On the one hand, I no longer give a lot of space here to what the New Calvinists are up to. My feeling is that when they finally reach consensus on the question, “What is the Gospel?” they can send up smoke signals like they do in The Vatican.
But there’s no denying the wisdom and influence of Redeemer Presbyterian (New York, NY) pastor and author Timothy Keller. So there was a lot of excitement over the weekend over a post by Derek Rishmawy who has a Patheos blog Christ and Pop Culture, and wrote ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller.
First, here’s the context:
…Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.
The major substance of the piece comes in the second section:
Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.
And it makes sense, right? When you’re engaged in behavior you’ve been raised to believe is wrong, but is still pretty fun, more than that, powerfully enslaving, you want to find reasons to disbelieve your former moral convictions. As Keller pointed out, Aldous Huxley famously confessed in his work Ends and Means that he didn’t want there to be a God and meaning because it interfered with his sexual freedom. While most of our contemporaries haven’t worked it out quite as philosophically as Huxley has, they’re spiritually in much the same place.
I’ve heard it said that one of the reason people love to debate Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the Whale is because they are looking for an out. If they can find a problem with the Biblical text in one section, it absolves them from responsibility in others. So much of the debate clearly is about something other than what it appears.
In one of the comments, I noted:
I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons churches are finding it so hard to get male volunteers is because a lot of guys don’t feel ‘worthy’ because of their online addiction to porn. Someone has already noted in the comments here its possible application in this situation as well.
In other words, spiritual intensity wanes as spiritual truth comes into conflict with actual individual behavior.
Keller’s thesis did not sit well with Rachel Held Evans. In a piece titled Is Doubt an STD? — the title itself confuses the cause and effect — she challenges the sweeping generality of Keller’s response:
Keller seems to assume that thoughtful questioning among young people are typically the result of sexual activity and their desire to justify it. This was not true for me, and it is not true for many of the young adults who leave college with questions about science, philosophy, politics, and religious pluralism that challenge the fundamentalism with which they were raised…
…Furthermore, learning that a college student is sexually active does not somehow discredit his or her faith experience.
But while she accuses Keller of being dismissive of the real spiritual concerns of young people, I felt she was just a little too dismissive of Keller. I wrote:
Keller is teaching us to look for “the question behind the question,” not unlike Jesus with the woman at the well in John chapter 4. I think he may be on to something; but Rachel, I agree that this approach could backfire if it is dismissive of genuine questions and spiritual concerns. I think you have to earn the right to ask someone who they’re sleeping with.
There was a lot of push-back on Rachel’s take on Keller, and so yesterday, she published some of the highlights of the critiques she received. You can read those here.
If you don’t know it, read the story of the Woman at the Well in John 4 here.