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A Straight Answer to NYT Columnist Nicholas Kristof's Straight Question About Jesus


Last December, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof disarmingly put the question "Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?" Keller is a wildly popular New York pastor, author, conference speaker, and whatever-he-wants-to-be-er. He is regarded by many as one of the more evangelical voices to play the big venues.

It can be a coward’s game to say “I would have said this,” from the safety of a small keyboard in a small pond, and I don’t want to play it. Rather than pick apart Keller’s answers, I’d like to offer my own, and let that stand for a constructive interaction.

Let me just say first that my starting place was sketched in my first column. My thinking starts with the self-attesting God of Scripture. I affirm His word to be just as it presents itself -- purer than the most painstakingly refined ore (Ps. 12:6), and wholly righteous (Ps. 19:9). It is, as Jesus affirmed, “truth” (Jn. 17:17).

This God is judge of all the earth, His throne is in the heavens (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 11:4). It isn’t He who is in the defendant’s chair. It is we. Man is without excuse (Rom. 1:21)—though, God knows, we do try and try (v. 18).

That’s my stance. There’s no question about the truth of Jesus or God’s Word. To come off as if I’m in any way wobbly about any part of it is to be a false witness and, to that degree, less to God’s glory and far less to the good of my fellow man.

With that in mind, I will take Kristof’s first question and, in my response, basically anticipate his followups:

KRISTOF: Tim, I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on. Since this is the Christmas season, let’s start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief, or can I mix and match?

Thanks for your candor, Nicholas, I appreciate it. It helps me try to help you.

To the first and most fundamental issue: your question explodes itself. Your assertions cannot exist in the same rational universe. I think it’s important for you to see that. Let me try to open this up.

To take the most obvious, you say that you “deeply admire Jesus and his message,” but then you ask whether affirming His virgin birth is essential, or whether you’re free to pick and choose amongst beliefs you affirm.

Don’t you see, you already have done just that? Consider: who is this “Jesus” whom you admire so deeply? Where did you learn of Him? What is your unimpeachable authority?

I’d be happy to go first in sharing my own answer. The only “Jesus” I’m interested in is the one presented in God’s Word, which is one long, long sentence starting in Genesis 1:1 and ending in Revelation 22:21. It’s a sentence with quotation marks around the whole, and the speaker is God (2 Tim. 3:16).