The Case of the Kuyper Conundrum
When my alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary, announced that this year's Kuyper Prize will be awarded to Rev. Dr. Timothy Keller, I honestly wasn't move. I believe I only went to one Kuyper lecture during my time at PTS, and I think I went because I was photographing the event for the publications office. To be even more honest, I only really know Kuyper by name and not by theology or his contributions to Calvinism. So when I first heard that Keller would receive the prize, I thought, "Oh, that's interesting."
Maybe some explanation is in order. According the the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology's website, "Kuyper visited Princeton in 1898 and delivered the Stone Lectures that year, his famous Lectures on Calvinism, in Miller Chapel. Kuyper’s worldview, as presented in his hundreds of articles, pamphlets, and books, profoundly affected the development of Reformed theology in The Netherlands, the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Korea, among other countries." From the venerable source of Wikipedia, Kuyper's theology is the framework for Neo-Calvinism, which takes the doctrine of God's sovereignty and literally explodes it into every aspect of the created world. Kuyper's theology is also considered a little more conservative than some of his Dutch counterparts. I've never read anything by Kuyper, but after all that's going over the past few days, I think I need to add him to my library.
My knowledge about Keller was a little more than Kuyper, but not by much. I knew he was the founding and senior pastor at the very diverse Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. I say was, because in a letter to the congregation dated March 2017, Keller announced he is stepping down to take a backseat—more educational—role. I also know he is a prolific writer, well-known church grower, and beloved by many Evangelicals. Redeemer Presbyterian Church is of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) persuasion, which is itself a combination of conservative Presbyterians dating to the 1970s and '80s.
The last bit, about the PCA, is what sparked all the controversy. Well, actually that wasn't what sparked it, since that theology has been around for decades (more like centuries). What sparked the controversy was a fellow graduate of PTS and PC(USA) minister's blog in opposition to the PCA's stance on ordination. Rev. Smith writes "It's offensive [that Keller is to be awarded the prize]...and it hurts my feelings." If one were to read Smith's blog alone, one would think Keller represented the entirety of Redeemer Presbyterian and the entire PCA denomination. She wants to deny Keller the prize and platform because the denomination he is a minister in denies ordination to women and LGBTQ individuals. If anything is offensive, it's her drastic approach to "hurt feelings."
Back, when I first heard Keller was to receive the prize, I thought similarly to Smith. I thought it was a little odd for the very liberal-leaning PTS to extend the prize to a PCA minister. But then my thoughts continued, and I moved from "that's odd" to "well done." I was impressed with my former institution that it would be willing to look beyond its own political and social worldview to a wider one, a big tent, as they like to say. I was even impressed when President Barnes addressed the concerns of faculty, students, and alumni in a letter, which he concludes, "So my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice."
In that moment I wanted to raise my glass to Barnes. Then, a few days passed and a colleague of mine posted to social media that there was to be a "preach-in" protest to take place the hour before Keller's lecture. This protest would feature the voices of women and LGBTQ individuals. I thought...well I thought things that were un-Christian. Later that day, I learned that Barnes sent another letter to the community that enumerated the revocation of the Kuyper prize. Keller would still be allowed to give his lecture, but he would receive no award or recognition from the KCPT. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you witness something utterly disgusting? Well that's what I had when I read that letter. I am finding this present age more and more oppressive against conservative and traditionalist voices.
Another blogger rightly notes, "So apparently the tent is not that big…" And there's no "apparently" about it. Responding in a private message to me, a fellow (female) minister told me "I'm fine with this limit on the big tent. I don't want to be part of a denomination where my call to ministry is up for debate because of my gender." Well, first of all, we are not part of the PCA, and the PC(USA) will never debate an ordination (unless that person was conservative, just wait and see). In fact, the PCA isn't anti-women across the board. I personally know of PCA churches that ordain women elders and welcome women to the pulpit. Sadly, I think I agree with Richard Mouw, who wrote in Christianity Today, "The folks at the seminary have been gracious hosts. And even if the welcome mat is now being pulled away from the likes of us, we can thank the Lord—and Princeton—for something that was very good while it lasted." Some churches are increasing their challenge to biblical guidance. I believe the denomination I am part of is one of those churches.
I must keep in mind Paul's assertion to the Galatians: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:10-12, ESV)
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