Monday 1 July 2013

Engaging with Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical

The title of my chapter in this book is called "Losing the Dance: Is the 'Divine Dance' a Good Explanation of the Trinity?". Here is a brief excerpt from this chapter.

Keller has lost the dance. Trinitarian unity is not founded upon a ‘divine dance’ of love. It is only to be upheld upon the basis of God’s essence. Calvin’s statement representing Reformed orthodoxy is so much simpler to grasp: ‘In Scripture, from the creation onward, we are taught one essence of God, which contains three persons’(Calvin, Institutes 1:13:18, 20, 23, pp. 142-144, 149). I cannot envisage that Augustine, the early Greek church father’s who were the architects of the Nicene Creed, John of Damascus, or Calvin, could subscribe to Keller’s definition of essence and his suggested basis for Trinitarian unity. The Athanasian Creed sets valuable creedal boundaries and affirms: ‘We worship One God in Trinity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.’

There are a range of different essays in this book which are:

1). Keller on "Rebranding" the Doctrine of Sin—Iain D. Campbell
2). "Brimstone Free Hell": a new way of saying the same old thing about judgment and hell?—William M. Schweitzer
3). Losing the Dance: is the "Divine Dance" a good explanation of the Trinity?—Kevin J. Bidwell
4). The Church's Mission Sent to "do Justice" in the world?—Peter J. Naylor
5). Timothy Keller's Hermeneutic: an example for the church to follow?—C. Richard H. Holst
6). "Not Quite" Theistic Evolution: does Keller bridge the gap between creation and evolution?—William M. Schweitzer
7). Looking for Communion in all the Wrong Places: Keller and the doctrine of the church—D. G. Hart

Ian Hamilton writes a preface and it is important to point out that this book is not simply about engaging with Keller. It provides a robust platform for all of us to examine our theology and doctrine at key points. Here is the link for this book at the Book Depository:


Bill Schweitzer said...

Thanks very much for your important chapter in the book. As you say, even as we engage with Keller on these things, it becomes an opportunity to sharpen our understanding and articulation of the biblical truth.

Kevin Bidwell said...

Likewise Bill, I enjoyed your comment on p 205 of the book where you are challenging Keller's unsuccessful attempt to reconcile evolution and creation. If Keller's ideas were true, which they are not regarding Adam being the first of a line of hominids, to become the "first man".

You write: "Exactly how are we to imagine a 'literal Adam' who had yet evolved from something else? The first man who was merely the next in a long series, the father of us all himself having a father? Does that mean that Abel would have regarded Adam's pre-human progenitor as his grandfather? Or, as a mere animal, was his status something more akin to a beloved family pet?".

End quote. Great irony!

j.kilp said...

Dr. Bidwell. I have not yet read your chapter in "Engaging with Keller" but I have read the footnotes and they seem to indicate that you have a grasp on your subject. However, your reply to Dr. Schweitzer's comment is very revealing. Your leap from Schweitzer's speculations about what Keller might have meant to labelling them 'Keller's ideas' undermines the whole book. If you can't read one another's papers properly, how are we to expect you to have read Keller aright?
I'm disappointed,
John Kilpatrick

Kevin Bidwell said...

Dear John,

Thank you for taking the time to offer a blog post. I am glad that you are reading the book because I found that when I read the whole manuscript, that it provided a springboard to sharpen me on a whole range of theological topics. I especially liked Richard Holst's chapter on sound hermeneutics and it was a reminder to ensure that we use sound principles of exegesis. You can pray for me in this matter.

As a general overview, my chapter began in 2009 when I was completing a PhD on systematics which especially focussed on the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the church. Up until completing my chapter, I have read all of Dr Keller's books. I do hope that you find my chapter stimulating and helpful.

Regarding my comments on Dr Schweitzer's chapter, I only read this final version on "Creation" a few weeks ago and I was struck that Dr Keller tries to reconcile evolution and a creation model. This is impossible in my view and the way that Schweitzer handles this is very helpful. I do not consider Schweitzer's views to be mere speculation and therefore I do not believe that my blog comment in any way undermines the whole book.

I do hope that you complete the book to test the arguments presented. This book has really gone through many critical eyes over recent years before publication. I hope that it will serve the body of Christ well.

Yours in need of grace and prayer,

Kevin Bidwell

j.kilp said...

thank you for taking the trouble to reply.
forgive me for not expressing myself very clearly. This is no doubt why you write the books and I debate issues in places where I'm able to clear up misunderstandings or at least, able to attempt to clear them up.

I did not mean to say that everything that Dr. Schweitzer says in 'Not Quite' Theistic Evolution is speculation. What I take to be speculation is the notion that Keller, personally, gives more credence to the existence of pre-Adamite humans than he ought. That certainly does not mean that that is what Keller believes but it also means that we ought not put about that it is Keller's idea.

John Kilpatrick/.

Kevin Bidwell said...


Thanks for your clarity and your gracious response. I will pass on your comments to Bill. Can he email you or shall I get him to respond on the blog? Perhaps the latter is better so that others who may have the same question, and they can also receive an answer to the same question.

As you can imagine, my area of speciality was to focus on the Trinity. I, in no way have an "axe to grind" regarding Dr Keller personally, however I judge his use of the "dance metaphor/motif" as unhelpful for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Kevin Bidwell

j.kilp said...

I have no objections to either form of interaction but — since I was puzzled as to why he didn't correct your misreading of p. 205 of "Engaging with Keller" — getting him to respond on the blog would probably be more appropriate.

Bill Schweitzer said...

John, Kevin mentioned to me this cordial discussion among brothers. First of all, I am afraid I simply left my initial comments and did not return to this thread. So that is why I did not address it then. Anyhow, just to be clear (particularly for those who might happen upon this and read it in isolation) there are two positions on creation that are relevant here: Keller's own (which he describes as old-earth, progressive creationism) and that which he considers to be orthodox for evangelical Christians to hold (in which evolution is involved). It is the latter that is main subject both of Keller's white paper and of my chapter. The upshot is that the material Kevin quoted dealt with the rather nonsensical consequences of an idea (that Adam may have been the result of some form of evolution) that Keller does not hold personally but rather seems to be defending as orthodox. In the chapter, I also mention that, while an plain reading of Keller's white paper would lead one to suppose that he is in fact defending those who hold some form of theistic evolution, I also explore the possibility that Keller is merely speaking of an evolution that had nothing to do with Adam (in which case, Keller's ambition to ameliorate the tension between science and Christianity is not advanced). I appreciate the opportunity to make this a bit clearer than perhaps I did in the chapter.

As Kevin said, thanks very much for discussing these things with us. I hope that our work--despite its flaws--will yet prove to be of some benefit to you.

In Christ,
Bill Schweitzer

j.kilp said...

Thank you, Dr. Schweitzer;
that puts paid to the notion that Adam being the result of some form of evolution is Keller's 'idea.'