When I was a member of Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, I began to see more and more that his teachings were straying from the Bible. Anytime I would mention this to other Redeemerites (as we called ourselves), they would say, “Well, you sure can’t argue with his fruit?” By which they meant his success. To them, fruit equated success and success was measured by numbers. And the numbers said that Tim Keller had been enormously successful in building a mega church in one of America’s most secular cities.
They seemed to believe that if he was not accurately teaching God’s Word that God wouldn’t have blessed him with such a successful and packed church.
However, when Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits”, did he mean that good fruit could be measured by large crowds? Surely not! If so, then Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Chairman Mao would have been seen as bearing enormously good fruit! They had huge and adoring crowds.
Jesus uttered this famous phrase as he was speaking about false teachers. He was explaining how we can know the difference between a false Christian teacher and a good teacher. Here is what Jesus had to say:
Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (NKJV)
The context of this passage is false teachers. The dichotomy that Jesus drew was not between large crowds and small ones, but between good teachings and bad teachings – between being right or wrong and between being Biblical or un-Biblical. In fact, he never mentioned the size of a teacher’s following in this passage, or even alluded to it. Neither does any other part of the Bible make reference to the size of a church as an indication of its “fruit” or acceptability before God. Which was rather wise when you think about it. Because God knew that churches teaching false doctrines would in fact generate huge crowds. The Bible says “broad” is the way to destruction. God knew that churches teaching false doctrines would in fact draw larger crowds than those teaching Biblically correct doctrines. That’s why God never made the test of a church the number of people that sit in its pews.
Jesus repeatedly called the false teacher the fruit of a “bad” tree and the faithful teacher the fruit of a “good” tree. Jesus’ concern was not for how large a group of followers a teacher could attract. His concern was only for whether or not a teacher was true to the Word of God or strayed from it. He was concerned with the quality of the teaching, not the quantity of followers.
Recently, I received an email from Redeemer’s Center for Faith & Work (CFW), the “Cultural Renewal/Social Justice” arm of Redeemer. This is where all of Keller’s theology gets played out in the real world. By watching the Center for Faith & Work’s website, you will see the real fruit of Keller’s ministry. Redeemer puts an enormous amount of money and effort into the CFW. They have several full-time paid staff members that run it and they call it the “social justice arm of the church”. It is the ultimate manifestation of Keller’s theology of “cultural renewal“.
While Keller himself says the Gospel must be taught by word and deed, CFW is completely devoid of “word”. It is all deeds. And the deeds have only the most tenuous connection to the Gospel. To show you what I mean, here is the text of an email they recently sent out:
You may have noticed last month that our monthly updates now include a monthly listing of Arts Offerings in New York City. At CFW, we believe the arts are critical to the flourishing of our city. Artists steward the development of a healthy imagination crucial to innovation in every sector. There is a sense of awe and wonder when artists create because we experience something integral to our being created in the image of God. Promoting the arts not only leads to the flourishing of the city but helps materially express the manifold glory of God. For this reason, we hope highlighting a few arts offerings each month will help engage the imaginations of those in all vocations to do their work as an expression of God’s glory. If you have suggestions you think we should include, send them to email@example.com.
David H. Kim,
Executive Director, Center for Faith & Work
So Redeemer, which I probably need to remind you at this point is a church, believes “the arts” are critical to the flourishing of the city. And they believe that promoting the arts helps “materially express the manifold glory of God”! This is a stunning statement coming from a self-proclaimed Christian church! Stunning in its anti-Biblical, pro-secular slant. Nothing in the Bible even hints at the idea that the church should be involved in promoting “the arts”. And certainly not the secular arts!
You must keep in mind here that Redeemer is not talking about some kind of Christian art. They’re talking about secular art. That is made clear on CFW’s website where they constantly promote secular arts events and showings around New York City. For instance, today they are promoting the following:
NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial