Tim Keller: Foundation for Ultimate Restoration

by Phillip on March 12, 2012

It was Tim Keller who opened up the vistas for understanding the Gospel as so much more than a “personal relationship” with Jesus that insured a place in heaven when we die.  Keller brought a wide sweeping picture of the Gospel that could be traced from Genesis to Revelation.  It was a vision that engulfed all of life not just the soul.  As Dr. Keller preached on the Kingdom that is “already and not yet” I began to see that Christ’s life, death and resurrection applied to a truly cosmic restoration culminating in “all things new.” This brought a new sense of the sacredness of all space and all practice as everything was now seen as on a heaven-bound trajectory of restoration.

This kind of teaching brought incredible hope and a renewed eschatological vision for all of creation.  I had never before heard preached the passages where we find astounding promises of restoration over Egypt, Assyria, Sodom, Israel, and “all peoples.”  Here in these passages we are promised the sure hope of a new heavens and a new earth where “God’s dwelling place will be with man.” All these ideas Keller has emphasized and unpacked through his preaching, writing and missional ministry. (Isa 19, 25, 45, 61; Ez 16, 37; Rev 21)

It was Keller who first introduced the line, Is everything sad going to come untrue? as applying to the Gospel.  Since, I have seen and heard a number of others quote this line from The Lord of the Rings as represenational of the magnitude of the Gospel such as Jason Gray’s album “Everything Sad Is Coming Untrue” as well as Tullian Tchividjian in his book Surprised by Grace where he states, “Christianity is about Christ making everything sad come untrue” (pg 132). (Also Justin Taylor and Sally Lloyd Jones/The Jesus Storybook)

But where is Keller going with this?  If you are just applying this sentiment to your own personal sadness and those you are confident are “saved” then that seems like an immense overstatement for a hope that is so limited.  And how are the unbelievers supposed to decipher that statement who have heard him make that claim on behalf of Christ and His Gospel?  Is God really making everything sad untrue?  Or would Keller have to place all kinds of qualifications on that statement to make it jive with traditional Christianity?  And would that not mean that Tolkien’s story is just too over-the-top hopeful, even for God? Could Keller be accused of making God sound better than he himself actually believes He is?

I believe Keller is right in quoting this line because it resonates with our inner most being. We know that no human story can ever trump God’s ultimate Story. That’s why it comes out of our mouths without thinking and we let leaders like Keller say it without correcting them. This is evidence we are dealing with something beyond ourselves; something written on our hearts by God.  We appear to be waking up to the Story of “all things new” and the reality of it seems to be surfacing in some remarkable ways. It seems that the promise of: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and return to the Lord…” is being fulfilled. There apparrently is a deep Story we are capable of remembering! (see Psa 22)

Keller has also helped us to see that the purpose of election is not just for our own “personal salvation” but rather it is according to Abraham’s “election” who was “blessed to be a blessing” to all the nations of the earth. Election assumes an office and a calling, not a position in which we are simply in awe of being the “chosen.” Consequently we have learned from Dr. Keller (after his ‘mentor’ Newbigin) that the purpose of election is to be a kingdom of priests to show others what God is like and bring His message of reconciliation and restoration to the rest of the world:

“God’s electing grace calls into being a people charged with the responsibility of being the bearers of His universal salvation…To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are the lost. To be the elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into His mission to the world, to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for His whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the firstfruit of His blessed kingdom which is for all.”  Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (“The Logic of Election” pgs 86-87)

What is the significance of Newbigin having espoused a theology of Ultimate Restoration? Does it not appear that a universal purpose and application of God’s love and election is underpinning Newbigin’s missional passion for the world and thus Keller’s? And what of the fact that universal language flows from Keller’s mouth and pen?

In a new book, The Gospel As Center, Dr. Keller with D. A. Carson presided as editors where Carson’s logic obviously steered the chapter on “The Restoration of All Things.” Carson defends eternal conscious torment on the following basis:

“Perhaps the idea of endless punishing is less offensive when the idea of endless sinning is considered. If those in hell never cease to sin, why should they ever cease to suffer?”  (pg 267)

Dr. Keller, as one of the editors, is responsible to explain this statement and “unpack it.”  But he does not.  Rather these statements  just run parallel those of great cosmic redemption and restoration.

The Gospel As Center does not reflect the reckless use of restorative language to the extent of Keller’s own personal works but yet there are plenty of the following statements in which Keller did not edit which run contrary to his Reformed doctrine:

“Astonishingly, our heavenly Father conceives a rescue plan for humanity. He elects one family out of a multitude of families and enjoins this chosen people to shine once again the glory of His image into the world…”through whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed'” (Gen 12:3).  (pg 214)

All in all Keller dispenses far more hope than we are allowed to entertain or believe.  But we are thankful that Keller is allowing the beauty of the Gospel of restoration to wash over his soul, and it’s hard to keep quiet about that!

We will conclude with an excerpt from Keller’s book, King’s Cross:

“The book of Mark has given us the story of Jesus and declared that this is actually the world’s true story as well: Jesus, the King, created all things in love. He has the power and the beauty to see His vision for the world through to its glorious end, to undo everything we have been able to do to harm it. To accomplish that, He had to come and die for it. Three days later, He rose again; and one day will come back again to usher in a renewed creation.

“The gospel is the ultimate story that shows victory coming out of defeat, strength coming out of weakness, life coming out of death, rescue from abandonment. And because it is a true story, it gives us hope because we know that life is really like that.

“It can be your story as well. God made you to love Him supremely, but He lost you. He returned to get you back, but it took the cross to do it. He absorbed your darkness so that one day you can finally and dazzlingly become your true self and take your seat at His eternal feast.”

Compare Keller’s summary of the Gospel and attempt to factor in eternal conscious torment for most of mankind as the means by which sin is dealt with and punished:  that is, with infinitely more sin. Is that a likely solution for a holy God?  Will He actually allow for sin, death and evil to cycle forever in His universe where sin originally had no place?

Which story-line is making everything sad come untrue?

Could we be possibly missing something?  Why do many Calvinists speak like Arminians?  Why is it they serve up two distinct views of God that are irreconcilable without being challenged?

Witness how Dr. Keller answers the question of the nature of hell with an entirely Arminian explanation here. Keep in mind that a “4-point Calvinist” such as Keller has no logical place to put his theological foot down except within the paradigm of ultimate restoration of all mankind. This is because a 4-point Calvinist believes simultaneously that Jesus died for all humanity and that those Christ died for must be saved(!)


Michael Pierson April 30, 2013 at 6:35 pm

I appreciate your site. I have through much study arrived at a theological U turn. From a believer in everlasting hell to an Ultimate Reconciliationst. I’ve been booted out of ministry because of it and stand pretty much alone here in Lake Elsinore CA. Wondering if you knew of any Fellowships around this area. Thanks Michael

admin April 30, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Hi Michael,
Thanks for the comment. I am sorry that your view of ultimate reconciliation has created this isolation for you. I would think there would be some fellowships in your area near LA. You might check out the Evangelical Universalist Forum (warning: it is a forum and many diverse views abound). I remember a thread about a group near you that were planning some meet up events. You will have to join the forum in order to do a search. You can also email the moderators/administrators for more leads.

It will come in time. Our family just found a church after 7 years of waiting(!) We connected with some of the members at a UR conference which is a good place to find other UR believers. In the meantime we worshipped in a church very different from our tradition (we were Calvinist) but we were enriched by this “other part” of the Story of God as the Arminians speak so freely about God’s universal love (but not His universal sovereign power!) You take what you can get until the Lord leads you to somewhere where the two parts come together to create the beautiful Gospel of hope for all mankind.

grace and peace…

William Brennan June 23, 2013 at 8:11 am

I had a very nice conversation with a pastor from Grace Communion International and although not universalists they teach that universal salvation is NOT impossible. In other words they teach that the BIble does not teach universalism but it does not specifically rule it out. They are semi-pelagian on their view of the origin of faith.

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