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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, November 21, 2014

What The Reformed Church Needs To Do To Be Heard Again

In the presentation below given (click here for your own link) by Tim Keller, the head pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City, Keller attempts to tell us how we should evangelize in a Post Modern world. He starts with mentioning how evangelism needed to change in order to more effectively present the Gospel in the Modern age, but then he focuses on a multistep process by which we can share the Gospel to a wider audience in our current Post Modern world.

We should note that Keller is not saying that we can't use previous approaches to evangelizing. He is saying that in order to speak to the needs produced by a wider audience in today's world, we need address the effects that Post Modernism has had on many of today's people, especially those who live in a city.

Though Keller makes some important and wonderful points on not just evangelism, but on the Christian life as well, he misses a couple of key points. First, however, lets visit some of the excellent points he makes.

For example, Keller makes an excellent point when trying to talk about how being saved by grace through faith needs to be more existentially real to us. Otherwise, yes we are saved by faith, but we don't live as consistently by that as we could because, to be honest, we personally rely on other means of justification as well--we should note here that justification and vindication for one's existence seem to be used interchangeably. For him, he states that he sometimes struggles with feeling saved by preaching. That is, he feels vindicated when he does well in the pulpit or lectern. And if we are honest, we all have our false reliances on our own sources of justification and vindication. We are simply not consistent in relying on grace through faith to be accepted by God. 

In addition, Keller adds how it is important to 'walk with a limp.' That is it is essential to be humbled by a growing realization of our own sinfulness. That walking uprightly, or proudly, indicates that we have not had more than superficial realization of the depths of our sin and how much we realize we depend on God's grace.

Another among several excellent points which Keller makes is when he likens Jonah sleeping in the boat while the storm rages and the sailors are in danger with how the Church ignores the world's problems. That is, just as Jonah showed no concern for welfare of the sailors while he slept and was fleeing from God, so the Church shows no compassion for the world when it pays no attention to the world's problems. This is especially true when those in the Church retreat into their spiritual bubbles and interact only with those who ask about the bubble.

There are other very good points Keller makes but let's focus on the problems with the talk. And the problems with the talk are partially due to what Keller refrained from mentioning and partially due to the problems outside of what he said.  And in this blogpost, when we mention the Church, we are referring to the Reformed Church in general noting that there are individual Reformed churches to which some of the criticisms stated here will not apply.

The first problem with Keller's talk is that he does not mention the Church's problem with listening to the world except for, perhaps, a quick reference to Acts 17. The Church seems reluctant to learn about the world by listening to it more because the Church tends to favor authoritarianism. And in authoritarianism, truth is determined by the credentials of the source more than logic and facts on the ground. So what we in the Church tend to do is to learn about the world from approved sources of authority, our theological heros. In fact, for some of us, there seems to be a significant fear to learning about the world by listening to the world. Rather, we strongly prefer to rely on our approved sources of authority to tell us what those in the world are saying.

For example, I have more than one Christian friend whose only knowledge of Socialism comes from Christian critiques of it. This person doesn't feel the need to read Marx or other Socialists to learn about Socialism because learning about it from their trusted sources not only seems sufficient, it is safe. Now in the talk being reviewed here, Keller briefly mentioned our problems with Modernism and spent most of his time talking about Post Modernism, not Socialism. But how many of us who belong to the Church are learning about Modernism or Post Modernism by reading those who adhere to them? By not reading proponents of Modernism and Post Modernism and by not listening to the people in the world who live out these approaches, we will only get antagonists' views of these different ways of thinking. And thus, we might overlook or throw out important concerns and insights from both Modernism and Post Modernism which we can either learn from or use to change how we present the Gospel.

There is another reason why we tend not to listen to those outside of the Church. It comes from badly applying a sound principle. That sound principle is that we believe that the Scriptures trumps experience when it comes to understanding reality. And how we wrongly apply that principle is when we extend that principle to our own pet ideas and favorite theologies because we are overly confident in how accurately they depict the Scriptures. It seems that sometimes we are like theological mathematicians on steroids. In the end, not only will we use the Scriptures to interpret reality more than personal experience, we will do the same with our own pet ideas and theologies. 

So when we start to interpret the problems that people have in the world, we, at least partially, have already made up our minds about how they are experiencing the world. And the more we have our minds made up beforehand, the less we will be inclined to learn from themon how they see their own situations. 

And what we see and hear in Keller's talk, is a somewhat intricate six-step program on how to make the Gospel relevant to Post Modernists. This is done without Keller properly emphasizing that we listen to those who are Post Modern or with him even trying to interpret how Post Modernists think. 

While not listening is our first problem, not understanding why Post Modernism rejects the metanarratives of Pre Modernism and Modernism is one of our other problems. By metanarrative, we mean the overall structure of thought used to interpret the world. For Pre Modernism, faith had primacy in interpreting the world. With Modernism, the scientific enterprise rules in terms of understanding the world. But Post Modernism has rejected both of these metanarratives.

The reason why Post Modernism has rejected both the rule of faith and the rule of science is that both have been used to justify colonialism and domination. And because Post Modernism has righteously found both to morally abhorrent, what was used to justify them must be rejected as well. At this point, we need to see how absolute values from God's Word and how God judges us  can sound all too similar to past human attempts to colonize and dominate. It seems that for many followers of Post Modernism, if God is a loving God, then he can't act toward us as those who colonized and dominated others did. And if He can't act toward us as they did, then He could not have possibly said what they believed. 

And this is one of our big problems in preaching the Gospel to Post Modernists; we need to distinguish God's absolute rule over us from the plethora of historical examples of how man has unjustly ruled over his fellow man. And until we can adequately make that distinction, we have little hope in persuading others to believe in God's laws and His Gospel. Though Keller possibly alludes to this when he mentions how truth has been linked to power plays, his brief mention of that does little to inform us of how Post Modernists associate man's tyranny with how Reformed Christians define God's rule over us.

Certainly much of what Keller says in this video can be very helpful to us just in terms of our own personal piety let alone in our evangelism. However, we must add to that our need to listen to nonChristians to learn how they are experiencing life and our need to learn how to distinguish God's sovereign rule over us from man's past and present tyrannies over his fellow man in order to have any hope that God's Word will be seen as being the main source of absolute truth in the world.

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