Perhaps the biggest deterrent to Christianity for the average person today is not so much violence and warfare but the shadow of fanaticism.
– Tim Keller
In one of the most overlooked passages in the Bible, Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest prophet in history, and then added that every single believer is now greater in position and calling than him. (Matthew 11:9–11) ‘The least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John the Baptist.]’ What did Jesus mean? He couldn’t mean that every Christian believer would be more courageous or more godly than John the Baptist. (I know that I’m not!)
What Jesus must have meant is that every Christian believer understands the gospel in a way John never could. John never saw Jesus’ death or resurrection; he never saw how Jesus fulfilled all the rich Old Testament predictions of God’s future salvation of the world. Every believer understands the gospel better than John the Baptist and therefore we are ‘greater.’
How? We have all been given the Holy Spirit and gifts to minister the gospel (1 Corinthians 12), and therefore we have more power to change lives than even the greatest of the Old Testament prophets had. That is why the New Testament calls every believer a ‘royal priest’ (1 Peter 2:9.) Yes, in the New Testament there are evangelists, counselors, teachers, pastors, and preachers who are (one could say) ‘full-time specialists.’ And yet the Bible says that every believer must evangelize (Acts 8:4), and must admonish, counsel, nourish, and encourage others believers from the Scripture so they grow into Christ-likeness (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24–25).
So the Bible calls every Christian to be not just a recipient of gospel ministry, but also a practitioner of it. The reality is, however, that most believers in most churches live primarily as consumers…
– Tim Keller
It is hard to overstate how ghettoized our preaching is. It is common to make all kinds of statements that appear persuasive to us but are based upon all sorts of premises that the secular person does not hold; it is common to use terms and phrases that mean nothing outside of our Christian subgroup. So avoid unnecessary theological or evangelical subculture jargon, and explain carefully the basic theological concept – confession of sin, praise, thanksgiving, and so on. In the preaching, show continual willingness to address the questions that the unbelieving heart will ask. Speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity. As you write the sermon, imagine a particular skeptical non-Christian in the chair listening to you. Add the necessary asides, the definitions, the extra explanations. Listen to everything said in the worship service with the ears of someone who has doubts or troubles with belief…
Speak regularly to ‘those of you who aren’t sure you believe this, or who aren’t sure just what you believe.’ Give them many asides, even employing the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian living and belief better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even when challenging them severely for their selfishness and unbelief. Admonish with tears (literally or figuratively). Always grant whatever degree of merit their objections have. It is extremely important that unbelievers feel you understand their objections: ‘I’ve tried it before and it did not work.’ ‘I don’t see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God.’ ‘Christianity is a straitjacket.’ ‘It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.’ ‘I could never keep it up.’ ‘I don’t feel worthy; I am too bad.’ ‘I just can’t believe.’
– Tim Keller
…To reach people we must appreciate and adapt to their culture, but we must also challenge and confront it. This is based on the biblical teaching that all cultures have God’s grace and natural revelation in them, yet they are also in rebellious idolatry. If we overadapt to a culture, we have accepted the culture’s idols. If, however, we underadapt to a culture, we may have turned our own culture into an idol, an absolute. If we overadapt to a culture, we aren’t able to change people because we are not calling them to change. If we underadapt to a culture, no one will be changed because no one will listen to us; we will be confusing, offensive, or simply unpersuasive. To the degree a ministry is overadapted or underadapted to a culture; it loses life-changing power.
– Tim Keller
Bad evangelism says: I’m right, you’re wrong, and I would love to tell you about it.
– Tim Keller
The Objection: The other religions.
Christians seem to greatly over-play the differences between their faith and all the other ones. Though millions of people in other religions say they have encountered God, have built marvelous civilizations and cultures, and have had their lives and characters changed by their experience of faith, Christians insist that only they go to heaven – that their religion is the only one that is ‘right’ and true. The exclusivity of this is breath taking. It also appears to many to be a threat to international peace.
Response: Inclusivism is really covert exclusivism. It is common to hear people say: ‘No one should insist their view of God is better than all the rest. Every religion is equally valid.’ But what you just said could only be true if: First, there is no God at all, or second, God is an impersonal force that doesn’t care what your doctrinal beliefs about him are. So as you speak you are assuming (by faith!) a very particular view of God and you are pushing it as better than the rest! That is at best inconsistent and at worst hypocritical, since you are doing the very thing you are forbidding. To say ‘all religions are equally valid’ is itself a very white, Western view based in the European enlightenment’s idea of knowledge and values. Why should that view be privileged over anyone else’s?
– Tim Keller
To most people in our society, Christianity is religion and moralism. The only alternative to it (besides some other world religion) is pluralistic secularism. But from the beginning it was not so. Christianity was recognized as a tertium quid, something else entirely.
The crucial point here is that, in general, religiously observant people were offended by Jesus, but those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. We see this throughout the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life. In every case where Jesus meets a religious person and a sexual outcast (as in Luke 7) or a religious person and a racial outcast (as in John 3-4) or a religious person and a political outcast (as in Luke 19), the outcast is the one who connects with Jesus and the elder-brother type does not. Jesus says to the respectable religious leaders ‘the tax collectors and the prostitutes enter the kingdom before you’ (Matthew 21:31).
Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.
– Tim Keller
All forms of work are participation in God’s work. God made the created world by his Spirit (Gen. 1:1-3) and continues to care for and sustain it by his Spirit (Ps. 104:30), watering and enriching it (Ps. 65:9–13) and feeding and meeting the needs of every living thing (Pss. 145:15–16 and 147:15–20). Indeed, the very purpose of redemption is to massively and finally restore the material creation (Rev. 21–22). God loves this created world so much that he sent his Son to redeem it. This world is a good in and of itself; it is not just a temporary theater for individual salvation. If the Holy Spirit is not only a preacher that convicts people of sin and grace (John 16:8–11; 1 Thess. 1:5) but also a gardener, an artist, and an investor in creation who renews the material world, it cannot be more spiritual and God-honoring to be a preacher than to be a farmer, artist, or banker. To give just one example, evangelism is temporary work, while musicianship is permanent work. In the new heavens and new earth, preachers will be out of a job! Ultimately the purpose of evangelism is to bring about a world in which musicians will be able to do their work perfectly.
– Tim Keller
What, then, is the one simple gospel?
Simon Gathercole distills a three-point outline that both Paul and the Synoptic writers held in common. (See “The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom” in God’s Power to Save, ed. Chris Green Apollos/Inter-Varsity Press, UK, 2006.) He writes that Paul’s good news was, first, that Jesus was the promised Messianic King and Son of God come to earth as a servant, in human form. (Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:4ff.)
Second, by his death and resurrection, Jesus atoned for our sin and secured our justification by grace, not by our works (1 Cor. 15:3ff.) Third, on the cross Jesus broke the dominion of sin and evil over us (Col. 2:13-15) and at his return he will complete what he began by the renewal of the entire material creation and the resurrection of our bodies (Rom 8:18ff.)
Gathercole then traces these same three aspects in the Synoptics’ teaching that Jesus, the Messiah, is the divine Son of God (Mark 1:1) who died as a substitutionary ransom for the many (Mark 10:45), who has conquered the demonic present age with its sin and evil (Mark 1:14-2:10) and will return to regenerate the material world (Matt. 19:28.)
If I had to put this outline in a single statement, I might do it like this: Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.
One of these elements was at the heart of the older gospel messages, namely, salvation is by grace not works. It was the last element that was usually missing, namely that grace restores nature, as the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it. When the third, ‘eschatological’ element is left out, Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters. Theoretically, grasping the full outline should make Christians interested in both evangelistic conversions as well as service to our neighbor and working for peace and justice in the world.
– Tim Keller