It was his focus on the eternal issues of life—of issues of meaning—that really hooked me. Nowhere else was anybody I knew talking about these things in the way that Tim was. He illustrated his points through philosophy, art, pop culture and yes, the Bible. But it was a Bible I had never been introduced to, despite attending church and Sunday school every weekend of my childhood. He brought it alive and showed how it was actually relevant to my life.
Tim Keller, one of American Christianity’s giants, passed away this week [May 19, 2023] at age 72.
As some of you may know, I somewhat improbably spent years in the evangelical fold starting in 2005 following the sudden death of my father at age 61 and the passing of my beloved grandmother the year after. It’s hard to imagine that I would have headed down this road but for Tim Keller.
I entered Tim’s church, Redeemer Presbyterian, as a fairly committed atheist. I had long ago dispatched with my Episcopalian upbringing and other than the boyfriend who brought me to church, there were very few religious people in my Manhattan friend group, which consisted primarily of people working in or dedicated to Democratic politics.
Sunday was for brunch, not church.
A year later, I was all in with Christianity. And not just any Christianity—I had signed up for Tim Keller’s brand of evangelical Christianity, or at least what I thought was Tim Keller’s brand of evangelicalism.
My feelings about Tim Keller the person are straightforward: I knew him to be a thoughtful, brilliant, kind person. A devoted husband and father; humble and generous. I was often the beneficiary of his wisdom as I navigated various issues. His wife Kathy, just as brilliant as he, was my Bible study teacher for years. They were intertwined heart, mind and soul—it’s hard to imagine the grief she is experiencing as she faces life without him.
What was it that was so alluring about Tim? David Brooks does a good job of capturing it:
American evangelicalism suffers from an intellectual inferiority complex that sometimes turns into straight anti-intellectualism. But Tim could draw on a vast array of intellectual sources to argue for the existence of God, to draw piercing psychological insights from the troubling parts of Scripture or to help people through moments of suffering. His voice was warm, his observations crystal clear. We all tried to act cool around Tim, but we knew we had a giant in our midst.
He didn’t fight a culture war against that Manhattan world. His focus was not on politics but on “our own disordered hearts, wracked by inordinate desires for things that control us, that lead us to feel superior and exclude those without them, that fail to satisfy us even when we get them.”
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By Ben Davis — 1 year ago
How are we to define love? Love is not love, in the sense that it is wielded against the church today. God is love, and that means our definitions of God and love are subject to God’s self-revelation. Not some of it. Not just the red letters. All of it.
Love is love. Has there ever been a more ambiguous, redundant, and meaningless phrase so frequently uttered by the human tongue? Yet this simple, three-word slogan has proved to be one of the most effective weapons brandished against traditional, Christian norms in society today.
The phrase has been the battle cry of almost every successful “equality” campaign to advance across the Western world and has since become the default response to any, and all, resistance to the progressive rebranding of family, marriage, and sexuality.
It’s a powerful maxim, but its potency isn’t to be found in the phrase itself. “Love is love” makes as novel an argument as asserting, “Water is water.” Nobody is going to dispute such a self-evident claim.
Rather, the power of the argument is found in the fault of those it’s wielded against. Simply put, the phrase exploits the weakness of those who lack a clear, objective standard by which to measure what constitutes love. Namely, those who have disconnected love from its biblical definition.
That this argument has been so useful to the progressive cause in stamping out Christian opposition only demonstrates how widespread this problem is. For decades, the church has, through ignorance or malice, subverted the Christian standard by substituting the biblical definition for a vague, subjective, Gnostic alternative.
As a result, love has essentially been reduced to nothing more than a four-letter acronym: “WWJD?” The loving response is now whatever we personally imagine Jesus doing in any hypothetical moral dilemma. Today, Marcion effectively lives on through, what has been dubbed, ‘red-letter Christianity’ and those who think the Old Testament has passed its ‘used by’ date.
With this mindset now firmly fixed within the church, there’s little wonder why we have militant Christian camps on all sides of every social issue currently up for debate. Love no longer has any definitive boundaries, parameters, or borders. If a thing seems loving, it is loving.
Consequently, whatever is “deemed” love must be accepted as love, because, after all, love is love. What many are yet to realize is that by forfeiting the biblical definition of love, the church has surrendered any meaningful involvement in this debate.
Without a firmly fixed criterion, how could anyone consistently argue that anything labelled “love” fails to meet a non-existent standard? Without a detailed definition of what love is, who can criticize, scrutinize, or demonize anything that anyone else experiences as “love”?
That was the argument of an Australian Anglican Bishop who recently dismissed the idea that Jesus strictly defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
A major news outlet in Australia quoted the bishop who claimed the governing rule of the Gospels was Christ’s love for all people. However, according to the bishop, this is supposedly so vague, and so obscure, that we cannot possibly say who is and is not “fulfilling the teaching of Jesus and his ruling principle of love.”
Although conclusions on this specific subject may vary, the bishop’s assumptions are reflective of a broader sentiment within the church. The trend is to disconnect ‘red-letter ethics’ from the rest of the moral imperatives in the Bible. It effectively ‘unhitches’ Gospel love from its broader definition, making it impossible to clearly define or challenge, especially when it comes to affirming those things the world lauds, but the Bible abhors.
As such, concepts such as “love” now float in obscurity. This is largely why Christians have had difficulty trying to explain why ‘red-letter love’ doesn’t resemble what the progressives are demanding. Without a broader, objective definition, we must conclude with the bishop, that no one could possibly say what is and is not “love.” If it is deemed love, it must be accepted as love and considering Jesus loved love, we ought to love it too, because once again, love is love. Right?!
Of course, Jesus had a lot to say about love. Love is an essential aspect of the Christian life, so much so, that the absence of love may be considered the evidence of an absence of true and saving faith in God (1 Jn 3:10, 4:20). It is the external identifier by which “all people” will know who is and is not following Jesus (Jn 13:35). But if love is identifiable, then it must look a certain way and not another. It must be recognizable, distinguishable, and definable.
So, how then does the New Testament define love? What are the boundaries, parameters, and borders necessary for defining anything?
By Nancy Pearcey — 5 months ago
Churchgoing exposes men to messages telling them the family was created by God—it is not some evolutionary accident. Church tells men that they are accountable before God for how they treat their family….The bottom line is that Christians have a practical answer to resolving the war between men and women—one that has stood up to empirical testing. We should be bold about bringing it into the public square as a solution to the charge of toxic masculinity.
It’s no secret that the public rhetoric against men has grown increasingly harsh and bitter. Even some men have taken to maligning their own sex: “Women Have a Right to Hate Men,” wrote blogger Anthony James Williams. “Talking about ‘healthy masculinity’ is like talking about ‘healthy cancer,’” said John Stoltenberg, author of Refusing to Be a Man. “Testosterone is the problem….Women should be in charge of everything,” tweeted the bestselling science fiction writer Hugh Howey. Testosterone is “a toxin that you have to slowly work out of your system,” said James Cameron, director of the movie Avatar.
The negative rhetoric is causing younger men to feel especially defensive and defeated. In the Wall Street Journal, Erica Komisar writes, “In my practice as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen an increase of depression in young men who feel emasculated in a society that is hostile to masculinity.” A survey of male teens and young adults found that a full 50 percent agree with the statement, “Feminism has gone too far and makes it harder for men to succeed.”
How can Christians create a balanced view that stands against the outright male-bashing that is so common, yet also holds men responsible to a higher standard? To answer that question, we need to dig into the history of the idea that masculinity is toxic. It turns out that its roots go back much further than you might think. We will be able to counter it effectively only if we ask where it came from and how it developed.
Man of the House
Through most of human history, most people lived on family farms or in peasant villages—including the colonial era here in America. Productive work was done in the home or its outbuildings. As a result, work was not a matter of the father’s job; it was the family industry. A household was a semi-independent economic unit, often including members of the extended family, apprentices, servants, hired hands, and (mostly in the South) slaves. Often the living quarters were in one part of the house, with offices, workshops, or stores in another part of the same house.
The fact that economically productive work was performed in the home meant that both parents could be involved in rearing children. Women were responsible for a wide range of productive activities, from spinning wool to canning food to making candles. In addition, writes sociologist Alice Rossi, for a colonial woman, marriage “meant to become a co-worker beside a husband . . . learning new skills in butchering, silversmith work, printing, or upholstering—whatever special skills the husband’s work required.”
For men, being a father was not a separate activity that you came home to after clocking out at work. With a few exceptions (like soldiers and sailors), fathers were a visible presence in the home, day in and day out. They introduced their children to the world of work, training them to work alongside them. Historians who have researched the literature on parenting—such as sermons and child-rearing manuals—have found that they were not addressed to mothers, as most are today. Instead, they were typically addressed to fathers.
Today we talk about housewives, but in the colonial era, heads of household were sometimes called housefathers. Historian John Gillis writes, “Not only artisans and farmers but also business and professional men conducted much of their work in the house, assisted by their wives and children.” Surprising as it sounds, Gillis says, men
were as comfortable in the kitchen as women, for they had responsibility for provisioning and managing the house. Cookbooks and domestic conduct books were directed primarily to them [men] and they were as devoted to décor as they were to hospitality.
In their day-to-day life, colonial fathers may have been closer to the Reformation than to us today. Martin Luther once said, “When a father washes diapers and performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool,” he should remember that “God with all his angels and creatures is smiling.”
Common Good Authority
All this did not diminish the concept of a father’s authority in the home. Yet the colonists held a very definite meaning of authority. They were influenced by classical republicanism, a political theory modeled on the classical thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome. They regarded social institutions as organic structures ordered toward a common good. In this theory, the person in authority was the one who had responsibility for the common good.
What does the term common good mean? A social institution—whether a marriage, family, church, school, or state—was regarded as an organic unity, something beyond the individuals involved. You can sense what that means when you hear people say, “There’s me, and there’s you, and there’s our relationship.” Sometimes people say, “We need to work on our relationship.” They sense that there is a third entity beyond the individuals. What is good for the relationship itself is the common good.
Now, this creates a problem. Everyone naturally pursues his own individual good—I look out for what’s best for me; you look out for what’s best for you. But who looks out for the common good?
That’s what authority was for. A position of authority was an “office,” and the person in that office was called to sacrifice his own individual interests and ambitions for the interests of the whole—to pursue the common good. Thus, in early America, a man was expected to fulfill himself not so much through personal success as through serving what was called the “publick good.” Virtue itself, writes UCLA historian Ruth Bloch, was defined as the willingness “to sacrifice individual interests for the common good.”
A New Script
How did Americans lose this concept of masculine virtue? The change began as far back as the industrial revolution. Its main impact was to take work out of the home. That may seem like a simple change—in the physical location of work—but it had enormous social consequences.
Men had little choice but to follow their work out of households and fields into factories and offices. Husband and wife no longer worked side by side. Historian Pat Hudson says, “The decline of family and domestic industry shattered the interdependent relationship between husband and wife.”
It also became difficult for fathers to continue anything like their traditional paternal role. They simply no longer spent enough time with their children to educate them or enforce regular discipline or train them in adult skills and trades. Again, the evidence for this is in the child-rearing manuals of the day. The most striking feature in the mid-nineteenth century is the disappearance of references to fathers. For the first time, we find sermons, pamphlets, and books on child-rearing addressed exclusively to mothers.
The world of industrial capitalism itself also fostered a new definition of masculinity. For the first time, men were not spending most of the day with their wives and children—people they loved and had a moral bond with. Instead, they were working as individuals in competition with other men.
The social script for men began to change. To survive in the new commercialized workplace, it seemed necessary for men to become more ambitious and self-assertive, to look out for number one. People began to protest that men were growing self-interested, ego-driven, and acquisitive. The rhetoric around masculinity began to focus on traits that people both then and now regard in a negative light.
In political theory, there was a corresponding shift from the household as the basic unit of society to the individual. Recall that classical republicanism rested on the idea of organic communities—that there was a common good for marriage, family, church, or state.
That organic view gave way to modern liberalism, which took its model from physics. The apex of the scientific revolution was Newtonian physics, which pictured the material world as so many atoms bumping around in the void, driven by natural forces. The same metaphor was applied to the social world.
Social philosophers constructed what they actually called a “social physics.” Civil society was pictured as a collection of human atoms—independent, disconnected individuals—who come together only out of self-interest. Political theory was no longer animated by a moral vision of the common good.
This was called social contract theory. For example, Thomas Hobbes proposed that society was nothing but an aggregate of individuals not bound by any moral obligations. In his words, we should “look at men as if they had just emerged from the earth like mushrooms and grown up without any obligation to each other.”
How did this political philosophy affect Americans’ view of masculinity? If there was no common good, then a man’s duty could no longer be defined as responsibility for protecting the common good. Men were set free to pursue self-interest.
The Naked Public Square
During the same time period, the public realm was being secularized, which further undercut the ideal of the common good. In Be a Man! historian Peter Stearns explains: “Exposed to a competitive, acquisitive economic world and, often, to a secular education, many men lost an active religious sense.”
And as men lost that “active religious sense,” they began to say that morality had no place in the realm of politics, business, and industry—that the public sphere should be secular and value-free. What did that mean for values? You were supposed to leave them behind in the private sphere. You were not to bring your private values into the public world.
The upshot is that men were no longer expected to practice self-sacrifice for the common good. They were expected to practice self-assertion for their own advancement. The male character was redefined as coarse, pragmatic, and morally insensitive. Western culture began expecting less of men—lowering the bar on what it means to be a man.
The Doctrine of Separate Spheres
Of course, people still desperately wanted to maintain values—things like kindness, affection, altruism, self-sacrifice, piety, and religious devotion. And if there was no place for them in the public sphere, where would they be cultivated?
In the private sphere. And who would be responsible for cultivating them? Women. Women were called on to cultivate the values that had been stripped from the value-free public arena. They were to maintain the home as a private haven where men could be renewed, reformed, and refined.
In the nineteenth century, a sharp dichotomy was drawn between the public and private realms. This was called the doctrine of separate spheres. And it functioned as the main coping mechanism to protect the values that were being endangered as society was secularized. As one nineteenth-century advice book put it, “The world corrupts, home should refine.” A social psychologist at MIT, Kenneth Keniston, summarizes in these words:
The family became a special protected place, the repository of tender, pure, and generous feelings (embodied in the mother) and a bulwark and bastion against the raw, competitive, aggressive, and selfish world of commerce (embodied by the father).
This was a dramatic reversal. In colonial days, husbands and fathers had been admonished to be the moral and spiritual leaders of the household. But now men were being told that they were naturally crude and brutish—and that they needed to learn virtue from their wives.
And a surprisingly large number of men accepted that message. During the Civil War, the young Ulysses S. Grant wrote to his sweetheart Julia, “If I feel tempted to anything I now think is not right, I ask myself, ‘If Julia saw me, would I do so?’ And thus it is, absent or present, I am more or less governed by what I think is your will.”
On the other side of the Mason-Dixon line, the Confederate general William Pender wrote to his wife, “I have almost come to feel that you are a part of my religion. Whenever I find my mind wandering upon bad and sinful thoughts, I try to think of my good and pure wife and they leave me at once^You are truly my good Angel.”
This is the origin of the double standard—the idea that women naturally have a greater moral sensitivity. On one hand, this served to empower women. There had never been a time before in all of history when women were considered morally superior to men. This was something completely new.
From the time of the ancient Greeks, people thought knowing right from wrong was a rational insight, that men were more rational, and that, therefore, men were more virtuous than women. The word virtue comes from the Latin root vir, which means man, and the term originally had connotations of manly strength and honor.
But as the public sphere was secularized, for the first time in history, women were said to be morally superior to men (especially in regard to things like sex and alcohol). They were called upon to be the moral guardians of society.
Yet there was an underlying dynamic in all this that was very troubling. In essence, America was releasing men from the responsibility to be virtuous. For the first time in history, moral and spiritual leadership were no longer viewed as masculine attributes.
By Patience Griswold — 1 year ago
Adults have a responsibility to prioritize children’s needs and well-being. Subjecting children to irreversible “treatments” in an effort to change their bodies is harmful, and many Americans still recognize this, even if they are afraid to say so in public. It is discouraging and troubling when people are unable or unwilling to say what a woman is. It is easy to stay silent when there is an entire month celebrating a radical sexual agenda and we are constantly being told that everyone else agrees. But not only is this agenda far less popular than we are led to believe, it is and always will be harmful because it is at odds with God’s good design. Parades and marches—even surgical intervention—will never change that.
A study released earlier this year found that 43 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 65 say that children and teens with gender dysphoria should not be subjected to puberty-blockers, cross-sex hormones, and so-called “sex reassignment” surgery. However, a more recent study asked a slightly different question. This study asked if people believed that transgenderism is a healthy condition and whether they were willing to say so publicly. 64 percent said that it was not a healthy condition, but only 30 percent were willing to say so publicly. Seventy-eight percent were opposed to children being encouraged to undergo gender transition. Similarly, 63 percent of American adults were opposed to redefining sex to include “gender identity.”
The majority of children who struggle with gender dysphoria become comfortable with their bodies by the time they reach adulthood if they do not undergo social or medical “transition.” “Transitioning” a child signs him up for a lifetime of invasive medical interventions that come with serious, lifelong consequences.
Because God’s Word accurately describes his world, we know that the biblical view of gender and sexuality is the truth and that our bodies follow that design. This means that what God has to say about sexuality and our bodies is true not just for believers but for everyone, and that the transgender movement’s insistence that a person can be “born in the wrong body” or that mutilating surgeries and hormone “treatments” will help people become their “true selves” is always harmful.
As Christians, we are called to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.