Neither Left nor Right

Tim Keller’s thoughts on Christians and the parties.

The ideology of the Left believes big government and social reform will solve social ills, while the Right believes big business and economic growth will do it. The Left expects a citizen to be held legally accountable for the use of his wealth, but totally autonomous in other areas, such as sexual morality. The Right expects a citizen to be held legally accountable in areas of personal morality, but totally autonomous in the use of wealth. The North American “idol” – radical individualism – lies beneath both ideologies. A Christian sees either “solution” as fundamentally humanistic and simplistic.

The causes of our worsening social problems are far more complex than either the secularists of the Right or Left understand. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but with powers and principalities! We have seen there is great social injustice – racial prejudice, greed, avarice – by those with the greatest wealth in the country (and sadly, within the evangelical church itself.) At the same time, there is a general breakdown of order – of the family and the morals of the nation. There is more premarital sex (and thus, there are more unwed mothers), more divorce, child neglect and abuse, and crime. Neither a simple redistribution of wealth nor simple economic growth and prosperity can mend broken families; nor can they turn low-skilled mothers into engineers and technicians.

Only the church can minister to the whole person. Only the gospel understands that sin has ruined us both individually and socially. We cannot be viewed individualistically (as the capitalists do) or collectivistically (as the Communists do) but related to God. Only Christians, armed with the Word and Spirit, planning and working to spread the kingdom and righteousness of Christ, can transform a nation as well as a neighborhood as well as a broken heart.

Ministries of MercyTimothy J. Keller, P&R Publishing, 1997, pg. 26. (via Tried with Fire)


7 thoughts on “Neither Left nor Right

  1. The second and third paragraphs are good, but the first would be laughable if it wasn’t risable. It’s not just an oversimplification, it’s a straw man used to slander both left and right and make the author appear to be the only sane one, floating somewhere in the magical third way. Holiness isn’t about disagreeing with all the conventional sides, it’s about having the right answer. And that will make it look like you’re lining up with sides that already exist.

  2. I find nothing laughable (risable [sic, risible] means the same thing) in the first paragraph, if you add the qualifier “secular” to “Left” and “Right.” Keller oversimplifies the ideologies of both Left and Right, but not too much, and I think those statements are true as far as they go. And it is quite true that radical individualism becomes an idol for many people. I’m quite surprised that Keller could provoke your ire.

    Why should you be surprised or angry that he rejects secular politics from either side and articulates a more gospel-centered view (in the following paragraphs) that neither President Obama nor the Tea Party would approve?

    1. I was wondering why spellcheck didn’t like that.

      First off, because he didn’t add that qualifier. It’s an important one. But even if he did, there is no such thing as “secular.” There is no neutral politics, and even the pagans have half a dozen different gods they worship in the political realm.

      Second, it’s a sliding scale, so maybe it’s reasonable to disagree, but I do think he simplified too much. If the right wing thought free markets and economic growth would solve all our problems (which is a ridiculous statement), they would hardly be concerned with issues of “personal morality.” And personal morality is no more personal than private economic decisions. And liberals certainly do have limits on sexual morality, and other moral issues, by and large. You have to find real extremists who are no-holds barred. And quite a few true-blue Dems think the solution starts at the grassroots, not with the government. They just think the government still needs to be involved.

      Again, the simplification was not to get at a central truth, not for the sake of accuracy- it was to defame with a broad brush folks who don’t necessarily deserve it and make himself sound more holy. That’s despicable.

      Third, radical individualism is a problem, but it’s also a very popular scapegoat in the church right now. It doesn’t apply as much or as strongly as he thinks it does. This is a place where the simplification isn’t wrong so much as unhelpful. There’s simply more to it than that.

      Finally, avoiding the words “conservative” and “liberal,” or avoiding being associated with those groups, does not make one’s views “gospel-centered.” Most of what he said in the other two paragraphs I have heard coming out of the mouths of people who are self-declared, die-hard conservatives. And sometimes from liberals.

      He’s not pointing out a third way. He’s making a blanket accusation of faithlessness/worldliness/whatever you want to call it against people who call themselves “left” or “right,” and creating a third category for himself so he can pretend to be more gospel-centered. But “left” and “right” aren’t teams, they’re wings, and that spectrum isn’t an ideology, it’s a discussion between a dozen ideologies. He provides no new answers, just an admonishment for asking familiar, and necessary, questions. And for having your answers place you somewhere on the spectrum in that discussion.

      There’s nothing wrong with being part of our political discussion as it exists. There’s nothing wrong with having answers that place you somewhere in that spectrum. And the Church has been in existence, answering these questions in this context centuries before Mr. Keller came along. It’s not just a secularist worldview he’s scrapping.

      1. Now that I’ve listened to the sermon from Wilson that you linked me to, I fail to see how Keller has grievously erred. Keller obviously does not include, in his paragraph, many of Wilson’s points about the political sphere, such as whether it is admirable to be a conservative or a progressive depends on what you’re conserving, or what you’re progressing towards.

        But why is that a problem? We’re talking about one paragraph, taken out of context. Most people would assume that, given an entire book, Keller would produce an intelligent and nuanced view of the political sphere, into which this paragraph might well fit. You seem to assume that this paragraph is Keller’s view as nuanced as ever it will be; you must, else why would you think it worth the time and the words to attack?

        This is a nearly pointless conversation (although I was glad to hear Wilson’s take) because Keller would probably agree with all or most of what you say, what I say, and what Wilson is saying. We’re not disagreeing, we’re taking issue where is none.

  3. Read this excerpt recently on another friend’s blog. Excellent stuff. Have you read much of Keller’s work? I’m curious, because I’d like to check him out sometime, but I don’t know if there’s a particular book I ought to start with.

  4. Hey, Ink Slinger-

    I’ve only read The Reason for God and dipped into The Meaning of Marriage. Reason for God is one of my favorite books after two times through, and I plan on making my way through Meaning of Marriage sometime in the near future. Keller is quiet, mature, and an excellent writer. I have great respect for him.

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