Tim Keller is the highly influential founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. My first introduction to Dr. Keller’s evolutionary position was in a New York Times article, January 25, 1998, which quotes him saying:
On Creationism: ‘‘I don’t think Genesis teaches that the world was created in six 24-hour days. Evolution is neither ruled in or ruled out at Redeemer.”1
At the time I read the article, I was not sure why he took that view. My goal today is to explain what he meant by it, and why I believe he is in error. In taking on this task my goal is to fairly and respectfully define his theistic evolutionary view, give his reasons, show errors in this position, and finally attempt to provide an answer to his views.
1. Keller’s Theistic Evolution: Defined
A. Where Keller is dogmatic
In his paper called “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” (CECL) (published on The Biologos Foundation website), Keller makes a strong distinction between “evolutionary biological processes” (EBP) and the “Grand Theory of Evolution” (GTE) as the explanation for every aspect of human nature.2
Keller says one must make this distinction.3 He states that EBP is the biological mechanism God used to bring us here; GTE is pure naturalism that warrants no moral belief in doing good or seeking human rights. Keller wants to argue strongly for EBP but argue strongly against the GTE. For him, this is his middle ground of balance. He seeks to interpret the “book of nature (natural science which clearly for him teaches evolution) by the book of God.”4 This is why Keller can also state in an interview that he is “an old earth progressive creationist, who believes there is a literal Adam and Eve” but “there could have been evolution involved.”5
B. Where Keller is not dogmatic
Without being narrow on his model of evolution, he adopts Derek Kidner’s position that “God took one out of the population of tool-makers and endowed him with the ‘image of God’. This would have lifted him up to a whole new ‘plane of life.’” With Kidner, Keller proposes that Adam evolved, but Eve was specially created. As the Covenant head, when Adam sinned both their contemporaries as well as their offspring fell into sin.6
This view allows for other humans alive at the time of Adam and Eve. For Keller, this answers the question of where Cain got a wife. Spiritual death was the result of Adam’s sin, not physical death. Keller holds to physical death before sin, and Adam’s sin only brought spiritual death upon the human race.7
Keller gives credence to other models; perhaps Adam and Eve both evolved and then were given the image and breath of God. Or, perhaps God used evolution to bring about life in general, but then He created Adam and Eve through a special act.
Kidner confessed that he had a “personal view,” and he invited correction. Keller agrees. According to Keller, we can all have our personal views and all be equally right. Kidner also believes in a local flood theory.8
2. Keller’s Theistic Evolution: His Reasons
A. Genesis 1 and 2 cannot both be taken literally
In Genesis 1, Keller argues that Moses wants us to take him allegorically or in what he calls exalted, semi-poetical-prose narrative.9 Keller states that one can either take Genesis 1 as literal, or much more likely you can take Genesis 2 literally, but “you can’t read them both as straightforward accounts of historical events.”10
Keller concludes, “I don’t believe Genesis 1 can be taken literally because I don’t think the author expected us to.”11 Keller compares Genesis 1-2 to Judges 4-5, where we read a prose narrative and then a poetic description of the battle. Exodus 14-15 also provide an example of this. Keller says we must understand Moses as he wanted us to understand him.
Keller states, “Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days.”12 He defends his position by saying he seeks to be true to the text and listen to the real meaning of the inspired author.
B. The Meredith Kline Factor
Meredith Kline was a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and Gorden-Conwell Theological Seminary and wrote a now infamous paper in 1958 called, “Because It Had Not Rained.” As Keller has degrees from each of these schools, earned during the time of Kline’s tenure, Kline has obviously influenced Keller. Keller footnotes Kline in CECL.13 The main thrust of Kline’s article is to focus upon Genesis 2:5 and by this verse claims to decisively prove that the divine providence of the creation week was the same as the ordinary providence currently at work in the present day. Genesis 2:5, Kline believes, shows that normal providence was God’s mode of operation during the seven days of creation. This verse is a “decisive word against the traditional interpretation” of a six literal day creation.14
Kline further argues from Genesis 2:5 that man was created before vegetation and this forbids interpreting Genesis 1 as a chronological narrative. To do this, for Kline, would be “ludicrous” and “incompatible with belief in the self-consistency of the Scriptures.”15 A truly orthodox exegete will be “bound to reject the rigidly chronological interpretations of Genesis 1.”16 I will say more about Genesis 2:5 later, but it is clear that Keller embraces Kline wholeheartedly and says that this is the “strongest argument” that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally.17
C. For “Theological Survival”
Theistic Evolution for Keller is necessary for theological “survival of the fittest.” Keller thinks that young people are rejecting Christianity because they must stand against prestigious evolutionary scientists. Keller believes his position will help evangelicals survive the onslaught of modernism and allow Christianity to survive for another day (as if God needs our help on this). Keller’s motivation appears to be to reach young people who respect modern science and struggle with reconciling the Bible with science. Sadly, it seems Mr. Keller often gives way to so-called science whenever new theories and Scripture are in conflict.
In part 2, we will consider a more thorough discussion of the errors Keller makes in his compromised theology of Creation.
2 Keller aggressively promotes and unabashedly teaches theistic evolution as he writes for The Biologos Foundation website. Biologos’ purpose is unequivocally stated: “We at BioLogos believe that God used the process of evolution to create all the life on earth today… (and) agree with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created.” Its purpose is to promote theistic evolution and to reconcile Christianity with evolution. Another article I found on Biologos is: “The Flood: Not Global, Barely Local, Mostly Theological, Pt 2.” See more at: http://biologos.org/blogs/archive/the-flood-not-global-barely-local-most…. Answers in Genesis has a good article on The Dangers of Biologos at https://answersingenesis.org/theistic-evolution/the-danger-of-biologos/.
3 Tim Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople”, The Biologos Foundation (2009), p. 6.
4 Ibid, p. 12.
5 Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer, Engaging with Keller (Darlington, England: EP Books, 2013), p. 205.
6 ”Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” p. 11.
7 Ibid, p. 12.
8 Kidner writes, “The events of Genesis 6-8 must have taken place within a limited though indeed a vast area covering not the entire globe but the scene of the human story of the previous chapters.” Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Chicago: Inter-varsity, 1967, p. 94.
9 ”Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” p. 4.
10 Ibid, p. 5.
11 Ibid, p. 9.
12 Ibid, p. 5.
13 Ibid, p. 4. Keller received his M. Div from Gorden-Conwell (1975) and his D.Min from Westminster Theological Seminary in (1981) and also taught there. Kline taught at these two schools for many years. Kline taught Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (1948-1977) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (1965-1993). Kline is well known for promoting the (non-literal) framework interpretation of the creation account found in the first chapter of Genesis.
14 Meredith Kline, ‘Because it Had Not Rained,’ Westminster Theological Journal 20 (1958), p. 148, 149-150, 151. I recommend that you also read a follow-up paper to Kline’s by Mark Futato, Because It Had Rained: A study of Gen. 2:5-7, Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998), p. 1-21.
15 Ibid, p. 149, 154, 152.
16 Ibid, p. 153.
17 “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” p. 4.
Matt Recker has served full time as a pastor in New York City since November 1984. After establishing City View Baptist Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn (1984-1989) and Parkway Baptist Church in Rosedale, Queens (1990-1995), he then pioneered Heritage Baptist Church in 1996 where he now serves as pastor.