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Tim Keller, the Cross, and the Love of God

A few days ago, Pastor Tim Keller posted the following devotional line to facebook:

Now, we can assume that this was meant as a sort of “pastoral” exhortation, something intended to encourage and inspire rather than to serve as truly provocative or revisionist theology. It is also possible that someone other than Pastor Keller wrote it under his name.

Still, taken on its face, the claim is heretical.

To suggest Jesus lost the infinite love of the Father is to say:

There was a time when Trinitarian love was not. The dance stopped.

There was a time when the Person of the Father did not love the Person of the Son. God did not love God.

That God did not love Christ’s consummate act of obedience on the cross. That God was not pleased with such obedience to His own will.

That the words of Christ in John 8:29 are false, “I always do those things that please Him.”

That God, who loves all creatures, loved a frog more than his Son at the time of crucifixion.

As Herman Witsius says,

And it is so far from being true that by the voluntary susception of our sins the love of God to him was any how diminished that on the contrary he never pleased the Father more than when he showed himself obedient unto death even the death of the cross. For this is that excellent that incomparable and almost incredible obedience which the Father recompensed with a suitable reward of ineffable glory.

Given the doctrine of divine simplicity, this sort of statement would also necessarily imply some sort of break in the divine nature itself, an unthinkable conclusion and one that entirely undermines the original premise of absolute divine power and love in salvation. It also plays into the hands of contemporary critics of penal substitution, as it presents such a gross disunity within the Godhead.

What Pastor Keller says above goes far beyond what any orthodox theologian has ever said when speaking about the realities of penal substitution. Keller has described something as possible within the Godhead that is ontologically impossible. Saying something heretical is a big price to pay for “melting hearts.”

This was certainly not the intention of Pastor Keller’s post, and we hope that he can retract it and rewrite it in a more appropriate fashion.

By Mark Jones

The Rev. Dr. Mark Jones (PhD, Leiden Universiteit) has been the Minister at Faith Vancouver since 2007. He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. Dr. Jones is the author of several books, including Knowing Christ, God Is, Living For God (2020 Crossway).

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