Friday, March 25, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: A Time to Kell

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Tim Keller has been under fire around here lately. In mid-February we fisked a Daily Wire column by Megan Basham that listed Keller among thought leaders credibly accused of enabling Francis Collins to flog COVID propaganda to evangelicals by introducing him as a “friend” during a joint interview for BioLogos.

Collins is a man of the Left, a self-described ally and advocate of the gay and trans lobbies, has facilitated and funded experimental transgender research on minors, and has publicly defended experimentation on fetuses obtained from abortion. It’s one thing to engage personally and privately with such an individual in the name of Christ. It’s quite another to represent him to believers as fellow member of the flock and a trustworthy expert on science.

Timothy, Timothy, Where On Earth Did You Go?

Tom: More recently, in this post, our own IC pointed out that Keller himself is well into “woke” territory ideologically. He furnished this short video clip of Keller’s own words as evidence, in which Keller holds forth at some length on how the traditional evangelical approach to fundraising (in which Christian staff workers are asked to raise their own support) is “a great example of systemic racism”.

IC, he’s certainly adopted the woke vocabulary, hasn’t he?

Immanuel Can: He has.

That being said, I know that the instant reaction of many Christians who read you saying that will be “How could you be so uncharitable as to speak ill of your brother?” That will be followed by “I’ve heard Tim Keller is a good guy, and very popular at the Christian bookstore … so Tom must be slandering him.” That will be followed by “You may not agree with him, but you’d better not say anything more negative.”

So maybe we’d better fill out the cause and justification of our concerns with what he’s saying. Is there a real worry here, Tom?

‘Systemic’ Racism

Tom: Well, I started from the position that maybe Keller has just picked up an expression like “systemic racism” by accident. It’s also possible he’s slipped into woke thinking in one area without necessarily embracing it in others. But maybe rather than trying to build a case for deplatforming the guy (which, frankly, I have no interest in being a part of no matter how wacky he turns out to be), we could just consider the argument he makes about the traditional evangelical approach to fundraising and consider it on its merits.

My father “raised his own support” — if we must put it that way — for over 65 years of service to Christ at home and abroad. He never once took a salary from anyone. The Lord met his needs as he raised a sizable family. When choosing where to serve, to the best of my knowledge he never once made finances a factor. Unfortunately, the poor man was born white. According to Tim Keller, that makes him privileged and part of a racist system in dire need of change. You know, the word “umbrage” comes to mind …

IC: I think most people only have a very foggy idea of what Keller means when he speaks of “systemic racism”. I would even doubt Keller himself knows what he means, because the social justice propagandists deliberately keep their language full of double-meanings, so they can take advantage of people’s moral sensibilities. So, when people hear the term “systemic racism”, they hear something like “racism … and lots of it”. But that is not at all what the SJ set is trying to push or what they want you to buy into. What they want you to start thinking is that racism is no longer a product of attitudes held or actions taken by particular people. They want you to hear “Racism is everywhere and nowhere in particular at the same time.” They want a permanent enemy to fight, an enemy named The System. And you get to be a “racist” (in their usage) not by having a single racist thought yourself, but merely by supporting a system in which this nebulous “racism” is said to exist.

Tom: Forget supporting a system. In SJ-speak, we get to be racist simply for being born white.

Critical Race Theory

IC: So, if Keller says the church is racist, what he’s really encouraging is not just that you go hunting for people in your own local church, folks who have bad attitudes (although he won’t be unhappy if you find such and end that), but he’s encouraging you to think that the church itself, in the way it is structured (i.e. systemically) and in the way it relates to the outside world is having the effect of shoring up the status quo, and the status quo itself is racist and should become the object of your hatred and contempt.

That’s wordy and complicated. And I’m sorry. But the SJs love to be unclear, and it often takes a complicated type of explanation to unravel their lies.

Tom: No, that’s good. I know you’ve delved into Critical Race Theory (CRT) in some depth, and that’s what I was looking for from you: the wordy explanation.

Now, the argument Keller is making — whether he understands the language he is using or not — concerns the familiar scenario in North American evangelical circles where a Christian or Christian couple is seeking to serve the Lord, and wants to be able to accept financial help from other believers so he, she or they can be free to do that. It may be foreign missions, it may be a job opening in an office for a charitable Christian organization that cannot afford to pay salaries … whatever. And the parties responsible for sending these candidates out are asking what they bring to the table in order to make that happen. “Where is your income going to come from?” That’s a relevant question.

Keller says it’s a racist question, and that American blacks, Hispanics and Asians cannot possibly drum up the level of support that whites can. The financial infrastructure is just not there for them. They don’t have rich friends to hit up for cash.

An Uneven Playing Field?

IC: Keller’s forgotten some communities that blow that story to pieces: the Southeast Asian communities. They are, in fact, at the top of the income earners, in spite of having experienced some extreme racism. But all that “the system” has done to them has not prevented them prospering. So some answer other than racism will be necessary in order to explain that. And if the system is the problem, then the financial infrastructure for a Korean, Indian or Chinese pastor to succeed in getting money is certainly in place. At the same time, those communities have different barriers. Some are largely non-Christian, so have little interest in supporting pastors. Some are culturally convinced that keeping their pastors poor and overworked is a signal of spirituality. But these are problems inside a particular community, and are not racial at all.

Tom: Back in the day, a non-trivial amount of my father’s support came from little old ladies, some of them on pensions. There were no giant cheques from prosperous white businessmen. And I believe that holds true today. If you ask Christian organizations where the money is coming from, it’s generally from the senior set, and it’s often in relatively small increments.

IC: Keller’s just barking up the wrong tree. It’s culture, not racism, that is causing the “lack of infrastructure”. But it appears to follow lines of “race” because it follows the culture in question.

Tom: Let me make this personal again. About 25 years ago, an opportunity opened up to go to a foreign mission field for six months to fill in for a couple who needed to come home for a bit. I went to our elders at the time and asked how they would feel if our family volunteered. I can do Bible studies and was not averse to going door to door with the gospel, which were the main things this couple had been doing. The first questions our elders had were “How’s your bank balance?” and “Would you be able to work there?” This was not because they were against what we wanted to do in principle, but because unknowns going out to a foreign field cannot be expected to draw large amounts of support on their own. This was true back then, and it was true whether the unknown quantity was white, black, Asian or Hispanic. It remains true today. There is nothing racist about that. Everybody is on the same footing.

Abased and Abounding

And my question would be if that is such a bad thing. Should unknowns of any color or culture be entitled to automatic support — and especially to automatic support at the same level as established veterans who know the job and have a track record of really helping people?

IC: No, they should not: and for two reasons. One is that opportunities to serve ought to be open to talent, gifting and diligence, not handed out to even out the numbers on some kind of racial checklist: that’s absolute, within the church. The church is to be colorblind in regard to every privilege and distinction. Secondly, in regard to service, somebody who has done nothing or is not mature and useful deserves nothing, regardless of their skin, culture or history. To support the spiritually-serving is scriptural; to support the indolent and complaining is anti-scriptural. And race is not a consideration in that. Indeed, the very invoking of “race” is totally unchristian.

Tom: This is where I think Keller has absorbed an old SJ lie, and that’s that you can spot systemic racism wherever there are unequal outcomes. But there are many reasons why one individual or couple may get more support than another, and the vast majority of those reasons have nothing to do with race. Moreover, every missionary and full-time Christian servant I know, white or otherwise, has had times when they lived on very little. The apostle Paul had those. It’s in the nature of the business. I’m not sure we want to try to smooth out what God often uses to fine-tune his servants and glorify his own name.

IC: No, we should not. How will a worker know that God is with him? He will know because he will receive what he needs. God can pay his servants. Making him dependent on salary or regular, fixed income, dependent upon men, deprives him of that key indicator.

The Race to Blame Race

That raises another problem about the instant recourse to “race” explanations: it stops a person for looking for other reasons, better reasons, why he is experiencing resistance or challenge. But challenges are what personal refinement is made of. When we write off a problem to racism, we not only make ourselves powerless, but we also deny ourselves the soul-growing opportunity to overcome our challenges in the power of Christ. We stay stunted, immature, bitter, petty and resentful, rather than confident, victorious, courageous and diligent.

Tom: That’s good. But I can see what’s coming here. After all, this is not a man (Tim Keller, I mean), who is primarily concerned about his own income. And I don’t want to argue that he’s just virtue signaling his capitulation to the SJ narrative, though he may be. It’s certainly tempting these days because so many in the evangelical community are doing it. But let’s put the best possible construction on Keller’s argument and suppose that, like the apostle Paul, he is deeply concerned for his fellow believers of color and just yearning to see what he believes are better outcomes where their support is concerned. And his measurement of success in that department is that they are being funded at the same levels as white workers. How would you respond to that sort of argument?

IC: Well, I’d ask Mr. Keller why he’s so concerned about persons of color. I’d ask if he was equally concerned about the poor and marginalized who don’t have color — such as, say, widows, orphans, immigrants from war-torn areas like Ukraine, and so on; and if he is, I’d want to ask him why he thought it advisable to mention their color. The poor and oppressed we should always be concerned about. But we should be concerned about them because they’re poor and oppressed, not because they are “of color”.

If you think there are issues we haven’t adequately covered here, you would be correct. More next week.

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