Keller Project: “I was not raised to do such a thing!”

August 18, 2009

Here’s a dark side of why it’s important to make the truth real.

So what happens when you’re just heard to preach simple moralism: ‘Be a good husband, love your children, pay your taxes, be generous, help the poor’? First (most obvious), the non-believer doesn’t hear the gospel of grace; second, those who respond and heed the preacher’s words may appear  more honest, generous and kind; but they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. What do I mean?

There is a distinction Keller makes (citing Jonathan Edwards) between Common Virtue and True Virtue. Common Virtue, Edwards believes is one way God restrains evil in the world. God uses our sinful motivations to live moral lives as a way of restraining evil itself.

Keller asks:

But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always-it is out of fear or pride. So in Common Virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious form of judo on yourself (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him). You have ‘jury-rigged’ your heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest.

But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and so you will not do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, ‘I was not raised to do such a thing!’ But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.

You see this all the time, when otherwise decent people are suddenly exposed in a scandal, shocking even by their own standards.


Keller Project: “Preacher, I know what you’re saying. Big deal.”

August 17, 2009

Keller believes that the task of the preacher is driven by the goal of preaching. Keller is *really* into Jonathan Edwards, who says the task of preaching is not simply to make the truth known, but to make the truth real. Just as you can describe to someone how honey is sweet, but unless they taste the honey, the truth will never be real to them. Now for preaching, this is an interesting distinction. I typically approach the task of preaching trying to make the truth known as clearly as possible, but I leave it to the God the Spirit as to whether or not it will become real for a person. Now of course this is completely out of our control. But there’s a difference between what is essentially out of the preacher’s control and what the scope of the preacher’s task is as a co-worker with God.

If I genuinely believe that God the Spirit superintends the whole process (the preacher’s preparation, the sermon and the hearer’s reception etc..), why then do I privilege my task of delivering a clear exposition of the word, yet renounce my task of making that truth real (ie providing a sense of that truth on the heart)? Maybe its just me.

What my typical approach suggests is the Holy Spirit works mysteriously, unpredictably and ‘magically’ in applying truth to the heart, but works unmysteriously, normally and scientifically through my preparation and proclamation of a text of scripture. Why is there this kind of distinction?

Keller Project: “Preacher, you’re not telling me how” [part 2]

August 14, 2009

see part I here.

While I tend to think the self-help style preachers need to learn the necessity of  gospel foundations when attempting to address particular changes of behavior or sin, perhaps we in Sydney need to become more sensitive to the particulars. It’s certainly an understatement to say that there’s a diversity of changed behavior the gospel inspires and there are a heap of particular sins the gospel defeats. So then when someone says ‘I know Jesus died for me, but you’re not telling me how to live a Godly life at work, family marriage.’  I’m not sure that the preacher’s response should be simply to plough on preaching the way they have, nor  re-focus the sermon to be  self-help. A more careful approach would be to work at regularly providing different samples,  hinting at the extent of gospel transformation – revealing the particulars, triggering the imagination, showing that a resurrection hope has traction in a every setting.

So it’s not:  now how to be more Godly

Nor is it:  here’s the cross, here’s the resurrection, don’t you get it!? Now live it.

A more loving approach is:  here’s the cross, here’s the resurrection, it’s defeated this, which changes everything – including this, this and this…

Keller Project: “Preacher, you’re not telling me how…” [part 1]

August 13, 2009

This again from my work on Keller: Dutch Reformed theologian G.C Berkouwer says:”it’s a mistake to ask ‘we know we have imputed righteousness, but now how do we move on to actual righteousness?'”

Keller adds:

we do not ‘move on’. Any particular flaw in our actual righteousness stems from a corresponding failure to orient ourselves toward our imputed righteousness. Sanctification happens to the degree that we ‘feed on’ or ‘orient ourselves’ or ‘have commerce with’ the pardon, righteousness, and new status we now have in Christ imputed through faith.

As far as I can tell, in the churches I’ve attended this question is rarely asked in Berkouwer’s words. Yet you do hear something slightly similar. ‘I know Jesus died for me, but you’re not telling me how to live a Godly life at [work, family, marriage …]’.

Now of course it is always important to appreciate the context where a particular expression of a doctrine/teaching originates. Keller is instructing US evangelical preachers, many of whom may have a reputation for ‘self-help’ style sermons, and plenty of application not flowing from the gospel of Jesus Christ. They’re rarely accused of not doing application, but of not doing Christ-centered application.

In Sydney circles, our sermons are not typically self-help in style and when the application elements of our sermons are noticeable, they’re usually criticized for being superficial, repetitive or minimal. We’re often accused of being Christ-centered with no application. (I say ‘noticeable’ because what is appreciated as application by a congregation, may be different to what is application.)

Yet if Berkouwer and Keller are right and there’s a problem with asking the ‘moving on’ question, does that mean we’re generally doing the right thing having minimal noticeable or useful application in our sermons? And should we even eliminate this noticeable application altogether?

Should we (continue to?) avoid ‘how to’s in our sermons? [ tomorrow … part 2]

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

August 10, 2009

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.