Tweaking Tim Keller's Tweet

Tweaking Tim Keller's Tweet

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Early yesterday afternoon, Tim Keller sent out a tweet that set Twitter ablaze with controversy. Keller tweeted, “Jesus didn’t come primarily to solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world. He came to forgive our sins.” Accusations immediately began to pour in that Keller was claiming that Jesus doesn't care about social justice.

This has a long been a point of criticism applied to evangelicals in their portrayal and pursuit of the Gospel mission. Evangelicals seem to only care about forgiveness. It bring to mind the words of James as a responsive critique:

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” [James 2:14-16 ESV]

This a challenge that many evangelicals need, but one I doubt Keller requires.[1] After receiving a lot of pushback, Keller tweeted, “Folks, key word is ‘primarily.’ Of course, he addresses economic, political, and social issues. See my book Generous Justice. Please don’t make a tweet of mine indictive of my entire theology.”[2]

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In a subtweet response to another user, he then says, “Primacy of forgiveness of sins motivates to care about social, political, and economic change out of gratitude for grace. I hear the concern too Ray and I understand the points people are making.”

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Getting past accusations that Tim Keller doesn’t care about social justice, I do think that his original tweet can be tweaked to offer a clearer presentation of the Gospel, a clarity that I believe is bolstered by the Advent Christian understanding of the Gospel.

The first distinction that an Advent Christian would make in a tweet like this would be to differentiate between Christ’s first advent and his second advent. Looking to Hebrews 9:26, we read, “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” There is a two step motion in Christ’s redemptive mission. The first step is Christ’s first advent in which he deals with human sin. Keller correctly identifies the purpose of this first step as being “forgiveness”. His misstep is focusing exclusively on Christ’s first advent.

This is a misstep because the second advent of Christ will introduce new heavens and a new earth[3] wherein the reign of Christ in his kingdom on earth will in the most literal way “solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world.” Christ is supremely concerned with resolving these issues because restoring justice is an essential component of the Divine purpose for creation. Forgiveness is a step along way to realizing reconciliation between God and Man; the promise of reconciliation is the assurance that the habitat of God and Man will be permeated with the fullness of justice and peace.

If we overlook this and focus exclusively on Christ’s first advent, we unnecessarily debilitate our ability to respond to present concerns of justice. Keller attempts to do this by saying, “Primacy of forgiveness of sins motivates to care about social, political, and economic change out of gratitude for grace.” It may be true that a grateful response to grace may motivate some of us to effect beneficial social change, but it doesn’t seem to be necessarily true. Moreover, it says nothing of Christ’s concern for these things, aside from perhaps suggesting that he anticipated that our gratitude might lead some of us to act for the benefit of society. If we continue to focus exclusively on the first advent, but put aside any notion of trickle down beneficence, we are left grasping at examples of Jesus helping the sick and poor in an effort to extrapolate a Christian model of social justice.

The better thing to do is to ask, “Why does Jesus say and do these things?” Throughout his ministry, Jesus is talking constantly about the Kingdom of God. Everything he says and does is to demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom in his person. And yet, when questioned by Pilate about his kingship, Jesus tell him, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."[4] After his resurrection, his disciples still press, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"[5] He answers, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”[6]

Christ makes it clear that the Kingdom is yet to come and yet in his ministry he acts in a manner that is intended to demonstrate that Kingdom. As King, his very presence is the presence of the Kingdom, but this was not to make him unapproachable. To the contrary, he came for followers, who would be joined to him and receive the commission to teach others to “observe all that I have commanded you.”[7]As followers joined to him, we are thus to live from the King on high and manifest the Kingdom that is to come, just as he did. It is the sure reality of the approaching Kingdom of God and our place in it that is our basis for all social action. We are to be socially concerned because the Kingdom of God is socially concerned, even if those concerns will only be totally resolved at Christ’s return.

 

So, if I were going to tweak Tim Keller’s tweet, this is what I would say:

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[1] However, I will say, as one Twitter user pointed out, that this tweet may reinforce misconceptions others may have about the Gospel.

[2] It seems that he meant to write “indicative.”

[3] Advent Christians believe this is a “new” earth in the sense that it is changed. It is not numerically different.

[4] John 18:36 [ESV]

[5]  Acts 1:6 [ESV]

[6] Acts 1:7 [ESV]

[7] Matthew 28:20 [ESV]

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