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Archive for the ‘Tim Keller’ Category


I’ve come across Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community via the internet.  A growing number of church planters are utilizing the concept.  Steve Timmis, one of the authors of the book, is the new director of Acts 29 Europe.  The San Diego Church Planters’ Boot Camp, hosted by Kaleo, was on Total Church.  I’ve begun to listen, and just borrowed the book from a friend.

The concept is intriguing to me.  The church is a gospel-formed community of people being gospel-shaped.  They have a community-centered understanding of the gospel, which runs counter to the individualistic mindset of most Christians and churches today.  I’d like to consider the relationship between the gospel, community and mission more thoroughly.  It seems less like the “latest, greatest program” or method, but an attempt to return to the power of the gospel, and the emphases of the gospel.

Here is an interview with Tim Chester on Desiring God Ministries blog:

DG: Tim, what do you and Steve Timmis mean by the title Total Church?

Tim Chester: The phrase is actually adapted from the world of football (or soccer in the States!). “Total football” was a style of play associated with the Dutch international side in the 1970s.

“Total church” is our way of capturing the idea that church is not one activity in our lives. Church isn’t a meeting you attend or a building your enter. It’s our identity, our community, our family.  It’s the context for the totality of the Christian life.

DG: How would you summarize the message of the book?

TC: Total Church argues for two core principles: We need to be gospel-centered and community-centered.

Being gospel-centered means we’re word-centered (because the gospel is a message; it is good news), and it means being mission-centered (because the gospel is a message to be proclaimed; it is good news).

I think most conservative evangelicals are strong on this. But we also need to be community-centered. The Christian community is the biblical context for evangelism, discipleship, pastoral care, social involvement, and so on. That doesn’t mean meetings. It means the shared life of the community.

One of our catchphrases is “ordinary people living ordinary life with gospel intentionality.” It means doing the chores, having meals, watching sports, and so on with an intention to talk about Jesus, to pastor one another with the gospel, and to share that gospel with unbelievers.

DG: At several points in the book, you mention the value of hospitality. Do you see this virtue as lacking in the church today, and is there is an especially significant need for it in the 21st-century church?

TC: Here’s what I think is the key issue. In the book, we tell the story of a young man who invited us to do some street preaching with him. When we said it wasn’t really the way we did things, he clearly doubted our courage and commitment.

We began to talk instead about a whole life lived in mission and community, in which we were always looking to build relationships and always looking to talk about Jesus. By the end of the conversation, he admitted he wasn’t sure if he was up for that.

He wanted evangelism you could do for two hours on a Saturday afternoon and then switch off. Tick. Job done for the week. He didn’t want a missional lifestyle.

I think that’s the issue with hospitality. People want to put church and evangelism into a slot in the schedule. But we need to be sharing our lives with others—with shared meals and open homes. That can be demanding, but it’s also wonderfully enriching.

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My friend, the Jollyblogger, has been commenting on his unexpected journey as a cancer patient.  He says some very good things about what he has learned and the difficulty he has experienced.

One thing he mentions is the realization that so much is out of your hands.  We like to think we are control of large parts of our destiny (I’ve taken too many tests for job openings that expect you to answer that success is the result of ONLY hard work).  I can identify with that sense of powerlessness, that lack of control, in my own set of circumstances.  Mine are different- I’m not facing the possibility of death.  But there are some incredibly unattractive alternatives encircling me.

I have little to no control over the outcomes as I search for a new position.  My fate, seemingly, is in the hands of others.  I can’t control pastoral search committees.  I can’t control human resource departments.  I appear to be at the mercy of other sinners who are just as inconsistent as myself.

I’m not called to be in control, but to be responsible.  Surely, no search committee will call me to be their pastor if I don’t apply for that position.  The same goes locally as I attempt to make ends meet while searching for a new pastorate.  I must take the time to fill out forms, send out e-mails, look on the internet.  I must then WAIT (and wait, and wait- while continuing to follow other leads).

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I was pondering this from A Gospel Primer for Christians yesterday.

“According to Scripture, God deliberately designed the gospel in such a way as to strip me of pride and leave me without any grounds for boasting in myself whatsoever.  This is actually a wonderful mercy from God, for pride is at the root of all my sin.  … Therefore, if I am to experience deliverance from sin, I must be delivered from the pride that produces it.  Thankfully, the gospel is engineered to accomplish this deliverance.

Preaching the gospel to myself each day mounts a powerful assault against my pride and serve to establish humility in its place.  Nothing suffocates my pride more than daily reminders regarding the glory of my God, the gravity of my sins, and the crucifixion of God’s own Son in my place.  Also, the gracious love of God, lavished on me because of Christ’s death, is always humbling to remember, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the Hell I deserve.”

He points to a few important ways that the gospel undercuts my pride, which is a source of many/most of my sins.  My sin was so awful that its forgiveness required the death of God’s own Son.  Yet He loved me in my unloveable condition.  My pride & His gracious love put Jesus on the Cross.  I have nothing about which to boast- except Christ.

“Pride wilts in the atmosphere of the gospel; and the more pride is mortified within me, the less frequent are my moments of sinful contention with God and with others.  Conversely, humility grows lushly in the atmosphere of the gospel, and the more humility flourishes within me, the more I experience God’s grace along with the strengthening His grace provides.  Additionally, such humility intensifies my passion for God and causes my heart increasingly to thrill whenever He is praised.”

You can tell whether the gospel is being preached and believed or not by the level of pride and demandingness in a congregation or person’s life.  This is part of the problem with Joel Osteen (and other prosperity teachers).  They demand things from God that He has not promised.  Their doctrines promote pride and selfishness- which are diametrically opposed to the sound living produced by sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel.

It is this pride which drives the fights and battles we find in James 4.  They have made good things ultimate things (as Keller would say).  The cure is to humble yourself before God.  The gospel is God’s means to humble us (and how it plays out in providence).  As humbled people, we submit to God rather than clamor for our way.  We become gentle as we plead for others to submit to God’s way.

I suspect we could all use more gospel humility.

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Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith is a much needed book.  I needed to read it, and I can see how many in the churches I’m familiar with need to read it as well.  It is short, well-written, well-illustrated and keeps pointing the reader to Christ.  What more could you want?

Tim uses the Parable of the Lost Sons to examine the heart of the the Christian message.  He examines the Parable in the context of his audience in Luke 15.  He also compares and contrasts it with the parables that precede it (the lost sheep and the lost coin), to get the message ‘right’.  And that message is that both sons were lost- one thru license and the other thru legalism.  While we see the licentious brother return home (much like the sinners how heard Jesus and placed their trust in Him), while the elder brother resents the father’s grace (much like the Pharisees who were listening).  We just aren’t sure how he responds, so the question bounces back on all those elder brothers- will you enter the joy of the Father or maintain your ‘rights’ and sit alone and angry?

In this process Keller redefines both sin and lostness (as I’ve addressed in a previous post).  He doesn’t redefine so much as deepen our understanding of these concepts, expanding them so we can recognize how easily we can sin and appreciate our tendency to wander back into self-reliance.

Keller points us to the True Elder Brother, Jesus, who left the Father’s side to seek and save the lost.  We can only return home because He left, and lost His life.  This helps us to redefine, or deepen our understanding of, hope.  This hope culminates in the Feast of the Father- a picture of heavenly celebration.

In the process, Keller draws upon the thinking of Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis and Martin Luther among others.  The last is particularly important since Luther understood too well that legalism is the default mode for most of us.  We quickly lapse back into the sins of the elder brother (pride, self-righteousness, lack of compassion).  He illustrates with movies (both popular and obscure) as well as novels that have captured people’s attention through the years.

So I found the book to be both convicting and comforting, humbling and encouraging.  Yes, big sinner.  Yes, bigger Savior who continues to change my heart so it resembles His.  This quote is one from the final chapter gives us something to chew on:

I have explained in this book why churches- and all religious institutions- are often so unpleasant.  They are filled with elder brothers.  Yet staying away from them simply because they have elder brothers is just another form of self-righteousness.  Besides that, there is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers.  You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.

This is Keller’s hope- to transform the church and society as we recognize our frequent relapses into self-righteousness and rely more fully and completely on the only Savior- Jesus.  I think this is must reading for pastors, church leaders and ordinary Christians.  It is accessible to all- so don’t shilly-shally (as Steve Brown would say) and drink deep and drink often.

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I’m not sure if enjoying is the right word.  I guess the right word would be benefitting.  I am greatly benefitting from my reading of The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  He is able to expand on some ideas found in his sermons on the Parable of the Lost Sons.  He develops a better understanding of both sin and lostness.

We tend to tie sin in with rebellion- which it is.  But sin is craftier than that.  It can look like obedience!

It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral record; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.

His obedience produces a pride that keeps him apart from his father and younger brother.  Sin can work thru “obedience” to keeps us from Christ and His people.  We seek to save ourselves.  This is the work of the religious fanatic Martin Luther said lives in each of us, the default of our hearts, trying to earn merit before God.

You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws.  If you do that, then you have “rights.”  God owes you answered prayer, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die.  You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior.

Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.

Keller continues to say that these 2 conditions are not equal.  It is easier for the licentious to see his sin and seek to return home.  The legalist thinks he already is home!  He is more blind to his sin because he looks so good.

What are the signs of an elder brother (legalist, self-righteous, Pharisee)?

The first sign you have an elder-brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter.

Keller notes this can function in 2 ways.  If I perceive I have been obedient- I am angry with God and rage against him.  If I perceive I have not been obedient- I am angry with myself and become filled with self-loathing.  Hey, been there, done that- and still take trips there.

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Started in on The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller tonight.  I couldn’t wait.  I’ve heard his sermons on the Parable, but I like books.  So much easier to interact with the content. 

So I found this at the end of the first chapter:

“Jesus’ 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 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.

Hard to hear, but I suspect it is more true than we want to believe.  Many churches hear messages of moralism and self-help.  The broken remain broken, unable to discover the balm of the gospel.

I have ministered in “Elder Brother-ville” for lo these many years.  I know I have a tendency to be an older brother (though in my family I’m the one who wandered off the reservation only to be discovered by Jesus).  Grace just doesn’t seem to register to most church folks here.  It’s like “that’s nice, but can you give me something to do?”  They refuse to see themselves as lost and in need of rescue- they think they just need some direction and maybe a little assistance.  As a result, most churches are filled with smug, “we’re okay,” living in denial, self-righteous people.

I ponder those I “ran off” in my years of ministry here.  They fall into 2 categories: those who wanted cheap grace- acceptance without any need to change, justification with no sanctification- and those who didn’t understand how grace applied to them- the self-righteous looking for tips on being a better person, sanctification without justification.  But there was a group who “got it,” recognizing grace was for them, that God loved them despite their sin AND wanted to remake them in his image.

Pastors who play into the hands of cheap grace are often called liberals.  Pastors who play into the hands of the self-righteousness look like conservatives.  Both are missing the point of ministry, and offer people partial or false gospels.  We have to start realizing that our churches are filled with lost people- and some of that is our fault.

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In listening to some Tim Keller sermons there were a few leads I wanted to follow up. If you are like me, you might think “I really need to find that”, but aren’t really sure where to find it.

Tim is fond of mentioning Martin Luther’s Large Catechism in connection with idolatry.  I’ve been wanting to read it for myself.  I figure there is quite a bit I could learn.  Perhaps you are like me and aren’t sure where to look.  Well, it is part of the Book of Concord.  So, here is the Large Catechism.  Enjoy!

Keller also mentions a Thomas Chalmers’ sermon, The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection, in connection to sanctification.  I’ve been wanting to read this sermon, but was not aware of any Thomas Chalmers’ collections.  He’s not the most famous of the Puritans.  Thank God for the internet.  Someone has put The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection online.  Justin Taylor notes how Sinclair Ferguson makes use of this same sermon.

Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.

Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.

The basic point is that our desire for particular sins will be lessened or removed only by having a greater affection for something or someone else.  We must love Jesus more than we love our favorite sins.  This is what Samuel Storms discusses at length in Pleasures Evermore.  It is what lies underneath John Piper’s Christian Hedonism.  Some great stuff- as I shared with someone caught in an addiction.  Avoiding our addiction can be a new idol- a mere replacement idol.  This person needs to meditate upon the work of Christ that he might grow in his love for Christ and be able to put this sin to death.  Otherwise we are using worldly means to deal with our sinful desires and habits.

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