In a recent article, Peter Enns asserts that Timothy Keller missed the mark from a pastoral perspective in an interview he did with Nicholas Kristof. I’d like to respectfully challenge that conclusion and also address a number of statements Dr. Enns made that I found troubling.
In the same way that Dr Enns stated in his article that he isn’t “against Keller”, I am not “against Enns” nor am I a starry-eyed Tim Keller fan-boy who feels the need to rise to his hero’s defense. Rather, I disagree with some of Dr. Enns statements and want to explain why.
Points of Agreement
I’m on Dr. Enns’ side when it comes to openly stating that Christians can encounter periods of doubt in their Christian walk. I also agree with him that the best way to tackle those situations is head on, being transparent with other believers that a person trusts, and seeking out honest answers to the questions that challenge the confidence of a person’s walk with Christ.
But when it comes to diagnosing Kristof’s primary obstacle to the Christian faith and several statements Enns makes about key doctrines of Christianity, he and I part company.
The Bone of Contention
Enns says that the reason Kristof and those like him struggle with Christianity and the answers Keller provides in the interview is because, “the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus invite genuine intellectual skepticism, not simply because of the nature of these events, but precisely because of the Bible's varied and even confusing reports of them.”
I think it’s important to see that Kristof specifically calls out upfront that he is, “skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on”. Only with the virgin birth does he attempt to question the different gospel’s contents, and why the virgin birth is missing in two of them and Paul’s letters. With the resurrection, Kristof explicitly inquires whether it should be taken literally and attempts to use the multiple resurrection accounts to prove his point.
This leads me to propose that Kristof’s primary issue is not any supposed variance in Jesus’ biographies, but rather this: he has an anti-supernatural presupposition that he imports into the discussion. It is the miraculous nature of the events.
I’ve seen this more times than I can count with non-Christians. I remember a time I discussed the faith with one educator who began to query me on obscure questions about the Old Testament and similar things, which immediately set off my Spidey senses. It was at that point that I used a technique I describe in a post I wrote on how to separate those searching for real answers vs. hardened skeptics. Responding to my, “what’s it going to take for you to believe?” question, the guy unveiled that he was an anti-supernaturalist and that anyone who believed different was “clinically crazy”.
Christians need to understand how powerful this commitment to anti-supernaturalism among unbelievers can be and how it can stop cold any decision for Christ. Years ago during a debate, Dr. Gary Habermas got then-atheist Anthony Flew to concede that the best explanation for the resurrection events is that Jesus rose from the dead. Surely, this led to Flew’s conversion to Christianity, right?
Wrong. At the time, Flew’s explanation was that the resurrection was a one-time biological anomaly that never occurred before or since. It simply couldn’t have been something supernatural.
Reading Kristof’s interactions with Keller makes me believe it’s not any variances in Christ’s biographies that give him pause, but rather his skepticism of the miraculous. If true, I think Keller’s responses to him were spot on.
A Wobbly Foundation?
Enns goes on to make a number of statements about the validity of the gospel accounts and strength of Christianity’s core doctrines that are troubling to me: “The resurrection accounts differ considerably from one another and cannot be merged” and “the Christian faith (not to mention the long, honored, and diverse history of Judaism) has known that even (perhaps especially) the central pillars of faith wobble”.
Although it likely depends on how you define “considerably”, I’d say the resurrection accounts all say the same key thing: Jesus rose from the dead. If you want to fret and worry about whether there was one angel or two at the tomb and whether it was dark or the sun was coming up when visitors made their way to Christ’s tomb then you’re missing the forest for the trees in my opinion (plus I believe those small supposed discrepancies can be explained).
I’m also not sure what Enns includes in his “central pillars of faith” basket, but I don’t find anything in Scripture that refers to the foundation God has given us as “iffy”. Instead I see constant references to solid rock and firm foundations where facts like Christ’s resurrection are concerned (e.g. 2 Tim. 2:19). I can’t imagine a better way to chase away those exploring Christianity than to (wrongly) say that it rests on shaky underpinnings.
Enns can also accuse Keller of being dismissive about the supposed conflict between science and faith, but Keller’s succinct statement about there being no earth-shattering inconsistencies is correct. Perhaps never before has more empirical and historical evidence pointed to the truth of there being a transcendent First Cause that is intelligent, moral, and Someone who can easily overcome death.
If you were a skeptic like Kristof, and eternity hung in the balance for you, what would be the most help ? Hearing someone tell you the truth with confidence or listening to statements that caused you to question the veracity of the subject at hand even more than you already do?
In the end, the only reason to believe anything is because it’s true. Christianity is true, and Tim Keller’s answers to Nicholas Kristof were on the mark in my opinion. You can’t get any more pastoral than when you confidently speak the truth in kindness without compromise.
 Which is not a problem at all as every historian and biographer edits and selects what aspects of their subject matter’s life to showcase.