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Giving Thanks to God for Complementarians Tim & Kathy Keller

March 27, 2014


By Owen Strachan

The ministry of Tim Keller and his wife Kathy at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is well-known. Many of us have learned in life-shaping ways from Tim’s preaching. His book on the prodigal son and his work on our functional idols have been transformative for me and many, many others. Keller’s preaching and writing has accomplished for thousands upon thousands of people exactly what God intends gospel work to do: it has simultaneously uncovered how sinful my heart is and shown me the truly lavish nature of God’s forgiveness in Christ.

This is humiliation unto glorification.

Tim and Kathy Keller have covered numerous topics in their shared ministry. One that has not always received attention or proper appreciation is their complementarian theology. In one of the world’s most secular cities, the Kellers have championed a complementarian stance on the pastorate and in the home. Given the pressure that Tim Keller is under in New York, and the fact that other groups would love nothing more than for America’s most prominent intellectual pastor to join their ranks, this is joy-giving to me as a fellow believer. It is also deeply encouraging to me in my work as Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.

Any time a leading Christian resists the pull of non-Christian thought in the area of gender and sexuality, I rejoice. I give thanks to God. This is what Tim Keller has done in his post as pastor of Redeemer. This is what the Kellers have together done in their writings on these topics, including The Meaning of Marriage and Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles. The Kellers have made clear in honest, winsome, and convictional terms that it is not always easy for sinners like us to live out biblical teaching like womanly submission in marriage and male-only eldership. These are “hard words” for some, even–at times–for those of us who receive these and all other words of God as authoritative and good. But the Kellers’ candor has not compromised their complementarianism. It has instead made it attractive to a generation of men and women who come to Redeemer and to the Kellers’ writings from a very different stance, and end up finding that they can trust God in this area as in all others.

If we are honest, we can note that Keller has drawn fire from a number of directions for his complementarian theology. To some he is far too complementarian; to others he is not complementarian enough. We all must sort out different issues, and apply biblical truth to the gray areas of life. This will mean that complementarians differ on some matters. I for one am glad to recognize that. Having said that, the Kellers are clearly complementarian. They’re not half-complementarian; they’re not 22% complementarian; they are meaningfully, robustly, convictionally complementarian.

Tim’s preaching makes this abundantly clear. Again, he’s an irenic pastor-theologian. But when it comes to biblical gender-roles, there is no mistaking where he has laid the mark. And when you consider Kathy’s background, there is no tiptoeing around her commitments, to be sure. Reading her story in Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles one praises the Lord for his work in her life. In not pursuing the pastorate, and in seeking to strengthen and expand the ministry of Tim and Redeemer, she has left an entire generation of women with a model to follow.

Kathy’s words on “gender roles and justice” bear quoting here:

This is where Jesus comes in. Jesus is the reason you can trust that God’s justice is behind your assigned gender role, whether you are a man who would rather not take leadership or assume risk, or a woman who wishes she could. Both get to play the Jesus role. It takes both men and women, living out their gender roles in the safety of home and church, to reveal to the world the fullness of the person of Jesus. (Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles, Kindle version, Loc 456)

I do not know Kathy personally, but her writing in sum evinces what this sample shows in part: a pulsing intelligence, theological acuity, and a certain spiritual zeal. Women of similar gifting can take note of her decisions. Faced with an array of possibilities, she chose to raise a family and to follow her husband. I am blessed by that; many, many others are as well.

Too often as evangelicals we divide and whisper and pick apart. I for one want to celebrate the good and strengthen the church. The gospel is a far stronger force than division. It should not merely save us and then send us to our silos. It should create ongoing thankfulness for fellow believers. It has surely done this for me with Tim and Kathy Keller. I am grateful to God for their ministry, both as a complementarian and as a Northeastern Christian who knows how dark the region is. The Kellers are a force for the gospel. They not only preach it, however. They live it. Though they have received criticism (far too much), they have walked a biblically faithful path in the frightfully-contested area of gender roles. They have left me and my generation a powerful model to follow.

I am grateful for the Kellers. I am cheering them on in Manhattan. I am praying for their flourishing and for the generation that will follow them, that it will be faithful to Scripture in even the hard places as the Kellers themselves have been.


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