Princeton Theological Seminary rescinds award given to controversial reverend| April 24, 2017
The Princeton Theological Seminary rescinded its decision to award Reverend Tim Keller the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, although he still delivered the 2017 Kuyper lecture. This decision comes after the objections of some seminary students and alumni, according to a New York Times article, who oppose Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBT people cannot be ordained.
The Kuyper Prize, awarded annually by the Seminary’s Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology, is awarded 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,” according to the organization’s website.
Winners are required to give a lecture at the center on a topic related to its mission. Keller is no longer listed as the prize recipient, but he delivered the 2017 Kuyper lecture on April 6 when he was still the awardee.
Seminary President M. Craig Barnes issued two letters to the seminary community regarding the decision. The first, published on March 10, retained Keller’s appointment while acknowledging criticism.
“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,” Barnes 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.”
The second, published on March 22, revoked the prize.
“In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year,” Barnes wrote.
Dr. Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, which split from the U.S. Presbyterian Church in 1973, according to the Times article. Princeton Theological Seminary is part of the latter, which allows women and LGBT people to be ordained.
The letter stated that Barnes had arrived at this decision after listening to opinions of various students and alumni as well as “helpful conversations about this with the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Reverend Keller.”
Over twenty years of serving as pastor at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Dr. Keller has grown attendance to over 5,000 people weekly, according to the Kuyper Center’s website. His books "The Reason for God" and "The Prodigal God" have become bestsellers, selling over a million copies each. He also serves as chairman of the religious organization Redeemer City to City, which establishes new churches.
The Center for Theology, Women and Gender Advisory Council; the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, And Straight Supporters Executive Board, a group of seminary students, faculty, and alumni; and the Women’s Center came together to organize a petition opposing Dr. Keller’s appointment, which received 300 signatures.
“Rev. Keller’s exclusionary and prohibitive stances on the ordination of women and LGBTQ persons is diametrically opposed to the mission and values of Princeton Theological Seminary,” the letter from Barnes read.