Tim Keller, Christians & Politics

Keller's New York Times editorial Sunday, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t,” is very thoughtful.

These themes from Keller are sound. Space permitting, no doubt he would have elaborated how Christian political witness is pursued and by whom. (Perhaps he does in his book, which I’ve not yet read.) It seems important, for example, to distinguish among the institutional church, i.e. a denomination or congregation and its employees, versus the universal Body of Christ, versus individual Christians.

 

Tim Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Churches in New York, is one of America’s most influential pastors and Christian thinkers. He’s a model for successful urban church planters across the nation and overseas. His New York Times editorial Sunday, “How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t,” (excerpted from his new book) is very thoughtful. But some additional points merit discussion.

Keller offers several themes:

  • “Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo.”
  • “While believers can register under a party affiliation and be active in politics, they should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one.”
  • “Most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom.”
  • “The biblical commands to lift up the poor and to defend the rights of the oppressed are moral imperatives for believers.” But, the “Bible does not give exact answers to these questions for every time, place and culture.”
  • “Jesus forbids us to withhold help from our neighbors, and this will inevitably require that we participate in political processes.”
  • Finally, Keller warns that “increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions,” which Christians must reject.

Keller notes Christians must work for racial justice, which is perceived as liberal, while affirming marriage as union of male and female, a conservative stance in our culture.

These themes from Keller are sound. Space permitting, no doubt he would have elaborated how Christian political witness is pursued and by whom. (Perhaps he does in his book, which I’ve not yet read.) It seems important, for example, to distinguish among the institutional church, i.e. a denomination or congregation and its employees, versus the universal Body of Christ, versus individual Christians.

Keller’s own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, adopts virtually no direct political political stances. To my knowledge, Keller’s congregations are not overtly politically active in electoral politics or legislation. Keller himself largely has abstained from public endorsements and direct lobbying.

Presumably Keller agrees that the institutional church, including its clergy, don’t have a vocation for routine direct engagement in political specifics such as candidate endorsements or intense legislative lobbying. Also presumably he believes the institutional church should offer broad principles about God’s purposes for government and Christian duties towards the common good.

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