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Updated! Dreary day at Princeton with no Kuyper Prize for New Yorker Rev. Tim Keller

Responses from Elaine Storkey, Richard Mouw, James Skillen, Nicholas Wolsterstorff, Ian Buruma, & Alvin Plantinga

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This morning's view from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

 

The day is dreary at Princeton, New Jersey. Rain, cold, not much glimmer of the sun on the chapel walls.

The news from Princeton Theological Seminary is hardly cheery. It is grey and muddy.

Their attempt to stoke the theological fires by awarding the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life to the renowned New York City pastor Timothy Keller was going to bring joy to the campus, hearty congratulations all around, and claps to ward off thoughts of March melancholy until April joys. All the scholars were gathered around their hearths to hear the good news.

The Kuyper Prize is named after a famous Dutch theologian, journalist, and politician Abraham Kuyper. In 1898 at Princeton, he gave a famous set of lectures on Calvinism. The Kuyper Center’s announcement at the beginning of March praised Keller as “an innovative theologian and church leader, well-published author, and catalyst for urban mission in major cities around the world.” Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and one of the country’s best-known evangelical Christian thinkers.

Princeton Theological Seminary is one of the most prominent theologically liberal seminaries in the nation and is affiliated with the old-line denomination, the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. It has been declining in enrollment, finances, and prestige. The board brought in a new president to re-light the fires. The seminary would bring Keller, who has grown his Manhattan church into a movement of hundreds of churches, to light a bonfire.

But some demurred – Keller is not a jolly fellow for our high table; he can’t inspire our cold fish. In fact, fish-eyes to Keller. The feminists and gay religious drew back in horror saying, that his flame should not  touch our wood.

So today, there is no joy in Mudville, the mighty president of Princeton seminary, M. Craig Barnes, has struck out. He beat such a hasty retreat that the “M” fell off his name at the bottom of the memo withdrawing the Kuyper award from Keller. The fire in the Princeton seminary hearth is left with a thin smoke coming out, and it doesn’t even smell good.

That’s about how former Kuyper Prize winners see the situation. There are few optimists in the group. They mainly feel diminished: maybe, they really don’t deserve the prize either.

Last year’s prize winner Elaine Storkey observes that the prize judges didn’t look very carefully into her own theological background. If they had, they would have discovered some disturbing facts, some things that might have left the food cold on the table at the big banquet to celebrate her prize.

Storkey is a notable feminist in Anglican circles. She has played an important role in shaping that church’s policy on ordination and gender.

She wrote to A Journey through NYC religions, “I don’t believe the same enquiries were made of the denomination to which I affiliate, the Church of England. We too have restrictions on ordination, in that although we do ordain women, (and indeed have women bishops), we require our clergy (male or female) to be either celibate or married. The church of England’s definition of marriage is that it is between a woman and man, not those of the same sex.”

She brought great cheer to the Princeton Seminary high table because she is encouraging and open to different views. “I also support the plea from those within our church who disagree on theological grounds with its position on either gender or sexuality, to be regarded as loyal and faithful Anglicans,” she wrote.

Now, she is a little saddened by the grimness that has settled into the event. “When we cannot always reach one mind on an issue, we need to exercise Christian generosity towards one another.”

Richard J. Mouw was at the high table in 2007 to receive the prize as  President of Fuller Theological Seminary. His school is on the other coast in the Los Angeles area and is one of America’s largest and most influential seminaries. He has plenty of disagreements with Keller, but he gives the New York City pastor his highest regard. He wrote us,

“I disagree with him [Keller] on the ordination of women, but agree on same-sex topics. On the latter subject, I am not alone among the 19 persons awarded the Kuyper Prize since 1998. Furthermore, Tim has fostered a wonderful laity theological education program at Redeemer, associated with the church's Faith and Work Center, where many women in the professions have been affirmed and equipped for their callings in the public sector.”

He wondered if the criteria for the prize is just political: whoever wins the day with the loudest voice? Let the dinner and shouting begin?

“For some of us who have received this award in the past, we see Tim as more deserving of the honor than we are--and we can only conclude that in retrospect we are seen as not having met Princeton's standards for those who deserve the Prize.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, the renown Yale philosopher who won the prize in 2014, ticked-tocked off a list of similar thoughts as Mouw. He wrote to A Journey:

"I regard the withdrawal of the Kuyper Prize as a deeply mistaken decision. Keller is profoundly Kuyperian in his overall orientation, and has shaped the lives of many in that direction. That's what he would have been honored for had he been given the prize. Why would it be thought that PTS was affirming his views on the ordination of women and on LGBT matters if it gave him the prize? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners. Was the US affirming slavery when we constructed monuments to them on the Washington Mall in the early 20th century?

I personally disagree with Keller on both the ordination of women and on LGBT matters. But I regard him as eminently worthy of the prize, not because of his stand on those matters, but because of his other remarkable contributions."

James Skillen, the 2001 Prize winner, is noted for his work on promoting and thinking about how Christians and non-Christians can promote the social welfare of the poor, the downtrodden, and the abused. His theology is generally from the Calvinist or, what is called, the Reformed perspective. He notes that the prize originally was established “to recognize those who have demonstrated 'excellence in Reformed theology and public life.'” However, the criteria for the prize reflected a value also given to generosity.  “To my knowledge, none of the recipients have been without sin as judged by standards biblical, conservative, liberal, or the standards of any other religion or non-religion in the world,” he told A Journey through NYC religions.

Ian Buruma, a terrific journalist on human rights and civil society and professor at Bard College, admitted that when he heard that he was receiving the prize in 2012 that he was surprised because “I have never been aware of having rendered any services at all to neo-Calvinism.” Consequently, he doesn’t have a strong opinion on Keller’s exclusion. It is not his debate.

As far as Buruma is concerned, “the givers of prizes should be free to follow their choices.” As he told Princeton, “Theology has been very good to me” though he is “without any specialized or particular knowledge of theology.” However, most of the theologians who have won the Kuyper Prize wonder, what does the prize now mean for them?

The prize is awarded to Christian and non-Christian, Calvinist and anti-Calvinist, reformed and unreformed. The only discriminating factors seem to be fame and strict adherence to a certain fundamentalism in gender politics. Shall the fundamentalists win?

“If the standard of exclusion is now to be that a recipient must belong to a religious institution that ordains women and LGBTQ+ persons,” Skillen wonders, “then that will mean the exclusion of many who have demonstrated high degrees of the excellence for which the award was established and the inclusion of many who have made NO contribution to Reformed theology and public life even if they have demonstrated excellence in some other religious theology and its approach to public service.”

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga, professor at University of Notre Dame, summed up much of the sentiment. He wrote to Journey, “I was shocked and saddened by Princeton’s decision to retract it plans to award the Kuyper Prize to Reverend Tim Keller because his denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America, prohibits the ordination of women and gays.”

Princeton Seminary has smothered the fire in a particularly clumsy way that makes this dreary day seem even darker. It seems that the fundamentalists have won and generosity doesn’t have a chance in Hell. Let the laments begin.

Plantinga, the 2009 Kupyer Prize winner, notes, “Keller is a splendid and courageous spokesman for serious Christianity these days: the fact is, it’s very difficult to think of anyone who is more deserving of the Kupyer Prize.”

 

To get more background to the controversy, you might want to read our Sunday article, "Sunday News — Princeton Seminary takes back decision to give prize to Timothy Keller."

Reverend Tim Keller turned over the leading pastoral role in 2015 to Reverend Abe Cho, pictured on the right with his family and others. Photo: A Journey through NYC religions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Here in Lampasas, Texas, we have even heard of Tim Keller and his mistreatment by Princeton Theological Seminary. What are you doing up there? At our Diamondback Jubilee Rodeo on Saturday, we had some demonstrations on how to handle rattlesnakes. Maybe, you need some lessons!

    Here is the headline and opening paragraph in our local paper, the Lampasas Dispatch Record:

    Princeton Seminary disses popular pastor

    Can we all agree that modern leftists tend to politicize everything they can get their hands on -- in every venue? Even the sacred isn’t sacred. Princeton Theological Seminary reversed its decision to bestow the annual Abraham Kuyper Prize to New York City pastor Timothy Keller -- for essentially political reasons.

  • Paula,

    You wrote: "Keller's denomination (the PCA) was founded because of perceived failures in the PCUSA (the denomination of the seminary) and the breaking point came in 1975 over the ordination of women."

    I agree that the PCA was founded because of perceived failures in PCUSA, but the PCA was founded in 1973 and the breaking point was certainly NOT the ordination of women. The founding of the PCA has some skeletons (regarding racism being a motivation from some congregations), but overwhelmingly they broke away because of perceptions that the PCUSA was compromising on sexual ethics (sex outside of marriage and abortion) and theological foundations (being okay with ministers not believing in the virgin birth or the resurrection). The breaking point was the discussions of uniting the more liberal northern church (less tolerant of those who were theologically conservative) with the southern church (who were largely theologically conservative):

    "While there had been a failed attempt to merge the UPCUSA and the PCUS in 1954, there had been increased cooperation between the two denominations, including joint foreign mission boards, a new hymnal in 1955, union presbyteries in 1968, and in 1970, the so-called “Plan of Union” was drafted. With the December 1973 creation of the National Presbyterian Church, which would soon be renamed the Presbyterian Church in America, which led to an exodus of conservatives from the PCUS, plans for union accelerated, and were also hastened, albeit less decisively, by the creation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church by conservatives leaving the UPCUSA in 1981. In 1983, the vote was finally held regarding the merger, with a unanimous 151 presbyteries in the UPCUSA affirming it, and the PCUS affirming it 53 to 8. On June 10, 1983, the first General Assembly was held for the new denomination, which would be called the Presbyterian Church (USA)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/..._the_United_States_of_America)

    So you have a denomination who is more outraged by someone (aka Keller) disagreeing with women's ordination (which is a new movement relative to the previous 1950 years of the church) who is very at home with ministers disbelieving the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth and the Trinity. Sounds reasonable to me?

  • This is yet another example of the totalitarian impulse of modern liberalism, be it religious or secular.

  • How long do you think it will take, David, for traditionalist/evangelical Protestants to realize that we weren't invited to this party?

  • Ditto

  • I like the article. Thanks!

  • Hi Paula,

    Glad to have your voice and others to provide balance to our coverage.

    The article focused upon the responses of previous Kuyper Prize winners, so not all parties to the controversy were covered. I might add that we haven't heard from all of the prize winners either. Professor Wolsterstorff's response was only added late last night.

    The prize winners can identify their faiths, if they want to. I don't think the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks, would say that he is a Christian. However, he certainly has advanced the public discussion of religion in a way that is consistent with Abraham Kuyper's values.

    Most of your argument is with the person or persons who selected Reverend Timothy Keller to receive the prize. Except for a modest email from the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, we haven't really heard much about their criteria and reasoning.

  • I don't think this piece even begins to grapple with the motivations of those who thought it inappropriate for Keller to receive this prize. And it doesn't seem to grasp that this is an award for excellence in "Reformed Theology and Public Witness." Who are the non-Christians who have been awarded in the past? I'm not aware of any.

    Second, I think it makes little sense to give this award to someone who has written quite clearly that he does not believe in the ordination of women and about those who do, he has said, "their use of Scripture (is) alarming and disturbing."

    Yet Keller was to deliver his address and receive his award from an institution whose mandate is to educate women and men for ministry. It is not a speakers' bureau or even a church. It is an educational institution charged with the preparation of men and women for ordained ministry. Half of its students are women, so he would (presumably) address an audience, roughly half of whom he believes are in grievous error by the very fact of their enrollment in the MDiv program, and the rest by their acceptance and participation in the institution which seeks to educate women. Certainly the female faculty or female graduates of this institution would not be welcome as preachers at Redeemer. What sense does it make for PTS to award him this prize, and what sense did it make for him to receive the award and the $10,000 which accompanies it? Would he have mentioned his firm conviction about the illegitimate mandate of the seminary or named his belief about the women sitting before him? Or would that have gone unsaid, but clearly known.

    As to other points in this essay, first, the LGBT question is not quite the same as the women-question for the seminary or PCUSA denomination. The denomination requires that the leadership (session) of a church be half-female. Every congregation. Presumably in Keller's church, voting members of a church leadership body are all men. PCUSA congregations are not required to ordain LGBT persons, or perform same-sex marriages, they are required to accept the ordination of women. And whatever else this is, the question of whether Keller or anyone else awarded the prize is a sinner or not -- is irrelevant.

    Keller's denomination (the PCA) was founded because of perceived failures in the PCUSA (the denomination of the seminary) and the breaking point came in 1975 over the ordination of women. As to Keller's acceptance of women -- I am aware that he has been a voice for "commissioning" (though not ordaining) women as deacons in his denomination. In his denomination this represents a sort of left-leaning view. But it is far from a willingness to embrace women as leaders in any respect.

    Yes, this was extraordinarily clumsy, and the seminary should have realized that before it made the award. And the outcry against it had nothing to do with denying Keller's successes, his character, or his contributions to Christian thought. But the seminary's mandate and Keller's thought seem to be diametrically opposed. And it is a puzzle how anyone might have thought that a minor matter. What is unfortunate is that the consequences fell on Keller, not on the committee which made the mistake. I don't know what sort of conversations when on behind the scenes. But the award should never have been made.

  • Scott,

    It seems as if you would be okay excluding the apostle Paul as well. Just because you and PTS disagree with Keller at one point (ordination of women) does not mean it should exclude him from honor...that is really the point of the article. And this is despite, as testified first hand from someone who worked under Keller (Katherine), the fact that Keller esteems women and their talents and leadership more in practice than many who espouse ordination of women.

    What is more, as Keller himself has said, so now in 2017, you think that you have reached the pinnacle of tolerance, love, and wisdom...No, in 50 years, your descendants will look on many of the things that you have said, written, and thought with horror of how injust, untolerant, unloving, and unwise many of the things that you currently hold. On many of these, they will be right. On some, they themselves will be wrong. And so should they erase any contributions you make?

    The things that you say that you despise are the prima facia position of the Scripture, even if the prima facia position is misperceived, etc. Shouldn´t we be a little circumspect of calling the prima facia position of Scripture wrongly prejudicial or misogynistic and especially hateful, especially ones that have been held for centuries or even millenia? But I get it, whatever the hot-button issue of the day is gets termed canon today, even while the doctrines that have held the status of canonical in theology for millenia get termed expendable or a matter of taste or opinion, like the Trinity or pretty much any doctrine stated in the Apostles´ Creed or Nicene Creed.

  • Princeton's loss. Very negative press, which will result in less admissions, less funding, less prestige.
    I for one wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole now. Extraordinarily poor form. 🙁
    All the more ironic given how much Keller has supported church plants from people of various churches with divergent doctrines. The inclusive, big tent Christian leader with wide influence gets snubbed by an exclusivist, small tent cadre quickly losing influence.
    Very saddened to read this.

  • Thumbs up

  • Very helpful article

  • I like this article.

  • I lectured at the Kuyper Lectures in 2011, and took some heat for mentioning Van Til in my paper. Keller should stand proud.

  • I think I agree with you, Scot. As you know, Princeton University declined to rename any buildings or prizes that bore Wilson's name. Instead, they beefed up some of the services which they offer to minority students and they issued a public statement about racism. I think that's what Princeton Seminary should have done. Either don't offer Tim the Kuyper medal in the first place or, once it had been offered, keep the promise and take other Princeton University - like actions to make sure that the Princeton Seminary stance on the matters in question is clear. But do NOT offer the medal and then turn around and withdraw the offer. That sounds just like something Trump (or the administration of a certain other seminary with which you and I are familiar) would do.

  • The Wilson example is a good one--we can honor the good without embracing the bad. It's well known that Kuyper held some racist views, and I'm sure no one on this thread would be OK with a racist receiving the prize. PTS is saying that the issues of women and gay people in ministry are, for their community, deeply serious. They believe that people are being hurt and they want it to stop. I think having Tim come and speak shows a commitment to academic freedom without breaking faith with their community. That's my take.

  • I also wonder whether Princeton Seminary has thought carefully enough about the sort of issue which dominated Princeton University last Fall. In the case of the University, it was whether the use of the name "Woodrow Wilson" should be abandoned in light of some of the positions taken by Wilson. I find it more than a bit ironic (and sad) that Princeton Seminary has decided not to give the Kuyper medal to a person just because he held positions which Abraham Kuyper himself would have taken.

  • Have not the progressive theologians at PTS been telling us for some time now that opposition to gay marriage is based on animus and bigotry, and has no rational basis? Just as PTS would not award the Kuyper lecture to a person who would oppose interracial marriage or would oppose the ordination of a person based on skin pigmentation, so, the argument goes, it should not grant an award to an anti-gay bigot who opposes gay marriage or the ordination of LGBTQetc.

    The logic, it seems to me, is impeccable.

    So why would anyone be surprised that they would screw over Keller? Sure it shows a lack of class and honor to dangle the award out there and then withdraw it, but other than that--what did you expect? I'm shocked that so many people are shocked. They keep telling you that you are a hateful bigot and then you are shocked that they treat you like a hateful bigot.

  • I'm glad Tim's lecturing still, there is much to learn from him. There is also much to learn from progressive women who will never be 'allowed' to lecture at a conservative reformed seminary. I think all calls of PTS being exclusionary need to be tempered with this reality it seems to me. I wholeheartedly affirm the hearing of different voices from both sides. I wish our more conservatives brothers (and they are all brothers) would be more curious to hear outside their self imposed echo chambers. Fuller has always done a great job of this it seems to me.

  • Superb comments, Katherine! If I were not a Presbyterian, I would shout "AMEN!"

  • I worked with him for nearly 10 years and he's not remotely blurry on this. When it comes to ordination to the office of elder or pastor, he's firm. He and his wife wrote a bestseller advocating wifely subordination. Thousands and thousands of women are being directly affected by this--I've heard many of their stories. This isn't just a view he "holds"--he's an advocate. There's a reason why so many spoke out.

  • I'm not with you on this one, Rich. I love Tim and always will, but I'm glad the sisters rose up and that the seminary listened. Remember when you wrote "Abraham Kuyper meet Mother Theresa"? Maybe there's an opportunity out of this mess for a "Tim Keller meet Carol Howard Merritt."

  • Uh-oh.

  • Should Keller follow the example of Jonah? No clear answer from Scripture on that one I guess. Jesus told his disciple to shake off their feet when rejected or denied hospitality. Besides, Jonah didn't always exercise good judgment! Although he did get to find out what it is like to get stuck in the stomach of a large creature, be puked out onto a beach, and survive. So....maybe Keller's experience at Princeton will be more like Jonah.

  • Well David, I guess if Keller goes to Princeton to talk on April 6th then he is taking a leaf from Jonah?

  • Alsdorf's statement is so good.

  • Very insightful and well said, Katherine Leary Alsdorf!

  • Good response

  • This testimony about Tim Keller, from my friend Katherine Leary Alsdorf needs to be widely read on its own right.

  • Great comments Katherine Leary Alsdorf. You should repost on your own Facebook feed as well!

  • So why is Keller going to lecture there anyway? He should give the lecture somewhere else, let them buy it on video if they really want it. Being kind and being doormats are not the same thing.

  • Love this.

  • Nice to have the various responses from the previous winners of the Kuyper Prize.

  • Like this

  • Thanks, am sharing the article around.

  • Like the article!

  • Thank you for this article.

  • I am one of those women who have worked under Tim Keller’s leadership at Redeemer. Thanks to Tim’s understanding of Kuyper’s “Every Square Inch,” he hired me to envision and develop an entire ministry to equip and mobilize men and women in Redeemer’s congregation to work with gospel-centered vision and integrity out in the world. We partnered in the establishment of the Center for Faith & Work, which may have done more than any other church in decades to honor Abraham Kuyper’s vision of humble, respectful engagement in a world of many faith perspectives. His teaching combines a deep confidence that the gospel can change everything from our hearts, making us more humble and generous, to the institutions and society around us. While he would never have sought a “Kuyper award,” I can’t imagine anyone more worthy of it.

    Like some of the women who have objected and instigated the withdrawal of this award, I do not share Tim’s complementarian views. However, I am deeply saddened by the tone of these objections, more so by the final effect. Tim and many others have come to their position about the roles of women in the church (and marriage) based on Biblical study and deep reflection. I chose to submit to that view during my many years at Redeemer because of the way God was at work in the lives and work of the congregation. I use the term “submit” intentionally. There are many things I have and will “submit” to in order to live out the life to which God has called me.

    I have worked at a PCUSA church in which women, even when ordained, were marginalized more than those at Redeemer. I have worked in aerospace and tech (notoriously challenging environments for women) because the work I was called to do was worth it. We ask our fellow Christ-followers to go out into every sphere of this world, regardless of how hard it might be, to do the work that Christ has equipped us to do so that He may be glorified. Tim has lived out for me, and many others, how to live with Biblical integrity, humility, and generosity, even on—especially on—issues where we disagree. Oh, that this would be one of the gifts that we, as Christ-followers, offer the world today.

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