Tim Keller tackles the issue of executing authentic sermon application by asking two related questions: the positive, how do people change? the negative, what causes people to sin? The answer to both, Keller says, is articulated in the reformed doctrine of sanctification by faith. First, real change (towards ‘actual’ righteousness) is a result of feeding on (faith in) imputed righteousness; second, individual sins are individual acts of forgetting what God has done for us in Christ and feeding on something else (an idol).
My father in-law, Barry Newman, has just set up a blog here. Well worth a visit. He’s spent a number of years looking at the scriptural and historical foundations for the practice of baptism and the Lord’s supper. He’ll be spending the next few months blogging about this. Should be interesting.
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.
Ok. So there’s been a delay in posts. Welcome to version 2.0 of this blog.
For those of you who have been praying for me and my family. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I’m going full steam ahead into my project on preaching. My plan is a little odd. I’m examining a contemporary preacher: Timothy Keller. There’s always a risk that I spend 15,000 words discussing a preacher whose style and methodology is just a passing fad. It’s also risky since contemporary preachers are always developing their thought and practice. You can’t box them.
Nevertheless, I have chosen to critique (in the true sense of the word!) the preaching of Tim Keller. My work will be based largely on his very popular course at RTS (available on iTunes). Yet even listening to the course (given in 2001) and his recent lectures on preaching, I’ve noticed his thinking has changed somewhat.
Why look at Tim Keller?
In Sydney there’s certainly been a buzz about Keller for a few of years now, there’s a growing contingent of Keller fan clubs on Facebook etc…Sydney evangelicals are growing in their appreciation (and admiration) of many parts of his ministry. Yet as the subject for my project, I chose Tim Keller for a few of reasons:
1. He is being listened to. He has an increasing global audience, not just among evangelicals. His popular book Reason For God reached the top 20 on NY Times best-sellers. His teaching on church growth is shaping the way many structure their churches here in Sydney.
2. His teaching on preaching is a great example of practical theology. It is not purely foundational, he doesn’t deal only with what the theology of preaching is with no practical ‘tips’ or examples of what it looks like in practice, nor is it purely pragmatic, where it’s a list of tips on how to write a good sermon with no real theological justification.
3. He has deliberatly recast his approach to preaching to reflect the transition between modern and post-modern worldviews. One factor I need to consider is that Sydney is still a more secular city with less religious baggage than NYC. Yet the people of NYC, I’m told, are more post modern (I won’t get into the whole modern vs post-modern thing just yet!). Outside the emerging church movement, there aren’t many Reformed types who deliberately (and affectionately) engage with the changes in preaching methodology which need to be made. Despite the differences between our two cities, if these trends of NYC typically spread and dominate western culture, including Sydney (a big ‘if’), Keller’s work of recasting will be of great value to us.
Our youngest daughter just got baptised on Sunday. She’s 18 months. Everything went great. There were no dramas.
But I am interested to hear from those who support the practice of infant baptism, at what point does infant baptism become adult baptism? Our daughter surprised us with her advanced communication skills (far quicker than her brother). At 18 months she can clearly and audibly say ‘No, I really don’t want to!’ (she says it a lot). My question is, if she said that during the baptism (which she didn’t, but it was a very real possibility), what do you do? Pack-up and sit down? Tell her to quieten down and do what she’s told? Is 18 months too late to do an infant baptism? The whole Baptism thing gets pretty weird when you dissect it like this, doesn’t it?
(See previous post here)
3. The World as one big bad guy
Since when did I have conversations with a guy called ‘Society’ or a man called ‘The World’. I’ve never met either of them. Yet I wait in earnest, because they apparently talk to everyone else.
“The world will tell you ‘to look after number one'”
“Society doesn’t like talking about religion”
Perhaps you could accuse John of doing something similar In 1 John 2.15-17; 4.4-6. Here John makes the important distinction between the evil desires in the world and the desires of the people of God. The latter are being transformed by God. The former by the collective desires of the people in the world. If we’re making that point in our sermons, fine. But (sadly) in our sermons we rarely make that point. Instead we over-use John’s ‘World’ personification as a non-confrontational, short-cut device, which replaces investigating, discerning and articulating the actual voices vying for the hearts of the listeners.