Tim Keller Article Notes — “Backlash and Civility”

In an article for the Redeemer Report of February 2011, Tim Keller discusses the following topics:

  • How the American church has estranged nearly 30% of contemporary young adults, largely due to its involvement in politics.
  • That some of America’s negative response to the church’s involvement in public life stems from an acceptance of the Enlightenment belief that “religion is a completely private affair that should not affect how you live in public,” and that this is unhealthy.
  • But that, at the same time, most of America’s negative response is warranted, because they know that Christ calls his followers to love their enemies and to speak the truth in love.
  • Defining civility as not an unwillingness to contend for the truth, but as attention to how you contend for the truth; in fact, civility is an expression of caritas–charity or Christian love.
  • “Uncivil speech is designed to intimidate, silence, and stir up opposition. It does not aim to persuade more people to believe it. Ironically, when Christians speak this way, it shows no confidence in the Truth at all, but only in power, and that is a very secular view of the world. As someone has famously (but anonymously) said, ‘Evangelicals are in danger of  selling their gospel birthright for a mess of political pottage.'”

So, what does Christian civility look like? Next, Keller gives us insight in both how we can more lovingly and humbly contend for the truth, and, indirectly, what is the ethos that informs Keller’s own approach to arguing for the truth:

  1. “It shows respect for persons in the image of God even as it argues that their views and positions are not worthy of respect.”
  2. It shows humility as you argue–no eye-rolling, sneering, sighing, or pejorative comments.
    1. Interestingly, Keller expands on how Calvinism informs this humility: “…as Presbyterians we believe that ultimately God opens one’s eyes to the truth, and so we are gentle with those who don’t yet see. That’s why John Newton wrote: ‘Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.'”
  3. It is good for it to follow ancient rules of debate:
    1. Not to attribute an opinion to opponents that they will not personally own, even if it is a logical outcome of their position.
    2. Before arguing with your opponents, you must first state their position in such a positive way that they say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Keller closes the article by discussing what the future holds, given these things already discussed. In these closing paragraphs, he cites Os Guinness and Robert Putnam, both of whom are mentioned in the opening remarks.


    About davestuartjr
    Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

    One Response to Tim Keller Article Notes — “Backlash and Civility”

    1. Pingback: Tim Keller Article Notes — “The Honors of the King” « The Other Criminal

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