By Erick Erickson
They say the problem is not that pastors are avoiding or embracing certain sins as fine, but that they are figuring out how to talk to culture in the 21st century. That may be true in some cases, but in a growing number of cases it is not true at all. They are either scared to talk to the culture or they are fine with the culture. At a time the world is coming for the children in their church, they’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic avoiding the water coming in the boat. Tim Keller, as he really is, should be a solid model for how to talk about churches. But some pastors have embraced a mischaracterization of Keller to be more like him. The authentic Keller is a good model on this stuff.
The Presbyterian Church in America (“PCA”) is one of the fastest growing denominations in America. It is the non-heretical branch of the Presbyterian Church within the United States. Its sibling, the PCUSA, is one of the dying mainline churches that has long rejected scripture in order to cater to itching ears.
But the PCA, to which I belong, is starting to hear some prophetic calls and I worry too many of their elders are ignoring what is happening. One of its supported campus ministries, Reformed University Fellowship, has the same problem. Rosaria Butterfield has been one of those quite vocal about the growing problem, but again, a lot of people are ignoring the growing problem.
Given my involvement in the PCA, and in a very solid PCA church no less, I have been hesitant to say anything, but after several weeks of conversations with people that have picked up steam after the release of the Nashville Statement, I think it is worth saying something.
The long and the short of it is that the PCA has Tim Kelleritis and this disease is slowly, incrementally infecting some of its churches. It will start affecting presbyteries and will ultimately harm the whole denomination.
Tim Keller, for those who do not know him, is a rock start among theologians. He is one of the most famous graduates of my seminary, Reformed Theology Seminary (actually, he is not, but you would think he is, given how often he is talked about on campus. Right up there with Calvin). He started Redeemer Church in New York, which showed an orthodox believing pastor could lead a large and thriving congregation in New York City, a place many Christians view as a new Babylon.
In a denomination with few rockstars and even fewer mega-churches, there are a lot of young and middle aged pastors who want to be Tim Keller. They want to do what he does. They want the large church industrial complex. They want the book deals. They want to go on TV. They’ve metrosexualed themselves, put on skinny jeans and ugly glasses, and fired up power point presentations on stage at church.
But Tim Keller is Tim Keller and imitation may be flattery, but way too many of these young pastors in the PCA have misunderstood Keller’s ministry. As one of my friends describes it, they have started preaching the culture to the church instead of preaching the church to the culture. To draw in crowds and be liked in their communities, they have started ignoring Biblical doctrine that non-believers find offensive. In failing to teach their congregations and guide their congregations with a whole health approach, they’ve selectively taught and are failing to help their congregations deal with a world increasingly hostile to Christian values, particularly the Christian sexual ethic.
Keller has, for years, taken a “love the sinner” approach to ministry. The church is to be a hospital to sinners. But even Keller has made clear to his congregation that sin is still sin. His would be imitators in the PCA would prefer to spend all their time on love and ignore sin. But worse, some within the PCA and RUF are so worried about driving people away, they are trying to find ways to accommodate sin.
The most notable issue within the church is, of course, homosexuality. In welcoming gay Christians (which they absolutely should do), these churches are not only failing to preach repentance, but they are more and more suggesting homosexuality and Christianity are compatible, which they are not.1This is affecting congregations. Nashville, of course, has at least one prominent PCA pastor who has fallen into this. He is regularly trotted out by the press to tell others how icky and mean spirited his fellow Christians can be because they dare to quote scripture. But he is one of many and part of trend many of us are starting to take notice of within the denomination.
I financially support the PCA and I financially support RUF. I am glad to. They have great ministries and the PCA has long been bold in standing up to the world in the name of God. But even I am more and more concerned to see young men coming out of seminary into the pulpits of the PCA and they so want to be the next Tim Keller that they have failed to understand not just Keller’s ministry, but Jesus’s as well. That story about not judging, after all, ended with “go and sin no more.” A pastor needs to preach repentance, but cannot if he is unwilling to preach on sin.
- The church absolutely needs to welcome in those who are gay or struggle with same sex attraction. But they need to not weaken calls to repent or ignore a real Christian sexual ethic to make then make them feel welcome or comfortable. All of us should squirm in the pew when called to account and repent. Unfortunately, the churches I am talking about are abandoning the uncomfortable in order to welcome.â†©