I have enjoyed reading Tim Keller’s Center Church recently. I will publish a full review shortly. In the meantime I have always been struck by the gracious manner that Keller conducts himself. As a conservative evangelical he shares a lot of core beliefs with people like Mark Driscoll and John Piper, but the way he engages with those he disagrees with is often very different. Some of it will be due to temparement and personality i am sure, but towards the end of Center Church. Keller relates 4 guiding principles he has when engaging with other people’s views. I’d like to adopt them myself as New Year’s blogging resolutions- so feel free to hold me to account on this.
All Christian movements must be characterized by a willingness to unite around commonly held central truths and to accept differences on secondary matters that —in the view of the partners —do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. To maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. Yet in doing so, we must show respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not punish them.
In a section marked “Gospel Polemics” Keller presents his rules of engagement:
- Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not hold.
- Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively.
- Represent your opponents’ position in its strongest form, not in a weak ‘straw man’ form.
- Seek to persuade, not antagonize–but watch your motives!
- Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing theology–because only God sees the heart.
It is number one that I am most interested in:
Attribute to antagonist no opinion that he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence. In other words, even if you believe that Mr A’s belief X could lead others who hold belief X to hold belief Y, do not accuse Mr A of holding belief Y if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent but this is not the same as insisting that he holds belief Y when he does not….A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr A quotes a particular author favourably at any point then Mr A must hold all the views held by the author. If through guilt by association we hint or insist that he must hold other beliefs of that particular author then we are both alienating and misrepresenting our opponent.
This is a great piece of advice – even if I am not sure about the language of “opponent” think I would have liked to talk about familial terms like “brother or sister.”
But the demonisation and guilt by association that Keller talks about here is a big problem in the world that I live.
I have been told that to quote Rob Bell positively makes me a heretic, (indeed someone threatened to ban one of my books because I included a reference to Rob’s fine work on the sabbath. Others have said that to quote NT Wright means that I “have gone liberal.” Similarly to be positive about John Piper’s work makes me a chauvinist. Keller models in this book a willingness to quote from lots of authors that he doesn’t agree with on every point: Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch etc. To be fair – these are acceptable “non-conservatives” to quote almost as acceptable as CS Lewis. Keller himself doesn’t quote positively from many of the “emergent” church thinkers nor from many/any? non western world thinkers (and very few women) – but that’s a point for another blog or two. In the mean time I love these proposed ways of gracious engagement, lets hope we can make good use of them.