Keller on Intolerant Communities

Here’s another great point to ponder from Keller.  He’s answering objections that Christianity is intolerant and exclusive.  Critics say “human communities should instead be completely inclusive, open to all on the basis of our common humanity.”

However, argues Keller, “the idea of a totally inclusive community…is an illusion.”  “Every account of justice and reason is embedded in a set of some particular beliefs about the meaning of human life that is not shared with everyone.  …Every human community holds in common some beliefs that necessarily create boundaries, including some people and excluding others from its circle.”

Keller then gives an illustration of a board member of a local Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center becoming a Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin.  Another illustration: a board member of the Alliance Against Same-Sex Marriage becomes convicted that same-sex marriage is OK.  “No  matter how personally gracious and flexible the members of each group are,” a day will come when they can no longer serve in their positions because of their beliefs.  “Neither community is being ‘narrow’ – they are just  being communities.”

“A community that did not hold its members accountable for specific beliefs and practices would have no corporate identity and would not really be a community at all.”  How can we judge then if a community is narrow minded or open and caring?  By several things: 1) which community has beliefs that lead its members to love, respect, and serve peoples of other communities instead of hatred and violence?  2) Which community treats others with kindness and humility rather than demonizing attacks?

“We should criticize Christians when they are condemning and ungracious to unbelievers.  But we should not criticize churches when they maintain standards for membership in accord with their beliefs.  Every community must do the same.”

(Timothy Keller, The Reason for God [New York: Dutton, 2008]), 39-40.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on “Keller on Intolerant Communities”

  1. I’ve been reading Gene Veith’s “Postmodern Times” and he details how ‘community’ is the hallmark of postmodern identity. Veith chronicles how postmodernists have deconstructed the modernist view of the self as a source of identity in favor of a group think approach where self definition comes by “submerging themselves in a group” – environmentalism, animal rights, politics, entertainment, fitness, etc., etc. Unfortunately, this is the same approach many Christians take to their church involvement.

    Understanding this attitude provides some apologetic leverage:

    – As Keller illustrates, a community necessarily requires corporate identity – some sort of absolute presupposition. Of course, any type of absolute is the antithesis of postmodernism. Point out this discrepancy and then let Van Til carry you home.

    – Veith points out that postmodernists were/are correct to “deflate the confident humanism of the modern age”, yet their solution is no less empty. On the other hand, Christianity teaches the self must be put death, but that our new selves come to life in Christ (Community!). “In the Church, unity and diversity, community and individuality find their balance.”

    Veith concludes this particular section by demonstrating the opportunity postmodern community emphasis provides to the apologist/evangelist:

    “The value of human life comes not from culture, nor from individual choices, but from God’s image that inheres in every person’s immortal soul. The problem of the self is the problem of sin. Postmodernism unmasks problems that modernism tried to hide, but postmodernism can by no means solve them. For the Blank Generation, the gospel of Jesus Christ can be very good news indeed.”

    By combining Keller, Veith, & Van Til (sounds like a law firm), one can transform a negative attack of intolerance into a positive affirmation of the truth.


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