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Tim Keller on Today's Culture

September 14, 2020


Pastor Tim Keller says today's secularists are seeking to evangelize Christians.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, as we begin this podcast today, before I get to this article I want to ask you how the writing is going with you putting together your systematic theology.

DR. CRAIG: Thank you, Kevin. I am actually now on the second chapter which is on the doctrine of Scripture. This has proved unexpectedly interesting. It always seems to once you start digging into these topics that you think you know. I've been trying to sort out the relationship between revelation and Scripture and then attempt to discern what does the Scripture teach about itself. In other words, is there a doctrine of Scripture to be found in Scripture? That's a question that is quite distinct from the question of the epistemic justification of that doctrine. Do we have good reason to believe that doctrine? These two questions are often conflated, but I think it's very important that we keep distinct “What does the Scripture teach about itself?” and then “Do we have good grounds for believing what the Scripture teaches about itself?” The part I'm working on right now is the first question: What does the Scripture have to teach about itself? This digs into the doctrine of inspiration and its character and the theories of inspiration.

KEVIN HARRIS: Very good. Have you estimated how long this is going to take? Have you set a timeline for yourself?

DR. CRAIG: I've allotted myself ten years to do this. Now, if it gets done more quickly than that, I will be delighted. I have to say I never anticipated that it would be going this quick. I've already written the first chapter. I'm well into writing the second chapter. Usually I study for months and months – even years – before starting to write. So I'm just astonished that I'm already writing on these topics. So it's going much more quickly than I ever would have thought.

KEVIN HARRIS: Well, it's not a weekend project. This is going to be multiple years. I’m glad that's going well. I am looking at an article from Christian Post that talks about what Tim Keller says about where we are in the culture today.[1] I've noticed just anecdotally that modern secular culture – the secularists – they want a strong morality but they don't want Christianity. They want certain things that have made America really a great country, but they don't want the Judeo-Christian heritage that has made it. They kind of want their cake and eat it, too. Am I on track here?

DR. CRAIG: Oh, I think so. I think it's quite incorrect to think that we live in a relativistic culture that has abandoned moral absolutes and doesn't believe that there are objective moral values and duties. I think that it's very easy to show that there is a deep sense of objective morality in our culture. This comes to expression especially in demands for social justice and condemnations of racism and homophobia and other sorts of moral judgments.


Modern secular culture is on a march to evangelize Christians and Sunday School, church services and youth groups are no longer enough to inoculate Christian children from its new gospel without God, warns founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Tim Keller.

We've talked about Tim quite a lot. He says,

America is now at a point where “the only sin is to tell people that they sin,” and traditional Protestant catechism needs to better prepare Christian children to thrive in a world where they are constantly bombarded with the new secular gospel on social media.

In a sense, that's right. It's also that secular culture on social media is very quick to call out wrongdoing.

DR. CRAIG: Right.

KEVIN HARRIS: The #MeToo movement, social justice, and things like that. So it's almost like there's a clash of what they want. They want morality but they don't want you to tell them to be moral. It's kind of confused. I don't know.

DR. CRAIG: It is very odd, isn't it? Because they definitely make moral condemnatory judgments on other people in calling them racists and homophobes and misogynists and so forth. The public square is aflame with these sorts of moral condemnations, and yet at the same time there's this widespread and prevalent attitude that you shouldn't judge other people morally. Particularly don't judge me! There is, I think, an incoherence and a hypocrisy here whereby people feel very free to morally judge others but they get their backs up if anyone judges them.

KEVIN HARRIS: Why do you think that is? Why can't they see that? I guess it's just a matter of a certain group or individuals thinking that they're right and that you're wrong, or that the opposition is wrong. So they just want to preach how wrong the opposition is without a lot of forethought.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I remember seeing a political pundit on television recently where he said today the debate between the progressives and conservatives on both sides is not a matter of saying that the other side is mistaken. It's that they are bad; they're evil. So these moral condemnations are hurled in both directions. As for the hypocrisy and inconsistency, I think it probably comes from the unlivability of relativism. People have given lip service to relativism. They've been told that there are no objective moral values and duties. But that flies so strongly in the face of our moral experience that people can't live that way, and so as a result you have this sort of deep incoherence in people's belief and behavior.

KEVIN HARRIS: Tim Keller goes on to say,

Roughly speaking, every other culture always taught that the truth is something outside me, it could be family, God, dying for my country; and to be a person of honor and worth, authenticity, you had to find that truth and align your feelings with the truth. Now the understanding is, truth is inside you. You go inside to find the great depths and then you come out and you tell everybody else that you have to now accommodate me.

I thought we had won this battle.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. I'm not sure I agree with Tim Keller here, although I have learned to be very skeptical of the press in reporting people's opinions. They love to take things out of context and emphasize the sensational. There are other statements by Keller in the context of this article that indicate that he sees that there is a deep incoherence in secular culture. That on the one hand there is this kind of “truth is subjectivity” but then on the other hand there is the affirmation of objective moral values and duties. So I think what we've got in our culture is not an abandonment of moral objectivity; rather we have what William Watkins has called the new moral absolutism where it is a new cluster of moral absolutes that are held to. These would include things like tolerance, open-mindedness, racial equality, and so forth. These are the new absolutes, and the old traditional ones like obedience to authority, for example, respect for authority, those have now been largely eclipsed in secular culture.

KEVIN HARRIS: You still hear, “I've got to speak my truth. I'm speaking my truth, go ahead and speak your truth.” You can blame Oprah for a lot of that because she's really big on speaking your truth or me speaking my truth. I may be jumping just a little bit ahead here as far as the solution, but do you think that part of the solution would be to just point that out? To get back to kind of what we were really talking about in the church and as apologists for a while – the correspondence view of truth and a good robust definition of truth and pointing out that they're inconsistent in their making a truth claim.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I think you're right. And I also do think that there is still this prevalent attitude about truth being subjective, being my truth, and so forth. But people can't live that way because it becomes very evident that they don't think, for example, that the truth of white supremacy is legitimate; that is not on the same level as “my truth” which is racial equality. So they condemn people who they perceive to be white supremacists, for example. So there's clearly, I think, an affirmation of the objectivity of moral values and duties, and I think what we have to do is to try to help people see that that's incompatible with truth as subjectivity. And then secondly to ask what then is the ground for the objectivity of the moral values and duties that we all recognize and share.

KEVIN HARRIS: Just to wrap up the article, he says,

What that means is we’re the first culture not only that does not believe there’s a truth out here, it’s all subjective. Also, it’s the first culture that doesn’t just think Christians are wrong but they are the problem.

I guess you'd have to be from different parts of the country to see this really in action. He’s in New York City; I'm sure he sees every stripe of liberalism that would happen. Either on the east coast or the west coast because probably in where you are in the south and where I am in the southwest we don't see that as much. We do see it in the media but the culture is a little bit different so people may not be aware.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, it’s a lot different. You're right. This is not something that one encounters in one's everyday conversations with people but you do encounter it, as you say, in the national media which seems to be committed to this new absolutism.


Post-Christian culture is based on liberation from Christianity. If you go to China or Africa and you’re talking to animists or Confucianists or people like that, they may think you’re wrong. They may even want to kill you because they feel like you’re imperialistic. But modern secular people are actually saying the thing we need to be saved from is the idea we need to be saved.

DR. CRAIG: Because people don't see their own sin – their own moral failures. They're so ready to judge others and turn a blind eye to themselves. They're like the people in Jesus’ parable who see the speck in their brother's eye but don't see the log in their own eye. Jesus condemned that sort of hypocrisy. We all need to engage in self-examination first and to see our own moral shortcomings before we too readily jump to condemn others.

KEVIN HARRIS: Down at the end of the article Tim Keller says,

The only sin is to tell people that they sin, which means the only way to be free is actually to liberate yourself from Christianity which means our modern secular culture is not just post-Christian. In some ways, it’s actually very Christian because it has all the same Christian values. But it wants them without God.

This what we said at the beginning of the podcast. This is, I guess, the biggest paradox or inconsistency here.

DR. CRAIG: What we need to press people on is the foundation for the moral values that we all share and all hold dear such as the intrinsic value of human beings and the immorality of gratuitously harming another person. We all hold to those moral values and so the question is why on an atheistic secular view do those values obtain? Why aren't they just a matter of culture and personal opinion that cannot be imposed on someone else? There our culture is deeply conflicted because they do want to make these kinds of moral judgments about others.

KEVIN HARRIS: I wonder what Tim Keller means. The whole gist of this article is that Sunday School is no longer enough for today's Christian kids. They need – what? Even more training than your typical Sunday School to really be aware that there are voices that want to evangelize them away from Christian evangelism. It is about young people he's concerned with as well.

DR. CRAIG: Keller must have more to say about this that isn't disclosed in the article. I'm reading here from one paragraph where he said,

I wouldn’t change the doctrine, the Bible is the Bible. It’s all the same doctrine, but how you present it has got to change otherwise we are not really inoculating our kids to the culture.

What I would like to know is what sort of different presentation does he have in mind? The article doesn't say. He holds to the same doctrine but he thinks there has to be a change in our presentation of it to kids. Unfortunately it's not made clear in the article how that would be done.

KEVIN HARRIS: That's the tricky part. We've always tried to do that. You tried in the 70s. You were innovative in reaching the young people where they were – you and Jan. I remember doing the same thing. The message doesn't change but we tend to adapt to where the culture is so that they can hear us. Boy, as you get older that starts to kind of leave you behind.

DR. CRAIG: Perhaps what he means is that we need to do more than just teach Bible stories and Bible doctrine but we need to engage with the voices of our contemporary culture and to begin to address these issues in our Sunday School classes and youth groups. We need to talk about critical theory as we have. Talk about racial and social justice and about homosexual lifestyles and things like this from a biblical perspective. Maybe he thinks we've just got our heads in the sand and aren't engaging enough with the voices in our culture. If we do that then maybe we will be more effective in preparing our kids to confront these challenges in high school and college.

KEVIN HARRIS: How do you think the work of Reasonable Faith can help in this endeavor?

DR. CRAIG: I think that apologetics ought to be front and center in this endeavor. What we’ve been talking about here today is so germane to the moral argument for God’s existence and to the superiority of a theistic moral theory than any sort of naturalistic moral theory. That is very germane. And then of course giving arguments for a theistic worldview, if successful, would completely undercut the secular naturalistic worldview that would oppose it. So it seems to me that equipping Christians in the arguments of natural theology are very, very vital.

KEVIN HARRIS: Thank you, Bill![2]


[2]            Total Running Time: 18:31 (Copyright © 2020 William Lane Craig)