The problem with Tim Keller – part 2

Posted: August 5, 2015 by J in General

keller2-761312Such an interesting sermon on Acts 17 from Keller, about taking the gospel into the marketplace.

Paul could see under the surface of things, he could see that the city was driven and enslaved by idols. When Paul saw the idols, the word for ‘see’ really means more than just seeing. The word is ‘theoreo’ – from which we get the word ‘theorise’. It means to get inside something, see underneath the exterior, understand what’s at its base. Paul doesn’t just see the idols, he understands how society is dominated and controlled by them.

And that’s what we need to do too – see beneath the surface and understand the idolatry that rules peoples’ lives.

Brilliant, challenging, insightful.

THE ONLY PROBLEM is, that’s not what Luke says, and it’s not what Paul says. Not in Acts 17. The word ‘theoreo’ is the bog-standard word for ‘see’ in Luke/Acts. He uses it 21 times. In Luke 23 when the crowds stand by, looking at (theoreo) Jesus on the cross, I don’t think they were seeing beneath the surface of the event.  In Acts 8 when Simon the magician ‘saw (theoreo) the signs and great miracles’ that Philip was doing, we are not supposed to think he understood their inner nature: he just witnessed them, that’s all.

So where did Keller get the idea that theoreo means so much more than just ‘to see’? Not from the lexicons. Not from a study of usage in Luke-Acts. Probably from his own fertile imagination, I’m guessing.

And this was not just a passing detail in his sermon: it was a major point which he dwelt on at length.

This kind of bogus appeal to the Greek may facilitate Keller in making his interesting points about faith meeting culture and society. And I like the stuff Keller says about this. But it does little to enhance our understanding of what Luke was trying to say. And it tends to bring the whole exercise into disrepute.

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