Tim Keller’s – Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism

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A “Must Have” Handbook for the Modern Preacher

Book Review by Dr. David P. Craig

Tim Keller is as Bostonians say “Wicked Smart.” He has also demonstrated humility, wisdom, and faithfulness through much suffering and success in planting one of the most successful and model ministries for City Churches of the world – Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, New York. He has also blessed Christians around the world with wonderful Christ centered and gospel centered resources.

I have read this book twice – in English and Spanish, I am also taking several bi-vocational pastors and elders in my church through this book. In my opinion it is the first go-to handbook for preachers in the 21st Century. Why? Let me give five reasons:

(1) Tim Keller practices what he preaches (a) Tim Keller preaches the Word – he has been preaching for over 45 years in both a semi-rural context and a large city context and knows how to preach to “blue-collar” and “white-collar” congregations; (b) He always preaches the gospel in every sermon; (c) He always preaches Christ whether he’s preaching from the Old or New Testaments; (d) He preaches culturally relevant messages without compromising biblical truth; (e) He preaches so as to help you love Christ with your mind; (f) He preaches so as to stir the soul/heart, which leads to real life change and Christ-like transformation; (g) He preaches with the unction or power of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Tim Keller gives examples, illustrations, principles, and theological reasons for why and how to do all of what he models in his own preaching (see #1 above).

(3) The extensive footnotes are worth gold. Make sure you don’t only read the book – read the footnotes! About 30% of the material in this book is in the notes. There is great stuff in the notes – you will feel like you are sitting with Tim over coffee with what he shares in the notes!

(4) Much of what Tim writes about you will not get in Bible college or Seminary. I didn’t get 80% of what he writes about in Bible college or seminary – I did get about 50% of what he talks about with a month sabbatical I spent taking preaching courses at Westminster Seminary. However, if you didn’t attend a seminary that is reformed you most likely missed how to get to Christ from all of the Scriptures.

(5) The last chapter of the book is also extremely helpful – he gives ample example, principles, and illustrations to help you write and preach an expository sermon.

Tim Keller knows what he’s talking about – when he’s pretty much talking about anything. However, what Keller is best at is preaching. You have the opportunity in reading and studying this book to learn from one of the best preacher’s of our time. 

Preacher: Who Are You Speaking To Every Week?

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People Pastors Are Preaching To Week in and Week Out – *Tim Keller

In Tim Keller’s outstanding book on preaching: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism he has a wonderful section in the footnotes that perhaps a lot of people miss when they read his book (30% of the book is in the footnotes). Here are the different kinds of people you may be speaking to. Does the text you are preaching speak to any of them?

  • Conscious unbeliever: Is aware he is not a Christian.
  • Immoral pagan: Is living a blatantly immoral/illegal lifestyle.
  • Intellectual pagan: Claims the faith is untenable or unreasonable.
  • Imitative pagan: Is fashionably skeptical, but not profound.
  • Genuine Thinker: Has serious well-conceived objections.
  • Religious non-Christian: Belongs to an organized religion, cult, or denomination with seriously mistaken doctrine.
  • Non-churched nominal Christian: Has belief in basic Christian doctrines, but with no or remote church connection.
  • Churched nominal Christian: Participates in church but is not regenerated.
  • Semi-active moralist: Is respectably moral but his religion is without assurance and is all a matter of duty.
  • Active self-righteous: Is very committed and involved in the church, with assurance of salvation based on good works.
  • Awakened: Is stirred and convicted over his sin but without gospel peace yet.
  • Curious: Is stirred up mainly in an intellectual way, full of questions and diligent in study.
  • Convicted with false peace: Without understanding the gospel, has been told that by walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or doing something he is now right with God.
  • Comfortless: Is extremely aware of sins but not accepting or understanding of the gospel of grace.
  • Apostate: Was once active in the church but has repudiated the faith without regrets.
  • New Believer: Is recently converted.
  • Doubtful: Has many fears and hesitancies about his new faith.
  • Eager: Is beginning with joy and confidence and a zeal to learn and serve.
  • Overzealous: Has become somewhat proud and judgmental of others and is overconfident of his own abilities.
  • Mature/growing: Passes through nearly all of the basic conditions named below but progresses through them because he responds quickly to pastoral treatment or knows how to treat himself.
  • Afflicted: Lives under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength (Generally we call a person afflicted who has not brought the trouble on himself).
  • Physically or Emotionally afflicted: Is experiencing bodily decay: (a) the sick; (b) the elderly; (c) the disabled; (d) Dying; (e) Bereaved: Has lost a loved one or experienced some other major loss (e.g., a home through a fire); (f) Lonely; (g) Persecuted/abused; (h) Poor/economic troubles; (i) Desertion: Is spiritually dry through the action of God, who removes a sense of his nearness despite the use of the means of grace
  • Tempted: Is struggling with a sin or sins that are remaining attractive and strong.
  • Overtaken: Is tempted largely in the realm of the thoughts and desires.
  • Taken Over: Has had a sin become addictive behavior.
  • Immature: Is a spiritual baby who should be growing but is not.
  • Undisciplined: Is lazy in using the means of grace and gifts for ministry.
  • Self-satisfied: Has had pride choke his growth, is complacent, and has perhaps become cynical and scornful of many other Christians.
  • Unbalanced: Has had either the intellectual, the emotional, or the volitional aspect of his faith become overemphasized.
  • Devotee of eccentric doctrine: Has become absorbed in a distorted teaching that hinders spiritual growth.
  • Depressed: Is not only experiencing negative feelings but also shirking Christian duties and being disobedient. If a person is a new believer, or tempted or afflicted or immature, and does not get proper treatment, he will become spiritually depressed. Besides these conditions, the following problems can lead to depression: (a) Anxious: Is depressed through worry or fear handled improperly; (b) Weary: Has become listless and dry through overwork; (c) Angry: is depressed through bitterness or uncontrolled anger handled improperly; (d) Introspective: dwells on failures and feelings and lacks assurance; (e) Guilty: Has a wounded conscience and has not reached repentance.
  • Backslid: Has gone beyond depression to a withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church.
  • Tender: Is still easily convicted of his sins and susceptible to calls for repentance.
  • Hardening: Has become cynical, scornful, and difficult to convict.

*Excerpt adapted from Note #20 in Chapter 6: “Preaching Christ To The Heart” in Tim Keller’s wonderful and Highly Recommended Book: Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.

Wisdom On Bible Study from Dr. Timothy Keller

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Excellent Bible Study Help: Tim Keller said these are five questions he asks of a biblical text as he reads it for himself:

(1) How can I praise him?

(2) How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text?

(3) If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems are you facing?

(4) What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text?

(5) Why is God telling me this today?

Book Review on Tim Keller’s and Sam A Sam Allberry’s. Explore By The Book: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, and James.

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A Devotional That Helps You Think About and Apply God’s Word

Book Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

There are several great features in this devotional. (1) It feels like you are sitting down with   the authors and having a Bible study with them in an intimate setting (Sam Allberry writes the sections on John 14-17 and James; and Tim Keller writes the section that takes you through the book of Romans). (2) Each author walks you through verse by verse exposition and interjects thought provoking questions related to interpretation and application. (3) The devotional aspect of the study relates to guidance in ways to think, pray, and act on the basis of what the passage for the day articulated.

Allberry and Keller ask great questions and draw excellent practical implications from each daily devotional. It is recommended by the author’s that you take notes and record the following for all 90 studies: (1) Record the highlight of the passage – the truth about God that most struck you; (2) Record the questions you have about what you have read and your best attempts at answering them; (3) Record the way/s you want to change on the basis of how the Holy Spirit is prompting you to change your attitudes and actions on regard to what you have read from Scripture; (4) After you have finished the study, record one sentence summing up how God has spoken to you through His Word; and lastly (5) Pray a short prayer in response to what you have been instructed to believe and do.

I highly recommend this devotional – especially for new Bible students. It will guide you into becoming a “doer of the Word” as James 1:22 instructs.

Why The Gospel is The Key To Bringing Real Change to Your Life

THE GOSPEL: KEY TO CHANGE

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By Tim Keller

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel. And it is good news in three important ways.

1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4-10);

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21);

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul justus et pecator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this: 1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay, 3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and 4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.

The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

Conclusion

All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent on one another.

If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

Practical Wisdom On Reading The Bible in 2015

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Tim Keller on Christ Centered Exposition of the Scriptures

Moralism vs. Christ-Centered Exposition 

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We have said that you must preach the gospel every week–to edify and grow Christians and to convert non-Christians. But if that is the case, you cannot simply ‘instruct in Biblical principles.’ You have to ‘get to Jesus’ every week.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel–Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just a “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on – to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”.) Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable-even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

A BASIC OUTLINE FOR CHRIST-CENTERED, GOSPEL-MOTIVATED SERMONS
The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.
“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be.”

The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.
“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”

The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.
“But there’s One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the—. He has done this for us, in our place.”

The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.
“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”

a) In every text of the Scripture there is somehow a moral principle. It may grow out of because of what it shows us about the character of God or Christ, or out of either the good or bad example of characters in the text, or because of explicit commands, promises, and warnings. This moral principle must be distilled clearly.

b) But then a crisis is created in the hearers as the preacher shows that his moral principle creates insurmountable problems. The sermon shows how this practical and moral obligation is impossible to meet. The hearers are led to a seemingly dead end.

c) Then a hidden door opens and light comes in. The sermon moves both into worship and into Christ-application when it shows how only Jesus Christ has fulfilled this. If the text is a narrative, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of a particular character. If the text is didactic, you can show how Christ is the ultimate embodiment of the principle.

d) Finally, we show how our inability to live as we ought stems from our rejection of Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (or whatever the theme is). The sermon points out how to repent and rejoice in Christ in such a way that we can live as we ought.