proceed on the assumption that it can safely be left to the State to provide even for the poor of the Church. But in acting on that assumption, the Church is neglecting a sacred duty, is impoverishing her own spiritual
    life, is robbing herself of the joy experienced in ministering to the needs of those who suffer want, and is depriving those who are suffering hardships, who are borne down by the cares of life, and who are often utterly discouraged, of the comfort, the joy, and the sunshine of the spiritual ministrations of Christian love, which are as a rule entirely foreign to the work of charity administered by the State.”

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    1. I think you will find that Calvin was not as an Erastian and that the Free Church actually believed and believes in a close connection between church and state. This is known as the Establishment principle.

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  5. God gave the state a role. It was to bear the sword, not change nappies. In its role to protect citizens government has the right to financial support to carry out its work. When the state taxes for anything but its God-given role, it is theft.

    It is theft because it compels me, at the point of a gun essentially, to give my money to other citizens (or even illegal immigrants). This money pays for abortions, buys votes, encourages and rewards teen pregnancy, illegal entry into my country, and countless other things I would be otherwise unwilling to fund with the work of my hands.

    Even where you might argue the state does “good” with the money it steals from me, it acts without biblical mandate, and it compels me to give to charity, again, at the point of a gun.

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    1. Sorry, Brian,
      but that’s just wrong. It’s not taxation per se that’s theft but taxation without representation. You could just as easily conclude that philanthropy is theft because of the millions donated by some billionaires for exactly those causes you — and I for that matter — would rather not be associated with.

      Yours,
      John/.

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