Jesus as Just an Example? (Keller)

Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions by [Timothy Keller]

It is a biblical concept for Christians to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thes. 1:6, etc.). Of course we can’t imitate Jesus perfectly, but one aspect of living the Christian life is seeking to being like Christ. When we – with the help of the Spirit – imitate Christ, it brings glory to God and is a blessing to other people. However, we do have to understand that Jesus didn’t come to be just an example. He didn’t only come to show us how to live. Here’s how Tim Keller said it as he reflected on the story where Jesus visited a wedding in Cana (John 2):

“Many people say, ‘I don’t like the church and I don’t accept Christian doctrine. I don’t believe in hell and God’s wrath and blood atonement and all of that. But I really like Jesus. If people just imitated Jesus and followed his teaching, the world would be a better place.’ The problems with that view, as common as it is, are many and profound. If Jesus was thinking about his death at a wedding feast, that meant he was nearly always thinking about his death. He did not come primarily to be a good example. And I’m glad he didn’t. Do you know why? He’s too good! He’s so perfect that as an example he just crushes you into the ground. Anyone who really, seriously, seeks to make him a life model, who pays attention to the details of his character and practice, will despair. He is infinitely beyond us, and comparing yourself to him will only grind your genuine aspirations to moral excellence into hopelessness.

But we see here that he did not come to tell us how to save ourselves but to save us himself. He came to die, to shed his blood, to take the cup of curse and punishment os we can raise the cup of blessing and love. The centrality of Jesus’ death is a most important insight for understanding the Gospels…

Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus, p. 76-77.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Losing Identity, Losing Sanity (Keller)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical

As many of our readers know, identity issues and crises are a dime a dozen in our culture today. It’s not just a gender thing. People also find their identity in what they do or don’t eat, their political views, their preferred method of schooling their children, their excursions and adventures, or their looks/image. And the list goes on. Timothy Keller has a good chapter on this topic called “The Problem of the Self” in his book Making Sense of God. I’ll cite a paragraph from this chapter below, but you’ll have to get the book to follow the larger (helpful!) discussion that ends with a great empahsis on finding one’s identity in Christ:

If we base our identity on love we come to the same cul-de-sac that we saw with the novelist who got his identity from work. Just as he could not bear poor work, so we will not be able to handle the problems in our love relationships. The writer had to believe he is a great writer in order to be sane. We will have to believe our love relationship is ok – if it goes off the rails, we lose our sanity. Why? If our very identity is wrapped up in something and we lose it, we lose our very sense of self. If you are getting your identity from the love of a person – you won’t be able to give them criticism because their anger will devastate you. Nor will you be able to bear their personal sorrows and difficulties. If they have a problem and start to get self-absorbed and are not giving you the affirmation you want, you won’t be able to take it. It will become a destructive relationship. The Western understanding of identity formation is a crushing burden, both for individuals and society as a whole.

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 131.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Arguments for God’s Existence (Keller)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Many Christians throughout history have argued for the existence of God in various ways and using various methods. For example, there’s the moral argument for God. The argument goes something like this: there are objective morals in the world that transcend local communities. These morals didn’t just arise out of thin air and they can’t well be defended by the theory of evolution. The best explanation for these objective morals is the existence of God. Of course this argument takes various forms.  There are also other arguments for God’s existence like the argument from order or the “first cause” argument.

I appreciate how Tim Keller briefly explains these kinds of arguments for God’s existence:

Many people point out that the arguments for God not only do not prove God’s existence but also give us only an ‘unmoved mover’ or some other abstract being, not the holy, loving, all-powerful God of the Bible.

But the purpose of the so-called theistic arguments is not to give us a specific description of God. The main work they do is to help us ‘see the inadequacies of [secular] naturalism’ and bring us to see that there is probably something transcendent outside of nature. These ‘cases for God’ have been around for centuries, but in today’s world our goals for their use should be targeted but modest. They primarily provide a means for ‘shaking up the dogmatic confidence…that naturalism and materialism are the default rational views of the universe.’

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p.228

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Faith and the Workplace (Keller)

Tim Keller has a helpful section in Center Church that has to do with the Christian faith and our daily vocations (callings).  I’m sure he goes into this more in his other book on this topic, but here’s a nice summary from Center Church:

  1. Our faith changes our motivation for work.  For professionals and others who are prone to overwork and anxiety, the gospel prevents us from finding our significance and identity in money and success.  For working-class people who are prone to captivation to what Paul calls ‘eyeservice’ (Col. 3:22) …and drudgery, our faith directs us to ‘work with all our heart, as working for the Lord’ (Col. 3:23).
  2. Our faith changes our conception of work.  A robust theology of creation – and of God’s love and care for it – helps us see that even simple tasks such as making a shoe, filling a tooth, and digging a ditch are ways to serve God and build up human community….
  3. Our faith provides high ethics for Christians in the workplace.  Many things are technically legal but biblically immoral and unwise and therefore out of bounds for believers.  The ethical norms of the Christian life, grounded in the gospel of grace, should always lead believers to function with an extremely high level of integrity in their work.
  4. Our faith gives us the basis for reconceiving the very way in which our kind of work is done.  …In most vocational fields, believers encounter workplaces in which ruthless, competitive behavior is the norm. A  Christian worldview provides believers with ways to interpret the philosophies and practices that dominate their field and bring renewal and reform to them.

Timothy Keller, Center Church, p. 332.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“Preaching” by Timothy Keller: A Short Review

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism  In the introduction of his new book, Preaching, Timothy Keller gives the general theme of the book:

“As we preach, we are able to serve and love the truth of God’s Word and also to serve and love the people before us.  We serve the Word by preaching the text clearly and preaching the gospel every time.  We reach the people by preaching to the culture and to the heart” (p. 23).

Keller’s book is not a detailed manual of preaching or homiletics.  Instead, it is a short (240 smallish pages) explanation of the things Keller has learned about preaching over many years of pulpit ministry – grounded in Scripture and aimed at people’s hearts.   There are three main parts: 1) Serving the Word (pp. 27-90), 2) Reaching the People (pp. 93-187), and 3) Preaching and the Spirit (pp. 191-210).  There’s also a very short appendix on how to write a sermon.  I did enjoy this book, and do recommend it; however, I would say that this book is good but not great.  Let me explain:

1) Keller very clearly emphasized the need to preach Christ in every sermon and from every part of Scripture.  There’s no moralism here.  (As a side, I did have a few questions about how Keller got from a text to the gospel – sometimes his moves seemed bit far-fetched.)
2) The book gave some detail on preaching to actual people – people who have hearts, intellect, beliefs – the people listening to sermons.  Yes, preachers must preach God’s truth, but they always do so to real people!  Keller is good at helping preachers understand this.
3) The book is full of the wisdom of an experienced preacher.  Keller has not only been a preacher for a long time, but he’s been a student of preaching just as long.  I don’t have the time here to share all the excellent insights Keller gives about preaching God’s Word, but it does have many excellent themes and parts.

Some of the material in this book is also found in other books Keller has written.  For example, I’ve read “Center Church” and some of Keller’s work on apologetics and idolatry, and I could see clear overlap.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but about 60% of the material in Preaching is found in his other books (not verbatim, however).
2) I’m not convinced by Keller’s three levels of the ministry of the word: 3) preaching from the pulpit, 2) teaching (Sunday School, small groups, blogging, etc.) and 1) casual conversation.  He says this book is meant for levels 2 and 3, but I highly doubt that blogging and preaching are as close as Keller makes them – nor do I think this book has much to do with Christian blogging!
3) The subtitle of the book should be tweaked to say something like, “How to preach to urban skeptics.” I enjoyed many of the sections where Keller explained how to preach to skeptics, but it did seem to be the major emphasis of the book. Again, it’s a good discussion, but preachers also need help preaching to people (Christians and non-Christians) in suburbia or more rural settings.

In a word, this is a short book on how to preach Christ-centered sermons with a focus on presenting gospel truths to urban skeptics. However, even if you’re not a preacher in an urban/skeptical context, you’ll benefit from this book quite a bit. Although I do have a few minor critiques of the book, I do very much recommend it. Christian preachers can always use more lessons in presenting the gospel!

Timothy Keller, Preaching (Viking: New York, 2015).

shane lems