Tim Keller at the Veritas Forum at UC Berkley

20 12 2011

One of the big battles facing the future of Christianity in the West is presenting a Gospel message that meets the harsh and legitimate critiques of a culture that has grown up in a shallow evangelicalism.  Tim Keller, particularly in the video below, is a helpful model for how Christians can compassionately and intelligently bear witness to the Gospel in our current context.  The whole video (at 94 min!) is worth your time. 





Tim Keller: The Acid Test of Being a Christian

20 12 2011

Perhaps what I noticed most about this excerpt from Dr. Keller’s sermon was that a “real Christian” has a spirit of wonder that permeates their whole life.  There is an old woman at Trinity, who whenever a promise of the Gospel is put forward she exhales loudly and will say something like “oh how marvelous!”  This woman has a host of difficulties in her life that would cause many of us to be miserable.  But what is most striking about her life is that she is utterly amazed at Jesus Christ and is therefore a very happy woman.  My heart breaks for people who spend their whole life in church and are never amazed at what God has done in Christ, who never rejoice in the gift of his Holy Spirit or who are never moved with gratitude at the gift of his word.  People who live out their Christian lives in such a way are like folks who turn their nose up at a banquet table to munch on stale, moldy bread.

A real Christian is a person who says, “it is an absolute miracle that God’s loves me. “It’s just a miracle that I am a Christian.” This is actually an acid test; let me just lay it on you here at the end. There are two kinds of people that go to church: there’s religious people and real Christians. And the way you can tell the difference is that a Real Christian is somebody who sees everything that comes as a gift.  In other words a real Christian sees that you are totally in debt to God, but a religious person is someone who is working hard and making an effort and trying to be good, going to Bible studies and just saying “no” everywhere, and denying themselves a lot of pleasures, and so forth, and a religious person is someone who is trying to put God in their debt. That is the difference.  A religious person is someone who is trying to save themselves through their good works. A religious person is somebody who thinks they are putting God in their debt since they have tried so hard. A Christian is somebody who sees themselves as in God’s debt.

Here is the acid test: If you are a Christian you have a spirit of wonder that permeates your life. You are always saying “how miraculous”, “how interplanetary”, “how unreal”. You are always looking at yourself and saying, “me a Christian … incredible, miraculous, unbelievable, a joke!!! ” but a person who is trying to put God in their debt – there is none of that spirit of wonder at all.  For example, when you show up to get your paycheck.  I am assuming that most of you work hard for your money.  When you show up for your paycheck do you say “Ah, BEHOLD!!!, you’ve paid me, you’ve given me money!!! Oh!! Are you real?.” No, you don’t do that, you say “of course you paid me, I worked.”  If you ask a religious person who does not understand the grace of God. you say, “Are you a Christian?” They say “Of course I am a Christian, I have always been a Christian. Sure I am a Christian. “  My friends, if you are a Christian there is no “sure” about it and there is no “of courseness” about it, not a bit.

The acid test is your spirit of wonder stays there even when things go bad.  You see when things go bad, when problems happen, here you can tell the difference between a moralist and a Christian.  A moralist says, “what good is all my religion, what good is going to God, I have tried hard to be a Christian, I am trying hard to be obedient to God, and what good is it? God owes me.” And you see you get mad. You say, “I have been trying hard and look what’s going on in my love life, look what’s going on in my career”, and you get bitter. Why? because God owes you.  But A Christian keeps that spirit of wonder.  A Christian may say “my career has not gone too well, my love life has not gone too well, it’s astonishing… Its amazing that God is as good as He is to me. Its all grace. Its all grace.  That spirit of wonder. That sense of being a miracle. That everything that comes to you being an absolute mercy. That is an acid test.  In fact, in some ways I have made a dichotomy that is unrealistic.  Christians, to the degree that you behold the free grace of God, to the degree that you meditate on it and you let it become a holy fire in your heart, to the degree you experience and behold the love of God, to that degree you are going to find that to difficulties you will be able to say “oh well, my Father must have a purpose here because He loves me, and besides that, He does not owe me a good life. He owes me a far worse life than I’ve got.” You can handle anything. And when good things come you will say “Behold! what a miracle”  And the very fact you can get up in the morning and say, “I am a Christian. Who would have thought it?” There is a spirit of wonder about you, and if you have lost that you are slipping back into moralism, you are slipping back into thinking “well I guess what it means to be a Christian is just to do.”  Here is Christianity:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

The wonder is a mark that you know the Lord. The ability to handle anything with that sense of almost childlike wonder. That sense of being a miracle.  That tells you that you know him.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s Name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.
He has wash’d us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

read the whole thing here





Tim Keller: The Dogmatic Nature of Relativistic Thought

19 12 2011

About every other week, I confront popular pluralist notions that have become a large part of the way Americans think. For example, pluralists contend that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, therefore all religions are valid. But while it is good to acknowledge our limitations, this statement is itself a strong assertion about the nature of spiritual truth. A common analogy is often cited to get the point across which I am sure you have heard — several blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin like a snake. Another feels a leg and claims it is thick like a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. When I occasionally describe this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement.

But then I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, ‘All religions only see part of the truth,’ you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the “truth” of their position, even though they claim “truth” does not exist or at least can’t be known. Ironic isn’t it? The position is intellectually inconsistent. (Tim Keller)

In its pure form Pluralism is a fact. It’s not an opinion or a belief or a religion. In other words, not every one believes the same things. We live in a society that’s very diverse, not just ethnically, but also religiously. But when pluralism starts to become a philosophy, when it starts to become a religious dogma, then it becomes a different animal. And that’s what I want to call relativism — or religious relativism, philosophical pluralism. It goes by different names but that is the dogmatic religious assertion that all religions are basically the same, that no one knows the truth about God. And no one can know the ultimate truth about God in a way that invalidates other peoples’ religious opinions and the belief that it’s arrogant to say that you have the truth religiously and it is arrogant to try to persuade other people to believe what you believe religiously. That’s relativism, philosophical pluralism. And I would say that’s the default belief of most people you run into in our city.– whether they’re religious or not, most people think about religion that way.

Here is what I want to urge on you and try to unpack in several ways. And that is that relativism is itself a religious belief. It is a dogma. Relativism is. It has affirmations and denials and a missionary force. One of the affirmations of relativism is that God is ultimately unknowable. No one can know the truth about God. But how do one know that to be true? This assumes an ultimate understanding of spiritual reality. All religions are ultimately the same. All religions are following a path to God. It doesn’t matter how you believe, it matters how you live. Do you see this? Those are religious statements. Those are matters of religious beliefs, dogma. Doctrines! If people say, “No, I’m not religious. I’m saying you can’t know. I’m saying, Nobody can know the truth about God. I’m not claiming that I’ve got a corner on it.” But if you look at it closely, the statements of religious relativism are every bit as dogmatic as the statements of the Koran or the Bible. It’s a religious dogma.

read it all here





Tim Keller: The Gospel into the 21st Century

19 12 2011

I started a conversation with a friend and thoughtful Christian on how the church engages culture.  I’m posting these to get our thoughts moving.  The author of this article, Tim Keller is a reformed Christian who is engaging culture quite well while holding to orthodox Christian distinctives.  I will post all four parts in time.

We are entering a globalized, urbanized, and post-secular world. This means that we are going to be more like the Roman Empire than anything seen in centuries.

First, it is a globalized world again. The triumph of Rome’s power created the Pax Romana and an unprecedented mobility of people, capital, and ideas. Cities became multi-ethnic and international in unprecedented ways. So today, cities link as much if not more to the rest of the world than they do to their own geographically connected countries. Saskia Sassen in The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo makes the case that increasingly the residents of these cities are more like one another than they are like other residents of their own country.

Second, it is therefore an urbanized world again. In the Greco-Roman world during the height of the Roman empire, individual nation-states were weak, and large cities (Rome, Corinth, Ephesus) operated virtually as independent city-states. Cities, not national governments, ruled the world. Today, technology and mobility are again weakening the control nation states have on their own territory. It is becoming impossible to control the flow of information or capital in and out of countries. Multi-national corporations operate out of major cities but do not submit to or serve the interests of any country. Corporate and creative elites, who Pico Iyer calls ‘Nowhereians,’ live in several cities at once, rather than in any particular country. Everywhere we see the growth both in power and size of major cities.

Third, it is a fragmented, pluralistic world again. For centuries-cultures and nations had much more widespread consensus about basic questions of truth, morality, and the nature of God and ultimate reality. Now, as in the Roman world, there will again be multiple vital religious faith communities and options in every society. We will have traditional, secular, and pagan world-views living side by side. Why? a) Globalization- the mobility mentioned above. b) Disillusionment with the Enlightenment in the West. For nearly 100 years the elites of Europe and North America were fairly uniformly ‘secular’-skeptical about any religion or spirituality at all. But the old idea that unaided human reason and science would solve the world’s ills and answer the heart’s big questions finally is seen as dead end. We are entering a truly ‘post-secular,’ pagan- pluralistic era much more like Rome. Most interesting is the fact that the number of orthodox Christians in philosophy departments in this country has gone from 0% to nearly 25% in just 30 years. This means that for the first time in 80 years there is ‘intellectual space’ for Christians to do scholarship, art, and other cultural production. This is big news for center cities like NYC and LA.

No matter what their world was like, Christians have gone back to the book of Acts for centuries to learn ministry practice. But we have now a double reason to do so. Our world has become much more like the world of the Mediterranean world of the 1st century. If we want to see how to spread the gospel in the 21st century-the book of Acts has not been more directly and simply applicable to our situation in 2,000 years. There are two features of ministry strategy in the book of Acts that are crucial in our own world and time. New Testament ministry strategy was- Church-multiplying (Acts 14) and Gospel-centered (Acts 15).

read the whole thing here





Tim Keller: The Dogmatism of Religious Relativism

19 12 2011

There’s nothing here that Leslie Newbiggin didn’t say fifty years ago. But Keller has an easy manner about him that makes him compelling to his audiences. If you’ve never been introduced to the points below the the religious dogmatism of relativism, then you should slow down and take it in.

About every other week, I confront popular pluralist notions that have become a large part of the way Americans think. For example, pluralists contend that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, therefore all religions are valid. But while it is good to acknowledge our limitations, this statement is itself a strong assertion about the nature of spiritual truth. A common analogy is often cited to get the point across which I am sure you have heard — several blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin like a snake. Another feels a leg and claims it is thick like a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. When I occasionally describe this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement.

But then I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, ‘All religions only see part of the truth,’ you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the “truth” of their position, even though they claim “truth” does not exist or at least can’t be known. Ironic isn’t it? The position is intellectually inconsistent.

In its pure form Pluralism is a fact. It’s not an opinion or a belief or a religion. In other words, not every one believes the same things. We live in a society that’s very diverse, not just ethnically, but also religiously. But when pluralism starts to become a philosophy, when it starts to become a religious dogma, then it becomes a different animal. And that’s what I want to call relativism — or religious relativism, philosophical pluralism. It goes by different names but that is the dogmatic religious assertion that all religions are basically the same, that no one knows the truth about God. And no one can know the ultimate truth about God in a way that invalidates other peoples’ religious opinions and the belief that it’s arrogant to say that you have the truth religiously and it is arrogant to try to persuade other people to believe what you believe religiously. That’s relativism, philosophical pluralism. And I would say that’s the default belief of most people you run into in our city.– whether they’re religious or not, most people think about religion that way.

Here is what I want to urge on you and try to unpack in several ways. And that is that relativism is itself a religious belief. It is a dogma. Relativism is. It has affirmations and denials and a missionary force. One of the affirmations of relativism is that God is ultimately unknowable. No one can know the truth about God. But how do one know that to be true? This assumes an ultimate understanding of spiritual reality. All religions are ultimately the same. All religions are following a path to God. It doesn’t matter how you believe, it matters how you live. Do you see this? Those are religious statements. Those are matters of religious beliefs, dogma. Doctrines! If people say, “No, I’m not religious. I’m saying you can’t know. I’m saying, Nobody can know the truth about God. I’m not claiming that I’ve got a corner on it.” But if you look at it closely, the statements of religious relativism are every bit as dogmatic as the statements of the Koran or the Bible. It’s a religious dogma.

read the rest here