Keller Project: Tim Keller’s preaching. How does it work?

I reckon there are three things which shape Tim Keller’s (TJK’s)preaching: Missiology, Perspectivalism and his aim of Worshipping Christ on the spot. These are the three areas I’m delving into at the moment. [Disclaimer: not all posts will be this long].

1. Missiology (the premise for preaching): TJK changed his own preaching significantly due to the secularization of NYC. During his ministry, he describes the people of NYC becoming increasingly post-modern. The question for me is to what extent is the praxis of preaching determined by the audience (or desired audience). I’m tackling the tension that exists with preaching between the unchanging gospel and the dynamics of human society. I’ll dip into the whole issue of pragmatics. How does preaching that works relate to preaching that is faithful?

2. Perspectivalism (the structure of preaching): TJK trained under Westminster theologian John Frame. Frame in his book Doctrine of the Knowledge of God outlines a Christian approach to epistemology which he calls perspectivalism. For Frame’s own brief introduction to perspectivalism click here. Essentially it is the view that all human knowledge consists of three perspectives: the normative, the situational and the existential. The normative is the fixed external criteria of knowledge (God’s law), the situational is how that criteria relates to the world (the context), the existential aspect is how that criteria, occurring in a context, changes the individual. The beginning of Calvin’s institutes deals with something similar, you can’t know God without knowing yourself, you can’t know yourself without knowing God. Frame believes that many of the debates concerning ethics, Church structures, apologetic methods are often debates between people who exclusively hold to one perspective. For example, in ethics the deontologist is committed to the normative aspect of ethics (what God decrees), the consequentialist is committed to the situational (how it effects the world), the virtue ethicist is committed to the existential (how it shapes/reflects their character). Perspectivalism attempts to show how all three perspective are necessary for created beings to live properly in God’s world. TJK adopts Frame’s perspectivalism and applies it to preaching. Not only is the preacher to preach Christ from a passage of scripture (normative), the preacher must also preach Christ addressing the contemporary audience and their context (situational), finally the preacher must also be transformed themselves and seek to change the affections of his audience (existential). TJK believes that if any one of the three perspectives is over-emphasised or neglected, the preaching is a distortion.

3. Worshipping Christ on the spot (the goal of preaching): TJK sees the goal of every sermon is to bring people to worship Christ on the spot (ie at Church in the pew as they are hearing the preached word of God). This means he wants people to delight in the glory of Christ and his gospel afresh every week. TJK is committed to the Reformed Doctrine of sanctification by faith, yet he believes most preachers who hold to this doctrine, don’t reflect it in their preaching. The sub-text is now you are justified by faith, sanctify yourself by your hard work. If the aim of preaching is to produce genuinely changed people as a result of the gospel, and if true change (sanctification) only comes by faith in Jesus Christ, how does moral exhortation fit into preaching? I’m fascinated by the difference between TJK’s approach and his younger friend Mark Driscoll, who seems to have no problem strongly exhorting men to move out of home, get a job and get married. TJK (whose personality is very different!) has a different strategy. He typically wants to present living in line with the gospel an attractive thing. His exhortations are more in the style of ‘why would you not want to move out of home? etc….’. TJK is aware that many non-Christians have actually rejected a pharisaical Christianity (characterized by rules and regulations). TJK preaches to the Christians as if non-Christians are present, as result his sermons could rarely be misinterpreted as preaching moralism. He believes that now, more than ever, the gospel needs to be clearly presented as a third way. It is not religion, nor is it irreligion. This is why he is so committed to reflecting the doctrine of sanctification by faith in his preaching. He wants changed people. Changed people as a result of faith in Jesus Christ, not guilt, fear or pride.

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3 Responses to Keller Project: Tim Keller’s preaching. How does it work?

  1. Patrick says:

    Luke, thanks for the good post.

    I’m curious, can you point to any resources where Keller speaks of the perspectivalism in his preaching or life in general? I’m recently delving into the subject of perspectivalism and would like to hear Keller’s read on it.

    Thanks.

    • Luke says:

      @Patrick

      If you have access to either the iTunes preaching course (search Tim Keller in iTunes store) or the Oak Hill lectures the first of the Oak Hill Lectures, Keller explains how perspectivalism relates to preaching.
      Throughout the iTunes course Keller addresses each section in variations on the normative, situational and existential perspectives. It’s still confusing to me, but helpful too!

  2. Patrick says:

    @Luke

    Thanks for the response!

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