Earlier this year, Princeton Theological Seminary had planned to honor popular preacher and author Tim Keller for his work in theology and cultural engagement with the prestigious Abraham Kuyper award, named for the Dutch theologian, pastor, university founder, parliament member and journalist.
However, on March 22, the mainline seminary rescinded the honor after fallout over the Biblical positions on gender and sexuality held by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)—Keller’s denomination.
Princeton’s seminary is affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA)—a denomination that supports the ordination of LGBT clergy and other liberal positions.
In a letter announcing the reversal of the decision to give Keller the prize, Princeton president Craig Barnes explained that some Princeton alumni voiced concern that to award Keller—the pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church—would be to contradict the seminary’s stance of “full inclusion for ordained leadership within the church.”
Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of culture and theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that the real contradiction is the denial of the award to a leader who embodies the principles of the award’s namesake.
“For me—a professor of theology and culture—Abraham Kuyper has been a guiding light in how to bring the Gospel and historic Christian teaching into an interface with the public square,” explained Ashford, who has extensively researched and written about Kuyper’s work. “And Keller has spent the past several decades doing that—thinking deeply about how to bring Biblical exegesis and cultural exegesis together to teach historic Christian truths to our society, in our cultural context … and doing so with kindness, conviction and civility. He is the perfect recipient for this award.”
Ashford sees this as a trend in religious academia—a trend several decades in the making.
“Since the sexual revolution, what we’ve seen happening in American seminaries is the advance of the secular progressive agenda,” he told Decision. “And speaking of trajectories, it’s worth noting that denominations and seminaries who have experienced growth have affirmed historic Christian teaching, maintaining a conservative theological and social stance. And the denominations that have strayed from Biblical orthodoxy are experiencing decline.”
Ashford, like other evangelical leaders and modern theologians, believes that Kuyper himself would have given the annual prize to Keller.
“What’s so disappointing and ironic about this is that Keller has lived, led and taught in accord with the historical Christian teaching, which includes clear-cut criteria for ministry ordination. And I’m certain Kuyper would have said the same thing about him.”
Despite being denied the Kuyper award, Keller agreed to deliver his address on mission at an annual conference hosted by Princeton’s Kuyper Center for Public Theology in April.