Tim Keller, founding pastor of the multi-campus Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is set to receive the 2017 Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness at Princeton Theological Seminary next month but some alumni are disgruntled because of his church's position on women and LGBT individuals in ministry.
The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is awarded each year to a scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance in one or more of the spheres of society. A condition of the prize is that the recipient deliver a lecture on a topic appropriate to the aims of the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology.
On April 6 at the Princeton Seminary campus in Miller Chapel, Keller is expected to collect the Abraham Kuyper Prize and deliver a lecture on church planting.
Despite expressing respect for Keller as a Christian leader and man of faith, Princeton Theological Seminary alumna Traci Smith argued in a blog post that she doesn't believe Keller should be honored because of the Presbyterian Church in America's position on the ordination of women and LGBT individuals.
"Rev. Keller is arguably the most influential pastor of a denomination that is very clear in its assertion that women should not be ordained to ministry. He (and the denomination he serves) is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people," Smith argued.
"My personal soapbox ... boils down to this: an institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn't be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It's offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings," she said.
"... (the reason he shouldn't have been invited to give this lecture and receive this prize) is that this isn't some minor thing. This is a giant lecture with a giant whoop-de-doo factor," she opined. "There's a place for common ground, but unless Rev. Tim Keller is prepared to argue for the ordination of all the women students of Princeton Theological Seminary, the The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is not that place in my opinion."
Princeton alumnus, W. Travis McMaken, associate professor of religion and chair of the interdisciplinary studies program in the School of Humanities at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, said he was disappointed in his alma mater as well.
"Very disappointed with my alma mater, @ptseminary, for awarding the Kuyper prize to Tim Keller who denies the full equality of women and men," he wrote on Twitter. "It's hard to see this move by @ptseminary as anything other than pandering to conservatives in hope of generating enrollment. Disappointing. I hope that the @ptseminary faculty will not give Keller an easy time of it, at least, and thereby retain some dignity."
Citing the concerns raised about Keller, Princeton Theological Seminary President, M. Craig Barnes explained the reasons for Keller's selection in an email to the seminary community cited by Smith.
"While my office issues the official invitations to campus, I don't practice censorship over the choices of these organizations, even when I or the seminary disagree with some of the convictions of these speakers," he wrote.
"It is also a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the Church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school. And so we have had a wide variety of featured speakers on campus including others who come from traditions that do not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals, such as many wings of the Protestant Church, and bishops of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions," he continued.
"My hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice," he ended.
The Christian Post reached out to Redeemer Presbyterian Church for comment but a response was not available at the time this story was published.
Keller, 66, started Redeemer in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons. For more than 20 years he led the diverse congregation of young professionals that has grown to a weekly attendance of more than 5,000. He also serves as chairman of Redeemer City to City, which starts new churches in New York and other global cities, and publishes books and resources for faith in an urban culture. In over 10 years they have helped launch over 250 churches in 48 cities.
Keller's books, including the New York Times best-selling The Reason for God and The Prodigal God, have sold over 1 million copies and have been translated into 15 languages. He announced last month that after July 1, he will no longer be at the church's helm as he moves on to other areas of ministry.