Editor's note: Last week Justin Taylor featured a 2008 interview Tim Keller gave Martin Bashir related to the release of The Reason for God. Keller clarifies and corrects one of his responses in this article. If you'd like to learn more from Keller about the need to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, watch this brief clip (also embedded below) and listen to his sermon "Exclusivity: How Can There Be Just One True Religion?" preached at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.
This interview from three and a half years ago was the first public event like this I had ever done, and a number of my responses were less than skillful. One in particular—the one about whether there is any way of salvation outside of faith in Christ—was misleading and unhelpful.
Then and now, when people struggle with something the Bible says, I sometimes invoke the principle of Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." The thought that God doesn't tell us everything there is to know, and that if he doesn't we don't need to know it, is helpful at a number of points in life. It's helpful when people are struggling with the difficult doctrines—of the Trinity, or how God can be sovereign and yet human beings be responsible for their decisions, or over why God allows suffering to continue. At those points it's helpful to say, "There is more truth than God has told us, and maybe when we get to heaven he'll show it to us. That may shed new light on things that we find difficult. Till then, we go with what we are told. That's all we need."
What I did that night, however, was to bring up that Deuteronomy 29:29 principle (though not quoting the text) when I felt people struggling with the teaching that all are lost if they don't believe in Christ. I said, "This is what the Bible says, but I and we don't know everything there is to know about this." Almost immediately I sensed that was a wrong thing to do. And afterward my whole team, including my wife, said the same. By saying, "Maybe there's more to it than we can see now—but this is all we are told," I was giving people the impression that I thought maybe there is another way of salvation.
I hope this clarifies things for those of you who have rightly been concerned. Some commenters said I should correct and renounce what I said. But they assume I didn't—actually I did, immediately, several years ago.
I admitted my mistake and haven't answered in that muddy way again. For the record, I didn't know the interview was being recorded. When it pops up on the internet it's a humbling reminder that I don't always get things right. Nevertheless, I was on a study week when Justin Taylor put it up on our TGC website, and I should have seen it sooner to tell him that my answer at that point was a mistake and didn't at all represent my teaching on that subject over the years.