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Kathy Keller: Church as Usual Will Not “Work”

Cherie Vandermillen

By Toni S. Brown

Kathy Keller

Mrs. Tim Keller, otherwise known as Kathy, has published an article at Redeemer City to City, the church planting wing of Tim Keller’s vast New York operation.

Article linked here.

A few direct quotes from the article should suffice in making the case. Regarding these lessons learned she says:

..but some of the mistakes that we have profited from, lessons that don’t appear in any new hire training or corporate manual, I want to make sure that they don’t get lost, because they’re things that can make or break an organization, including a church.

There is nothing in a new hire training or corporate manual that can assist in the establishment of a Christian church, and there is nothing in or of the world that can make or break us.

The chief value, the Prime Directive, is: Church as usual will not work.

Church as usual? This is a constant in the Keller’s ministry, to demean and marginalize traditional Christianity, but why? A bizarre quote by Dr. Keller from an Entepreneurs’ Forum at Redeemer NYC best explains their goal for the church:

Conservative churches say ‘this world is not our home and it’s gonna burn up eventually and what really matters is saving souls so evangelism and discipleship and saving souls are what is important’.  And we try to say that it’s the other way around almost. That the purpose of salvation is to renew creation. That this world is good and if you see it that way, then the old paradigm- if you’re going to put your money and your time and your effort as a Christian into doing God’s work in the world, you wanna save souls which means the only purpose of your ministry and your effort is to increase the tribe, increase the number of Christians. BUT, when you have something that’s going to improve the schools in a particular city for everybody; when you have a venture that’s going to reweave creation physically, that’s going to deal with health problems, that’s going to deal with poverty. When Christians do that – out of their theology – they do that effectively because they’re dealing with the common good and you’re going to find that all kinds of non-Christians are not only going to invest in that and want to partner with you in that but a lot of them are also going to be attracted to the gospel because of that.
(excerpt source: Jonathan Cousar, former member of Redeemer NYC 19 yrs.) 

And so it is revealed why Mrs. Keller is insistent that church as usual will not work, as their mission is not spiritual, but social. 

This brings up a corollary insight, a big, big mantra around here for a decade at least: Precedent means nothing.” If you try something, and it doesn’t work, scrap it. City to City is the first institutional expression of this value. Precedent means nothing. 1. prec·e·dent


NOUN1. an earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide.


model · example · pattern · 

paradigm · standard · lead · guide 

The precedent was set over 2000 years ago so we have an example that we are commanded to follow, and follow strictly: It is Christ and the apostles. Christ is the head, the apostles are our example and scripture is to be our only source in all matters of church planting, administration and teaching.

14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 

2 Timothy 3:14-17

The Keller’s openly reject the old paradigm.

Another core value that originated from the Prime Directive (church as usual will not work) is that excellence is inclusive. If you wanted to sing or play at Redeemer, you had to audition, which was unheard of in a church at the time. But everything was more inclusive if it was done excellently, because even if you weren’t a believer, you could appreciate the music, or you could be impressed by the nursery, or you could say “They’re offering bagels and cream cheese at the coffee hour. Wow.

This quote speaks for itself and left me speechless, so I will just have to leave it here.

Another discovery we made was that spontaneity was alarming to New Yorkers who were nervous about even attending a church…this led directly to the production of a very hefty Sunday morning worship bulletin, with all the hymns included, all the prayers written out, everything there, so everyone knew what was going to happen next. You have to learn what will create difficulties for non-Christians that need to hear the gospel and remove those, whatever they are, and however precious they may be to you.

The quote above explains further the following quote:

I mean, people don’t come to church with their Bibles. They study the passage I print out in the text. They don’t have Bibles. Besides that, also non-Christians may not have Bibles. So we print it out [in the church bulletin]. And that works very, very well by the way. It also is a great way of keeping away from certain texts that you don’t want them to see. That’s true. I mean, I don’t want them to be confused by some texts that I just don’t have time in a sermon to get to. So I just stop right there and they don’t keep [reading and ask,] “Wait a minute, what about this?” They don’t ask me.  (Q & A Session 9: Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World Audio series, Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney)  

Source: Trinity Foundation

I’ve saved my most important value for last: carefully screening our language is the most critical thing we can do. Because the cultural moment that we’re in now loathes evangelical Christians, and we don’t need to give them any more reasons to disrespect and dislike us. Redeemer has been pretty good at this, partly because it was actually one of the major parts of my job description to search and destroy any piousbabble. That’s the word I coined to describe the-language-that-must-not-be-spoken.

Mrs. Keller goes on to give an example of this dreaded and forbidden piousbabble:

Back when we had the missions committee, one of the guys in charge saw fit to write an article based on Psalm 2:9–12: “Thou shall break them with a rod of iron, Thou shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Be wise therefore, oh kings, serve the Lord with fear, kiss the Son lest he be angry and ye perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” He went on to talk about Jesus trampling out the grapes of wrath, et cetera, et cetera. It was totally not the Redeemer voice or philosophy of ministry. I have to say, I still regret the harshness with which I raked that young man over the coals. Even done tactfully, it couldn’t be tolerated, not for a minute. It was just not our outward face to have that kind of believe-or-burn kind of attitude.

A few years ago, I fell victim to a church plant that was completely given over to the false theology of Dr. Tim Keller, and the church-planting scheme put forth by Kathy Keller in this article is precisely what I encountered, and rejected. This article embodies much of what is dangerous and unbiblical about this church-planting power couple. She echoes everything her husband teaches but without her husband’s deceptive skill-level of masking terms and manipulating language, this article is a straightforward and transparent expose’. She makes it abundantly clear that scripture is not their source for doing church. As a result, they are not building biblical churches but instead churches for the world – the world does love them. Be warned and warn the brethren.