This Post is Not About James Wood

Since I wrote on James’ article on First Things there’s been some additional commentary, which I think deserves a response.

Tim Keller has never applied his “third way” towards partisan politics as such, but to the essence of church fellowship. This article on the whole brouhaha by Brian Mattson is good, but misses what Keller is doing:

Keller absolutely affirms that abortion is a great evil—he is a conservative Presbyterian pastor, after all. But then he follows up with the idea that the best way to reduce abortion isn’t exactly clear, and maybe the left has ideas as good as those on the right. This is where the missing priorities problem is at its greatest. If it is a great evil, if it is the unjust taking of human life, at the very least it should be illegal. At the least.

Except, as I pointed out in my last post, Keller very strongly and publicly opposes legal abortion. He even publicly committed to civil disobedience if compelled to support it! Keller is saying that those who adopt different political strategies for addressing abortion (or pick your political topic) than him should not be barred or cast out of church. That’s what his recent tweet thread was about, that’s what his articles that James and Mattson cite are about.

That’s what makes James’ followup so frustrating: “I am largely concerned about the way [Keller’s] framework is broadly appropriated by his disciples, many of whom populate leadership positions in churches and other Christian ministries.” He should have said that in his first essay. James is at pains to say he appreciates Keller, even his approach, but thinks a) inadequate Keller’s winsomeness applied to politics and b) inappropriate the way Keller’s framework has been misused by his disciples. Then say that. Writing an article about how he has moved on from Keller, rather than one about how Keller has been misapplied and there needs to be a recalibration, strikes me as unfortunately cynical.