Confident Pluralism, Princeton Seminary, and Tim Keller


John Inazu, a law professor at Washington University and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Among Deep Differenceshas weighed in on Princeton Theological Seminary’s decision to rescind the Kuyper Prize from evangelical Presbyterian minister Tim Keller.  Get some background on this story here.

Inazu raises some interesting questions in his post at the website of the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  Here is a taste:

One of the core commitments of confident pluralism is that the First Amendment should permit private associations—including private institutions of higher education—to follow their own norms absent extraordinarily compelling governmental interests. Since interests of such magnitude are not implicated here, Princeton Seminary can do whatever it wants. It could give or not give the award to Keller. It could—as it did—offer and then rescind the award for just about any reason. It could—as it did not—disinvite Keller to deliver his lecture. Still, this whole episode raises questions, not only about the purpose of Princeton Theological Seminary, but whether or not the school has adequately articulated its sense of purpose.

According to its website, the seminary’s mission is to “prepare women and men to serve Jesus Christ in ministries marked by faith, integrity, scholarship, competence, compassion, and joy, equipping them for leadership worldwide in congregations and the larger church, in classrooms and the academy, and in the public arena.” Keller’s views on the ordination of women arguably place him at odds with aspects of that mission. But so would the beliefs and affiliations of past recipients of the same award, including a conservative rabbi who does not support the idea of female rabbis (Jonathan Sacks), the then-president of an evangelical seminary that does not recognize same-sex ordination (Richard Mouw), and an Anglican theologian who believes that marriage is limited to heterosexual unions (Oliver O’Donovan). The seminary’s mission statement seems even more in tension with its recent reversal: “In response to Christ’s call for the unity of the church, the Seminary embraces in its life and work a rich racial and ethnic diversity and the breadth of communions represented in the worldwide church.”

Of course, institutions frequently change their missions and identities, and maybe Princeton Seminary has simply evolved in recent years. Maybe a broader ecumenism worked for the seminary in 2010 but not in 2017, on the other side of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision and gender issues foregrounded in the last presidential election. Still, if these observations are accurate, Princeton Seminary’s evolution may have been more unconscious than deliberate, creating an institution that does not entirely understand itself: A better self-understanding might have prevented the school from offering the award to Keller in the first place, and perhaps the same is true for some past awardees.

Read the entire piece here.

One thought on “Confident Pluralism, Princeton Seminary, and Tim Keller

  1. Thank you for discussing the decision of Princeton Seminary to take back the Kuyper Award. There have been many criticisms that have missed the real issues. The question is not whether Rev. Timothy Keller is a good pastor, author, and leader. He has started many fine churches that are doing many good things. The question is not whether Princeton Seminary is consistent to present a variety of viewpoints and theological positions. Rev. Keller still came and spoke. He was not told what not to say or what to say. Princeton is a PCUSA Seminary that is open to discuss the wide variety of leaders and theological positions..

    The point here is that Princeton Seminary does not endorse the PCA and Rev. Keller as normative for the Reformed faith. The PCA and Rev. Keller deny the God-given abilities and call of people that can and do make a positive difference in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Their male hierarchy, elitism in church ordination and marriage excludes the gifts of people that God has called and affirmed. The PCUSA is a reformed and ever reforming church of Jesus Christ, constantly praying and discussing God’s will in a changing world. The PCUSA is moving ahead in a world where ordination is open to ALL who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior Amen, Hallelujah, Amen.


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