Magazine article The Christian Century

PTS Cancels Award to Keller but Not Lecture

Magazine article The Christian Century

PTS Cancels Award to Keller but Not Lecture

Article excerpt

It all began with a 19th-century Dutch theologian. Each year the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary--named for the neo-Calvinist thinker and church leader who also served as prime minister of the Netherlands-awards a Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life. This year, the center planned to honor Timothy Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, who leads a global urban church planting network.

But Keller is also known for his views on gender and sexuality, which include the barring of women and LGBTQ people from ordination. In early March, several dozen students and alumni contacted PTS president Craig Barnes about the prize. Some expressed support, but most of them objected because they saw the award as an endorsement of Keller's views.

"That's not what I thought it meant initially, but it became clear that's what it meant to our seminary community," Barnes said.

Keller is a leader in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination that split from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) -the denomination PTS is affiliated with -in 1973, at least in part over "the role of women in church offices," as a PCA account of its history puts it.

"The wound from the divisions within the Reformed communion is clearly not healed," Barnes said. "Both sides of this division in the Reformed communion are still pretty raw."

In a letter to the campus on March 10, Barnes argued that the issue was one of free speech. He noted that Princeton had hosted Catholic and Orthodox speakers who support prohibitions on women's ordination.

Barnes and Keller spoke several times, and "both agreed that the award had become a distraction, and in order for me to press my argument about free speech more cleanly we had to remove the award."

Keller "graciously agreed" still to give the keynote lecture on April 6 at the beginning of the Kuyper Center's annual conference. Keller noted to Barnes that he had received some pushback from his circles about speaking at PTS. Barnes received another few dozen messages, this time most of them opposed the decision to rescind the award, while some affirmed it.

Melissa Florer-Bixler, a PTS alumna, wrote in a blog post that she was among those who contacted Barnes to oppose Keller being given an award. …

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