This is especially the case for those that suggest or state Keller compromises the Gospel in order to coddle and appease the expectations of unbelievers. Keller often commits the only secular sin of unapologetically asserting that belief in Jesus Christ is superior to all other religions and belief systems. That's far from accommodating.
Keller isn't beyond critique, of course, but sometimes it seems like his faultfinders are clueless as to what's involved in ministering in New York City. Their cultural expectations, which they improperly universalize in evaluations of other ministries, seem generated from Southern and/or heavily Christianized environments. What's appropriate in a nominal Christian culture isn't necessarily appropriate in a post-Christian environment.
I think Keller has his finger on the cultural pulse of New York City and effectively dismantles the postmodern foundation upon which all manner of sinful lifestyles are built, offering instead a life built on Christ. Criticisms of his failure to speak to some specific sins are misguided insofar as they fail to appreciate that there's more than one way to diminish sinful behavior. Sometimes one sin is produced by another sin, or several sins are symptoms of a greater, underlying sin. If you dig up the roots, you kill the tree and its fruit.
This is especially relevant given the transitory nature of New York City. You don't have a lot of time to speak to surface manifestations of deeper idols. You need to attack the heart of the secular lifestyle before its too late. It's not like a small town in rural Georgia where you can expect the same congregants to faithfully attend church for ten, twenty or thirty years.
This also means I disagree with some of the attempts to repeat the Redeemer model elsewhere. New York isn't Boston or LA.
There's also a lot of work to be done. Christians are underrepresented in urban areas in general, and New York is no exception. Given the number of lost souls and the enormous influence cities have on society at large, someone like Keller has an obligation to draw a wide net.
I'm also reproducing some relevant remarks I left on a comment thread containing criticisms of Keller and Redeemer:
I’m given to reckless oversimplification. Here I go again: The Redeemerites/transfos are basically “U2 church.” Their deepest desire is to see Bono join a hipster PCA church. For Bono to sign up of course he’d need to like us and feel comfortable. The whole movement is about building a “space” that Bono would like and about doing things he would largely approve of.
I came to Christ listening to Keller preach during my undergraduate years at New York University, after which I spent a few years attending Redeemer.
What Keller preaches is viewed as radically intolerant and utterly absurd by the secular world in NYC, to say nothing of how ridiculous Keller and fellow evangelicals look within the university context (I was a Religious Studies major). He’s just another contemptible Evangelical as far as many are concerned, as Redeemer’s preaching ministry is unapologetic in its clear declaration that Christ alone is the path to salvation and fulfillment.
You can criticize his approach to homosexuality, and there’s probably a better way for Keller to address the issue (I suspect he frames it the way he does because some, or many, gay people in NYC listening to an Evangelical on these issues will automatically associate him with the “God hates f—” movement unless he’s exceptionally careful with his words). But please avoid these kinds of simplifications about how Redeemer simply wants hip celebrities to “need to like us and feel comfortable.” Maybe you simply need to live and work in the city to appreciate the utter contempt its inhabitants have for any exclusive truth claims; neither I nor my friends in the city felt that Redeemer was seeking to make others “feel comfortable” like you might find at some theologically liberal church. Simply by proclaiming Jesus as exclusive Lord and Savior and taking the Bible seriously as God’s inspired/inerrant Word you are creating a deeply uncomfortable, even offensive, environment (to say nothing of Keller’s consistently pointed critiques of the postmodern, relativistic understanding of truth and fulfillment).
Phillip Mayberry said:
Your point about oversimplification is well taken.
I am glad you are in the faith, my brother. There IS a better way to address homosexuality, and it is to say what the Bible says. The way something is viewed by a God-hating culture is irrelevent to the message itself. We have no liberty to change the message. Period. I rejoice where Pastor Keller gets it right, I lament where he gets it wrong. Whether or not we will speak what Jesus spoke openly is a serious matter according to Mark 8:38: check it out. With prestige comes great temptation to compromise.
I remember a man whose message was also rejected, and yet the message was not altered at all. This man calls his disciples to do the same… nothing less, for any reason, and no matter where they live, and no matter what the consequences- even death or loss.
Hope you will consider this: it is written in love. I have spoken personally to Pastor Keller along the same lines, and exhorted him to stick with the Bible, and proclaim it openly on every topic, not just what we deem to be the “main” ones. We are heralds, speaking the message of the King, not politicians, keeping some parts of the message quiet so as not to offend. The gospel is offensive: and as you point out, people already think we are crazy anyway- why not declare the whole counsel of God?
Grace to you,
I appreciate the spirit in which your comments are offered.
We need to distinguish between compromise and presentation. I think the question is not whether the message is declared, but where and how it is preached, and in what manner, for, if I recall correctly, Redeemer is undoubtedly clear about this issue on its membership form. I also believe it confronts the issue in small groups.
In NYC (or Manhattan, really) what is the critical issue for its inhabitants? Since Richard Rorty won the question of solidarity at the academy, and logical positivism has suffered its (frankly all too fitting) death, the critical philosophical issue, and thus critical theological concern, is whether objective truth exists, whether there are normative, universal standards binding on all of humanity. Obviously the secular intellectual and cultural leaders of the city say "no," and there is now a belief that the words you choose have the power to create value and meaning. Combine this with a generous heaping of Enlightenment individualism, and you have an edifice, a structural framework, that excuses sins of every kind merely as a matter of personal preference, fulfillment and choice.
Keller attacks and dismantles this edifice on a regular basis. It's one of the stronger points of his preaching that only Christ will satisfy the deepest longings of your heart, not whatever you yourself define and pursue as the means of satisfaction. He attacks the intellectual/philosophical roots that produce virtually all the sins of the secular world, including homosexuality. To focus on this foundation is highly effective in that sense, especially given the intellectual nature of his audience, which will work out the implications of what he teaches a the core level. Certainly this line of attack, this destruction of deep, abiding, foundational patterns and assumptions of sin, worked much more effectively on my heart than if someone had simply preached to the surface manifestations of my sinful behavior. Obviously that's not applicable in all situations, but I don't think we can discount this approach as necessarily false.
People listening to Keller come to see the ravishing beauty of Jesus Christ over against the secular ash heap that is personally defined fulfillment. They then can't help but give up their sinful habits and ask Christ what he demands of their lives--including sexually in the practice of homosexuality, if I am to believe some of the reports I've heard.
While you're certainly correct to say that the "way something is viewed by a God-hating culture is irrelevant to the message itself," this has the potential to paper over an acute issue that all pastors in cultures other than the ANE in which Christ was preaching must address. Sometimes when you say one thing to one culture, it will be misinterpreted as another thing you didn't say. Of course, sometimes this is willful and deliberate on the part of the audience, done in order to distort and create (yet another) excuse for sinful behavior. But since we have some measure of control over how the Gospel is received, to what extent do we have an obligation to change our presentation (not content) so as to be properly understood by the audience hearing our message? The practical outworking of this question is felt in NYC when people hear condemnations of homosexual behavior; the homosexual community and its allies will interpret such language as that of Fred Phelps. Obviously the orthodox position on this matter is nowhere near what Phelps presents, but how do you speak to this issue so that others, conditioned by the media to associate a denial of homosexual "rights" with the language and attitude of "God hates f---," can understand that you are offering the Gospel of hope to sinners who are lost under the wrath of God in their self-destructive ways, rather than a reveling and rejoicing, as Nietzsche and other moderns suspect (not without reason), in the eventual torment and suffering of those "disgusting sinners" over there? This is not an easy question, and its often made out to be almost binary by those who really demonstrate no comprehension of the difficulties of ministering in what is almost accurately called the City of Satan.
Again, I think Keller could be better on this issue, but it's not the kind of deficit it's often made out to be by people (not necessarily you in particular) who strike as both simplistic and unsympathetic in their critique of Redeemer and the work it does in a culture completely and totally alien to the Southern and/or Christianized environment that most of the PCA seems to enjoy.