In Part 1, we defined Timothy Keller’s view of theistic evolution and offered his rationale for holding his position.
3. Keller’s Theistic Evolution: His Errors:
The following quote from his book, The Reason for God, highlights some deep flaws in Keller’s thinking. In the quote, Keller replies to the concerns of a young intellectual who is terribly bothered by the “unscientific mind-set” of the Biblical teaching that God directly created the world by His wisdom and power in six days. Keller responds to this struggling young person with these words:
Evolutionary science assumes that more complex life-forms evolved from less complex forms through the process of natural selection. Many Christians believe that God brought about life this way. For example, the Catholic church, the largest church in the world, has made official pronouncements supporting evolution as being compatible with Christian belief.”1
Mr. Keller overlooks a number of significant truths in this one statement.
A. He equates evolutionary science with objective science that results in medical and technological advances. For him, evolutionary theory is equal to science.
Theistic evolution is helpful to Keller for easing the tension between two authorities, the Bible and secular scientists. For him, this tension forces people to make an impossible choice between science and faith. Theistic evolution, for Keller, eases the pressure and presto, he can win those caught in the middle. Not so fast! In making this concession, Keller bites the lie of “less complex life forms,” for there is no such thing as life that is not highly and irreducibly complex. He also errs in equating evolutionary theory with science. The fact that scientists believe in a theory does not make it science.
Many believers in western culture see the medical and technological advances achieved through science and are grateful for them. They have a very positive view of science. How then, can they reconcile what science seems to tell them about evolution with their traditional theological beliefs?2
Keller calls the philosophical assumptions of ever-changing evolutionary theory, “science,” as if it is equal with the objective nature of science. In doing this he equates theory with science and accommodates secular and unbelieving scientists. Does this mean that Christians should cave into what secular scientists say about gender confusion, climate change, or that there was no global flood, notwithstanding what Scripture says on these issues?
Creationists should never claim that science and faith are irreconcilable, but rather, that evolutionary theory and science are irreconcilable. It is true that the evolutionary theory of millions of years cannot be reconciled with the Bible’s teaching. Rejecting this however is not rejecting science but rather a theory and an ideology through which the evidence (which only exists in the present) is interpreted to reconstruct the unobserved, unrepeatable past. The theories of man should always be subject to the authority of Scripture, and not the other way around.
B. He endorses the Roman Catholic system as a true church, and he stands on their authority to bolster his views of theistic evolution.
Note carefully Keller’s words in the above quote. He calls the Catholic church a true church and further he dangerously infers all Roman Catholics are “Christians.” The Roman Catholic system attacks the Gospel of the grace of God, makes tradition equal to Scripture, and establishes the church as the infallible authority and interpreter of the Bible (among many other serious errors), yet Keller calls it “the largest church in the world.” Keller also quotes many Roman Catholics as outstanding examples of true Christianity throughout The Reason for God (e.g., Flannery O’Conner, Malcolm Muggeridge). He also highlights Roman Catholic priests and archbishops in The Reason for God as true Christian models. On the other hand, while endorsing Romanism, he also calls those who are “born again” and have been transformed in their worldview as the “biggest deterrents” to Christianity.3 This is a dangerous compromise of the Gospel. It is especially surprising as Keller is known as being “Gospel centered” as well as the co-founder (with D.A. Carson) of The Gospel Coalition.
C. He misrepresents six day creationists:
In his paper, CECL, Keller compares creationist Ken Ham with evolutionary atheist Richard Dawkins, and says they agree on this point: if you “believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.” Keller, searching for that elusive middle ground says one does not have to choose between “anti-science religion [like Ken Ham and six day creationists] or anti-religion science [like Dawkins-styled evolutionists].”4
Ken Ham responded to this by writing,
It’s sad that he would place arch-evolutionist Richard Dawkins and me in the same sentence. I’m assuming he considers both of us to be extremes. Since Richard Dawkins as a radical atheist is one extreme, then am I as a six-day, young-earth creationist the other extreme?
Ham writes that Keller grossly misrepresents him since Ham does not say that if someone believes in evolution they can’t or don’t believe in God. Ham comments on Keller:
“Conservative scholars like Tim Keller seem to be blind to the fact they have two different approaches to hermeneutics—one approach for Genesis 1–11 and one for the rest of Scripture.”5
Keller writes with a tolerance toward almost everyone—theistic evolutionists, progressive creationists, and Roman Catholics—everyone that is, except biblical creationists! It seems Keller sees Biblical creationists as “anti-scientific religionists” who must be enlightened or Christianity will go extinct.
D. He partners with those outside the Christian faith in his writing and promotion of theistic evolution on The Biologos Foundation website.
In Engaging with Keller, the author concludes that by writing on The Biologos Foundation website and speaking in their conferences to promote their views, he partners with those “outside the biblical faith.”6 This is disobedience to numerous New Testament commands (2 Cor.6:14-18; Romans 16:17,18).
E. He reinterprets Scripture to appease the worldly spirit of our age:
Throughout the Genesis account, it is clear that God brought about life through miraculous providence and not through evolution or “normal providence.” In Genesis 2:7, Scripture tells us that God made man from the dust, not a monkey, hominid, or a “tool-maker.” Jesus agrees with this, saying, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4).
Keller not only denies the clear language of Genesis 2:7, but he also undermines Paul’s teaching that death resulted from the sin of Adam (Romans 5:12).
Although Keller accepts a literal Adam and Eve, he believes they are still a product of evolutionary biological processes. According to Keller, this would make Adam the son of a soulless human-like hominid. (By hominid I mean a humanoid ancestor between a man and a monkey but a species closer to man than a monkey.) Evolutionists would say all such hominids are now extinct. Keller argues for both a literal Adam and a hominid. Keller simply cannot have it both ways. If he believes in a literal Adam, he must contend that sin and death began with Adam according to Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” If he says that man evolved from a hominid, he must allow for death before Adam’s sin.
By his skewed view of sin, death, and the true Adam made directly by God from the dust of the earth, Keller is taking away from the Gospel and diluting it. To state that only spiritual death but not physical death was the result of Adam’s sin is an indirect attack against the Gospel, for Christ died a physical death and rose again bodily never to die physically or spiritually again.
This is a dangerous accommodation and deliberate re-interpretation of the Bible to conform to the worldly spirit of our age. Evolutionary teaching that allows for a hominid creates far more problems than it solves, and it attacks the foundations of the Gospel.
In evolutionary thinking, death becomes a friend and the engine for change toward increased complexity and the survival of the fittest. This teaching undermines the Bible teaching of man created in the image of God (but corrupted by the fall). To teach that man evolved in the past could naturally lead one to assume man is presently evolving.
Physical death is clearly not our friend but the last enemy that will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). Allowing for hominids would mean that Adam was formed in a way entirely different from the Biblical text and would also necessitate that there was death before sin, contradicting clear Scripture. Paul also writes, “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit… The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47). It is clear that Paul refers back to the literal Genesis account of creation where we read, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). That one man was Adam, created physically from the earth and deriving his spiritual nature from God’s breath. The Biblical record emphasizes that God directly created man physically and spiritually, wholly apart from the use of previously existing animals. Theories of theistic evolution proposed by Christians are seeking to accommodate Scripture to alternate ideas of the origins of man.
In part 3, we will offer an answer to key errors Keller makes with respect to Creation/Evolution.
1 Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), p. 87.
2 “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” p. 1.
3 The Reason for God, p. 56-67.
4 “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” p. 1.
6 Engaging with Keller, p. 208.
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.