Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tim Keller and the New Calvinist idea of "Gospel Eco-Systems"

Over at the Heidelblog, Prof R. Scott Clark has posted a written transcript of Tim Keller's talk at Renew South Florida about creating "Gospel eco-systems". The idea according to Keller is that we should create environments conducive for the Gospel message and churches to thrive, as follows:

OK, the subject is, creating gospel eco systems, what is that? ... So an ecosystem is a dynamic balanced set of forces and energies that grow each other. Now the question I want to talk to you about today, is how do you start a gospel movement in your city, or how can you see a gospel movement develop in your city? I’m not talking about how you and your church and your network can become a movement, only, that would be a different talk, and maybe if you want to ask me, I could at least give you, if you want this, I have a little list of things that I would say, here are these five, six, seven things are necessary if your own church is to become a moment, so it grows, and it develops, and it just keeps on growing and expanding. I’m actually thinking beyond that.

A gospel movement is this: a gospel movement happens in a city when across churches, across multiple denominations and networks, and beyond any one key leader or any one command center, or any one denomination, you actually have the body of Christ in the city geometrically growing, not just reconfiguring. The vast majority of what we consider, you know, “good things happening in that city,” is a reconfiguration of the body of Christ, not an actual growth of the body of Christ against the overall population. When the body of Christ is growing from 1% to 5% to 10% of the population, because its growing faster than the population, its actually growing. Usually what happens in most cities, when something that happens is reconfiguration. A new church grows, or a new network of churches grow, and what they do is, largely, pull Christians out of less effective ministries into their ministry. And that can be a very good thing, if they are utilizing them better, training them better. So very often what happens, you get a really dynamic, big church growing, and they start churches, and they start churches, and they say “great things are happening,” what’s really happening, mainly, is 90% of the growth of that network is the reconfiguration, its just pulling Christians from other places, now deploying them better, and certainly people are becoming Christians. But overall, the body is not growing, its reconfiguring. That’s not a movement.

What does it take for that to happen? What does it take to have a gospel movement, in the city? And I think the answer is: the, an eco-system has to be put into place. An eco-system is a set of forces, a set of energies that interact with each other, and therefore create this growth that is beyond, its beyond any one program, its beyond any one leader, its beyond any one church.


Keller dedicated the rest of his talk to detailing how such "Gospel eco-systems" should be made.

When one reads through the transcript of Keller's talk, one gets a rather disoriented feeling. Been there, done that, and the worse for it. The whole talk reeks with the methodology of men and businesses, instead of the counsel of the Word of God; more like Rick Warren and C. Peter Wagner than John Calvin.

Consider the entire talk. Where in the entire talk is mention even made of the Word of God? For a supposed conservative Presbyterian, not one verse of Scripture is even quoted in defense of the methodologies being brought to bear. Worse still, the concepts in it are not found in Scripture. Church is all about Word and Sacrament. Where in Scripture is the Church (as opposed to individual Christians) supposed to do "justice and mercy ministries"?

Assuming as one commenter states that the talk was about mechanics - being a "practical, technical" and "methodological" talk, this talk shows that Keller practically denies the sufficiency of Scripture for ALL of life and practice. Methodology is NOT neutral. Methodology has to be derived from Scripture especially since the topic is most certainly a biblical one (i.e. Gospel movements). When measures are proposed in which results are virtually guaranteed, one ends up more with business models that implicitly assume some form of Pelagianism as the error of Revivalism rears its ugly head. Where in Scripture are we told that if we just implement the right measures, more and more people will come to Christ and the Church will gain influence in society?

The social-gospel lite in the idea of "justice and mercy ministries" advocated by Keller is another horror in and of itself. So how does the Church share the Gospel to unbelievers when she is trying to get them involved in co-belligerent social causes? Keller cites the case of the so-called "Benevolent Empire" at the height of Evangelicalism's cultural power in the 1830s. One of course does not hear about how the spiritual condition of society at that time continues to decline until the churches and these societies themselves were taken over by the Liberals. When the Church neglects her prophetic role and thinks of herself as social activism hubs, her inevitable end in apostasy is just around the corner.

The most important missing piece in Keller's presentation however is this: that the Gospel is not present. The New Calvinists have claimed that "Gospel-centeredness" do not actually lead to "Gospel-Onlyness", but it sadly seems this is the way it will turn out. Is the Gospel definitional of what being a Christian means? If so, then shouldn't one of the "measures" that Keller proposed is to evangelize those in false churches such as the Roman church? Yet, instead of contending for the faith (Jude 1:3), Keller waxes lyrical about ecumenical ministry outside the local church, and does not talk about instructing the people inside the local church in sound doctrine. Whatever one thinks about the incident involving Redeemer Pres and Susan Castillo's course entitled The Way of the Monk, it must be admitted by all Protestants and especially Reformed folks that Contemplative Spirituality is heresy. Even in the best case scenario whereby Keller is not involved whatsoever with Castillo and her course, shouldn't he instruct the congregation in sound doctrine and the rejection of mysticism? How can one build a "Gospel movement" when doctrinal error is tolerated if not approved of within the Church?

Keller's message in this talk of his is wrong on many counts. Far from creating a Gospel eco-system, it is feared that adopting his measures would create "Church-ianity" without Christ and His Gospel at the center, which incidentally sounds a lot like what the "New Apostolic Reformation"/ Dominionism seeks to do. We are not here to create warm-bodies who profess Christ; we are here to call true disciples of Christ - the elect of God. What does it gain the Church to win the whole world, yet to lose her own calling and the souls within her? People are not saved by joining the Church, by being involved in ministry or anything of that sort. People are saved through knowing and believing in sound doctrine that depicts God as He truly is. This is achieved by regeneration by the Holy Spirit as the Gospel is being proclaimed, NOT as social services are being done by the Church.

In closing, it would be instrumental to compare and contrast Keller's message to Paul Washer's sermon entitled A Biblical Vision and Strategy for Missions here. It is sad to see that someone who leans more towards the Radical Anabaptists is more Reformed than a PCA pastor. Speaks volumes about the state of the New Calvinist movement, and does not reflect very well on the PCA either.


M.L. said...

Considering the PCA has the following Emergent Church authors on their in their bookstore 1)Brian McLaren 2)Leonard Sweet 3)Phyllis Tickle 4)Dan Kimball 5) Donald Miller; perphaps they are confused. Or maybe since the also carry several Catholic authors such as Brother Lawrence, Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning, mysticism may have clouded their thinking.....

PuritanReformed said...


while that is cause for suspicion, it is not by itself proof. Reading heretics is not by itself wrong, while agreeing with them is.

M.L. said...

Agreed. The question is what responsibility is there in pointing uninformed sheep towards heretical teachers? When an uniformed sheep tries to purchase a book from a trusted source they are assuming that book is basically sound. Certainly the leadership in the PCA understands the consequences of ideas. "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:6

PuritanReformed said...



Jim Brown said...

I was shocked by your exclusionary language. It seems that anyone who doesn't meet your litmus test for being a Christian is a heratic. Jesus was inclusive and had his harshest words for religios people who insisted on their narrow definition of what God wants from us. I'd being interested to see what you think of my Blog, where I'm trying to encourage Christians from all religions to collaborate and do something about the sorry state of the world (and the church). Check it out at

PuritanReformed said...


How can you claim to be shocked at my language while you are being being exclusive on the type of language that is deemed acceptable to you? By your own standards, you stand condemned.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one come to the Father except through me" (Jn. 14:6). I exhort you to repent of your misrepresentation of Jesus' teachings, repent of your sins and turn to Christ alone for salvation.

Jesus reserved his harshest words for FALSE RELIGIOUS teachers who led people astray from the true path of salvation that can be found in Christ alone. That includes you since you evidently are leading people astray into a false religion of salvation by works.

As it is written, "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” " (Gal. 3:10). If you seek to be right before God, then God demands 100% perfection in your life, which you evidently do not have. Have you told a lie, any lie even a white lie, at all in you entire life? Then you fail to meet God's standards for perfection. Have you even lusted after a woman in your entire life, even for one second? Then you have violated the law of God concerning adultery (Mt. 5:28).

By God's perfect law, you stand condemned as a law-breaker. Your only hope of salvation lies only by having faith in Christ to take the punishment on your behalf. So therefore repent of your sins, including your sin of misrepresenting Christ, and have faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.