On February 25, we posted as the Daily Article an interview I conducted with Timothy Keller , author of the new bestseller The Reason for God . It was picked up by quite a few, mostly evangelical blogsites and has resulted in our being added to a hefty list of blogrollssomething we certainly welcome.
Not altogether surprising, some bloggers used the interview to take Pastor Keller to task for either his views on evolution or on church planting, which some of the sterner Reformed bloggers construed as being too broad (which is as benign a term as I can use here).
Pastor Keller took the time to respond to some questions and concerns the interview generated.
When our editor, Joseph Bottum, read Pastor Keller’s remarks, he was . . . not undispleased. He took them to mean that the good pastor’s default position was to throw me under the bus. In fact, Jody was so angry at Keller’s remarks that he wanted to respond himself. I would spare Pastor Keller that , and so I am responding myself.
Pastor Keller says that “I knew at a few points he strung statements together in a way that might raise questions. I thought people would ask the questions (like you) rather than jumping to conclusions. I don’t want to criticize the interviewer here. I think he did a fairly good job of representing a whole lot of conversation. But it wasn’t perfect.”
So here’s my reaction to Tim Keller’s reaction to the blogosphere’s reaction to the interview. It has been noted on many blogs that this is one of the longest interviews Keller has given. It was, indeed, originally longer: The complete, unedited transcript ran to about 7,500 words. (The interview lasted for 45 minutes.) Keep in mind that a typical Daily Article is around 2,000 words, and a feature article in the magazine 5,000 words. So I was asked to cut the interview by 2,000 words, lest readers’ eyes glaze over. I ended up trimming about 1,700.
What was left on the cutting room floor? Sentence fragments and some false starts that any spontaneous response to questioning generates; repetitive replies; a longish question and answer about the nature of the apologetic enterprise itself; a couple of anecdotes about counseling that, while interesting, were unnecessary to make a point that had already been made; references to Hodge and Warfield and James Boyce on the subject of evolution, a segment of the interview that had already gone on for a while.
If Pastor Keller thought my imperfect editing job had in any way, even unintentionally, misrepresented what he had said to me, he has had two weeks to get in touch with me to that effect. I have heard neither from him nor his publicist, to whom I sent a link to the interview the morning it went live. I have not received even a single email or phone call from anyone who knows Keller questioning my representation of his viewsquite the contrary; the feedback I have received from people who know and have worked with him has been uniformly laudatory. This leads me to believe that the interview accurately reflects the pastor’s views.
I’d like to know what a “perfect” job would have looked like. If I had left in every single syllable uttered, the interview would have been a much more ponderous bit of business to work through. If I had described his intonations, facial expressions, and body language in robust, florid detail, I don’t believe for a minute it would have changed how anyone would have interpreted Keller’s remarks. After all, Pastor Keller is a plain talker. If in the course of the interview he did not go into even more detail in order to forestall criticism on some controversial matters, well, not my fault. For example, in the blog linked to above, he states unequivocally that he would never plant a Roman Catholic church, as if anyone who didn’t already have a cudgel ready to bludgeon him with ever thought he would attempt such a thingas if such a thing were even feasible . (Last time I looked, the Catholic Church still had these folks called bishops.)
In other words, I could only reproduce what was there, not what wasn’t. Now, if my editorial skills were are at fault here, then I wish Pastor Keller had stated plainly what was left out of his responses to me that would have provided the context that would have staved off any misconstrual on a critical reader’s part. (In fact, the blogger who reproduced Keller’s response to the interview more or less says the same thing.)
But I don’t think that really is the issue. Tim Keller has had critics regarding his church-planting methods for a while. That he was described by Newsweek as someone who “believed” in evolution probably didn’t help him with many already disposed to question his Reformed “credentials.” I knew this going in, which is why I allowed him as much room as he needed to express himself in a variety of contentious areas. Read the interview again: There’s a whole lot of Tim Keller and relatively little of me. (And anyone who has read my stuff on this website knows that usually there’s a whole lot of me and virtually nothing of anyone else.)
I don’t want to pick a fight with Pastor Keller, and frankly I wasn’t all that bothered by his remarks. (And, given how gingerly he phrased his concerns about the interview, I sincerely doubt he’s trying to pick one with me.) I admire Tim Keller and what he has accomplished at Redeemer Presbyterianin fact, I was a member of Redeemer for eight years and attended a Redeemer church plant for a short time afterward. (This will no doubt come as a surprise to many who, seeing that my name ends in a vowel, assume I am Catholic, no matter how many times I talk about my Lutheran/evangelical background.) But I also don’t want the impression left that somehow what Tim Keller actually said to me and what wound up online are two different thingseven as a result of my admittedly manifold imperfections.
UPDATE (3/1310:10 am) Just got off the phone with Pastor Keller. We both apologized to each other for misunderstandings that could have and should have been avoided. I especially apologized for fanning the flames of a fire that should never have been lit in the first place. Tim Keller is a good man with an important ministry. We’re friends. Everything is cool. End of story.