Timothy J. Keller is a preacher and Christian apologist. His theological views seem to be a mix of Calvinism, Presbyterianism, and various other Protestant beliefs. Keller holds many Conservative American Christian social views: he is homophobic, doesn't support gender equality or social justice, and doesn't support those fields of science which contradict his interpretations of his religion (e.g., biology, geology, physics, etc.).
While discussing some of the more problematic aspects of the Christian religion, my uncle requested that I listen to this sermon. I said I would on the condition that he listen to audio of equal length (I chose a Bart Ehrman lecture about writings attributed to Peter). Keller's sermon is about praying about the doubts people have regarding Christianity. Since I'm a former Christian, I presume my uncle suggested I listen to it in hopes that the speaker's talk would cause me to realize that I could still be a Christian even with my doubts.
Here is a link to the sermon: podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/praying-our-doubts/id352660924?i=1000485580247
Below are my timestamped notes of the sermon:
- 00:23 - In the intro to the sermon, added by Keller's ministry, we're asked to rate and review the podcast which will move it up the ranks in iTunes, and to help people hear and experience the power of God's word. Why would a god need someone to write a positive review of a podcast in order to disseminate his message? This reminds me of that wonderful Star Trek V: The Final Frontier quote, "What does God need with a starship?"
- 02:13 - The sermon opens with Psalm 73:1-26. In which the author says the life of a righteous man is very difficult, but, when he enters the kingdom of God, he will see that the wicked will be swept away by terrors because they are despised by God. It says that God himself placed the wicked people on a slippery place, essentially dooming them from the start. I find this passage utterly barbaric. Purposely setting someone up to fail and then sweeping them away when they do sounds like something you would expect from a cruel demon, not a loving caregiver.
- 03:30 - "The religious approach to feelings is to be very uncomfortable with them." I appreciate that Keller critiques his own beliefs so frankly.
- 04:40 - "The secular approach (which I find indefensible) is that your feelings is really who you are, not your beliefs or practices." I know a lot of secular people, and I don't think I've ever heard any of them espouse this belief. To me, Keller is straw-manning.
- 06:10 - Keller explains that the Book of Psalms, when you read all of it and not just what you find in greeting cards, is full of raw emotions like anger and fear, to the point where it disturbs people today. I appreciate that he points this out, because many of the Psalms are really horrifying. I think Christians would have more doubts if they took the time to read them.
- 06:30 - Keller says that the authors of the Pslams are "praying their feelings, they're processing their feelings in the presence of God." I don't know of any passages in Psalms that actually make this claim, so this appears to just be Keller's personal opinion of the Psalms. However, like many other preachers, he presents his opinion as fact without ever once saying, "it is my opinion that..." Keller uses this dishonest approach many more times throughout his sermon.
- 07:05 - "Doubt always masquerades as more intellectual than it is." I'm not trying to be funny here, but I seriously doubt that. It's also insulting to everyone who actually does have intellectual reasons to doubt.
- 07:10 - "Doubt is a condition of the soul and heart." No, doubt is a condition of the brain. The heart is a muscle that pumps blood, and, without a useful definition of a "soul" (which means different things to different people), this definition is very ambiguous.
- 09:17 - "What is doubt? It's a spiritual form of dizziness or vertigo that happens when your eye gives your brain something that it can't process and makes you put your foot in the wrong place." I think he's defining cognitive dissonance rather than doubt. And this is a quite different definition that he used earlier. He will continue to redefine both "doubt" and "faith" as needed throughout his sermon.
- 11:45 - "The Pslams were not all written by David." In fact, probably none of them were, as biblical scholars now have a lot of evidence against the traditional attributions. The Book of Psalms appears to be an aggregate of texts spanning several centuries from mostly anonymous authors. Some of them even appear to have been plagiarized from other cultures, and many show evidence of redaction.
- 13:50 - Keller describes Thomas as "hard-nosed" for saying he'll need to see the holes in Jesus's hand before he'll believe the person is really him. That's not hard-nosed, that is a perfectly reasonable demand. If someone claims a person was raised from the dead, no rational person would believe it based solely on anecdotes, they would require evidence.
- 14:35 - Keller says Thomas's belief in Jesus is a "confession of faith." No, it's the exact opposite of faith. Thomas was wise not to have faith and to instead demand evidence. At 14:47, Keller says it's the "greatest expression of belief," again, no it isn't.
- 14:53 - Keller's quote of Francis Bacon's book which talks about doubt being a good thing is quite nice. I like what he says about it, though I disagree that it applies to Christianity.
- 16:26 - "The bible has an amazing balanced view of doubts." This made me chuckle.
- 20:35 - "There is enormous positive energy in doubt." I agree with that.
- 23:40 - Keller says faith is not opposed to reason, rather faith is "holding onto what you know to be true in spite of how things appear to your heart." To me, that statement is opposed to reason. If your senses tell you that you're on a high ledge, but you "know in your heart" that you are on solid ground, is it rational to take a step forward?
- 25:45 - "Faith is not holding onto something in spite of the evidence." But that's essentially how you defined faith just a couple minutes ago.
- 25:49 - "Faith is holding onto something in spite of the appearances." The way that something appears is a form of evidence. If a person appears to have dyed their hair blue, that is evidence they did dye their hair blue, and it would be rational to conclude as much.
- 26:20 - Keller suggests the problem of evil is solved by his god needing to use evil in order to fulfill his ultimate purpose. This is a typical Christian response, but it only makes sense for a god which is not all-powerful. An all-powerful god would never have to resort to needing evil. I like that he admits this isn't a very comforting solution when it happens to you personally.
- 27:10 - Keller says the woman in C.S. Lewis's example needs "faith" in her friends. This isn't really the same definition he used earlier. It's very frustrating that he won't simply define the word "faith" in a meaningful manner and just stick to it. Instead, he uses allegory and fuzzy words like "soul."
- 31:00 - Keller's inclusion of C.S. Lewis's story about the academics is insulting. He paints the academics as not being honest, but basing their intelligence on wanting to be popular and being afraid to be Christian, which is not an academic position at all. Most of the academics I know are very open and honest and have thoughtful and cogent arguments about why they believe and disbelieve the things they do.
- 31:50 - Keller says it's dishonest, prideful, and controlling to have doubt because of the problem of evil and again trying to solve it with God needing evil. I see this as potentially very harmful.
- 33:30 - Keller says, it's not fair to doubt Christianity unless you go to church, sing, pray, and worship God. Would he also encourage his listeners to go to a Mosque and pray to and worship Allah before doubting Islam, or go to a temple and pray to and worship Ganesha before doubting Hindusim? Or the same for the thousands of other religions? Why does he give special treatment to Christianity?
- 34:00 - "You must worship God or you will never find him." That doesn't help assuage my doubt, but rather increases it. Doctors don't tell me I have to first believe in X-rays before they can check for a broken bone. My city doesn't tell me I have to worship the mayor before I can talk to her. If Keller's god wants a relationship with me, why is he so elusive? Why does he demand I worship him before he makes himself known to me?
- 35:35 - Keller says you can't prove there is a god, but you can't prove there isn't a god either. This is a very tired argument.
- 35:38 - Keller makes another flawed argument saying disbelief in something is impossible, because, no matter what, you have to have faith in something. He is again using a different definition for "faith." We don't need to have faith in our senses, because they are generally reliable. But, even if he meant "belief," he would still be wrong. You can base your footing on axioms, things that are true because they logically have to be true, like the axiom of identity (a thing is what it is).
- 36:50 - "It would take enormous faith just to reject Jesus." No it wouldn't. The very scant evidence we have in favor of Jesus is extremely low-quality and sketchy. The Christian he's talking about concluded that, since it would be just as hard to believe Jesus as to disbelieve Jesus, I chose to believe him. If you're stuck halfway between belief and disbelief, it is irrational to go all in on the flip of a coin, rational people wait for more evidence before making a decision.
- 37:14 - He invokes Pascal's wager (you're better off believing in God because you have a lot more to lose if you're wrong). This argument is flawed in so many ways. What if it's the Muslim god (or any thousands of others) who's real, now you're really screwed! Is believing in a god just because you're afraid of being wrong a good reason, and would that god be impressed by that? Can you simply choose to believe in something? Like, can you truly believe the moon is green cheese just because you choose to?
- 38:10 - Keller says the problem of evil is a problem for people who believe in God, but it's an even bigger problem for people who don't. No, the problem of evil is only a problem for people who believe in an all-good, all-powerful god. If such a god doesn't exist, evil doesn't need an explanation.
- 38:27 - "Could there be such a thing as horrifying wickedness if there were no God?" Yes, of course, unless you define "evil" as being a product of your god.
- 38:38 - "An atheistic view of the world has no place for genuine moral obligation." That's wrong; suffering is still suffering, even if it's entirely natural. Besides, objective secular morality exists.
- 38:50 - Keller invokes the moral argument for the existence of a god, which any first-year philosophy student can rip to shreds. If he first tried to define "morality," he would find all sorts of problems with this argument.
- 39:20 - Keller says that all other beliefs are worse than the Christian God. This is an incredibly short-sighted statement. Has he considered every other possible belief system? Of course not. Then, why is he so certain that Christianity is the best?
- 41:13 - "Bottom line, I'm afraid of meeting God. A lot of my doubts are not intellectual." How very insulting.
- 43:35 - Keller suggests that Jesus, during his crucifixion, would have had the strongest possible doubt in God. This would only make sense if you either didn't believe Jesus is also God, or that you think Jesus was unaware of the fact that he is God. If Jesus is aware that he is God, he couldn't possibly doubt himself.
In summary, Timothy Keller's sermon is a series of logical fallacies. He uses several flawed arguments without attempting to fix them, he equivocates (changes the definition of) "doubt" and "faith" multiple times throughout the sermon, shoehorns his own beliefs into scripture, makes several bigoted remarks against non-Christians, and is anti-intellectual throughout the entire sermon.