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MSNBC journalist Martin Bashir interviewed Tim Keller about Christianity, at Columbia University in February 2008, related to his book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. The interview lasts for a half hour, followed by an hour-long Q&A with Dr. David Eisenbach, who presents questions from the audience.

(Note: In this post Keller clarifies his view on the exclusivity of Christ admitting that his answer was a mistake, was misleading, was unhelpful, and didn’t correctly represent his view. You can read his explanation here.)

Q&A with Martin Barshir

0:18 – Why did you write Reason for God now?
2:22 – Are faith and reason contradictory?
5:35 – Is God just a projection of our cultural circumstances?
9:10 – Is belief in God a mental defect?
11:39 – Is it narrow to believe in one God? Is everyone else going to hell?
18:30 – Is the Bible trustworthy?
23:59 – What about the behavior of so-called Christians?
30:33 – Are you resolutely convinced today that Christianity is true?

Q&A moderated by David Eisenbach

35:25 – How could God allow evil and suffering?
44:04 – Is there any reason to believe in God in a chaotic world?
45:48 – Does giving a reason for faith undermine its value?
48:49 – Does it take faith to be an atheist?
50:48 – What does Christianity have against homosexuals? Are they going to hell?
57:29 – Why is Christianity so exclusive?
1:03:58 – What do you believe about politics?
1:11:25 – How do you get to heaven?
1:13:13 – Why would God make people who sin?
1:16:58 – Why did God put that tree in the Garden of Eden to begin with?
1:199:34 – What happened for you to have so much peace?

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50 thoughts on “Martin Bashir Interviews Tim Keller”

  1. Tom says:

    Keller punts on answering the question, “Is everyone else going to hell?”

    That’s sad.

    1. Victor says:

      I agree with you Tom. Keller didn’t exactly go universalist, but he did not take a stronger stand on the Bible. Keller said that if there is another way to be saved, some “trap door” then God has not revealed that to us. But wait a minute if there is a “trap door” somewhere, then what we know as the gospel revealed in the scriptures is not true.

      If keller would have been asked these exact questions at the gospel coalition conference would he have answered them similarly, i don’t think so and that is sad. I understand that he has to tailor his answers to this audience, but please be clear and take a stand.

    2. I was a little disappointed there myself. I had basically the same question put to me by a Jewish man on the streets one day. He asked if I thought he was going to hell because he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. I told him yes and he cursed me strongly. Why would he care that I believe that unless he was intentionally invested in maintaining his belief against what he thought was persuasively (and actually) true.

      But Keller did make a good point in this, that a Jew isn’t going to hell because he’s a Jew and a Muslim isn’t going to hell because he’s a Muslim. They are going to hell because they have rejected Christ. By definition a religious Jew or Muslim rejects Christ as the Messiah. But there is a distinction to be made. There are nominal Christians who also reject Christ and are consequently going to hell.

      1. MarieP says:

        I was just thinking about how, if the Jews need Jesus to be saved, how much the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, etc. need Him too. If those God made a covenant with in the past need Jesus, how much more those peoples with which God never made a covenant.

        “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God”- Rom. 3:1-2

        “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen[a] according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; 5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.” Romans 9:1-5

      2. Ken Rucker says:

        Good clarification Jim.

  2. Matt Strevel says:

    “People in other religions, unless they find Christ, I don’t know any other way, but I also get information on a need to know basis, so if there’ is some trap door or something like that, I haven’t been told it.”

    Homosexuality is a sin because it’s counterproductive to human flourishing?

    Keller didn’t punt,he fumbled.

    1. >> Homosexuality is a sin because it’s counterproductive to human flourishing? Keller didn’t punt,he fumbled.

      That’s not what he said. In fact, he said the opposite: he said “that’s not why anyone goes to hell”. Valid criticism is valid because it’s accurate.

      1. Matt Strevel says:

        Tony, thanks for the reply. I see what you’re saying on both points. However, I’d encourage you to go back and listen again. The second time I listened, I realized that what I said is exactly what he was arguing, that it’s a sin because it’s counterproductive to human flourishing. However, he switched gears and contradicted himself at the end of that thought. And just to note, I was not quoting him above, simply summarizing what It seemed to me he was arguing.

        Above all, what concerns me most is that he soft peddles the grave nature of homosexuality and homosexual acts (as well as all other sin) because he fails to say that sin is sin because it’s contrary to the holy nature of God.

        1. Keller explicitly said homosexuality is a sin and that it is the natural outworking of a selfish, self-righteous disposition that ultimately leads to hell. It’s hard to see what’s wrong with that articulation.

          It’s also not clear how he “contradicted himself.” The conclusion he offered flowed logically from the given premises. Perhaps you can explain yourself. Your current assertion does not give us much to go on.

          Keller was also right about how Jesus speaks of materialism and greed far more than sexual sins. Homosexuality is sinful, but no one here applauded Keller’s critique of our materialistic society, which is a much larger problem than our society’s tolerance and/or endorsement of homosexuality. Our priorities are in error, especially given all that Jesus said about the proper use of wealth. Sometimes it seems that Reformed Christians are more interested in blasting the sin of homosexuality in order to distract from their rank materialism and implicit endorsement of American exceptionalism.

          Keller often preaches about how the spectacular sacrifice of the cross in satisfying God’s wrath reveals just how sinful we are. That’s another way of explaining sin as an offense to God’s holiness. That he didn’t relate this point in this context is due more to the fact that dozens of issues were discussed in only two hours rather than being due some sort of theological laxity on Keller’s part.

          Most of the criticisms of Keller in the Reformed blogosphere seem to involve simplistic, uncharitable and partisan readings of his words in the worst possible light. They’re often either unintelligent–ignoring both context and nuance–or simply cruel and petty–looking primarily to shame Keller than meaningfully critique a fellow minister of the Gospel. They also tend to come from individuals who have no appreciation of what it means to defend Christianity in an environment that is looking for any excuse to box you away as another Fred Phelps fundamentalist who hates anyone outside of his religious group and deserves absolutely no voice or credibility. Keller makes errors and mistakes, but the treatment he receives is often absurd, given how much good he does in so many contexts, and how much good his ministry does in NYC in particular. Frame was right; Machen’s warrior children live on.

          1. Tim Hawkins (not that one) says:

            Thank you, Matthew, for articulating my very thoughts. I appreciate your clarity and spot-on assessment of the criticisms that have been brought up in these comments.

  3. Jason Ricarden says:

    Why does Keller get away with things that others would not? He punts on important questions, says that Catholics are just another denomination, etc. We’d have a fit if Mark Dever or Ligon Duncan said these things, not to mention John Piper or Mark Driscoll. So why does Keller get glowing praise on TGC?

  4. Ben Hannon says:

    I just want to register my agreement with the previous comments, especially with yours Jason. I can’t imagine Jesus or the Apostles responding with such answers as these to such vital questions. My personal disappointment with Keller began when I read The Reason for God (e.g., his views on evolution and hell), but this video only solidifies my initial impression. We don’t need politician-like answers to such a vital question as what happens to Muslims when they die. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)Is that really such a difficult question to answer? Perhaps it doesn’t roll off the tongue to say that Muslims are going to hell, but if we, as Evangelicals, aren’t clear about these issues then who is going to be? Maybe Tim wishes he would have been more direct and has since modified his presentation. I hope so. Some of this (14:40-16:47) reminded me of when Larry King interviewed Joel Osteen. Where’s the clear Biblical presentation?

    1. J says:

      I think that Keller’s answers were deliberate. Not because he is afraid of saying that all people go to hell who do not come to Christ, but because he is trying to get to the heart of the person who is asking the question. People asking those questions already know the pat answer. They just want to know if they can go ahead and put Keller(or whoever they ask) in the same category as all the other fundamentalist Christians that they already know. Keller is trying to get at the heart of what they are really asking. In the case of the pluralistic questions, it isn’t a matter of what I think, it’s a matter of who Christ is. If he is the son of God incarnate as a man to die for the sins of all who will believe in Him, then of course the result is a Christ-less eternity for those who do not come to him as Keller put it. If Christ is not who he says he is, then my opinion on what happens to people when they die without Christ does not matter.

      The same thing applies to his avoidance of diving into details on evolution or the other aspects of the Old Testament. The affirmation or denial of Christ’s identity is the core of the issue. There is no use getting bogged down in sideline apologetic debates. Christ is either the son of God incarnate, or he is just another cult leader. That determines your view of the rest of scripture.

      All of that being said, I’m not entirely comfortable with his answer of “I don’t know” to the question of people who do not have the opportunity to know him. I think a more robust answer could have been provided there, but I also realize that the people to whom he was speaking were so far from being ready to accept a real explanation of unreached peoples it might have been another sideline discussion that would have distracted from the core issue of the identity of Christ in the heart of the people in the audience.

  5. Joshua says:

    Good answers to tough questions.

  6. Christian Mann says:

    Why doesn’t he know where people without Christ go when they die? Give us men who do! Since when is a ‘need to know basis’ a biblical explanation? The bible is God’s complete revelation, isn’t it? That’s our need to know basis, and the answer has been revealed there. Is he saying he just hasn’t read it?

  7. David Keys says:

    Martin Bashir brings up Northern Ireland as an example of Christians killing each other, etc…pathetic really

    Makes me wonder if he has spent any time in Northern Ireland or actually spoken to anybody from there. More likely he’s just swallowed what the rest of the media has been telling him for years, that the problem with NI is religion.

    1. Daryl Little says:


      I think he Martin was wise to bring that issue up simply because so many (read in – most) non-believers on this side of the pond would ask the same thing.
      And it gave Mr. Keller an excellent chance to answer a common question. And he did an excellent job in answering I thought.

  8. Matthew says:

    Why have you not called out Tim Keller for his weak, unbiblical and completely spineless response??

  9. Matt Hauck says:

    Wow, that is a pretty discouraging answer to question about hell and the destination of Muslims and Jews. Bashir even made the question easy by specifically talking about people who have heard about Christ and reject. Keller’s other answers were great and very insightful, but this one left me quite surprised! He said this answer is on a “need to know basis” and straight up said, “I don’t know”! 1Jo 2:23, 5:11 along with the other verses listed above and a myriad more show God has included this item in the “need to know” category! This answer leaves me with a little less respect for Tim Keller… =T (has he since acknowledged this was a moment of weakness?)

    I’m surprised the blog post did not bring this out, in particular with the debate as of late with “Love Wins” and the blogosphere lit up over the reality of an eternal hell for all who do not believe in Christ.

  10. James B. says:

    Hey, we can dog on him all day. We can say he never stood up for the truth. But all of you who are complaining about Keller’s fault are being counter productive. You all are in essence doing what you said Keller is doing. There is no way arround it. You are tearing a brother down and that is disgraceful. If a muslim were to read this It literally would do the exact opposite of Keller’s intended purposes : to bring some light and truth to the world. And the fact that he might have not been “backboned” engough is only judged by God and not you. So be quiet on a WORLD WIDE forum and take your judgment some where else. And for that matter please take your religion as well. The reason I respect the Muslims so much is that they are generally united. And the sad part is that they are united over an un-truth. We know God and Jesus are truth and yet why is it that we can’t be united? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t weigh heavily the words of a teacher, the Bible says to do so, but the Bible never, not once in a million years, says to call out and alienate that teacher. Especially on a blog where a quarter of the world can see.

  11. Alex says:

    Most of the talk was very good and helpful.

    I felt he was trying to understand where his audience was coming from and tried to answer the question behind the question the entire time. This includes the hell questions.

    As far as his responses to questions regarding hell. I don’t think the answers were satisfactory or helpful. I have always questioned his way of trying to answer questions on hell. I see why he tries to do what he does, but it’s just not a clear way to answer. However most of the talk was very good and I’m thankful for Keller.

  12. Daryl Little says:

    For the most part I thought Keller did very well.

    On the homosexuality issue, there are things I wish he had said, but he’s right about not going to hell for being/doing homosexuality or any other sin. We are condemned because of Adam’s sin and we sin because we are sinners.

    I was disappointed, as many were, on his response about hell, what he said was good (except for the “I don’t know” stuff) but he seemed to purposely leave it unfinished.

    All that said, he says more good to many than I say to few.

    I’m thankful for him, but I certainly don’t always understand why he takes the angle he takes on a lot of things.
    I wish he were more forthright more often.

    1. He could be more forthright in some situations, and I agree with that assessment in the case of the hell question.

      For what it is worth, he is winsomely trying to deal with a hostile milieu that engages a rabid Pavlovian response to anything even sounding like organized Christianity. I did my undergraduate at NYU in Religious Studies, so I understand the pressure he is under. You’re playing against a stacked deck, so your answers have to lean toward gentle and incorporate all sorts of qualifications and explanations, otherwise you won’t be able to distinguish yourself from the caricature the media makes (or, sadly enough in some cases, accurately portrays) of Christians and the message of the Gospel will be ignored from the get-go as another self-righteous power play. Some of that is unavoidable and due to the hardness of sinful hearts actively trying to suppress your message, but you can do some work to delegitimize their standard excuses and let them see Jesus for who he is. And it seems clear to me, especially having sat under his preaching, that this is what drives Keller’s approach.

      Sometimes these explanations will err on the side of gentleness and be at the cost of some truth. This, of course, is wrong, although it is not done out of an intent to deliberately distort the truth.

      1. Daryl Little says:


        Thanks for that. Your response helps me to understand him a little better.

        I do think he’s going wobbly with his association with Biologos and some of the things he’s said there, so that makes me a little nervous when I hear him soften (or at least couch differently than I’d like) some of his answers.

        Thanks again.

      2. Tom says:


        We’re not called to “delegitimize their standard excuses and let them see Jesus for who he is” by watering down the clear teaching of Scripture on the exclusivity of Christ or the reality of hell for those who do not believe on Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. The Gospel is exclusive and it’s offensive. The only Person who can delegitimize one’s excuses and let them see Jesus is the Holy Spirit.

        We had better stop soft-peddling the gospel, especially if we claim to be part of The Gospel Coalition.

        1. Tom, I don’t understand why you’ve addressed me with your response. I don’t think we should water down the teachings of Scripture. I explicitly repudiated that idea, twice.

  13. Armando says:

    Good Evening,
    Just a couple of thoughts after reading most of these comments. Obvioulsy not all will agree with Dr Keller on every point or statement, thats understood.What kind of world would we have if everyone agreed with everyone else all the time? How many of us here have been invitited to speak to such an audience as Dr Keller was speaking to in this video? Dr Keller did not fluctuate or dismiss any of the core orthodox beliefs of Christianity. How many of us would have had a problem with Paul when he gave his address to the skeptics at Mars Hill? Maybe some here since he didnt mention the prevailing sins of the time ? Gentlemen sometimes we need to step back and Really pick our battles. Darryl and Matthew I appreciated reading your thoughtful comments on the video.

  14. I’ve benefited so much from Tim Keller’s teaching, particularly his approach to Scripture that shows Christ as the fulfillment of every text and his ability to probe unbelief and sin at a psychological level. It’s disappointing to hear him waffling on this and other issues. Also disappointing to see a lot of party spirit developing in the PCA over this and related matters. Matthew and J, your answers were helpful in appreciating a little more the situation he’s dealing with; thanks for that. I can see that many of the questions he waffles on may be asked in a similar spirit to the religious leaders asking Jesus pointed questions on hot button issues to trap him. But Keller doesn’t succeed in turning the matter back on those who ask. Does anyone know if Keller has publicly answered his critics and their charges?

  15. Michael tomko says:

    Way too squishy on the issue of “what about all those well meaning Muslims and Jews etc.. Not going to heaven” question. I was disappointed in too much of his presentation.

  16. jason says:

    This was a “Christian” version of when LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinkley punted/fumbled on the Time magazine question if they would become gods.

    SOmeone please vindicate Keller here, because I want to like him as much as I did BEFORE i watched this video… These ear tickles bummed me out

  17. Re David Keys and Northern Ireland, I think Bashir’s actual wording was that the conflict was worked out by its proponents under the “guise” of their faith. He isn’t categorically blaming religion, but showing the very real fact that many involved with the conflict claimed that their actions were faith based. Surely no-one would deny that the Troubles were predicated along religious lines: ‘For God and Ulster’ is one strapline which would seem to suggest a confusion between doctrine and politics.

  18. George W. Bush mentions Tim Keller in his autobiography “Decision Points (page 33).” HMMMM! Just found that rather interesting, since GWB doesn’t believe the Bible is to be taken literally.

  19. Bill O. says:

    Tim Keller and the trap door. He is a problem. Would that this interview held his ordination in the balance Keller would have never stood in a pulpit in the first place. Why this man consistently gets quoted by preachers who I admire is lost on me. His BioLogos efforts to essentially impose old-earth view is so disheartening. YRR should keep a wide berth here. Mr. Keller needs to get back to his assumptive foundations in orthodoxy and praxy. Please. Isn’t the 21st century church in enough trouble?

  20. Ben Mann says:

    I have been immen

  21. Ben Mann says:

    I have been immensely encouraged by Dr. Keller’s teaching and oratory gifts. I feel grief after hearing and reading his words of response. How would Acts 17:31 have been authored if Paul had contextualized his speech in the Aereopagus

  22. Carlo Provencio says:

    Where’s Johnny Mac when we need him?

  23. Mike Riccardi has done all of us a service with his balanced response to this issue:

  24. Justin Taylor says:

    Tim Keller has clarified his view on the exclusivity of Christ, admitting that his answer was a mistake, was misleading, was unhelpful, and didn’t correctly represent his view. You can read his explanation here.)

  25. ZJ says:

    A while back I blogged about Keller’s media persona, the neo-Reformed movement, and TGC:

  26. Dave Brown says:

    I’d be interested to know the motive, or reason that Justin felt this should be posted, did he talk to Tim first before posting this ? Or did he just want to challenge and embarrass Tom publicly ? Had he seen it, and let’s assume he did actually view it before posting it, then he would have known the likely reaction.

    1. ZJ says:

      Yeah, that would be interesting to know.

  27. Aaron Parker says:

    If asked if an unbeliever would go to hell,John MacArthur would have knock that question out of the park. As a matter of fact, any bible believing christian would not have beat around the bush but would have answered Martin’s question clearly biblically and effectively. Tim couldn’t even mention the word hell. It was as if someone had a rope around his kneck preventing him from answer correctly. It took an non-believer (Martin) to mention “hell” for him. This is unbelievable. Martin did everything but nail him to the wall to get a direct answer out of him in regards to a unbeliever go straight to hell and he (Tim) could not say it. instead Tim said “A christless eternity”. What is that? What happen to “hell”? If he was my pastor, I would have been embarassed while listening to his answer. The average christian could have articulated the gospel, which Tim clearly did not do.

  28. Phil says:

    I once competed in an amateur boxing match in front of a crowd of over a thousand people, which included my friends, co-workers, and family members. The three hours leading up to the bout were among the most miserable of my life, because the fear of emabarassing myself publically on camera caused enormous pressure, fear, and stress. But a fellow competitor encouraged me by saying that the agony of public defeat was still better than all those wusses who were too chicken to ever step into the ring at all.

    For anyone who doesn’t get the analogy… friendly discussion and criticism about Keller’s answers is fine. But harsh words which state or imply that Keller’s answers were either embarassing, shameful, or cowardly have no place. Unless you yourself have stepped onto the stage at Columbia Univeristy, and submitted yourself to the critical gazes of hundreds of on-lookers, being interrogated by hostile inverviewers, then you really should hold your tongue and curb your haughty attitude.

    Were his answers to every question the best? No, I think he screwed up a few. But whose to say that, if I were sitting in that chair, attempting to represent Jesus Christ to a room full of rabid hungry atheists, I might also have chosen to punt a few times.

    Act like Believers and show Keller some mercy. God help you if you ever find yourself sitting in that chair.

  29. Armando says:

    I agree totally with your comments and concerns may we all have the same courage displayed by Keller and those like him who stand in the gap where many of us would be too intimidated to even consider. We sit in our pews and write our blogs to each other, while the skeptics,agnostics and atheists keep gaining ground especially among our young adults who live in the day to day struggles searching for Real answers and a Christ to live for and put their faith and trust in

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Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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