Tim Keller’s Environmental gospel

An article appearing in Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s May 2012 “Redeemer Report Newsletter” titled: “John Stott and Caring for God’s Creation”, reveals Keller’s true theological emphasis. Through this article, Keller leaves no doubt that he believes “cultural renewal”, as he often calls it, including a renewing of the environment is at the core of the Gospel of Christ.

In the past, Keller has been careful to at least superficially present a Biblical worldview. However, it appears he has now dropped all pretense and is displaying a blatant and open disregard for Biblical orthodoxy. In Keller’s theology, the environment, (or what he spiritualizes by calling “the creation”) is one of the major emphases of scripture. Renewing creation, is what Keller believes redemption and salvation are all about. In a 2006 talk to Redeemer’s annual “Entrepreneur’s Initiative” forum, Keller made this clear when he said:

Conservative churches say “this world is not our home — it’s gonna burn up eventually and what really matters is saving souls… so evangelism and discipleship and saving souls are what’s important. And we try to say that it’s the other way around almost. That the purpose of salvation is to renew creation. That this world is a good in itself. That God loves and cares for his creation, the material creation. And if you see it that way, then the old paradigm if you’re going to put your money and your time and your effort as a Christian into doing God’s work in the world, you wanna save souls which means the only purpose of your ministry and your effort is to increase the tribe, increase the number of Christians.  (Audio here)

This flies in the face of Biblical orthodoxy where we are taught that saving souls is in fact what is important. In fact, there’s not a single time the Bible mentions that restoring creation should be the primary goal or emphasis of the Christian life. Jesus never talked about it.  Paul never talked about it.  The Bible teaches that this world is fallen and will never be restored until Christ returns. Therefore it teaches us that the important thing is to evangelize (what Keller derisively calls “increasing the tribe”) and show people how they can be saved from the awful eternal consequences of their sins. II Timothy 4:1-5 says:

And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus—who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths. But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you.

Keller’s theology is in direct opposition to these Biblical teachings. Keller tells us we need to forget about “building the tribe” by winning souls to Christ. The Bible tells us to persistently “work at bringing others to Christ.”

A couple of years ago I met with Larry Christensen, an elder at Redeemer and head of Campus Crusade’s (CRU) campus ministries in New York City, and asked him about this. He said he wished Keller hadn’t said it that way. He said he knows what Keller meant and it wasn’t what it sounded like from this statement. He thought Keller had sloppily articulated what he really believes.

In my nearly two decades at Redeemer, that’s what I constantly heard when I asked anyone in the leadership about these questionable teachings. They always answered by saying that’s not what Keller really meant. But after years of hearing him speak with complete consistency and clarity, it would only be natural to conclude that perhaps he actually does mean what he says.

If there were any doubt though, this current issue of the Redeemer Report newsletter should put it to rest. Keller uses this edition of the newsletter to share his beliefs with the Redeemer congregation, by using the words of a man he greatly admires, John Stott.  Keller uses Stott’s words to tell us that creation care means rejecting exploitation of the earth. We are told thatGod deliberately humbled himself to make a divine-human partnership necessary” in order to take care of the planet. We are also told that fidelity to Christ demands that Christians must fight against:

  • World over population
  • Depletion of the earth’s resources
  • Excessive waste disposal, and
  • Climate change

Do you see anything these four issues have in common? If you think about them for a minute you’ll see that they are all necessary by-products of human existence on this planet. How do you stop any one of these things from happening? The only sure way to stop them is to either make people poorer or to reduce the number of people living on the planet. By giving primacy to the things Keller and Stott believe it is the Christian’s duty to fight, they are saying the same thing radical secular environmentalists say – that the needs of man must be subordinated to the needs of the planet. But the Bible makes it clear that while we are to be wise stewards of the earth’s resources, the planet and everything in it was put here by God for our benefit and flourishing.

God blessed them and told them, “Multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters over the fish and birds and all the animals.” And God said, “Look! I have given you the seed-bearing plants throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. Genesis 1:28-29

These verses, along with many others, make clear that God intends for us to use the resources of the earth for our benefit and flourishing.  Keller and Stott view the use of the abundant resources God has blessed us with on this planet as a bad thing – perhaps even a sin.

Neither Stott nor Keller would be as bold as to acknowledge this openly, but there are only a few ways to achieve lower population levels and most of them are very unpleasant.  While Keller is on the record opposing abortion, the desire for a smaller population is one of the key motivators for governments around the world to support and fund abortion.  Whether consciously or not, Keller is giving the most radical secularists of our day, religious ammunition to bolster their push for abortion and other anti-human policies.

The ironic thing about all this is that Keller knows his environmental theology is hugely popular among Manhattan’s secular liberal elites who make up most of his following here in New York.  But he misses the true beauty of the Bible’s take on the environment.  Secular environmentalists view our planet as having primacy over humanity.  Judeo-Christian environmentalism understands that humans are the highest order in all of God’s creation, therefore, true Biblical environmentalism fosters life and abundance.  The theology Keller promotes would ultimately lead to policies that have historically brought about only poverty and death.  Keller would no doubt have an uphill fight in the battle for popularity if he were to abandon his endorsement of the secular culture’s belief system and embrace the Biblical view.  Christian leaders are always more popular when they’re in general agreement with the culture.

However, Christian leaders who promote a theology that if implemented into public policy would lead to lower population levels, would seem to be working in contradiction to God’s command to “multiply and fill the earth”.  So working for a smaller population could hardly be a primary responsibility or even a concern for the Christian. Our concern as Christians is to share the message of salvation through Christ to all the people of the earth.  And apparently God felt that the more people there were to hear the message – the better.

Tim Keller is a very gentle and soft-spoken man so the last adjective one would think to use to describe him would be “radical”. However, it’s hard to miss that his analysis of environmental problems is exactly the same as those arrived at by the radical secular Left.

What Should Christians Do?  Keller uses the words of John Stott to tell Christians how to live. Christians should, in Stott’s words:

  • Support Christian environmental advocates and ministries (as opposed to evangelical ones)
  • Use sustainable forms of energy
  • Switch off unneeded appliances

Compare this to the words of Paul who tells us that we should spare no effort to spread the good news of personal salvation through Christ and it becomes clear that Keller is preaching an entirely different gospel from that found in the pages of Scripture. If God wanted the primary goal of the Christian’s life to be saving the environment, don’t you think He would have mentioned that somewhere in the Bible? Wouldn’t Paul have spent more time urging us to take care of the earth than taking care that souls were saved through Christ? How could anyone who has studied the Bible for their entire lives come away with the impression that the primary emphasis of the Christian life should be to turn off light switches and use sustainable forms of energy? This is indeed another gospel.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. I will say it again: If anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God’s curse fall upon that person.

Galatians 1:6-9

View the Redeemer Newsletter Here


4 Replies to “Tim Keller’s Environmental gospel”

  1. In my humble opinion, you have made no viable argument to back up your claims that “Keller and Stott view the use of the abundant resources God has blessed us with on this planet as a bad thing – perhaps even a sin.”

    I see nothing wrong with ensuring that we are being faithful in our efforts to be fruitful. We are called to advance the gospel, but we are also called to be good stewards. I see nothing in Keller or Stotts words that would take away from anything we have been commanded in scripture. Nor do I find their words to be distractions from the gospel.

    What contempt for the gospel do you find in any of these things:

    – Support Christian environmental advocates and ministries (* as opposed to evangelical ones)
    – Use sustainable forms of energy
    – Switch off unneeded appliances

    * why the distinction between supporting environmental advocates vs. evangelical ones? Did Keller ever suggest the choice was one over the other?

    1. Jason, the choice is always “one over the other” because people have finite time and resources. But at Redeemer the only choice that’s ever offered is to partner with and give to organizations that don’t teach the gospel.

      Yes, we are called to advance the gospel AND be good stewards, but the constant call at Redeemer is to be good stewards. It’s never evangelism. In fact, I would ask you to point me to a Keller sermon or book on evangelism and sharing the gospel. Or, even a sermon or book where he actually clearly explains the gospel. I don’t think you’ll be able to find one. But you’ll find whole books and sermons on renewing the culture or environment. In Keller’s church, there is no emphasis on evangelism, but an almost total emphasis on “cultural renewal” and “social justice”. For instance, this newsletter he sent out about the environment – I’ve never seen a newsletter urging church members to evangelism. In fact, I’ve never seen a Redeemer newsletter even mention evangelism, or explain the gospel.

      There is so much emphasis on the environment, “social justice” and “cultural renewal” (of which this is but one example), that Keller actually recommends to his congregation that they should spend a good deal of their (limited and finite) volunteer time – working with secular organizations that do good. He acknowledges that when you volunteer with a secular organization you won’t be able to share Christ with those you’ve come to help – even though the knowledge of Christ and the gospel is usually what would help them the most. But he’s okay with that. He even says by not sharing the gospel, the people you’re volunteering with will come to respect you. He explained that they’ll be so delighted that a Christian has come and not tried to force their beliefs on people that they might then want to know more about Jesus. In light of the Bible’s words above, it’s a simple contradiction of where the Bible tells us our emphasis as Christians should be.

    2. I and my family are serving in Peru South America reaching the Quechua people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been here for 13 years now. My wife and I left our careers in natural resource management with the National Park Service and US Forest Service. The Lord called us to give our lives to Him, for His glory and gave us a Biblical and eternal perspective.

      Stewardship is an important part of our obedience to the Lord and principles of this are throughout God’s word. But the eternal value of a person’s soul is of infinite more worth and for this Christ died and we are called. The question we must answer to our Lord and Savior is: who and how shall we worship by giving of our very lives.

      God’s creation is impressive and give us glimpses of how it must have been before the fall – perfect. But, created things are not meant to be worshiped or adored. After being right in the middle of the environmental culture for many years and then watching the movement as I grew in Biblical understanding and discernment, I believe that almost all of the conservationist and environmental values that are being promoted are not Biblically founded, and are idolatrous – worshiping the creation rather than the creator.

      So, I encourage others to be very careful, especially when the gospel of Jesus Christ is minimized. When Christians begin to become influenced by evolutionary thinking, there is an impression that the creation is eternal, and I think this has attractive and satisfying element to those participating in conserving it. But, the Bible is clear: the souls of people are eternal and God’s creation is temporal, and He wants us focused on the eternal. Thanks for your ministry. I hope others will be encouraged to keep the main things of scripture “the main things” of their lives in Christ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *