Tag: Tim Keller

Backlash and Civility

Backlash and Civility

Backlash and Civility

February 2011
by Tim Keller

Editor’s Note: Because of the requirements of our production schedule, this article was written on January 7, the day before the tragic shootings in Tucson January 8. The meeting that Tim mentions occurred on January 3.

I was recently invited to attend a forum where Os Guinness spoke on “A World Safe for Diversity,” essentially on the importance of “civility” in public life. About the same time I began reading a new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides Us and Unites Us, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. They said many of the same things, and it was very convicting.
Putnam’s book points to empirical research that shows that when, in the 1960s, the mainline Protestant churches got deeply involved in liberal politics there was a massive reaction within the American church-going population. Large numbers of people were alienated by the strident tone and left those churches.
However, in the 1980s something of the same thing happened when evangelical churches got deeply involved in conservative politics. Putnam shows that there has been a backlash against the Christian faith and all institutional religion, particularly among younger adults, which is unprecedented in American history. Churches are now perceived as being reactionary, judgmental, and hypocritical, and the number of Americans listing their religious preference as “None” has shot up from 5-7% of the population (where it had been for decades) to 17% of the population and more like 30% among younger adults. The churches that have estranged younger people are largely the evangelical churches that are perceived as taking on a vitriolic, harsh, condemning tone toward nonbelievers and contemporary society.
One of the reasons that Americans have reacted so sharply to Christians’ involvement in politics is that our culture tends to accept the Enlightenment belief that religion is a completely private affair that should not affect how you live in public. That, of course, is unhealthy and wrong. But much of Americans’ negative response is warranted. They know Christ called his followers to love their enemies and to speak the truth in love. In John 17 Christ told his followers that the world would only believe that he really was sent from God if his followers were famous for their love for one another. That is not the case today.
Which leads us back to the topic of “civility.” Os Guinness said that civility is too easily dismissed as simply “niceness” or even squeamishness. Worse, it is seen as unwillingness to contend for what is right and true.
Civility, however, has to do with how you contend, and it is an expression of caritas—charity or Christian love. It is not a refusal to criticize. Indeed, uncharitable discourse makes no attempt to really persuade the opposition. Uncivil discourse merely castigates and caricatures the other side. It doesn’t try to win over the opposition with the truth, but only to marginalize and disempower them.
Uncivil speech is designed to intimidate, silence, and stir up opposition. It does not aim to persuade more people to believe it. Ironically, when Christians speak this way, it shows no confidence in the Truth at all, but only in power, and that is a very secular view of the world. As someone has famously (but anonymously) said, “Evangelicals are in danger of  selling their gospel birthright for a mess of political pottage.”
By contrast, what does Christian civility look like? First, it shows respect for persons in the image of God even as it argues that their views and positions are not worthy of respect. James 3:9 says we should not “curse men made in God’s likeness”—a remarkable warning against wishing ill on people.
Second, it shows humility as you argue. That means a lack of eye-rolling, sighing, sneering, and pejorative vocabulary. Especially as Presbyterians we believe that ultimately God opens one’s eyes to the truth, and so we are gentle with those who don’t yet see. That’s why John Newton wrote: “Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.” (See Newton’s letter “On Controversy” available on the internet at several sites.)
Third, it would be good to follow the ancient rules of debate. One is not to attribute an opinion to opponents that they will not personally own, even if you think it is the logical outcome of their
views. Another ancient rule is:  before arguing with your opponents you must state their position positively and so well that they say, “Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then and only then may we proceed to argue.
What does the future hold? There’s good news and bad news. Os Guinness rightly warns that there are many calling for an American public life without any expressions of religious faith at all, more like a French-style laicite. That could mean, for example, that even private Christian organizations would not be allowed to hire only people who shared their religious faith commitments. Os warned that the lack of civility could lead some to rule certain subjects “out of bounds” and to try to put an end to public debate on many issues of moral values.
On the other hand, Robert Putnam believes that most of the people checking “None” are not hard-core secularists. They have looked at acerbic, condemning, combative churches and said, “If this is religion, I want no part of it.” However, Putnam says, a different kind of church could definitely get a hearing from them. It would have to be different from the old mainline churches that simply reflected the culture and didn’t prophetically declare Biblical truth, but it would also have to be different than the self-righteous churches that didn’t preach or speak in humility and love. There is still a role in our society—perhaps a big role—for churches like that.
Only Believers or Disciples?

Only Believers or Disciples?

by Tim Keller

In Jeremiah 26 the prophet preaches a public sermon telling the people of Jerusalem that disaster was coming to them from the hand of God if they did not turn from their evil ways. The response of the priests and other prophets was to seize him and call for his death (26:11). Fortunately for Jeremiah, the priests and prophets had to bring their case before a cross-section of other officials.
During the hearing, some elders stepped forward and pointed out that that earlier the prophet Micah had preached in the same way (cf. Micah 3:12) to the king Hezekiah and Hezekiah did not put him to death (recounted in Isaiah 37.) They argued from the Scripture that Jeremiah had done nothing wrong, and so the people set him free.
Derek Kidner says this incident is “a striking example of the fallibility of experts when their prejudices are aroused” and that it demonstrates the importance of having respected laymen who had made their own study of the Scriptures. Kidner adds: “Without this broad base of the well-taught in the word of God, a church is too much at the mercy of its professionals!” (Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah, p. 97.)
This is one of the most basic messages that I, a minister, can convey to my congregation, but it will be more important than ever in this next stage of our journey together. The Presbyterian system of church government has long been based on the principle that a church should be neither exclusively in the hands of trained professionals nor of lay people. That is why we have on our Session—our board of elders—both “teaching elders” (ministers with graduate training in theology and ministry) and “ruling elders” who are laymen.
However, the principle goes farther than that. God does not want his people to be passive believers but active disciples. Jesus called his apostles to go into all the world, to evangelize and baptize, and the ultimate goal was to produce not merely converts but disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). The word “disciple” is packed with meaning, but it is clear from the New Testament that it meant, first and foremost, students of Jesus. They followed him and learned from him (Luke 10:38-42). Second, it meant putting allegiance to Jesus first in your life (Mark 1:16-20). Lastly, it meant to be a man or woman in mission, sent into the world to minister both in word (Luke 10:1-20) and in deed (Luke 10:25-37), both sharing your faith and loving your neighbor.
There are advantages as well as disadvantages to every church size. Very large churches provide benefits that small churches cannot, and vice versa. But one of the benefits of a small church is that it cannot function without the ministry of laypeople. There are few or no ministry “professionals” to rely on. It is laymen and women who must teach, evangelize, and disciple others. To do that, they must be well-versed in the Bible and theology, like the elders in Jeremiah 26.
Justice and Generosity

Justice and Generosity

Justice and Generosity

by Tim Keller

I’ve written a book that will  be coming out this month called Generous Justice. A number of people have asked me why I wrote it, and others have asked about the title itself. My answers to these two questions go together.
One group of people I hope will read the book is the young adults who express a passionate interest in social justice. Vol-unteerism is the distinguishing mark of an entire generation of current American college students and recent graduates. The NonProfit Times reported that teens and young adults are creating enormous spikes in applications to volunteer programs. As a Baby Boomer it is interesting to me that volunteering rates were high in the 1970s but had fallen off until the last half of the last decade when they began to rise again. Of course I consider this an excellent trend.
However, many people have imbibed not only an emotional resonance for rights and justice from our culture, but also a consumerism that undermines self-denial and delayed gratification. While they may give some of their time, they spend large amounts of money on entertainment, their appearance, electronics, and travel. For a great number, then, volunteering is part of their portfolio of life-enriching activities, but it is not a feature of a whole life shaped by a commitment to doing justice, including radical generosity with one’s finances.
One of the things that struck me as I was studying the Bible’s teaching on justice was how often financial generosity is considered part of doing justice. Job says, “If I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless…if I have seen…a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep…these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high. (Job 31:13-28)
Many people believe that “justice” is strictly the punishment of wrongdoing, period. They don’t think we should be indifferent to the poor, but when we help them they would call such aid charity, not justice. But Job says that if he had failed to share his food or his fleece—his assets—with the needy, that would have been a sin against God and by definition a violation of God’s justice. Of course, we can call such aid mercy or charity because it should be motivated by compassion, but a failure to live a lifestyle of radical generosity is considered injustice in the Bible.
Our culture gives us a mixed message. It says: make lots of money and spend it on yourself; get an identity by the kind of clothes you wear and the places you travel to and live. But also do some volunteer work, care about social justice, because you don’t want to be just a selfish pig. However, Christians’ attitudes toward our time and our money should not be shaped by our society; they should be shaped by the gospel of Christ, who became poor so that we could become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
The main theme of my book is that the gospel of grace will turn anyone who truly believes it into a person who does justice for those in need. Doing justice includes not only the righting of wrongs, but also generosity and social concern, and a willingness to live a more modest lifestyle in order to be generous to the church and to the poor. This kind of life reflects the character of God (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Psalm 146:7-9.) We have the Biblical and spiritual resources to overcome the superficiality of our culture and become what the spiritual descendents of Abraham should be—a true blessing to our city and to the poor. (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:7)
How to Pray Better in Private and Public, Too.

How to Pray Better in Private and Public, Too.

How to Pray Better in Public and in Private, Too
October 2010
by Tim Keller

Years ago when I wanted to become more skillful in public prayer, I was fortunate to come across the collects of Thomas Cranmer, the writer of the original Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The “collects” (the stress is on the first syllable)that Cranmer wrote were brief but extremely ‘packed’ little prayers that tied together the doctrine of the day to a particular way of living. They were prayed by the minister on behalf of the people, or prayed in unison by the whole congregation.

As I have read them over the years they have brought me two great benefits. First, they have given me a basic structure by which I can compose good public prayers, either ahead of time, or spontaneously. Cranmer’s collects consist of 5 parts:
1. The address – a name of God
2. The doctrine – a truth about God’s nature that is the basis for the prayer
3. The petition – what is being asked for
4. The aspiration – what good result will come if the request is granted
5. In Jesus’ name – this remembers the mediatorial role of Jesus

See this structure in Cranmer’s famous collect for the service of Holy Communion:
1.Almighty God
2.unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,
3.cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
4.that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name,
5.through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

See how the prayer moves from a doctrinal basis (why we can ask for it) to the petition (what we want) to the aspiration (what we will do with it if we get it.) It is remarkable how this combines solid theology with deep aspirations of the heart and concrete goals for our daily life.

As time has gone on I have come to use Cranmer’s collects in my personal devotional time (this is the second benefit.) I take up one collect at the beginning of each new week. I read Paul Zahl’s volume The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Eerdmans, 1999) that provides a very short explanation and meditation on the prayer. Then I pray that prayer to God reflectively every morning for the rest of the week as I begin my personal time with God. I commend this practice to you. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning; grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life, which thou hast given us in our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Almighty God, who dost make the minds of all faithful men to be of one will; grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise, that among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may be surely fixed where true joys are to be found, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God, which hast prepared to them that love thee such good things as pass all man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we loving thee in all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve, pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy, forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid and giving unto us that which our prayer dare not presume to ask; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou does command; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Struggle for Love

The Struggle for Love

A sermon from Tim Keller on Genesis 29:15-35 definitely worth a listen. From Keller’s site: “In dealing with inner emptiness we often hope for “one true love.” Jacob and Leah have that hope after the failure of their lives. When their dreams are achieved, their hopes are dashed. Leah eventually achieves inner peace by placing her hope in God, who alone can deliver.”

Click here to listen to the sermon.

Confronting Idols: Tim Keller @ The Gospel Coalition

Confronting Idols: Tim Keller @ The Gospel Coalition


Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in NYC brought a convicting talk about our different idols, to open up the Gospel Coalition National Conference in Chicago yesterday.   His notes are at the link below.  A mp3 of his talk is available here.

And Video available Here

Paul’s preaching was effective: it changed people’s lives to such an extent that it even changed the culture. The reason for this is that Paul confronted idols.

You can’t preach the gospel effectively if you don’t challenge idols. Paul always challenged people’s idols in his preaching. In Acts 17, Paul went to the Agora, the marketplace, which is where the idols of that culture were formed. In our culture, the marketplace is not shops and busy streets, because that’s no longer where culture is formed. For us, challenging idols in the marketplace means going to Hollywood, Harvard, and the New York Times—the places where ideas and beliefs are shaped.

via Notes from the Gospel Coalition: Tim Keller | TheResurgence.

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