Amid furor over Princeton Theological Seminary’s decision to rescind an award that was slated to be given to the Rev. Tim Keller — a decision based on his denomination’s stance against ordaining women and gays, some intriguing questions have emerged.
As Faithwire previously reported, Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is being denied the Abraham Kuyper Prize for xcellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness after students and alumni complained that the seminary, which is affiliated with Presbyterian Church (USA), a progressive denomination, was wrong to select the pastor for the honor.
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These critics argued that Keller is affiliated with the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America denomination, which bars female and gay preachers. Fearing that giving Keller the Kuyper Prize would be an endorsement of the pastor’s views, the school wasted little time in rescinding the award.
Princeton Theological Seminary president Craig Barnes proceeded to respond to the controversy in a letter to students and faculty last Wednesday, saying that, while Keller won’t be given the award, he will still deliver a presentation on campus on April 6.
Would Abraham Kuyper even be able to receive the award given in his name? https://t.co/6TQSyS2198
— Michael Guyer (@msguyer) March 22, 2017
The entire spectacle has led critics to publicly wonder whether Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, whom the honor is named after, would be allowed to win the prize himself based on his own theological views if he were still alive today. Described by some as a traditionalist, Kuyper, who was also a journalist and prime minister of the Netherlands, lived from 1837 through 1920. Both men purportedly share very similar views on female and LGBTQ ordination.
One professor told Faithwire that Kuyper was, in fact, “quite traditional,” and, on a separate note, a blogger seemingly poked fun at Princeton Theological Seminary based on this notion.
Dr. James Bratt, professor emeritus at Calvin College and author of, “Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat,” also responded to Faithwire in an email interview based on the following question: “Based on the criteria that have led to Keller’s award being rescinded, would Kuyper have been eligible for his own award?”
The only people who could now receive the Kuyper award are those that don't hold his beliefs. https://t.co/SzrxHFTYcY
— Phillip Bethancourt (@pbethancourt) March 22, 2017
Bratt offered a candid response, while also sharing some context to try and help critics better understand the broader issues at hand.
“Well, no, but there are many conditions and situations in our day that (Kuyper) did not face in his own,” he said. “The purpose of the prize is not to honor individuals who think, speak, and act exactly as (Kuyper) did in his day, but those who act by his more general spirit and purpose in our own day, by the standards and conditions of our times.”
With that said, Bratt did explain what is known of Kuyper’s views on issues such as female and LGBTQ ordination, noting that Kuyper was “opposed to women’s right to vote even in civil elections.” Despite holding that view, though, the theologian did reportedly believe that women should, on some occasions, vote on church matters.
“He was clearly a ‘separate-spheres’ complementarian in his thinking about gender roles. But please note that that was a step beyond the thoroughgoing female subordination of traditional patriarchal society,” Bratt explained. “So, he was more progressive than some in his day and more conservative than others. That’s the “Kuyperian” measure, then, that should be applied to people in our own time — where do they stand on the spectrum of our day?”
Others have taken a more critical view of the Princeton decision, with Houston Baptist University President Robert Sloan calling the initial offer and the reversal “pretty narrow and dogmatic thinking” on the part of the seminary, saying Keller’s views are anything but “outrageous,” according to the Baptist Press.
“His views represent very respectable, well thought out views on the nature of personhood, on the nature of marriage, on the nature of family,” he said. “The attempt to suppress these kinds of views is not representative of clear thinking or argument. It’s just sheer political force and power.”
Faithwire asked a representative for Princeton Theological Seminary about critics’ claims that Kuyper might have aligned with Keller and would, thus, potentially face similar barriers to accepting the award that holds his name. While the seminary declined to directly respond to that critique, Beth DeMauro, director of communication and marketing, did offer a statement.
“As clarified in President Barnes’ letter to the community dated March 22, the agreement not to award the Kuyper Prize this year was made in order to communicate that the invitation to Reverend Keller to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination,” DeMauro said in an email.
It should be noted that The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is an annual award given to either a community leader or a scholar who has made an “outstanding contribution” to their personal sphere that reflects the values inherent in the “Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance in one or more of the ‘spheres’ of society,” according to the award’s website.
Read more about the controversy here.
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