Tim Keller:  The Slippery Slope from Religion to Oppression

Orginally published on Monday, May 12, 2008 at 8:04 AM
by Todd Rhoades

This is an interesting short video of Tim Keller, taken from a recent speech he gave at a Veritas Forum on the campus of UC Berkley. In this clip, Tim shares that he does think that religion has caused a lot of damage in the world; and he describes what he calls the 'slippery slope' of going from religion to oppression. Take a look; and let me know what you think. Next up, watch Rick Warren describe his PEACE plan in our next post today; then see the response when Rick Warren invited Ingrid (our friend from SliceofLaodicea) to an all expense trip to Saddleback, along with a place on his stage. I think all three of these posts work together. I'm wondering, do we sometimes use Tim Keller's 'slippery slope' even within different segments of Christianity?

Scoll down to watch this video:

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  There are 69 Comments:

  • Posted by Eric

    I would disagree that a true Christian either a. feels “superior” to the lost, or, b. wants nothing to do with the lost. 

    The very essence of Christianity is at least two-fold with humility that would state ‘except by the grace of God there go I’ - and a true passion and desire to win the lost to Christ.  New Testament believers were actively engaged in loving and reaching lost people daily!

    It’s not that I haven’t seen that attitude described in the video - it’s that I question if that attitude was/is resident in the heart of a truly born again believer, or just one of the millions of religious false converts that populate the church today.

    Additionally, the jump he makes in the video from step 2 to step 3 is a pretty big “characterization” blanket statement as well.  He also fails to mention (at least in the clip) that those in the world also characterize Christians - many times undeservingly so.  Who would want to be characterized by the goofiness that can be seen on much of Christian TV?  Yet that is how much of the world sees believers.

    I will concede that this attitude he describes can partially be blamed for pastors forgetting that Sunday morning is a fantastic time to disciple Christians with the preaching of the Word of God.  As Bill Hybel’s discovered you can have a house full people who are a mile wild but an inch deep.  When we cease to preach the cross, the blood of Jesus, the penalty for sin and true repentance from sin, we will continue to see this Christian country club mentality that merely seeks a better life and doesn’t want to be bothered with the lost and hurting that we have been called to reach.

  • Posted by

    The words he speaks are true.  Good delineation of the process here too.  Thanks Tod for making this available.

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    Eric writes [I question if that attitude was/is resident in the heart of a truly born again believer].

    I’ve known and known of MANY real Christians who have gone down this “slippery slope.” Yes they are really believers, and yes, they believe everybody that doesn’t have their exact list of doctrines right is going to burn in hell…

    ...Some of them have websites celebrating this…

  • Posted by Eric

    Peter, again I question, is this genuine biblical Christianity?

    You mention a “correct list of doctrine” - I thought this was about believers oppressing non-believers - not about people of like precious faith having doctrinal variances?

  • Posted by Tye Male

    This is quite insightful. I’ve seen this happen in my own life and now years later I make every attempt to avoid having this happen in my life. And a lot of it has to do with boundary issues. We have to be sooo careful not to impose our ideas on others and then judge them accordingly.

    I have to remind myself frequently that “but for the grace of God, there go I.”

  • Posted by Eric

    Christians that seal themselves off from the unsaved could very likely become susceptible to this kind of thinking.  When we remove ourselves from the cry of the lost, it’s easy to lose the purpose and focus of our own salvation.

  • Posted by

    I’m with Eric on this one.  And how this ties in with Ingrid in a “believer persecuting non-believers” connotation--that’s a huge leap in logic, too.  Unless, of course, the implication is that Ingrid is not really a Christian.


  • Posted by

    The issue isn’t haven doctrinal beliefs or believing others are going to hell.  The real problem, and this is what Keller was saying, is adopting an attitude of superiority over and separating from those who disagree with you.

    As soon as you see the Truths of the Bible making you better than someone else, you have completely lost sight of the Gospel.  Religion makes prideful people, the Gospel makes humble people.

  • Posted by

    Wow. It really makes you stop and look in the mirror. Am I really seeing people through the eyes of God? Or have I shifted, ever so incrementally, away from God’s eyes to my own human eyes? When we get complacent about being Christ followers who help expand the Kingdom of God, we’ll become religious people who act superior.

  • Posted by Derek

    Ah the wise Tim Keller…

    I agree that caricatures can lead to oppression. There is a subtle temptation to pigeon-hole people, both people in the faith and outside the faith.

    It seems like we want to be able to define people with clear lines of demarcation. We want to classify everyone so we know if they are playing for the right team. (Which of course is our team.) So in the Church we want to know:

    Are you a Baptist or a Methodist?
    Believers baptism or infant baptism?
    Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?
    Are you a charismatic or a cessationist?
    Are you a young-earth or an old-earth creationist? Are you pro-female elders or pro male only leadership?
    Are you PD, seeker-sensitive, multi-campus or do you do things the “bible way”?

    Whenever we pigeon-hole someone and that person in on the OTHER SIDE from where we stand, we then make them one-dimensional, as Keller noted. This can lead to all sorts of oppression, ridicule, etc.

    And you certainly see Christians doing this with people outside the faith. Muslims, homosexuals, feminists, etc. all seem to become cartoonish if we don’t take them time to get to know them. I guess it is much easier to oppress a cartoon than a real human being. 


  • Posted by

    Keller is right, Nazi germany and the crusades are just two examples.  Warren isn’t wrong because he is offering an alternative positive view on interfaith cooperation as opposed to Keller. Warren is right that interfaith cooperation is important.  He’s also right that the church is globally important.  Warren is wrong because he is too careless.  Motivation does matter, warren says it doesn’t.  If someone goes in to do humanitarian work to proselytize or to coerce with communist propaganda or to make inroads so later a profit can be made in business, the results will matter.  Our motivation matters.  Otherwise we are left with a moral relativism that the ends justify the means.  Warren has already done alot of damage around the world by going into Syria without considering the geopolitical ramifications, and creating serious cultural problems in africa.  Why?  because he has taken a dangerous position NOT in his cooperation, but in his underlining philosophy that motivations don’t matter.  They do.

  • Posted by Carole Turner

    Tim is right on with this. I work in the inner city as part of Healing Place Church Winborne Campus. I talk to MANY Chrisitans who love God but feel they are better then the people served at the inner city campus. It’s like they think the people of the innercity are a lost cause. No, they don’t come right out and say that but it is very obvious when you talk to them about the people from the innercity. The judgements are starteling sometimes. But I know the more churches leave the four walls and reach out to other people with a mindset of equality not superiority, the more the eyes of people will be opened.

  • Posted by

    I agree with Tim and have generalized people in broad categories. I would even add defining my personal sin from being a soil on my person to an abstract idea is also a movement for abuse.  Once we become familiar with our spiritual life and forget that we will always struggle with our humanity. Excellent truth that will be used in a future sermon.

  • Posted by Eric

    Perhaps some need to distinguish between Christians who feel “superior” or, “better than” as opposed to Christians feeling “better off”.  Am I better than anyone because I’m a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ?  Absolutely not.  Am I better off?  Absolutely yes.

  • Posted by MIkeS

    I think Tim makes a distinction, purposeful or not, that we may not be getting.  He uses the term religion, not Christianity. 

    Eric - you continue to use the term true, genuine Christianity.  I agree with you.  But I also think Keller is referring to religion in general.  And believe me, there are a lot of churches AND people calling themselves Christians more interested in RELIGION - doing the right things in the right order and living according to the do’s and don’ts raher than truly living out life as a Christ-follower. 

    I think it’s easier to live a life of religion than to live a life as a Christ-follower.  It also allows for the slippery slope Keller describes.

    Hope this makes sense.


  • Posted by


    “doing the right things in the right order and living according to the do’s and don’ts raher than truly living out life as a Christ-follower. “

    Not to get too tangential or legalistic here, but in following Christ, aren’t there certain things we choose to do and to not do?  For example, in relevance to Keller’s comments, by following Christ, we should not make caricatures of people, because this could be seen as showing respect to certain types of people, right?  I just notice that there are many people who throw these kinds of sentences around, yet do not qualify how following Christ frees them from certain obligations or things we should or should not do.


  • Posted by MIkeS

    CS - Good point.  While Christians do have some do’s and don’ts (do not murder, do not commit adulterey, do share the gospel, etc), I believe Christians are free to focus on the why we do them.  For instance, we are free to focus on the grace God extends to us and we are to extend to others, rather than just a set of rules and regulations.

    Does this help?

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    Eric writes [Peter, again I question, is this genuine biblical Christianity? You mention a “correct list of doctrine” - I thought this was about believers oppressing non-believers - not about people of like precious faith having doctrinal variances?]

    However, isn’t it obvious that people of like faith with doctrinal differences have the whole separation and superiority thing going all the time?

  • Posted by Eric

    Peter - yes absolutely - however I thought the intent of Keller was concerning Christians v. non-Christians.

  • Posted by


    “For instance, we are free to focus on the grace God extends to us and we are to extend to others, rather than just a set of rules and regulations.

    Does this help? “

    Yes, this makes more sense.  By keeping rules, we will never earn our way into God’s grace.  Yet, we should still follow God’s Law and His Commandments regardless.

    This makes more sense than the original interpretation I had, which was, “As Christ-followers, we do not have to follow under DO and DO NOT lists.” (antinomianism) Thank you for the clarification.


  • Posted by

    I don’t know who this man is, but he defines himself as an Orthodox Christian.  His delineation of the problem with religion and the world’s problems are, I believe, gross over generalizations.  For example, to take the reactions of a few, and then to generalize them to the whole is an inaccurate portrayal of the issue.  Plus, the orthodox positions on many issues leaves out the passion many Churches and Believers have for evangelism and outreach programs to the lost-food banks, homeless shelters, rescue missions, just to name a few.  This is not a position of moral superiority he is describing, as it is more often a position of a liberal view of not taking Scripture as the inerrant Word of God, and taking seriously the command to go and tell a lost world about the saving grace offered through Jesus.

    Can religion become opressive?  Sure it can, but so can irreligious people.  Take Communism, Socialism, and the Liberation Theology crowds, they suppress speech, freedom of Conscience, and anyone who disagrees with them by jailing them, or even by murdering them.  Few people remember that Stalin, an atheist, killed an estimated 30 million of his own people to maintain his control of Russia, and Chairman Mao Tse Tung, the atheistic ruler of China after WWII, killed 100 million of his people to stay in power.  History reminds us that both of these men kicked out the Christian missionaries and shut down the Churches before doing so.  If the Church is so oppressive, then why did these atheists kick out the missionaries and close down the Churches, and jail the Christians?  So, to lay oppression at the feet of the Christian religion is to grossly misrepresent and over generalize the problem.  What causes oppression and wars among us?  Sin!  Pure and simple. 

    Plus, how does he separate various religions?  Chrisitianity certainly has had a lot of terrible things done in its name, but to do something in the name of Christianity doesn’t mean that Christians were the ones doing these things.  The Crusades, for example, were conducted by many who claimed to be doing it in the name of Christianity, but they only claimed it, they were not Christians living out the teachings of Jesus.  Many unbelievers do things that are very unChristian but claim the lable of Christian, just as many individuals sit in churches on Sunday claiming to be Christians, but they are not truely following Christ’s teachings. 
    If we want to look at the slippery slope of oppression and superiority can also be open-minded liberals.  If you don’t agree with them, then you’re wrong.  Period!  Besides, how many Muslim hospitals and food banks are being started in neighborhoods across America or the rest of the world?  When there are disasters across the globe, who rushes in with aid?  Americans, or western Europeans, who still have a Christian mindset about helping others.  You will never see the Muslims, Confuscious, or Hindus’ sending in the amount of aid.  So, to blame the Church for the “slippery slope of oppression” is aggravatingly wrong.  Plus, Adolph Hitler was an avid occultist, who not only slaughtered 6 million Jews, but also 7 million Christians in his death camps.  He also had plans, after he won the war, to kill 10 million Christians a year until he wiped out all of Christianity, because he planned to establish a world religion built on his occultist beliefs.  How anyone can associate WW II with Christianity is lacking in historical fact.  If Keller looks across the history of our nation, all most every hospital and inner city program to the needy were initially started by Churches, even the AA program.  This doesn’t seem to be a sense of the Church’s moral superiority, but of service and concern for others.  At the present moment, however, it is easy to blame the Church for all of the world’s ills, but it is usually means one doesn’t have an answer, so blame those with whom you’re familiar.

  • Posted by

    For those who are unfamiliar with Tim Keller, one of the ways that he communicates the gospel is by setting up three differing ways to live: 1) legalism, 2) libertinism and 3) Biblical Christianity.  When he is attacking “religion” in this clip, he is using it as an illustration of something opposed to Biblical Christianity. 

    And absolutely, radical athiests can fall into the same “slippery slope” that religious people can.  It’s very much a religion.

  • Posted by

    Hey Jim…

    Last time I checked, there were Orthodox Christians and orthodox Christians.  Keller’s a Prebyterian, and PCA at that, qualifying him as an “orthodox” Christian I think (as opposed to members of the Eastern Orthodox Church).

    Thanks for all that though…

  • Posted by

    Todd’s question [do we sometimes use Tim Keller’s ‘slippery slope’ even within different segments of Christianity?]

    Absolutely, and Ingrid’s response to RW’s invitation is a perfect example.  Her posture is clearly superior, even oppressive.  She and others are dedicated to wiping everyone they disagree with off the landscape.  If this was medieval Europe , I think their methods might resemble the crusaders.

    Whenever we battle against those we’re called to reach, or those with whom we should be partnering, the real enemy wins.


  • Posted by Eric

    I have to disagree with Wendi.  Just because there are doctrinal disagreements let’s not make irrational leaps of calling those who disagree ‘crusaders’.  The same thing could then be said for RW for statements he has made such as ‘those who resist the pd movement will have to leave the church or die off’ - if any statement sounds ‘crusader’ like that does.

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