Friday, October 06, 2006

Tim Keller: The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World


Tim Keller is the pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (www.redeemer.com). He poses an uncanny, winsome ability to articulate the Gospel. More than this, he consistently keeps the Gospel and our need of the Gospel in the spotlight in all of life. He coined the increasingly familiar phrase: "The Gospel is not the ABC's of the Christian life, it is the A to Z of the Christian life."

His topic, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World, was, for me, the most helpful of all the messages at the DG Conference, precisely because it dealt with the issue of communicating the Gospel in a postmodern world. Keller submits that the postmodern world presents a crisis regarding evangelism because the old forms and evangelical strategies are no longer very effective in leading people to faith in Jesus. This is disconcerting for many evangelical churches because, if there isn't a program in place to "do" evangelism, or if there isn't a script that leads people to a place of response, then many are left without any real ability to reach people because they don't know any other way to reach them than through a program, or as Keller calls it, a "magic bullet".

Keller used two texts during this talk (it wasn't really a sermon, but that doesn't mean it wasn't convicting). He began by referencing Mark 9:28-29 where Jesus' disciples are trying to cast out a demon and fail. When Jesus comes to them he tells them that they failed to cast out the demon because "this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." Keller mentions that he gained new insight into this passage from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who submits that Jesus means that the "demon is in too deep", and this is why the disciples could not cast it out and it can only be effectively cast out through prayer. Keller likened the disciples to the church and the demon-possessed boy to the contemporary world. The spirit of this age (postmodern) is not like past ages. One of the primary differences, notes not only Lloyd-Jones but also Leslie Newbigin (former missionary to India), is that Western culture is not only a mission field, but an ex-Christian mission field. Western culture, in a very real sense, is inocculated to Christianity. It has a former, though highly distorted, view of Christianity. Jones' point: what once worked - campaigns, revival services, programs, scripted presentations, street preaching, etc - will not work anymore (at least not on a widespread scale).

Flannery O'Conner gave this relevant description of the ex-Christian Western culture of our day. We are a "Christ-haunted" people, meaning there are those, perhaps many, who have a vanishing memory of the Gospel. In our world there are residual pockets of society where the old methods of evangelism and engaging the culture still work (primarily in the South). But these pockets are shrinking. The Church is losing traction in the postmodern world. Magic bullets will not work. The demon is in too deep. The Church needs a transformation of personality and community.

When dealing with the postmodern mind we are faced with three problems:
  1. The truth problem: truth is relative
  2. The guilt problem: most Gospel presentation assume a consciousness of guilt. This consciousness rarely exists in the postmodern mind.
  3. The meaning problem: meanings are unstable in the postmodern world.

Knowing this, knowing that the demon is in too deep, how do we do evangelism in the postmodern world?

  1. Gospel Theologizing (Jonah 1:1-2): Go and preach. All theology must be nothing less than an exposition of the Gospel. Human language (imperfect as it is) is the vehicle (with the help of the Holy Spirit) for us moving into relationship with God. But we must share more than systematic theology. We must tell the story of the Gospel (creation, fall, redemption, restoration).
  2. Gospel Realizing (Jonah 2:9): "Salvation is of the LORD". Realize the wonder of the Gospel. If people are saved by works, man still has a degree of control. But if salvation is by grace, there is nothing God cannot ask of you.
  3. Gospel Urbanization (Jonah 4:11): How can you not love such a mass of people? Cities are strategic. If cities are secular, where will the culture eventually go? The Church must have a more visible presence in our cities.
  4. Gospel Communication (Jonah 3:4-6): There are four stages of communicating the Gospel: a) Intelligibility (does it make sense, as much as it can to a spiritually dead person); b) credibility (presuppostional apologetics means to defeat the defeaters on their own terms); c) plausibility (contextualization of the Gospel); d) intimacy (relationship)
  5. Gospel Formation (Jonah returns to Ninevah a second time in weakness): The Gospel is most effective when Christ is formed and displayed in our weakness. How does one know he/she has really met God asked Lloyd Jones when considering Jacob's wrestling match with God? He limps. Our culture must see the greatness of God displayed in the weakness of His people.
  6. Gospel Incarnation (Jonah 1:5-6): When Jonah is asleep on the bottom of the boat during the storm, the sailors come and rebuke him for not seeking their deliverance in His God. This is an example of the world rebuking the Church. The world, on some level, is pleading with the Church to use our private religion for some public good. In essence, they are saying, when we fail to work for their good, "You don't care about us!". The Church wants to confront the world without loving the world. Does our community know we love them?

Where does all of this lead us? We need the wonder of the Gospel in our hearts coming by prayer.

2 Comments:

At 1:06 PM , Anonymous Meredith Beck said...

You've been writing a lot about Christianity as it relates to postmodernism. Have you read "Blue Like Jazz" by Don Miller? I'm currently reading it, and it's wonderful.

 
At 11:40 PM , Blogger Aaron said...

Meredith,

I have read Miller's book BLJ. I enjoyed the book, although I don't think it is healthy reading for immature believers. But he says some thought-provoking things, and while he claims he is making non-spiritual thoughts about Christianity, and Miller claims he isn't talking "theology", in essence, he is, and that is fundamentally the problem I had with his book. While he claims he isn't making any real statements or assumptions about Jesus and His Church that are authorative, I think he does just that throughout most of the book - while keeping it within the context of his experience and/or opinion

 

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