Daily Keller

~ Wisdom from Tim Keller 365 Days a Year

Daily Keller

Cultural Biases

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Generous Justice, Tim Keller

When I went to seminary to prepare for the ministry, I met an African-American student, Elward Ellis, who befriended both my future wife, Kathy Kristy, and me. He gave us gracious but bare-knuckled mentoring about the realities of injustice in American culture. “You’re a racist, you know,” he once said at our kitchen table. “Oh, you don’t mean to be, and you don’t want to be, but you are. You can’t really help it.” He said, for example, “When black people do things in a certain way, you say, ‘Well, that’s your culture.’ But when white people do things in a certain way, you say, ‘That’s just the right way to do things.’ You don’t realize you really have a culture. You are blind to how many of your beliefs and practices are cultural.” We began to see how, in so many ways, we made our cultural biases into moral principles and then judged people of other races as being inferior. His case was so strong and fair that, to our surprise, we agreed with him.

– Tim Keller

Unique Claims

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The Mother of God, Tim Keller

Some years ago I was on a panel with a Muslim cleric, talking about our differences in front of a group of college students. And one college student kept insisting, ‘Well, I listened to you both for twenty minutes, and I want you to know that I just don’t see any real difference between you. I just don’t see any difference between the religions. It seems like they’re basically saying God is love and we should love God and love one another.’ In our responses to the student the cleric and I were in complete agreement. At first glance it looks tolerant to say ‘you are both alike,’ but each of us argued gently that the student was not showing enough respect to listen to each religion’s distinctive voice. Each faith had made unique claims that contradicted the deepest teachings of other faiths. And so, we concluded, while each faith could certainly appreciate wisdom in the other, we couldn’t both be right at the deepest level. The student maintained his position, saying that all religions are fundamentally alike.

Ironically, the young man was being every bit as dogmatic, superior, and ideological as any traditional religious adherent can be. He was saying, in essence, ‘I have the true view of religion, and you don’t. I can see that you are alike, but you can’t. I am spiritually enlightened, and you aren’t.’ But as I spoke to him a bit afterward I concluded that he was motivated by an underlying fear. If he granted that any religion made unique claims, then he would have to decide whether or not those claims were true. He did not want the responsibility of having to ponder, weigh it all, and choose. Among young secular adults it is common to adopt this belief that all religions are roughly the same. Dare I say this is a form of emotional immaturity? Life is filled with hard choices, and it is childish to think you can avoid them. It may seem to get you out of a lot of hard work, but the idea of the equivalence of religions is simply a falsehood. Every religion, even those that appear more inclusive, makes its own unique claim. But Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true there is no alternative but to bow the knee to him. The annunciation pushes the exclusivity of Jesus right in our face. It demands a response and shows us there is a lot of hard work to do.

– Tim Keller

How to Lose Joy

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Judges For You, Tim Keller

Idolatry is making a good aspect of creation — marriage, mountains, business, and so on — into the ultimate source of security, identity, and power. And so false gods are a thorn. When we make something into an idol, it continually makes us miserable. If we fall short of it, or if we might fall short of it, it robs us of joy. If our children are our false god, when their lives are troubled, we will lose our joy; and even when their lives might become troubled (which is all the time!), we will worry, and lose our joy.

– Tim Keller

The Christianity Reversal

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Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine. Suffering — Buddhism says accept it, karma says pay it, fatalism says heroically endure it, secularism says avoid or fix it. From the Christian perspective, all of these cultures of suffering have an element of truth. Sufferers do indeed need to stop loving material goods too much. And yes, the Bible says that, in general, the suffering filling the world is the result of the human race turning from God. And we do indeed need to endure suffering and not let it overthrow us. Secularism is also right to warn us about being too accepting of conditions and factors that harm people and should be changed. Pre-secular cultures often permitted too much passivity in the face of changeable circumstances and injustices.

But, as we have seen, from the Christian view of things, all of these approaches are too simple and reductionist and therefore are half-truths. The example and redemptive work of Jesus Christ incorporates all these insights into a coherent whole and yet transcends them. Scheler ends his great essay by returning to his claim that Christianity is ultimately a reversal of all the other views.

For the man of antiquity… the external world was happy and joyous, but the world’s core was deeply sad and dark. Behind the cheerful surface of the world of so-called merry antiquity there loomed “chance” and “fate.” For the Christian, the external world is dark and full of suffering, but its core is nothing other than pure bliss and delight.

He is right about most of the ancient cultures, but what he says especially fits the secular worldview. Secularism, as Richard Dawkins says, sees ultimate reality as cold and indifferent and extinction as inevitable. The other cultures also have seen day-to-day life as being filled with pleasures, but behind it all is darkness or illusion. Christianity sees things differently. While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.

– Tim Keller

Suffering in Christ

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Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Jesus lost all his glory so that we could be clothed in it. He was shut out so we could get access. He was bound, nailed, so that we could be free. He was cast out so we could approach. And Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God. He took so that now all suffering that comes into your life will only make you great. A lump of coal under pressure becomes a diamond. And the suffering of a person in Christ only turns you into somebody gorgeous.

– Tim Keller

We Need Beauty

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Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Jonathan Edwards once said: ‘God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.’ It is not enough to say, ‘I guess he is God, so I have got to knuckle under.’ You have to see his beauty. Glorifying God does not mean obeying him only because you have to. It means to obey him because you want to — because you are attracted to him, because you delight in him. This is what C. S. Lewis grasped and explained so well in his chapter on praising. We need beauty.

– Tim Keller

Can’t or Won’t

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Judges For You, Tim Keller

There are three general categories of ‘can’t’ justifications for disobedience:

Forgiveness: I can’t forgive this, or him, or her. But God commands forgiveness (Matthew 18:35). So we can, in fact, determine to put aside anger and soften our hearts with the knowledge of the gospel of grace, and act as though the wrong had not happened. When we say we can’t, we mean we won’t; that we want to hang on to our anger, our bitterness, our ‘right’ to get even, under the excuse of being ‘unable.’

Difficult truth-telling: I just can’t tell him the truth. It would destroy him/me. God tells us to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15, 25). Often, we are excusing cowardice or pride under ‘can’t.’ What we really mean is: If I tell him that, he may not like me anymore. I would be humiliated. He would be upset. I won’t risk that cost— I would rather disobey.

Temptation: I can’t resist doing this, though I know it is wrong. We must be careful here, because sin has addictive power—it is true that we may not be able, through sheer willpower, to stop doing something by ourselves. But we can get help, admit our problem, humble ourselves, cry out to God for mercy and transformation, become accountable. God always gives us a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13)—no sinful thought or action is inevitable and irresistible. If we don’t, it’s likely that we would simply rather keep sinning in that way, excusing it with our ‘inability’ to do anything else.

– Tim Keller

The Deity of Jesus

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Encounters with Jesus, The Mother of God, Tim Keller

When the Bible speaks about the deity of Jesus, we have to remember that the Hebrew idea of God was not identical to those of other cultures and faiths. When Jesus is said to be divine, that does not mean he has the divine spark of life that is found in everyone. It doesn’t mean he has such high God-consciousness that he can be called an avatar, as in the case of Krishna. To the Hebrews, God was not an impersonal force that is part of all being but a unique, personal yet infinite, immanent yet transcendent, eternal Creator that existed before and above all other beings. To call Jesus divine while holding that understanding of the divine was stupendous. Yet it is the lynchpin of Jesus’ own self-understanding and underlies everything he teaches. So you either have to say that Jesus Christ is, as the Bible claims, the unique Creator God who has come in the flesh, which makes Christianity a better revelation of God than other religions — or you have to say that he was wrong or lying, which makes him and his followers a worse revelation of God. But Christianity can’t be a religion just like the rest.

– Tim Keller

Friendship Quality

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The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller

…There is a third quality to friendship, and it is not as easy to put into a single word. The right word, literally, is ‘sympathy’ — sym-pathos, common passion. This means that friendships are discovered more than they are created at will.

– Tim Keller