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Timothy Keller Responds to Criticism for Praising Stephen Colbert Clip About Faith and Comedy

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Pictured (left): Stephen Colbert, Screengrab from YouTube; (right): Timothy Keller, Frank Licorice, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, a clip from CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert began circulating online, and it quickly became a point of controversy within evangelical circles. In the clip, Colbert, who is a Roman Catholic, explained the connection between his faith and his comedy. Some, including theologian and author Timothy Keller, praised Colbert’s remarks as winsome, while others accused the clip of being devoid of the gospel. 

While interviewing Grammy Award winning singer Dua Lipa, the two discussed Lipa’s new podcast, and Colbert asked how she was enjoying the experience of interviewing guests. Colbert then asked if Lipa wanted to interview him, at which point Lipa asked, “Does your faith and your comedy ever overlap, and does one ever win out?”

“I think, ultimately, us all being mortal, the faith will win out in the end. But I certainly hope when I get to heaven, Jesus has a sense of humor,” Colbert joked.

Colbert went on to explain that he believes that death is not a defeat, and that this belief informs his comedy, saying, “In the same way…sadness is like a little bit of an emotional death, but not a defeat if you can find a way to laugh about it. Because that laughter keeps you from having fear of it. And fear is the thing that [causes you to turn] to evil devices to save you from the sadness.”

“So if there’s some relationship between my faith and my comedy, it’s that no matter what happens, you are never defeated,” Colbert went on to say. “You must understand this and see it in the light of eternity, and find some way to love and laugh with each other.”

Anthony B. Bradley, who serves as Professor of Religious Studies at The King’s College and as Theologian-In-Residence for Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Lincoln Square location, tweeted the video, saying, “It just shows how intellectually superior Catholics are at articulating their faith. A Protestant would not have been able to do that. Anglicans could. Most evangelicals would say, ‘there’s no gospel in his answer.’”

Timothy Keller also tweeted the clip, saying, “This is a brilliant example of how to be a Christian in the public square. Notice the witness, but in a form the culture can handle. We should desire to have more Christians in these spaces and give them grace as they operate.”

While Bradley, Keller, and others found Colbert’s answer compelling, others were critical of Colbert’s words as not being Gospel-centered enough. 

“Christ was not presented. Faith barely mentioned and repentance non-existent,” one said. “Christ’s defeat of death through the resurrection is why we do not fear death; not because of some nebulous sense of laughter. The gospel was not presented and the faith was not represented.”

Others criticized any support for Colbert, as he is someone who has been a vocal (and sometimes vulgarly so) critic of former president Donald Trump

“The way this guy used his comedy to denigrate, try to embarrass, flat out lied, and said just about every hateful thing he could about Trump on a daily basis,” one commented. “And this guy thinks he’s a Christian.”