Tim Keller has been taking off the sheep’s clothing this year. In addition to promoting Greg Johnson, defending Francis Collins, and touting Stephen Colbert’s false gospel. Ironically, when it was announced that his cancer was in remission, much of the nefarious activity of Keller was no longer as brazen. However, in the beginning of the year, Tim Keller promoted the idea of Biblical Critical Theory. At the time we characterized the lecture by Chris Watkin that Keller promoted as obfuscating evil and rebranding Third-Wayism.
Critical theory aims to make visible the deep structures of a culture in order to expose and change them. Watkin, as a scholar of modern European thought and languages, is thoroughly acquainted with the various forms of critical theory that have arisen over the past century. Most of them are based directly or indirectly on forms of Marxist analysis. Since the middle of the 20th century and especially since the 1990s, a host of “high theories” in this tradition—literary theory, feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory—have sought to unmask and undermine the oppressive structures of Western society.
Despite this acknowledgement of the origins of Critical Theory, Keller believes that their are redemptive elements to the framework that pre-date Marxism. He does not provide evidence of this.
Chris Watkin would define Critical Theory as a sociological framework that:
- It makes certain things viable—it shows you how to look at the world in a certain way.
- It makes certain things visible—it draws your attention to certain aspects of society or ways of behaving.
- It makes certain things valuable—it teaches you what to desire, what to praise, what to condemn.
Keller goes on to say:
A biblical critical theory, therefore, can and should be developed and used by Christians living and ministering anywhere in the world. It must first expose the main flaws in the dominant culture’s narratives, showing how they fit neither human nature nor our most profound intuitions about life—let alone the culture’s moral ideals and aspirations. (As Watkin points out, this was the approach Augustine took in the incomparable City of God.) Then Christian theory must point to the beauty and truth of the gospel as the source of numerous fulfilling counternarratives.
The contention of Biblical Critical Theory is that there’s a critical theory in the Bible itself. Chris Watkin travels through the Scripture from start to finish, giving us the outlines of a Christian social theory.
Keller seems to indicate that such a theory is under development, rather than existent in the Bible, as he states what a Christianized version of Critical Theory must do. Tim Keller describes Watkin’s process which sounds an awful lot like sociological eisegesis. Keller goes on to pitch a 672 page book to non-academics before concluding:
One last thing to note. For the past several years I’ve called for a “Christian High Theory,” and what Chris Watkin is working on in this book is exactly what I had in mind. He prefers to call it a “Biblical Critical Theory,” and he convinces me to adopt his terminology. His reasons for it are good: (1) we shouldn’t build our critical theory just from theology in general but in direct contact with the Bible, and (2) our stance toward the culture must take into consideration every major “turn” in biblical redemptive history—not just focusing on one part, which many denominations and Christian traditions tend to do. Using the term “biblical” helps us keep this goal in mind.
My prayer is that Biblical Critical Theory will bear much intellectual and spiritual fruit in many lives over the decades ahead.
Tim Keller has been crafting something like this for a while, ultimately merging his efforts with that of Watkin. Keller believes that attaching the word “Biblical” to “Biblical Critical Theory” will make the outcome more biblical. In reality, this is hitching a sociological framework with Christianity.
Tim Keller seems to have legacy on his mind as he concludes about his hopes for the lasting influence of this vanity project of his.