Why Tim Keller Talks About Politics, But We Often Do Not
Steve S. Chang | JANUARY 29, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
In 2018, The New York Times published an opinion piece by Pastor Tim Keller on how Christians do not fit in a two party system. He challenged Christians, especially pastors, who shy away from the topic of politics, writing:
Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel.” Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. (NY Times)
Keller has a brilliant way of diving into politics while not being political. Unfortunately, most of us pastors err by either marginalizing the Gospel by idolizing politics or permitting sin by fearing politics.
1. The church can marginalize the Gospel by idolizing politics
Some in the church make an idol of politics. By publicly endorsing candidates, aligning with parties, or mobilizing for bills, pastors unintentionally give the impression that humanity’s core problem is political and thus humanity’s core answer lies in politics.
Though we are called to be salt and light, we have to remember that we do not live in a theocracy but in a pluralistic society. We cannot apply Old Testament civil laws or New Testament moral laws as a way to solve humanity’s problem. They may be guiding principles as to how human culture can flourish, yet the church cannot demand that a pluralistic culture lives by the same laws given to the church.
The Scripture tells us to not judge the morality of secular culture (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). The world can be lost in outward immorality or inward pride. What the world needs is not political solutions, but Gospel solutions. They don’t need the right candidate but the right Christ.
As a pastor, I am convinced that my most critical calling is to be set apart for prayer and the preaching of the Word of God (Acts 6:4). It may be the primary duty of some to critically argue for candidates, parties and laws, but the pastor’s primary calling is to communicate the Word of God authoritatively to people of various political parties and leanings.
If we regularly pontificate politics from the same pulpit that we teach the inerrant and infallible Word of God, I fear two potential consequences: 1) We bring the Word of God down to the same level as politics. 2) We idolize politics onto the same level as biblical truth. Thus, preachers must be careful in using their public and private platforms.
2. The church can permit sin by fearing politics
On the other hand, preachers can also treat politics as taboo subjects out of fear -- fear of misspeaking on issues we are ignorant of or abdicating our calling as biblical teachers.
But when pastors avoid speaking on issues that seem political, we fall in danger of remaining silent on moral issues that the church must engage in. As preachers, we do not have to give political solutions to sin issues of society. Yet, we must talk about sin issues that plague the hearts of Christians and the church. Whether abortion or racism, pastors must be able speak publicly and privately on them. If not, we will give our people the impression that the Bible does not consider these sin. Our duty as communicators of Scripture is not only to tell our people that God loves them more than they deserve, but also that they are more sinful than they would like to admit.
I am grateful for people like Tim Keller or Francis Schaeffer who are able to wade the nuances of different issues and give us proper biblical and Gospel-centered perspective. I also am grateful for people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany during World War II, Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, and Pastor Wang Yi in modern-day China. They boldly and courageously gave the clarion call against the sin of the culture and government that the church cannot choose to ignore.
My hope is that pastors, myself included, can prayerfully listen to such prophetic voices and amplify them. As we do so, we will point to the ultimate Savior Christ, who, as Tim Keller aptly concluded, came to save, “[n]ot with a sword but with nails in his hands.”
Steve S. Chang is the founding and senior pastor of Living Hope Community Church. Steve is a graduate of UCLA (B.S. in Computer Engineering), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.) and Talbot School of Theology (D.Min.). He feels blessed to live with “the three most beautiful women in the world”, his wife Hannah and his two daughters, Christine and Janice. Steve serves as the Council Chairman of SOLA Network.