Recently my family of 8 packed into our mini-van for an early Spring vacation. When I say “packed in” you may be thinking in terms of seats (i.e. a Honda Odessy only has 8 seats, therefore, we were packed in). This is not what I mean. We were packed in. The trunk was filled to the top, the floor had shoes, books, bags, and blankets. The front seat was full of distractions for the little kids as well as entertainment for adults and big kids. We were packed in. But then when we got closer to our destination (10 hours away from home), we went to Costco to buy food for the week. In this we were now officially fully packed in. Kids balanced cartons of eggs, coffee, vegetables, and milk while we finished our course.
The vacation ended and my normal duties resumed last week. I prepared a sermon and then delivered it on Sunday. After I was finished I was reflecting upon it and critiquing various elements of it and I was drawn back to our road-trip.
The book is small enough to read over your lunch hour but will need to be digested over a lifetime. Keller walks uses 1 Corinthians as lenses to understanding how the gospel had gripped and transformed the Apostle Paul. The result: gospel humility. Or, in other words: self-forgetfulness.
The book is more like a sermon that gets after you. With probing application that pulls the gospel-train into town, Keller helps show pride and chase it away with gospel.
Christians are always working hard to faithfully communicate the gospel to the people around them. In a diverse community there are diverse people with diverse backgrounds. If you are like me then you have scratched your head mid conversation as you have wondered how to speak gospel truth to them in a way that compellingly and winsomely intersects with their worldview and value system.
In his book Center Church Tim Keller provides some “atonement grammars” or languages by which the work of Christ on the cross can be presented. I find them to be helpful for me in my own effort to be clear with the gospel and pass them on to you for the same purpose.
The language of the battlefield. Christ fought against the powers of sin and death for us. He defeated the powers of evil for us.
The language of the marketplace. Christ paid the ransom price, the purchase price, to buy us out of our indebtedness. He frees us from enslavement.
The language of exile. Christ was exiled and cast out of the community so we who deserve to be banished could be brought in. He brings us home.
The language of the temple. Christ is the sacrifice that purifies us and makes us acceptable to draw near to the holy God. He makes us clean and beautiful.
The language of the law court. Christ stands before the judge and takes the punishment we deserve. He removes our guilt and makes us righteous.
I am currently reading through Tim Keller’s masterful new book entitled Center Church. In so many ways it is a textbook for church leaders. Keller has spent many hours at the whiteboard planning and evaluating ministry. We are the beneficiaries of his prayerful and faithful ministry for these many decades.
He draws one particularly helpful contrast early on. He writes of how some church leaders simply evaluate their ministries by their faithfulness. Without discounting the priority of faithfulness he cautions that ministers might feel too much security to question ministries that are bearing little fruit.
The common good requires some laws that limit personal freedom. This conversation between Tim Keller, Al Mohler, & Collin Hansen is very helpful.
I had an interesting experience last week while studying for a sermon. It was like hearing a thought handed down from generation to generation. By God’s grace I found myself, at each turn, more sucked into the center of the biblical vortex.
On the first level I heard Tim Keller in a sermon make a profound point about justification. In the midst of it he referenced another teacher who articulated this same thing. A day or so later I was reading a sermon by Jonathan Edwards and he said the exact same thing with a bit more Edswardian symmetry and accent. Finally, I was reading a reference passage in Titus and found the same point made with clarity and power by the Apostle Paul.
Some years ago the show When Animals Attack enjoyed some popularity. Our intrigue over the title was surpassed by an admittedly morbid fascination with otherwise “peaceful” animals like deer turning into a forest brawler, pummeling their human “opponents.” In many of the cases there was something that set-off the animal causing them to react. However, there were other times when the animal was just flat out surly; they wanted to scrap.
The image of a deer on his hind legs throwing punches like Riddick Bowe reminds me of heart idolatry. Idolatry is simply anything that sits in God’s chair; specifically anything that you value, serve or build your life upon that is not God. Like the quiet, peaceful deer, our hearts seem quietly peaceful and safe. But when the idols of our heart are poked, prodded, questioned or threatened then they attack.
Awhile back I heard a talk by Tim Keller on preaching. As is often the case, Keller’s thoughts multiply in my mind faster than a rabbit farm. In this instance he was talking about sermon application. I may not have the quotes or points just right, but the gist of it is here.
Sermon application will often focus on either the doctrinal, the pietistic, or the service of others (declaring and/or demonstrating the gospel by loving our neighbors).
Keller’s point was that preachers often have their own leanings to one of these three. As a result their sermon application will tend to accent a particular category. Over the long-haul this begins to lead a congregation to over pronate to one side at the exclusion of the others (not that any of these three are bad, they are just not complete).
The answer is to be aware of our blind spots and to work regularly and faithfully to apply the text. Some of the best sermons will include all three components.
I know where my leanings tend to be. I also know that I can get aggravated when other preachers may not emphasize my particular hobby-horse while riding their own. Keller’s call for thoughtful faithfulness is really a call for balance. Which is another way of saying ‘biblical’.
The more that I try to live the Christian life the more I am confronted with my need for Christ. I am graciously shown the person and work of Christ and this thrills my soul. As a result I want to remove idols that undermine my satisfied delight in Christ.
In recent years we have been helped to this end by various teachers pointing out ‘functional saviors’. For example, Jerry Bridges defines functional saviors in the following way:
Sometimes we look to other things to satisfy and fulfill us—to ‘save’ us. These ‘functional saviors’ can be any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They become the source of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts. They preoccupy our minds and consume our time and resources. They make us feel good and somehow even make us feel righteous. Whether we realize it or not, they control us, and we worship them. (Bridges & Bevington, The Bookends of the Christian Life), p. 72
Likewise Tim Keller has done a terrific job in his recent book Counterfeit Gods identifying and dismantling these idols. One thing that I like about Keller is that he shows that these idols oftentimes are not bad things but rather good things that we have sinfully made ultimate things.
Amid the continued chatter and debate about ‘hell’ and God’s ‘judgment’, I found Tim Keller’s thoughts insightful. The only variant here is that Keller is talking about how he approaches skeptics who stumble over a literal hell and a God of wrath. It’s a shame that more who say they are Christian and even teach at ‘Bible’ Churches look so very much like a skeptic. They should take Keller’s advice and ‘look to the Bible.’
Keller is right, to say that in the Bible we see that ‘The God of love is also a God of judgment who will put all things in the world to rights in the end.’ Without this judging God, Bell’s (and others’) view of restoration is Pollyanna at best. It’s a Potemkin Village of restoration; nobody is home and nobody is better.
It’s tragic to consider what that skeptics outside or guys like Rob Bell ‘inside’ do; in the name of acceptance they make such judgments upon the word of God and the God of the word.
Today many of the skeptics I talk to say, as I once did, they can’t believe in the God of the Bible, who punishes and judges people, because they “believe in a God of Love.” I now ask, what makes them think God is Love? Can they look at life in the world today and say, “This proves that the God of the world is a God of love”? Can they look at history and say, “This all shows that the God of history is …