I am fiercely, unequivocally, unapologetically egalitarian. I’ve been preaching since my teenage years so my theological views about the importance of women in church ministry and leadership are hardly a secret. I am also a huge fan of Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church New York.
In the last few days it has emerged that Princeton Theological Seminary have revoked their decision to honour Tim Keller with their annual Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness. The decision to rescind was largely due to backlash around Keller’s complementarian views. His PCA denomination do not ordain women to church leadership roles, a position at odds with the PCUSA, the denomination of Princeton Theological Seminary.
Keller will still deliver a speech at the event. Rev Craig Barnes, president of the seminary who previously supported the decision to award Tim Keller wrote in a recent email to faculty and students: "We are a community that does not silence voices in the church." However, many have noted the irony of the fact that Abraham Kuyper himself, the theologian the award is named after, would now be ineligible to receive it.
One of Keller’s critics was author Carol Howard Merritt, who has welcomed the withdrawal of the award. She had written on her blog:
"As Princeton Theological Seminary celebrates Tim Keller's theology, I will be mourning. As he presents his lecture and receives his $10,000 award, I will lament for my sisters who have been maligned and abused. So much of my ministry has been dedicated to aiding the victims of these poisonous beliefs. In these difficult days, when our president says that women's genitalia is up for grabs by any man with power and influence, I hoped that my denomination would stand up for women, loud and clear. Instead we are honoring and celebrating a man who has championed toxic theology for decades."
It is a heinous misrepresentation of the church leader's ministry
Not only is her post grossly hyperbolic by equating Keller with Trump's womanising, it is also a heinous misrepresentation of the church leader's ministry which has focused on urban transformation and reaching sceptics, not fighting the culture wars of right wing politics. Her use of words such as 'maligned', 'abused' and 'victims' are incredibly offensive to individuals who have experienced genuine abuse both inside and outside the Church. Likewise, I would rather reserve terms like 'poisonous beliefs' and 'toxic theology' to those preaching a message antithetical to the gospel. Extremist jihads who kill innocent people in God’s name, harsh task masters who negate grace and oppress individuals through staunch legalism, selfish dictators who refuse to help the poor and downtrodden – these beliefs and practices are poisonous and toxic.
I may not agree with Tim Keller’s theological understanding of women in leadership but that does not stop him being a world class theologian or a powerful evangelist and pastor. His particular views on one theological issue do not cloud his deep understanding of God’s grace, providence and power.
This case draws out everything that is utterly opposed to gospel unity
The furore around this case draws out everything that is utterly opposed to gospel unity. As Christians we need to learn to disagree kindly – to acknowledge that what unites us is so much greater than that which divides. Its not just Keller and conservative Protestant denominations that the critics must take issue with - by the same logic the entire Catholic and Orthodox streams of the global church are also 'poisonous' and 'toxic'. I'm not saying the issues that divide us are unimportant, but we must do better than this. Why on earth are we wasting our time arguing about secondary issues when there is a world out there that needs to be saved?
I love what Krish Kandiah said on Twitter: "Before he is a complementarian, Tim Keller is a brother in Christ, a co-labourer in the gospel." He attached a meme with the tweet which read: "I have the utmost respect for Tim Keller despite disagreeing with him profoundly on his approach to women and ministry. Until we find a way to model unity in diversity, grace in disagreement and appreciation despite difference we have little to offer a fragmented world."
Our world is desperate for the good news of Jesus but so often we get in the way. It’s time for us to put aside our petty in-fighting and unite in preaching the hope of the gospel to a hurting world.