Book Review on Tim Keller’s The Insider and the Outcast

An Insider and and Outsider Encounter Jesus: Review By David P. Craig

TIATO Keller

This booklet is the second in a series of essays based on lectures to students given by Dr. Tim Keller in Oxford, England in 2012. This essay is based on an exposition of two stories in John chapters 3 and 4 where Keller addresses the question ‘What is wrong with the world the way it is?” The reason that Keller addresses this question is that the solutions to the worlds greatest problems cannot be solved, or solutions prescribed without a proper diagnosis at the outset.

In John chapter 3 the focus is on Nicodemus – a religious insider – a highly reputable and moral leader of the religious establishment. In John chapter 4 the focus is on the Samaritan woman – a religious outsider – socially and morally reprehensible in that culture. Instead of dealing with these individuals separately, Keller makes the point that it is a mistake to deal with these two individuals apart from one another. These two encounters were meant to be contrasted by Jesus in order to show what the insider and outcast have in common. All people (including us moderns) have differences, but in the greater scheme of the human dilemma – we are all alike.

In examining these two encounters with Jesus, Keller reveals how John’s stories are relevant about the world we live in today, and how both “insiders” and “outsiders” are the problem. The problem back then with the world is the same problem we have today. It all comes down to the fact that we are all sinners. We either have a tendency to be self-righteous and smug in our works (the insider), or think there are too many barriers to bridge the gap between ourselves and the holiness of God (the outcast). Both individuals are spiritually dead and spiritually lost.

Keller compellingly reveals that the greatest problem in the 1st century and now in the 21st century is still the same. He defines sin thus, “Sin is looking to something else besides God for your salvation. It is putting yourself in the place of God, becoming your own savior and lord.”  Both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are equal sinners in need of the grace of God. The good news is that the solution to mankind’s great problem is that satisfaction and peace that come from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus came to die on the cross to give eternal peace, satisfaction, and hope to anyone who comes to Him in faith and repentance.

The good news for all of us is summarized by Keller in this manner, “It is because Jesus Christ experienced cosmic thirst on the cross that you and I can have our spiritual thirst satisfied. It is because he died that we can be born again. And he did it gladly. Seeing what he did and why he did it will turn away our hearts from the things that enslave us and toward him in worship. That is the gospel, and it is the same for skeptics, believers, insiders, outcasts, and everyone in between.”

Dr. John Piper on the question “Is Being Born Again Up to Us?”

John 3:3 Jesus answering Nicodemus – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

The following is an edited transcription of the audio.

Is being born again up to us?

It’s no more up to us than it was up to my grandson, who was born two days ago, to get out of the womb. In other words, birth is something done to us. It’s not something that we do.

It is, however, something that we react to. The first cry of a newborn in Christ is faith. I would never write a book on how to be born again—because that is like writing a book for babies on how to get out of the womb—but I would write a book on how to be saved, because that is about faith in Jesus Christ.

I’ve never met a believer who, when you ask how they came to Christ, really wants to take credit for it. I’ve never talked to anybody who wants to say that they were the one who really provided the decisive initiative and the decisive work behind their salvation. Almost every believer, because of the work of God within them, wants to give God the credit for their salvation.

When you have two brothers listening to a sermon together, and one is awakened to see the spiritual beauty of Christ while the other isn’t, can this awakening in the one be attributed to any innate wisdom or sensitivity to spiritual things? No! These things are not innate. The Bible says that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins and that it is God who makes us alive together with Christ. God, in his sovereign mercy, is the one who quickens people and causes them to be born again.

The new birth is the prior, miraculous, subconscious work by which people are enabled to see and savor and embrace Jesus Christ. Therefore we must pray accordingly.

I’ve prayed for my own children, before they were born again, that God would do a decisive, regenerating work in their hearts. I didn’t pray that God would keep his distance and leave it up to my son to come to Christ. I prayed, “Break in! Crash in! Take out the heart of stone and give a heart of tenderness!”

We pray for regeneration—we pray for new birth—so that people can believe. They don’t believe so that they can be born again. They’re born unto a living hope so that they can believe. People don’t believe unless God breaks into their lives, raises them from the dead, gives them a new heart, and enables them to see the beauty of Christ.

Do you think we’ll ever be able to resolve the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?

Yes, in heaven. I think it can be resolved to a significant measure here, if you read the very best analyses of it. (Jonathan Edward’s book The Freedom of the Will is as good as they get, and I think he comes to a pretty close solution. But practically I find that lay people, by and large, are not going to read such a heavy-duty book).

In the end, however, we have to live with mystery because we are finite. And we must make sure that we draw the line for mystery in the right place. I find that a lot of people agree that there is mystery, but they don’t agree on what that mystery is.

The mystery is not between the sovereignty of God that governs all things (including the will of man) and the absolutely self-determining free will of man. That is not the biblical mystery.

The biblical mystery is between God, who is sovereign over all things and governs all things (including the will of man), and our accountability and responsibility to will what we ought to even though we don’t have absolute self-determination. That’s the mystery. And I’m willing to live with that because the Bible teaches both of those things.

What is the first step in our responsibility?

If we read Jesus in John 3 we see that the new birth is God’s work. The wind of God’s Spirit blows where he wills. And if was talking to another person who showed some interest in spiritual things, I would say to them, “There is evidence that the wind is blowing here because of your concern, interest, and conviction. Therefore, take this initiative that God has wrought in your life and use it to close with Christ. Come to Christ. Come to the cross, and reach out with the arms of your heart and will, and embrace Christ as Savior and Lord.”

Then the person must admit, “I was brought to this point by the Spirit of God. Yet now I must use my will, enabled by God, to embrace him, to receive him” (John 1:12).

So I would plead with people to come to Christ as the fountain of living water and as the bread of heaven (Isaiah 55:1-3). And when people come and embrace Christ with faith they are saved, their sins are forgiven, and they have the hope of eternal life. Then they’ll look back some day and say, “I came because he drew me. I came because I was born again. He opened my eyes. He gave me ears to hear. He enabled me to taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Article above: By Dr. John Piper, Novmeber 9, 2007. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: He has written an outstanding book on the topic of Regeneration called Finally Alive: What Happens When We Are Born Again? Published by the British Publishers – Christian Focus, 2009 (Pictured at the beginning of the article above).

About the Author: John Piper is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.), and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 40 books and more than 30 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and twelve grandchildren.

What was Jesus Doing on April 7, A.D. 30 (1,982 years ago)?

How Can One Enter God’s Kingdom? By *Mike & Sharon Rusten

 On April 7, A.D. 30, (See Dr. Harold Hoehner’s book: Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ) Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, the first since he had begun his public ministry. Since he had been performing miracles, many people believed he was indeed the Messiah. But Jesus didn’t trust them because he knew that they were just following him because of the miracles (John 2:23-24).

Then one dark evening while Jesus was still in Jerusalem, a sincere seeker came to him. His name was Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees, the legalist followers of the law of Moses, and a member of the Sanhedrin, Judaism’s ruling body.

Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council,came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus replied,“I tell you the solemn truth,unless a person is born from above,he cannot see the kingdom of God.”Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?”  

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth,unless a person is born of water and spirit,he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh,and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’The windblows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus replied,“How can these things be?”Jesus answered,“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things?I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?No onehas ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven – the Son of Man.Just as  Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,so must the Son of Man be lifted up,so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned.The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God (John 3:1-21).

Nicodemus next appears in Scripture defending Jesus before the Pharisees. They asked him, “Is there a single one of us rulers or Pharisees who believes in him?” Nicodemus spoke up on his behalf. “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing? he asked. The Pharisees, suspecting something in his question, replied, “Are you from Galilee, too?” (John 7:42-52).

Nicodemus is last seen following the Crucifixion, bringing seventy-five pounds of embalming ointment to Jesus’ tomb and then helping Joseph of Arimethea, another secret believer, prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:38-42.)


What does being born again mean to you? God gives eternal life to those who truly believe in Jesus, and the beginning of eternal life is what Jesus terms being born again. It is being born again into God’s family and becoming his child forever. Have you been born again? How do you know?

To all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion of plan—this rebirth comes from God. – John 1:12-13


*Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 7 entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.