(Third in a series.)

As mentioned in the first of this series, on May 23 my wife and I learned of three deaths—Sharon Dykstra, Bill Mouser, and Tim Keller. That these three died at the same time was to me jarring and instructive.

Most readers didn’t know Sharon Dykstra or Fr. Bill, so I introduced them in the first two in this series. Pastor Keller needs no introduction. Eulogized by Christianity Today and The New York Times, the fulsomeness of the Times threatened to outdo Christianity Today.

Pastor Keller focussed on presenting Christian faith to members of the cultural elite, and thus his sermons, books, and church marketing were refined to present no threat to the politics and morals of the power brokers and media celebrities who had clawed their way into the capital of our American empire.1

A century ago, the German philosopher and historian of science, Ernst Cassirer, summarized the Enlightenment’s repudiation of Original Sin:

Augustinianism is now attacked …at its very heart. The concept of original sin is the common opponent against which all the different trends of the philosophy of the Enlightenment join forces.2

Living centuries downwind of the Enlightenment surrounded by its toxic fruit of secularism, Christian preachers must do some heavy lifting before introducing the cultural elite to God’s schoolmaster of the law and man’s bondage to sin. While not repudiating Original Sin, Pastor Keller’s method of Gospel preaching was not Jonathan Edwards’s.

The Fall and Original Sin were the Scriptural doctrines Edwards declared most necessary and effective to lead men to Gospel repentance. In his defense of Original Sin written to counter the Enlightenment’s attack upon this doctrine that formed the center of its rebellion against Biblical faith, Edwards wrote:

Christ in the course of his preaching took the most proper method to convince men of the corruption of their nature, and to give them an effectual and practical knowledge of it, in application to themselves, in particular, by teaching and urging the holy and strict law of God, in its extent and spirituality and dreadful threatenings: which above all things, tends to search the hearts of men, and to teach them their inbred exceeding depravity: not merely as a matter of speculation, but by proper conviction of conscience; which is the only knowledge of original sin, that can avail to prepare the mind for receiving Christ’s redemption; as a man’s sense of his own sickness prepares him to apply in good earnest to the physician.3

How did Pastor Keller handle secularists’ denial of Original Sin? Here’s a typical example taken from a church bulletin. It appears in the middle of their order of worship and serves as the pastor’s invitation to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper:

Should you join the meal?

This is …for broken people. It’s for you if you affirm that because of your sins, you are worse and more messed up than you even realize; and yet you are more loved and accepted than you had ever dared hope…

One may be inclined to defend “broken” and “more messed up than you even realize” as a middling attempt to translate Original Sin’s “exceeding depravity” into our secular zeitgeist. Such a restatement might be defensible, but only if it were accompanied by the proclamation of God’s “dreadful threatenings” and Moral Law—particularly focussing on the acts of wickedness promoted and freely engaged in by the cultural elite who made up the majority of Pastor Keller’s congregation.

But this was not the case. Take for example Pastor Keller’s approach to the most wicked slaughter of abortion. He avoided preaching against abortion, and he called other pastors to follow his example. From Pastor Keller’s article, “Religion-less Spirituality”:

A woman who had been attending our church for several months came to see me. “Do you think abortion is wrong?” she asked…

I said that I did.

“I’m coming now to see that maybe there is something wrong with it,” she replied, “now that I have become a Christian here and have started studying the faith in the classes.”

As we spoke, I discovered that she was an Ivy League graduate, a lawyer, a long-time Manhattan resident, and an active member of the ACLU. She volunteered that she had experienced three abortions.

“I want you to know,” she said, “that if I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service. But I did stay, and I found faith in Christ. If abortion is wrong, you should certainly speak out against it, but I’m glad about the order in which you do it.”

This woman had had her faith incubated into birth in our Sunday services. In worship, we center on the question “what is truth?” and the one who had the audacity to say, “I am the truth.” That is the big issue for postmodern people, and it’s hard to swallow. Nothing is more subversive and prophetic than to say Truth has become a real person! Jesus calls both younger brothers and elder brothers to come into the Father’s arms.

Pastor Keller claims “nothing is more subversive and prophetic” than proclaiming Jesus as “the truth.” How subversive and prophetic would it be to proclaim God’s hatred for the bloodshed of innocents? Keep in mind Manhattan leads the nation in this slaughter of our Lord’s little ones:

41% of all New York City pregnancies end in abortion…. New York City’s 2019 abortion rate was 27.2 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44, approximately double the national rate…. The largest portion of New York City abortions were performed in Manhattan (44 percent).4

Pastor Keller also avoided preaching God’s “dreadful threatenings” against the exceeding depravity” of sodomy. Brought in to share his wisdom and insights at his Presbyterian Church in America’s Covenant Theological Seminary, he was asked about his pastoral approach to homosexuality, and responded:

STUDENT QUESTION: How do you think the church is or should be proactive with regard to the issue of homosexuality? I see the prevalence of homosexuality, yet the church seems to be afraid to touch the issue. How do we actively speak to believers about this topic in truth and in love?

TIM KELLER: Uhhhh….well…(sigh)…The church is afraid to touch the topic? I…. It may……. It… It’s possible… that… in the twenty years that I’ve seen that this issue has actually not… Ummm. It… Uh… it hasn’t gone away. It’s really gotten to be much much more… Socially…

SEMINARY PRESIDENT BRYAN CHAPELL: Sure. Rural church, Sparta Illinois, 1985. I can tell the first Sunday I used the word ‘homosexuality’ and my wife wondered if I would have a job the next week. I mean, it was that scary of a subject at the time. So, if… Now again, that’s rural Illinois but I’m guessing even now the church questions… Now there’s all kinds of reasons for the fear. One, are you going to say something that your people are going to get mad at you about? Second, is the subject going to be so hot that the people who are struggling with an issue of of gender or sexuality, that I can’t even say in a public setting the kind of things I want to say to minister privately to this person. So how do I do this?

TIM KELLER: Well, it’s much, much, much easier to to have private conversations about it. I think… Uh… I can make this short. I… I believe in general that if you preach on why homosexuality is a sin… Uhhh… There are… At least in my… in my… in my… In my church I know there’s lots and lots of folks who have same sex attraction who know that that’s not… As a Christian, I can’t do that. I’m not gonna go there.

There’s a good number of them. I’ve got a lot of non-Christians who are present who are friends of gay people but are not gay. Uhhh… And then uhh there’d be a number of people with same sex attraction who… Are there. And generally speaking, it’s almost impossible to preach a sermon and hit all three or four of those constituencies equally well.

Ummmm… it’s just…. It’s just… Think about… You know… You know…you’re a communicator. You know you need to… Well, what’s my goal? Who are my audience and… wow! it’s like a conundrum you can’t solve. So, the best thing has always been for me… [COUGH]… to not do the public teaching as much as segment my audience through… Ummm… [COUGH]… Books, through classes, through one-on-ones, and so on. I think the time is probably coming in which we’re going to have be more public in how we talk about homosexuality. And I haven’t….

I’m actually thinking quite a lot about it. Uhhh… As to how I will go about it or how we should go about it, but I’m not prepared to give you three bullet points.

BRYAN CHAPELL: Have you been able to say… Again, very different congregations and cultures… Could you, would you say from the pulpit at Redeemer, “Same-sex attraction, if it leads to activity that is same-sex oriented, is a sin?”

TIM KELLER: O yeah… Well, you have to because you get to it and you’re preaching and you do. Sure. But… What I’m saying is if you go… If you make it the subject of your sermon, uhhhh… it’s uhhhh… Uh, an entire sermon on it would not be an easy thing to get… You… You… You have to say what the Bible says, and nobody at Redeemer doubts where we are.

But for me to do teaching in the worship service… I am now going to give you the re… you know… the biblical teaching on homosexuality… That has been a hard thing to do when my audience is so diverse.

I would have to say the average church, the audience isn’t nearly that diverse. And… so… I have not… made that the main place in which I’ve taught. But… We… We’ve done a fair amount of teaching inside amongst our leaders, our counselors, our undershepherds, our elders. We talk about it. Nobody doubts where we are.

But I think that preaching on a Sunday about it… Uhhhh… Making public statements is… kind of in the cards because I think it’s gonna be a very, very divisive issue in the future.


In full view of hundreds of men being training to take over as the next generation of preachers, Covenant Theological Seminary’s president commended Pastor Keller’s response.

The Gospel preaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul was opposite Pastor Keller’s. Here is the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost:

[This] Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. (Acts 2:23)

You nailed Jesus to a cross. You put Him to death.

A short time later, the Apostle Peter was preaching once more:

But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. (Acts 3:14-14)

Again, Apostolic preaching had at its center dreadful threatenings against the exceeding depravity of those present, doing so specifically through naming and describing their most horrible present sin.

Even later while preaching to the Jewish religious leaders, the Apostle Peter said,
“You killed Jesus by nailing him to a cross” (Acts 5:30).

What about the Apostle Paul?

Writing the church of Corinth, he condemned the church’s present most exceeding depravity, the sin of incest. He did so publicly, and we still read it today:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. (1Corinthians 5:1-2)

Pastor Keller’s preaching did not resemble Apostolic preaching. Instead he focussed on psychological sins and one of his most common themes was the Prodigal Son’s elder brother. He wrote:

Elder brothers base their self images on being hardworking, or moral, or members of an elite clan, or extremely smart and savvy. This inevitably leads to feeling superior to those who don’t have the same qualities…


The older son boasts of his obedience to his father, but lets his underlying motivation and attitude slip out when he says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.”


…elder brothers are fastidious in their compliance to ethical norms, and in fulfillment of all traditional family, community, and civic responsibilities. But it is a slavish, joyless drudgery. …Ultimately, elder brothers live good lives out of fear, not out of joy and love.

Sermons about the psychological sins of the American Empire’s elite secularists go down easily. One can be avuncular while suggesting someone present may have a problem with selfishness, but avuncular street cred is blown to smithereens when one preaches God’s terrible threatenings against the exceeding depravity of child slaughter and sodomy.

If it isn’t gauche to quote God Himself, this is abortion’s exceeding depravity:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

“You shall also say to the sons of Israel: ‘Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name.

If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, 5 then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech. (Leviticus 20:1-5)

And this the exceeding depravity of sodomy:

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing the shameless deed and receiving in themselves the due penalty of their error. (Romans 1:24-27)

These were my thoughts when I heard of the deaths of Sharon Dykstra, Fr. Bill Mouser, and Pastor Tim Keller. Sharon Dykstra never stopped her faithful witness against the exceeding depravity of that genocidal child slaughter we refer to as “abortion.” Fr. Bill Mouser never stopped his faithful witness against the exceeding depravity of sexual anarchy. Tragically, Pastor Keller did his best to avoid these exceeding depravities which were the principal agents of destruction of the souls of his parish there in Manhattan.

Dad wrote a little ditty, once, which went like this:

A Psalm of Anticipation

Lord Christ
Your servant
Martin Luther
said he only had
two days
on his calendar
and that day
and that’s
what I want too.
and I want
to live
that day.

(Third, and final, in a series.)

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