Iam fiercely, unequivocally, unapologetically egalitarian. In other words, I believe that both men and women can be gifted by God to preach and lead churches. 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.
Princeton Theological Seminary’s decision to rescind their award was largely due to backlash around Keller’s complementarian views (Keller’s denomination do not ordain women to church leadership roles).
Revd Craig Barnes, president of the New Jersey based seminary, wrote in an 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. She wrote 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. 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.”
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. Her use of words such as “maligned”, “abused” and “victims” are incredibly offensive to individuals who have experienced genuine abuse.
I would rather reserve terms such as “poisonous beliefs” and “toxic theology” for those preaching a message antithetical to the gospel. Extremist jihads who kill innocent people in God’s name, harsh taskmasters 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.
As Christians we need to learn to disagree kindly – to acknowledge that what unites us is so much greater than that which divides. It’s 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”.
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.
Ruth Jackson is the deputy editor of Premier Youth and Children's Work and head of Youth Apologetics.
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