Friday, January 26, 2018


Is Tim Keller's view on Missions and the Local Church Biblically Sound?
This is part 6 of a series titled, "Regaining Our Focus: A Response to the Social Action Trend in Evangelical Missions" by two veteran missionaries from Africa. It is one of the most thought provoking articles I've read in a long time.

Specific Concerns (with regards to the Social Action Trend in Missions):

6. Defective Hermeneutics

"The arguments used to promote a social justice philosophy of the church and missions are often based on transparently deficient hermeneutics. The result is arguments that are rhetorically compelling, but biblically suspect. Peter Naylor critiques Tim Keller’s handling of key passages by saying, “He approaches the text with a predetermined agenda that distorts his interpretation.” As Richard Holst points out, Keller’s occasionally defective hermeneutics—especially his habit of overworking metaphors and of sliding into allegory—are the source of many of his questionable views (Richard Holst, “Timothy Keller’s Hermeneutic: an Example for the Church to Follow?”, chapter 5 in Engaging With Keller).

This interpretative error seems endemic to the social justice movement. It is not possible to list and respond to every hermeneutical misstep made by the advocates of social action; however, typical mistakes include the following: Passages about mercy within the church are often interpreted as if they were about social action projects outside the church.The biblical word justice is wrongly defined and its meaning is confusingly intermingled with the word generosity.  The words oppression and poverty are equated. For this reason, David Wells calls political correctness “fake piety,” (Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 8).

We would argue that the things listed in that church planting plan are primarily the results of the gospel, not the goals of the gospel, and turning results into goals can lead to employing theologically suspect methods.

When interpreting Old Testament passages about social justice, an appropriate distinction between Israel and the church is not maintained.  God’s promise to Abraham (“in you all the families of the earth will be blessed,” Gen 12:3) is interpreted as a commission to the church to work for the social betterment of the world.

The fact that Solomon and Job were civil leaders in their societies (with corresponding social responsibilities and powers) is not given proper weight when interpreting and applying passages about their social justice activities.  Biblical references to poverty are interpreted as if they all referred to material poverty, and not, on occasion, to spiritual poverty.  Passages that show Jesus ministered to all social classes are ignored.  Passages such as Gal 6:10 (“Let us do good to all people”) are emphasized as if by position and wording they were intended to play the same defining role in the church as Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Biblical instructions about generosity are interpreted to mean that Christians must strive to create financial equality between all individuals and groups."


This series of articles was co-Authored by Joel James, D. Min., Pastor at Grace Fellowship, Pretoria South Africa AND Brian Biedebach, D.Min., Pastor at International Fellowship Bible Church, Lilongwe Malawi.  Both authors have served as missionaries in Africa for over 20 years. This article first appeared in the TMS Journal- MSJ 25/1 (Spring 2014) 29–50