Understanding the Gospel

The most recent installment of CT Direct includes an interesting interview with Pastor Tim Keller entitled Tim Keller Reasons with America. If you are unfamiliar with Tim Keller, CT Direct notes:

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and cofounder of the Gospel Coalition, is behind some of the most ambitious — if not the most radical — efforts to reach urban professionals. Now he's expanding his ministry in book form, with the publication of The Reason for God, which moved its way up to number seven on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Pastor Keller responds to a number of questions in the article each one containing interesting insights into his view of apologetics. For example, he is asked, "Are the doubts that believers face the same as the doubts that unbelievers face?" Pastor Keller begins his response by noting that the doubts that people have about Christianity can, in many respects, be the result of the society in which he is raised. Thus, the doubts that people in the Middle East have about Christianity are going to be different than the doubts of an urban professional raised as an atheist in New York City.

It's your society that gives you the doubts. If you go to the Middle East and ask people what makes Christianity implausible, they're not going to say, "Because there can't be one true religion." They're going to say, "Because of how oppressive America has been as a Christian nation, and if you look at their culture, it's lascivious and debauched."

If you ask Americans, "What makes Christianity implausible to you?" they're not going to say, "Your popular culture is filled with sex and violence." They will say, "How could there be one true religion?"

It seems important to stress here that this is not a relativistic view that has been adopted by some atheists. At least one atheist who comments on this blog has tried to make the point that what we believe is almost totally determined by the society in which we have been raised. In other words, the truth that a person holds is fashioned by his or her up-bringing. This post-modernistic view of truth is not what Pastor Keller seems to be advocating. Rather, he is suggesting (as C.S. Lewis suggested about 60 years ago) that the society in which the listener lives will change the place from which apologetics must start. Lewis suggested that he would rather try to evangelize a pagan than an atheist because the pagan begins with the common ground that there is something more than the physical universe. Pastor Keller is simply saying that the doubts that arise about the truth of Christianity will vary depending upon the society in which the doubter lives.

After a couple of additional comments, Pastor Keller drops this interesting tidbit:

I do think a lot of Christians — because they don't understand the grace narrative — get out into the world and find it very tough to navigate. I think it's because they don't understand the gospel, not because they can't answer all the theological questions.

This is absolutely key. Too many Christians don't understand the Gospel. To paraphrase Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason, too many Christians (think they) can tell you all about the symbolism found in the Revelation of St. John including the identity of the anti-Christ and the whore of Babylon, but they don't understand the work of the cross. But the symbolism of Revelation is irrelevant if the grace of Jesus Christ cannot properly be communicated. It is even less relevant if the grace of Jesus Christ is not understood. Knowing the identity of the Whore of Babylon will not save me. Understanding what Jesus did on the cross for the world and accepting that free gift of grace will save me.

The typical Christian needs to get a whole lot better at the basics of the faith and stop futzing around with details if we are to make a true impact on the world.


Josh said…
The last part of your article resonates with me. I think that believers need to change the way they prioritize the Gospel in their theology. It is not a rudiment of the Faith which is learned and not revisited. It is not the 'kindergarten' in the Christian life. It is the Christian life. I am reminded of Paul's words in 2 Cor 5:14, "The love of Christ controls us"- words appearing in context in which Paul defends his New Covenant ministry. This ministry was one of glory (ch 3) in the midst of suffering (ch 4), the preaching of the 'light of the glorious Gospel of Christ' (4:4). Without commenting further, I suppose I would suffice it to say that as one observes the apostle Paul, you find a man who is consumed with the Gospel and its proclamation. Perhaps if we professing Christians better knew the Gospel message, we would not be such cowards in proclaiming it.

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