The Hollowing Effect of Sin

Tim Keller on the banality of evil: Evil does not usually make people incredibly wicked and violent – that would be interesting, and tends to wake people up. Rather, sin tends to make us hollow – externally proper and even nice, but underneath everyone is scraping and clutching for power, in order to get ahead. We continually just step on each other… C. S. Lewis called these folk “men without chests” in The Abolition of Man. They may have reason (represented by the head) or visceral feelings and drives (represented by the gut), but they don’t have hearts. They are not really choosing, but rather are being driven by their desires for power and gain, by their fears and anger. We are all in danger of being just as banal and hollow and uninteresting, if we insist on making God “tame” and banal! Only by worshiping the real God can we escape this boring fate and know the blessing of

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Nobody Does Not Worship

Tim Keller shares this illustration in his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton; 2013), 28–30: Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you. First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself. But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected. Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around

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Jesus’ Call Was to Plant Churches

Tim Keller: “Jesus’ essential call was to plant churches. Virtually all the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt. 28:18-20) is not just a call to ‘make disciples’ but to ‘baptize’. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a ‘new birth,’ but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who

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Forgive Us These Faults

Tim Keller: For decades Kathy and I  have profited immensely from the pastoral wisdom of the converted slave trader John Newton. As an 18th-century Anglican minister, Newton was a good preacher, but it was as a pastor, counsellor, and adviser that he excelled. His pastoral letters are a treasure chest. In one of his letters (entitled “Some Blemishes on Christian Character”) Newton points out that while most Christians succeed in avoiding more gross sins, many do not actually experience much in the way of actual spiritual growth. Newton lays out a convicting and specific example of the kinds of Christian people who coast on their strengths but do nothing about their weaknesses and so rob themselves and others of joy and God of his glory. These blemishes are often seen by their bearers as mere “foibles.” Newton says they “may not seem to violate any express command of Scripture” and yet, they are “properly sinful” because they are the opposite

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Is God Committed to Your Happiness?

Tim Keller: “Is God committed to your happiness? Absolutely, and yet if you come to him to make you happy, you’re coming to a false god. If you say, ‘Well, I’m interested in this Christianity, and maybe I’ll come and bite on it if I can see it will help me reach my goals and make me happy.’ You’re not coming to God; you’re coming to a butler. Either God exists or he doesn’t exist. If he doesn’t exist you can’t come to him for happiness, right? But if he does exist, you have to realize you must come to him because he created you, and therefore, he owns you. To not come to him and obey him would be an injustice. The only way to come to God rightly, the real God, is to come without conditions and to say, ‘Forget happiness. I owe you everything.’ There are only two ways to come to God. You can come to

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How Tim Keller Made Peace with the Wrath of God

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). In a sermon titled “The Dark Garden,” Tim Keller explains how he came to understand that a god without wrath and Hell is not as loving as the God we find in the Bible: Because [a cup of poison] was the method of execution for many people,…the Hebrew prophets came to use the cup as a metaphor for the wrath of God on human evil…. For example…Isaiah 54: “You will drink the cup of His fury and stagger.” So the reason why [Christian martyrs] who died for what they believed in didn’t die the way Jesus is dying—didn’t fall to the ground, didn’t find this horror coming down—was that they didn’t face the cup. They didn’t face the justice of God against all human wickedness and evil, which was just about to come down on [Jesus]…. It

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Two Kinds of Popularity

Tim Keller: For much of his life, John Calvin had two close friends — Farel and Viret. Farel was very hot-headed and out-spoken, while Viret was of very mild temperament, an instinctive peace-keeper. Farel often came to Geneva and stayed at Calvin’s home, where, sometimes with Viret, the friends would have long talks about theology and current events over a glass. Calvin delighted in the company of his zealous friend. Nevertheless, as time went on he came to see that Farel’s inflexible nature made him a doughty defender but a limited propagator of the gospel. He often sent his own discourses and letters to Viret, whose job was to moderate his language. Calvin himself had been more hot-headed as a young man, and he worked to curb his own tongue. After Farel inappropriately denounced a prominent woman in Geneva from the pulpit, which turned her whole family against him, Calvin wrote him a remarkable letter: “When you have Satan to

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Tim Keller: How Real Christian Change Happens

How do we change and grow as Christians? In the same way we became Christians. That’s why in Galatians 3 v 1-3, Paul reminds the Galatian Christians how it was that they came to Christ. And in essence, “Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” (v 1). This portrayal was achieved through preaching, through “what you heard” (v 2, 5). Paul isn’t referring to a literal picture, but a metaphorical one. There was a message communicated—“Jesus Christ … crucified” (see 1 Corinthians 2 v 1-5). Notice that the essence of this message is not how to live, but what Jesus has done for us on the cross. The gospel is an announcement of historical events before it is instructions on how to live. It is the proclamation of what has been done for us before it is a direction of what we must do. But it also says that this message gripped the heart. Jesus was “clearly portrayed”. The NIV

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More than we ever dared hope

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defences and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.” — Tim Keller Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: Living in Line with the Truth of the Gospel (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 2 (HT: Of First Importance)

The A-to-Z of the Christian life

“The gospel shows us that our spiritual problem lies not only in failing to obey God, but also in relying on our obedience to make us fully acceptable to God, ourselves and others. Every kind of character flaw comes from this natural impulse to be our own savior through our performance and achievement. On the one hand, proud and disdainful personalities come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are succeeding. But on the other hand, discouraged and self-loathing personalities also come from basing your identity on your performance and thinking you are failing. Belief in the gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom of God; it is the way to address every obstacle and grow in every aspect. The gospel is not just the “ABCs” but the “A-to-Z” of the Christian life. The gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ — whether a heart, a relationship, a church,

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How Important Is Complementarianism?

John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Russell Moore, and Greg Gilbert at a panel of the 2012 Together for the Gospel (April 2012):   Tim Keller, Don Carson, and John Piper at the Gospel Coalition council members’ meeting (May 2012):   If you are new to this subject, here are some resources I would recommend starting with: 1. John Piper and Wayne Grudem “50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood.” This is a free PDF that gives concise answers to 50 questions. This is the place to start. 2. If you want to hear the audio or read the notes of a weekend seminar, looking at passages and objections and application in more depth, take a look at this free seminar by John Piper. 3. For introductions written by women, consider Carrie Sandom, Different by Design: God’s Blueprint for Men and Women and Claire Smith, God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women. (HT: Justin Taylor)

How to Read the Bible

Tim Keller: There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the ‘giant’ of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example,

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Tim Keller on Every Believer as Prophet, Priest, and King

Timmy Brister: Tim Keller, in his new book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, writes about the triperspectival New Covenant nature of Christians united with Christ. Jesus has all the powers and functions of ministry in himself. He ha a prophetic ministry, speaking the truth and applying it to men and women on behalf of God. Jesus was the ultimate prophet, for he revealed most clearly (both in his words and his life) God’s character, saving purposes, and will for our lives. Jesus also had a priestly ministry. While a prophet is an advocate for God before people, a priest is an advocate for the people before God’s presence, ministering with mercy and sympathy. Jesus was the ultimate priest, for he stood in or place and sacrificially bore our burdens and sin, and he now brings us into God’s presence. Finally, Jesus has a kingly ministry. He is the ultimate king, ordering the life of his people through his revealed law.

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Why Catechesis Now?

Tim Keller: The church in Western culture today is experiencing a crisis of holiness. To be holy is to be “set apart,” different, living life according to God’s Word and story, not according to the stories that the world tells us are the meaning of life. The more the culture around us becomes post- and anti-Christian the more we discover church members in our midst, sitting under sound preaching, yet nonetheless holding half-pagan views of God, truth, and human nature, and in their daily lives using sex, money, and power in very worldly ways. It’s hard to deny what J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett write: Superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living—careerwise, communitywise, familywise, and churchwise—are all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today (Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, 16). This is not the first time the church in the West has lived in such

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What the Puritans Can Teach Us about Counselling

Justin Taylor: Nearly 25 years ago, Tim Keller argued that the works of the Puritans are a rich resource for biblical counseling for the following six reasons: The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used

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Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Grace

Gifts of the Spirit, Fruit of the Spirit, and Shipwrecking Your Ministry. Tim Keller, via Resurgence: “You may mistake the operation of spiritual gifts for the operation of spiritual grace in your life. . . . Here’s how this danger can begin. Your prayer life may be nonexistent, or you may have an unforgiving spirit toward someone, or sexual desires may be out of control. But you get involved in some ministry activity, which draws out your spiritual gifts. You begin to serve and help others, and soon you are affirmed by others and told what great things you are doing. You see the effects of your ministry and conclude that God is with you. But actually God was helping someone through your gifts even though your heart was far from him. Eventually, if you don’t do something about your lack of spiritual fruit and instead build your identity on your spiritual gifts and ministry activity, there will be some

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The relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament

By Tim Keller: I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?” It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency. First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament

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Tim Keller on Gospel-Humility

Tim Keller on Gospel-Humility: “C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble.They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I

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