Archives For Tim Keller

“Christians must be like their neighbors in the food they eat and clothes they wear, their dialect, general appearance, work life, recreational and cultural activities, and civic engagement. They participate fully in life with their neighbors. Christians should also be like their neighbors with regard to excellence. That is, Christians should be very good at what others want to be good at. They should be skillful, diligent, resourceful, and disciplined. In short, Christians in a particular community should–at first glance–look reassuringly similar to the other people in the neighborhood. This opens up nonbelievers to any discussion of faith, because they recognize the believers as people who live in an understand their world. It also, eventually, gives them a glimpse of what they could look like if they became believers.”
– Tim Keller, Center Church

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How Christians Should Be Like Their Neighbors

idolatryIn 2007, Tim Keller penned an excellent (lesser known) article entitled “Talking about Idolatry in a Postmodern Age“. There has been a considerable amount of material published about idolatry, including articles, books, and sermons from various evangelical leaders. Perhaps none have been more helpful in helping to shed light on functional idolatry than Tim Keller.

In this little article, Keller draws from Martin Luther’s Treatise on Good Works to make an insightful relationship of the law to the gospel. Keller via Luther makes the case that by breaking any of commandments two through nine necessarily includes breaking the first commandment. In other words, the command “have no other gods before me” is violated when idolatry is functionally manifested in violating any of the other commands. Here’s the pertinent excerpt from Keller’s article where he explains this insight:

Luther - Real Idolatry

No one grasped this better than Martin Luther, who ties the Old Testament and New Testament together remarkably in his exposition of the Ten Commandments. Luther saw how the Old Testament law against idols and the New Testament emphasis on justification by faith alone are essentially the same. He said that the Ten Commandments begin with two commandments against idolatry. It is because the fundamental problem in law-breaking is always idolatry. In other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the law against idolatry. Luther understood that the first commandment is really all about justification by faith, and to fail to believe in justification by faith is idolatry, which is the root of all that displeases God.

All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, obedience, patience, and chastity of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing back of them… If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…. (Part X. XI) Excerpts from Martin Luther, Treatise Concerning Good Works (1520).

Here Luther says that failure to believe that God accepts us fully in Christ—and to look to something else for our salvation—is a failure to keep the first commandment; namely, having no other gods before him. To try to earn your own salvation through works-righteousness is breaking the first commandment. Then he says that we cannot truly keep any of the other laws unless we keep the first law—against idolatry and works-righteousness. Thus beneath any particular sin is this sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation.

For example, letʼs say a person cheats on his income tax form. Why does he do that? Well, you say, because he is a sinner. Yes, but why does his sin take this form? Lutherʼs answer would be that the man only cheated because he was making money and possessions—and the status or comfort from having more of them—more important than God and his favor. Or letʼs say a person lies to a friend rather than lose face over something she has done. In that case the underlying sin is making human approval or your reputation more important than the righteousness you have in Christ.

The Bible, then, does not consider idolatry to be one sin among many (and a rare sin found only among primitive people). Rather, all our failures to trust God wholly or to live rightly are at root idolatry—something we make more important than God. There is always a reason for a sin. Under our sins are idolatrous desires. (emphasis mine)

When I contemplated the relationship of justification by faith with functional idolatry, it helped me explore the ways I seek to find self-justification through violation of the law of God. As Keller noted, there is a reason why we lie. It is because we find greater comfort in believing falsehood rather than being exposed by the truth. When we are justified by faith in Christ alone, we are freed to be a people who love truth and are willing to live exposed to the truth of God’s Word (Heb. 4:12-13).

There is a reason why we steal. It is because we do not trust in God’s provision for our lives and value the stuff of others (going from I like to I want to I must have at all cost) to the point of making them our own.  When we are justified by faith in Christ alone, we are freed to be a people who no longer steal but work with our own hands to provide for others in need (Eph. 4:28). Where self-salvation led to depriving others of their belongings because of functional idolatry, the salvation Jesus brings leads to generosity for others because you value Jesus more than anything else in this world.

This kind of elaboration can extend throughout God’s law. I think Luther and Keller are right. When we break God’s law, functional idolatry has taken place. No only have we outwardly violated God’s revealed will, but inwardly (the sin beneath the sin) we manifest a life under our rule (instead of God’s) and justification for living for self-salvation and satisfaction. When we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we turn from idolatry in repentance and faith in ways that the gospel fuels obedience in every way idolatry fueled our disobedience.

Taking the counsel of Luther, we can discover specific ways to apply the gospel to our lives and grow in repentance and faith. When we cry, “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief!” God’s law shows us the various ways we are prone to functional idolatry and where can turn with fresh repentance and faith to all that God has given us in Christ.

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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.

Every believer, through the Holy Spirit, is to minister to others in these three ways as well.

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One of the most important theological emphases with the gospel-centered movement is the subject of heart idolatry (functional saviors, god-replacements). There are many places you can start if this is new to you, such as David Powlison’s article “Idols of the Heart and ‘Vanity Fair‘” or Tim Keller’s excellent book Counterfeit Gods. More and more pastors are applying the things taught by Dick Keyes and Dick Kauffman who were instrumental in the thinking of well-known practitioners like Keller, Fitzpatrick, Tchividjian, and Patrick.

As the subject has moved from theological articulation to pastoral application, I am encouraged to see it introduced to a whole new audience through the newly released spoken word below by my friend Jeff Bethke. This poem is hard-hitting and plainly stated and should rightly make us feel uncomfortable because the words of John Calvin are true – our heart is an idol factory. May we heed to final words and fatherly admonition of the Apostle John when he said, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Watch, consider, and share.

NOTE: All proceeds from the iTunes single goes toward Jeff’s new work in church planting.

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At the conclusion of my last post about the triperspectival framework, I mentioned the role of gospel “forms” in the diagram I created to explain gospel-centered spiritual formation. Before I jump into the perspectives individually, I want to explain what I mean by gospel forms and how those forms overlap to give greater gospel focus to spiritual disciplines through the triperspectival framework.

Tim Keller and Gospel “Forms”

One of the most significant articles Tim Keller has written on the gospel can be found at Christianity Today, entitled “The Gospel in All Its Forms“.  In this article, Keller borrows from Simon Gathercole’s chapter in God’s Power to Save to explain the various “forms” of the gospel. Contrary to liberal theologians, Keller says there is not multiple gospels, but one gospel expressed in different forms.

For instance, when Jesus speaks of the gospel in the Synoptic Gospels, kingdom language is employed (“gospel of the kingdom”). In this case, the gospel speaks to the inauguration of Christ’s reign as King, and the focus is more communal and social.  When the Apostle John writes about the Gospel, there is no mention of kingdom language but rather “receiving eternal life,” and the focus is more individual and personal. When you get the writings of Paul, you hear little emphasis on “kingdom” or “eternal life” but instead the focus is on “justification by faith“. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul are all talking about one message, but that message is expressed in different forms. Through an analysis of these forms, what you find is that the gospel can be expressed as story-arc focused (creation, fall, redemption, restoration) as well as content-driven (God, man, sin, Christ). Not to be left out, Keller stresses the eschatological implications of the gospel with the in breaking of God’s kingdom and renewal of all things.

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Gospel-Shaped Humor

Tim Brister —  April 19, 2012 — 4 Comments

I found the excerpt below from Keller Quotes to be incredibly insightful. Not to be overly generic, but I think our culture has bought into a lot of humor, whether knowingly or unknowingly, that militates against the gospel and elevates self-righteousness, pride, and personal insecurity. Most of the men my age or younger than me (I’m 33) seem to have their personality and interpersonal communication profoundly shaped by sarcasm and insincerity. I know I am vulnerable to the charge of being self-righteous in making that assertion(!), but my overarching concern is the absence of genuine sincerity and need of generosity in affections for one another. We need the gospel to be applied to our humor and sarcasm, and once again, Keller nails it.

Below is the complete except from Keller Quotes. I don’t know what the original source is, but the quote is long enough to understand his point in immediate context. Check it out.

“Your humor has a lot to do with how you regard yourself. Many people use humor to put down others, keep themselves in the driver’s seat in a conversation and setting, and to remind the hearers of their superior vantage point. They use humor not to defuse tension and put people at ease, but to deliberately belittle the opposing view. Rather than showing respect and doing the hard work of true disagreement, they mock others’ points of view and dismiss them without actually engaging the argument.

Ultimately, sarcastic put-down humor is self-righteous, a form of self-justification, and that is what the gospel demolishes. When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by infinitely costly grace it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. This is also true of self-directed ridicule. There are some people who constantly, bitterly, mock themselves. At first it looks like a form of humility, or realism, but really it is just as self-absorbed as the other version. It is a sign of an inner disease with one’s self, a profound spiritual restlessness.
There is another kind of self-righteousness, however, that produces a person with little or no sense of humor. Moralistic persons often have no sense of irony because they take themselves too seriously, or because they are too self-conscious and self-absorbed in their own struggles to be habitually joyful.

The gospel, however, creates a gentle sense of irony. Our doctrine of sin keeps us from being over-awed by anyone (especially ourselves) or shocked, shocked by any behavior. We find a lot to laugh at, starting with our own weaknesses. They don’t threaten us any more because our ultimate worth is not based on our record or performance. Our doctrine of grace and redemption also keeps us from seeing any situation as hopeless. This groundnote of joy and peace makes humor spontaneous and natural.

In gospel-shaped humor we don’t only poke fun at ourselves, we also can gently poke fun at others, especially our friends. But it is always humor that takes the other seriously and ultimately builds them up as a show of affection. ‘We are not to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.’ (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)

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Yesterday I preached a message entitled “A Celebration of Grace”.  It was the conclusion of a 4-part series on grace from passages in the Gospel according to Luke.  My final text was a very familiar text to Christians, commonly called the “parable of the prodigal son.”  Two particular readings affected me greatly this past week.  One was reading Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God.  I highly recommend it.  The other reading was a sermon by Charles Spurgeon called “Prodigal Love for a Prodigal Son” or “Many Kisses for Returning Sinners.”

Spurgeon’s sermon focuses on the father’s love for his prodigal son as communicated in his multiple kisses upon his son’s face.  At several points in his sermon I was wrecked by God’s love and pursuing grace, but one that I found particularly illustrative and encouraging was the portion below.  I referenced this portion in my message yesterday and thought it would be fitting to post it here as well.  Be encouraged in the kisses of the father for your past, for your present, and for your future!

Spurgeon:

This poor young man, in his hungry, faint, and wretched state, having come a very long way, had not much heart in him. His hunger had taken all energy out of him, and he was so conscious of his guilt that he had hardly the courage to face his father; so his father gives him a kiss, as much as to say, “Come, boy, do not be cast down; I love you.”

Oh, the past, the past, my father!” he might moan, as he thought of his wasted years; but he had no sooner said that than he received another kiss, as if his father said, “Never mind the past; I have forgotten all about that.” This is the Lord’s way with His saved ones. Their past lies hidden under the blood of atonement. The Lord saith by His servant Jeremiah, “The iniquity if Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.”

But then, perhaps, the young man looked down on his foul garments, and said, “The present, my father, the present, what a dreadful state I am in!” And with another kiss would come the answer, “Never mind the present, my boy. I am content to have you as you are. I love you.” This, too, is God’s word to those who are “accepted in the Beloved.” In spite of all their vileness, they are pure and spotless in Christ, and God says of each one of them, “Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honourable, and I have loved you. Therefore, though in yourself you are unworthy, through My dear Son you are welcome to My home.”

“Oh, but,” the boy might have said, “the future, my father, the future! What would you think if I should ever go astray again?” Then would come another holy kiss, and his father would say, “I will see to the future, my boy; I will make home so bright for you that you will never want to go away again.” But God does more than that for us when we return to Him. He not only surrounds us with tokens of His love, but He says concerning us, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” Furthermore, He says to each returning one, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.”

Whatever there was to trouble the son, the father gave him a kiss to set it all right; and, in like manner, our God has a love-token for every time of doubt and dismay which may come to His reconciled sons. Perhaps one whom I am addressing says, “Even though I confess my sin, and seek God’s mercy, I shall still be in sore trouble, for through my sin, I have brought myself down to poverty.” “There is a kiss for you,” says the Lord: “Your bread shall be given to you, and your water shall be sure.” “But I have even brought disease upon myself by sin,” says another. “There is a kiss for you, for I am Jehovah-Rophi, the Lord that heals you, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.” “But I am dreadfully down at the heel,” says another. The Lord gives you also a kiss, and says, “I will lift you up, and provide for all your needs. No good thing will I withhold from them that walk uprightly.” All the promises in this Book belong to every repentant sinner, who returns to God believing in Jesus Christ, His Son.

The father of the prodigal kissed his son much, and thus made him feel happy there and then. Poor souls, when they come to Christ, are in a dreadful plight, and some of them hardly know where they are I have known them talk a lot of nonsense in their despair, and say hard and wicked things of God in their dreadful doubt. The Lord gives no answer to all that, except a kiss, and then another kiss. Nothings puts the penitent so much at rest as the Lord’s repeated assurance of His unchanging love. Such a one the Lord has often received, “and kissed him much,” that He might fetch him up even from the horrible pit, and set his feet upon a rock, and establish his goings.

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One of the biggest tensions regarding philosophy of gathered services is the issue of breadth and depth, or who should be the priority and focus of the ministry.  Obviously, everything we do should be first and foremost with a focus and passion for the honor and glory of God.   But the question we are usually asking is this: “Should our gathered services be evangelistic, focusing on unbelievers, or edifying, focusing on believers?”

Yesterday, Tim Keller answered the question by referencing Martyn Lloyd’Jones by saying “both.”  Keller concludes:

The lesson I eventually learned from him was—don’t preach to your congregation for spiritual growth thinking everyone there is a Christian—and don’t preach the gospel evangelistically thinking that Christians cannot grow from it. In other words—evangelize as you edify, and edify as you evangelize.

I agree with MLJ and Keller completely.

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Disagreeing Well

Tim Brister —  July 12, 2011 — 1 Comment

Tim Keller, Michael Horton, and Matt Chandler discuss how to be winsome and faithful while in disagreement with another person.  Watching this video reminds me of a great article Roger Nicole wrote for Founders Journal.  It’s a must read.

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Covenant Marriage

Tim Brister —  June 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

John Piper, Tim Keller, and D.A. Carson share their thoughts on the importance of understanding covenant and promise (biblical theology) in marriage.  Good stuff.

[vimeo 24636925]
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