Tim Keller recently just asked a question. It has an answer, but I don’t think he’ll be able to do as much with it as he would like. See, he says he always asks ex-Christians why they originally believed in Jesus’ resurrection, then stopped. Of course, he’s not asking out of concern or even genuine curiosity. He’s asking so he can then try to zing his victims with apologetics. Today, let’s look at his question, see why it’s not genuine at all, and then do what he’d hate most: answer it.

Before we begin, I’d like to thank my patrons and supporters! Your support makes these posts and my work possible, and it is so so so appreciated. At the end of today’s writeup, I’ll include the usual links for how to support Roll to Disbelieve for those who don’t already or would like to do more. Especially in these tense times, that support matters a great deal. Thank you.

And now, let’s talk about Tim Keller being a totally disingenuous asshat.

Tim Keller is such a disingenuous asshat

Here is Tim Keller’s initial question, posted on Twitter a day or so ago:

When people tell me that they once were believing Christians but now have rejected it all-I often ask them (after long, close listening) why they originally believed Jesus rose from the dead and how they came to decide that he now didn’t. They usually say it’s a helpful question.

(CITATION NEEDED on that last bit in particular.)

Now, let’s steelman what Keller asked. A steelman operates in the opposite way of a strawman. Instead of creating a false claim to attack, we’ll make absolutely sure we understand his claim so we’re talking about the right things.

In this case, Keller tells us, he’s “work[ing] through” the logic of an earlier set of tweets. In that earlier set, we learn that Keller is one of those toxic Christians who believes that nobody can possibly ever lose faith through intellectual means. Instead, people lose faith through emotional reasons. So if he can fix the emotional reasons, he can get them back into faith. As he puts it, belief happens when:

(1) there are good reasons for it, when (2) it fits with our inward experience, and when (3) we find a trustworthy community that holds it too.

Already, I see problems.

How this logic looks in use

So in the case of Jesus’ resurrection, Tim Keller’s logic flows thusly:

(1) I’ve looked at the historical evidence which is surprisingly powerful, (2) I’ve sensed Jesus’ actual presence in my life and on my heart repeatedly over the years in ways I can’t explain away, even during stretches when he seems absent, and (3) I’ve been in many great Christian communities that believed in and lived out Jesus’ resurrection in remarkable ways.

So already, he’s working from a bunch of assumptions that aren’t based in reality. The “historical evidence” is nothing but centuries of Christians insisting that the Gospels simply must be true. (No actual evidence exists in the contemporary historical record.) His feelings are not trustworthy and are hopelessly subjective and easy to manipulate, as he ought to know as a pastor.

And plenty of Christians and Christian communities are toxic hypocrites of the worst order, as even he accidentally admits. But he only allows us to consider Christian communities when they are examples of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™–not when they destroy Christian claims.

When Christians lose faith: Tim Keller edition

So King Him decides, of those who lose faith:

My conclusion is that at least some folks–who go from “firm, active believers” to “complete disbelievers” through disillusionment with the church—had rested their belief in Jesus’ resurrection almost completely in the #3 social aspect.

Ah, okay.

This brings us back around to his initial tweet. When people tell him they don’t believe in Christianity anymore, he asks them a question. He asks them — “after long, close listening” — why they once believed in Jesus’ resurrection, but then decided he hadn’t resurrected at all.

I’m sure he did indeed do a lot of “long, close listening.” His question just screams that, doesn’t it? (/s)

JAQing off: a brief look at a beloved Christian tactic

Christian apologists and evangelists don’t have any idea how to do “long, close listening.” If they’re not talking, then they’re just evaluating their targets for an opening. Once they find one, they take it.

In this case, Keller is pretending to ask a question. But he’s not really asking because he is dying to know the answer. He’s not asking so he can get closer to that other person.


He’s asking because he wants to create an opening for emotional manipulation or an apologetics zinger.

Most people like to talk about themselves and share themselves with others. Maybe it’s that social instinct thing, I don’t know. Manipulative people use Just Asking Questions — or JAQing off, as I prefer to call it — so they can steer the conversation in directions they prefer.

Answering Tim Keller: Why I believed in Jesus’ resurrection

Now, let’s do what Tim Keller can’t actually possibly want. Let’s answer his question.

First, why did I believe that Jesus was real and rose from the dead?

Well, for a lot of reasons.

First and foremost, I was indoctrinated as a small child. I talk a lot about the “4-14 Window” in evangelism. This term means that if Christians can’t indoctrinate a child between the ages of 4 and 14, they probably won’t ever get the adult to join up. To believe in the patent nonsense of Christianity, one almost has to have been immersed in the ideas at an age when most children aren’t capable of critical thinking.

Moreover, children don’t often feel like they can resist or defy their caregivers. Usually, they really want to please their caregivers. So, they don’t have a real way to meaningfully consent to being indoctrinated. These are some of the reasons why we also don’t let adults have sex with children, or allow children to sign contracts.

Children, then, become easy prey for Christians seeking indoctrination targets. I was an especially easy target, I’m sure, because I already lived in a really fanciful imaginary world.

About those “good reasons” Tim Keller mentions

One of the reasons I believed so readily was that my religious leaders told me there was tons and tons of real-world evidence to support all of our religious claims. Christianity, they told me, was unlike any other religion in the world in that its source material was about stuff that had really, truly happened.

When I got into my late high school years, I wanted to see this evidence for myself.

My pastor by then — the first Pentecostal pastor, the folksy old guy — just chuckled and said I’d find it in college. They kept it all in the university library’s books. I’d see them, and read them, and know that all our claims were based in solid objective facts.

Then, I got to college. And I went looking for all the 1st-century writers who’d talked about knowing Jesus and seeing him in action. After all, he’d been a total rock star for a short time, right? Rabbis were impressed with him. He overturned tables in the main temple in Jerusalem and caused near-riots! Then, he’d been executed and it was the talk of the whole region! And then, he resurrected and hundreds of people totally saw it! Plus, when he resurrected there were all these miracles and stuff! Any literate person would have written about all this stuff.

Where were all the accounts about it?

Oh. There weren’t any. So that tap stopped pouring water into my faith pool.

(Much, much later, I wrote a whole series about 1st-century writers. Not one of them mentioned Jesus. Nobody from 30-50ish CE even mentions Christians.)

About those “inward experiences” Tim Keller prizes so highly

Next, we move on to Keller’s second plank of three. In this one, he talks about having “inward experiences” of the reality of Jesus. He elaborates on this point by saying he’s felt “Jesus’ actual presence in my life . . . in ways I can’t explain away.”

You’d think a pastor and apologist would be the very first person to know that feelings are not evidence. As I mentioned a moment ago, feelings are very easy to manipulate. Any good worship band leader at any megachurch knows exactly how to do it. So does any decent public speaker, theater kid, or debate team member. The testimonies of any sales-minded Christians are designed from the ground up to manipulate listeners.

Feelings are the dumbest things imaginable to base beliefs off of. Feelings change all the time, and they’re easy for manipulative people to shift. And Tim Keller himself knows this, because he told The Atlantic so in 2019:

“I’m the kind of person, I don’t trust my feelings. And if I was going to embrace Christianity fully, I wanted to really believe it was intellectually credible.” He led with the intellectual, he said, “because I was afraid that I was going to come up with some faith that just met my emotional needs and that wasn’t real. And would crumble.”

Ooops. But wait, he told By Faith Online that he uses emotional manipulation on others to sell his product, which is active membership in his religious group:

It [Christianity] has to make emotional and even cultural sense to people before they sit down and decide if it makes rational sense.

Hilariously, in that Atlantic interview he also revealed that he thinks there’s some way to separate his own feelings from divinely-sent ones. He doesn’t reveal how to do it, though. Just says it involves Christianity somehow.

I guess I just wasn’t elected or something

But I didn’t get any Jesus vibes on my last night as a Christian. Not for lack of trying, of course.

My last night as a Christian, I begged and pleaded with Jesus, asking him to show himself to me in a way that was objectively real. To give me something, anything that I could cling to in faith, even when absolutely every other tap feeding my faith pool had turned off.

I’d learned that prayer doesn’t work, that miracles aren’t real, that the Bible made a lot of claims that weren’t true, that Christians themselves are just like anybody else. But I’d stay if Jesus could just give me one reason to believe despite all of that.

And I got cold nothing from my ceiling.

Many other ex-Christians could say the exact same thing. It’s a very common element in ex-timonies.

So fine, Tim Keller says he gets good happy Jesus vibes, so he totally knows Jesus rose from the dead. Okay. I’m not saying he doesn’t. But what I am saying is that they’re not coming from anything divine. He’s good at working himself up into a lather, or he surrounds himself with euphoria-inducing stuff. Or he’s lying. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time a Christian has flat-out lied about what they get for their obedience!

And it’s a really shitty thing to claim when there are so many Christians — and ex-Christians — who don’t get the happy Jesus vibes. Maybe he just didn’t like us like he likes Tim Keller, hmm?

The spectre of Bad Christians

Finally, we get to Tim Keller’s third plank of belief: a “social/pragmatic aspect.” He further explains that this means finding “a trustworthy community” that also holds the belief in question. In real terms, he cites “many great Christian communities that believed in and lived out Jesus’ resurrection in remarkable ways.”

Of course, he does have to do a bit of two-step shuffling around abusive and hypocritical churches. But these don’t seem to bother him, because he’s got these other communities that are Jesus-ing perfectly.

After stating what he calls his “theory” — though it most certainly is not a real theory — Keller gives us his “conclusion.” It’s just a slam on ex-Christians, really:

My conclusion is that at least some folks–who go from “firm, active believers” to “complete disbelievers” through disillusionment with the church—had rested their belief in Jesus’ resurrection almost completely in the #3 social aspect.

Ah, okay.

Of course I knew plenty of bad Christians. Of course. And of course they mistreated me. Almost everyone has a story about serious mistreatment by a Christian. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard about bad Christians as a reason for deconversion. For me at least, for my entire life, I was indoctrinated not to pay attention to them. I couldn’t let them steal Heaven away from me!

At most, mistreatment might make a Christian leave church culture. Or mistreatment might lead a Christian to ask some very tough questions of their religion, and thus it’d function like a catalyst for deconversion. But in and of itself? No.

So this is a non-starter.

Of course, all of this rests on a logical fallacy

Absolutely nothing here actually connects to his claim of Jesus having risen from the dead.

His apologetics contortions could be about anything. They do not rise to the level of support for this historical claim — no matter how many he creates and unleashes.

He could be getting happy vibes even if Jesus never rose from the dead at all. Plenty of non-Christians are amazingly happy people who feel very connected to nature or other deities.

Plenty of communities are functional, harmonious, and productive without buying into Tim Keller’s claims about the resurrection.

All three planks are non sequiturs. They do not actually demonstrate that Jesus’ resurrection really happened.

The setup for a JAQ-off

Everything Tim Keller has set up thus far exists for one reason and one reason only.

He thinks that people leave his religion because of that third reason. They never really got indoctrinated in apologetics (which he, um, sells) or got the good Jesus vibes he does. So if he can emotionally manipulate them into feeling oogly-boogly and confuse them sufficiently with shit-tier evangelical apologetics, he thinks that’ll win us ex-Christians back to his team’s banner. As he puts it in that tweet thread:

BTW–I ask the original question, because I’m trying to get past the #3 reasons one leaves the faith, and I try to talk to the #1 and #2 reasons–which the resurrection addresses more.

As we just established, though, almost nobody deconverts because of bad Christians. And I suspect that the lack of happy Jesus vibes only starts to matter as we begin to piece together that nothing in the religion is actually true.

That leaves one plank. And it’s not one Keller can actually fix.

Why people really deconvert

When I talk about deconversion, I’m not talking about disengagement. Nor am I talking about churchless believers, who still consider themselves fully Christian but just don’t attend church anymore. In Tim Keller’s tweets, he is talking about people who once bought into the Resurrection myth, but now do not. Now, about a quarter of Christians don’t believe it, at least in Great Britain, but that’s clearly not who Keller means. He specifically names those who “once were believing Christians” but who “now have rejected it all.”

So we’re definitely talking about people who have fully deconverted.

And deconversion really only happens for one reason:

Because reality simply doesn’t line up with Christians’ religious claims.

It’s that simple.

And it’s that devastating. It takes a lot to get to that point, but once one passes that threshold, it’s like the moment a child realizes Santa can’t possibly be real. You can’t really go back to believing again. It’s just not true. No amount of arguments and manipulation will make it seem true again.

You’ve finally made your roll to disbelieve.

The empty toolbox of Tim Keller

If Tim Keller actually had the ability to listen to people, he’d never need to ask this kind of disingenuous question. I don’t think he really talks to that many ex-Christians. If he does, I don’t think he really comprehends anything they say to him. I don’t think many Christians do, though. Their antiprocess filters slam down at the first hint of challenge, as I discovered today while engaging his fans. If they really engaged meaningfully with ex-Christians, they’d hear a lot that their indoctrinations can’t handle.

Lacking real support for their claims, then, apologetics can’t address anything that matters, nor can it ever rise to the level of support for any Christian claim — no matter how much of it Christians ladle onto their targets. All it is is arguments trying in vain to become evidence.

Hilariously, that’s all Tim Keller has in his toolbox alongside manipulation. Sure, these two tools will satisfy his audience and it might allay the concerns of a few mild doubters. It won’t be enough for ex-Christians who’ve learned too much to ever be able to believe in Santa — er, sorry, Jesus — again.

But don’t worry. Tim Keller sure doesn’t worry about anything my silly ass has to say about him. We’re not the ones paying his bills, and he knows exactly who does.

He’ll just slam us and demonize us for not accepting his exalted wisdom, as indeed he hints at doing in his tweets and interviews, and his tribe will gladly jump on us at his direction. And the decline will continue all the while, all the same, regardless of his blame and condescension toward those leaving.

In the end, though, I reckon we have to care about toxic Christians’ opinions for any of their manipulation attempts to work.

This has been Captain Cassidy of Roll to Disbelieve. Thank you so much for listening! Please check out the end of the writeup for ways you can support the blog, including Patreon, PayPal, and Amazon affiliate links. We’ll see you on Thursday!

How you can support Roll to Disbelieve

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Thank you so much for listening, reading, and being a part of Roll to Disbelieve!

Captain Cassidy

Captain Cassidy is a Gen-X ex-Christian and writer. She writes about how people engage with science, religion, art, and each other. She lives in Idaho with her husband, Mr. Captain, and their squawky orange tabby cat, Princess Bother Pretty Toes. And at any given time, she is running out of bookcase space.


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