One of my favorite parts of Engaging With Keller was the General Introduction where the editors showed admiration and brotherly love for Tim Keller. As I’ve reviewed the book, the tone of the writers has remained brotherly even where they strongly disagree with Keller.
Sadly, chapter 7, written by D.G. Hart, departs from the book’s practice. This chapter was somewhat hard to get through even if it was the least technical. I’ve had to rewrite this blog post so as not to let my negative emotions get the best of me.
I should note that Hart has engaged Keller on his blog, Old Life, the last couple of years. I’ve read Hart’s blog posts (not to mention some of his books and articles on other topics) and found myself frustrated with how he treats a fellow brother. The best way to describe it is snarky.
So, aside from tone, what is Hart’s beef with Keller? Simply put, Keller is questionable in terms of being a Presbyterian (p. 211), not being known for being under the authority of elders or church courts (p. 211), not following the conventions of Presbyterian polity (p. 212), having an “impoverished ecclesiology” (p. 212), not seeing church membership as meaningful (p. 213), cooperating with non-Presbyterians (p. 222), leading a congregational model at Redeemer Presbyterian Church (p. 225), not needing the oversight of elders (p. 234), having an affinity for New Side pastors and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards (p. 231), and betraying “his profession” as a minister in the PCA (p. 235). Now, I ask the reader to look through Hart’s chapter and make sure these points aren’t too out of context.
Now, some of these comments are just silly and aren’t deserving of critique. So, Keller likes New Side guys like Jonathan Edwards? Big deal. That doesn’t make Keller unPresbyterian. Hart never demonstrates how Keller doesn’t submit to his elders or presbytery. Redeemer Presbyterian Church is never shown to be a congregational church.
The three main points of critique from Hart are that Keller cooperates with non-Presbyterians in fellowship and worship, helps non-Presbyterians plant churches, and encourages his congregation to “do ministry” even if they aren’t ordained.
So, is it unPresbyterian to have times of teaching, worship, fellowship, and communion with non-Presbyterians? Is this unconfessional? I never understood Hart’s point on this as he doesn’t give any argument from Scripture or the confessions demonstrating that Presbyterians can never have such fellowship with non-Presbyterians. In addition, while listing Keller alongside John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and D.A. Carson, he fails to mention that Ligon Duncan is a member of The Gospel Coalition Council and frequently participates in TGC conferences. Duncan is also a speaker at Together For the Gospel with the majority of speakers being Baptists. There are plenty of other ‘old school’ Presbyterians that don’t see this issue the same way Hart sees it. I wish Hart would have given the reader a substantial argument as to why its unbiblical or unconfessional to fellowship with non-Presbyterians. (I also wish Hart would consult the Apostles Creed and the teaching about ‘holy catholic church’ and the ‘communion of the saints’. The doctrine of adoption is also relevant to this discussion.)
Keller’s support of and involvement with planting non-Presbyterian churches also rubs Hart the wrong way. Yet, Hart doesn’t give any arguments from Scripture or the subservient confessions as to why such a practice is unPresbyterian. Maybe Hart doesn’t like Redeemer City to City, but that doesn’t qualify as an argument. In addition, Hart doesn’t clarify what it means for Keller and Redeemer to help plant non-Presbyterian churches. (Do they just have non-Presbyterians come through their training program, provide money and/or resources, collaborate on ministry activities?)
Finally, the fact that Redeemer Presbyterian Church encourages lay people to do ministry in their neighborhoods and vocations (evangelism, mercy ministry, integrating faith and work, etc.) undermines the role of clergy and special offices of the church, according to Hart. Again, no substantial argument is given, except that Keller is Kuyperian in his approach and Hart isn’t a fan of such neo-Calvinism. Yet, Hart should have a better argument than “I don’t like Kuyper. Hence, I don’t like Keller.” Also, I wish Hart would have exegeted Ephesians 4:11-12, which seems to say that laypeople are to be equipped for service and ministry to build up the church.
While I was disappointed to see a scholar like Hart stoop to a low level and poor argument in this chapter, I wasn’t surprised. I’m still trying to get over his comments from 1998 when he told John Frame in an online debate “I don’t see what the Reformed have to learn from other traditions.”
After reading Hart the last several years, I am convinced that his method of doing theology, critiquing pastors and theologians, and formulating contemporary application for God’s people today is not one worth imitating.