20 March 2008

The Hell, you say?
(Keller on Hell, discussed)

by Dan Phillips

I recently stumbled across an older article by Tim Keller titled Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age. Keller is something of a celebrity in many circles, and his recent The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism is causing a good bit of blogbuzz. So I thought I'd see how he handled this tense and controversial issue.

Keller begins thus:
The young man in my office was impeccably dressed and articulate. He was an Ivy League MBA, successful in the financial world, and had lived in three countries before age 30. Raised in a family with only the loosest connections to a mainline church, he had little understanding of Christianity.

I was therefore gratified to learn of his intense spiritual interest, recently piqued as he attended our church. He said he was ready to embrace the gospel. But there was a final obstacle.

"You've said that if we do not believe in Christ," he said, "we are lost and condemned. I'm sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God—even if he is holy too."
The rest of the article deals with how Keller responds to that question, that issue — the issue of Hell. (Note: "Hell" should be capitalized; it is a place-name, a proper noun.)

What Keller does. So Keller sets out to make the idea of Hell more reasonable to this man, and to others. It's quite a readable and thoughtful article, and I commend it to your consideration.

First, Keller provides a section subtitled "How to preach hell [sic] to traditionalists." These sorts of folks already have a moral framework, and may not struggle against the idea of Hell per se; the problem may be that it is their prime motivation for faith. And it is an inadequate motivation.
The way to show traditional persons their need for the gospel is by saying, "Your sin separates you from God! You can't be righteous enough for him." Imperfection is the duty-worshiper's horror. Traditionalists are motivated toward God by the idea of punishment in hell. They sense the seriousness of sin.

But traditionalists may respond to the gospel only out of fear of hell, unless I show them Jesus experienced not only pain in general on the cross but hell in particular. This must be held up until they are attracted to Christ for the beauty of the costly love of what he did. To the traditional person, hell must be preached as the only way to know how much Christ loved you.
To postmoderns, Keller says he makes these arguments:
  1. Sin is slavery.
  2. Hell is less exclusive than so-called tolerance.
  3. Christianity's view of hell is more personal than the alternative view.
  4. There is no love without wrath.
Keller's case is interesting, clever, creative, well-made, and useful to have in your toolbox.

It just isn't the way I'd respond.

What I do. Let's go back to the beginning, and lift out the challenge laid down by the man who opens Keller's article:
"You've said that if we do not believe in Christ," he said, "we are lost and condemned. I'm sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God—even if he is holy too."
I think I'd respond this way:
Suppose you and I were having a conversation about the American system of law and justice. You are making the argument that, on the whole, it's a just system.

Suppose I were to reply, "You've said that if someone molests children sexually, he should go to jail for a long, long time. I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who molest children. I cannot believe they are going to jail just because they molest children. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of jail with a loving society — even if it is just too."

How would you respond to me?

You're a decent person. I bet you'd recoil in disgust. You'd quickly and heatedly respond, "Then your idea of justice is completely screwed up!"

Which is exactly my response: your idea of justice, holiness, sin and punishment, is completely screwed up.

God tells us what his moral hierarchy is. God tells us how sins rank, ethically. God says that the pressing moral imperative of the entire universe is to love Him with all one's being (Mark 12:28-30). That is the highest imperative. Therefore, the highest crime is to refuse to love God as he deserves.

What's more, the God who makes this command, also specifically demands that we worship His Son just as we worship Him (John 5:23). Therefore, anyone who refuses to worship Christ as God is not worshiping God — and is guilty of the worst moral crime in all creation.

Like many people, you put man at the center of the universe. God puts God at the center of the universe.

Child molesting is among the most horrible moral monstrosities I can imagine. I share your revulsion for it.

But rejection of Christ is even worse.
Then, I would proceed from there to speak further of God's holiness, our sin, Christ's salvation — the Gospel.

(In an earlier post, I made this same case from a different angle.)

Why I do it. First, I'd approach it that way for what I think are Biblical reasons. For instance, Proverbs 21:22 says, "A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust." Apologetics necessarily involves a lot of demolition-work (cf. Proverbs 26:5; Jeremiah 1:10, etc.).

Second, my ultimate goal in apologetics or evangelism is to proclaim the Lordship of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15). As I just explained to my twelve-year-old, "apologetics" is not the practice of saying you're sorry that you believe in Christ. Apologetics is making a reasoned defense of the Christian faith, giving a grounded answer.

In fact, I think the problem with apologetics today is that too much apologetics is too apologetic. Too often, we actually come across as if we're saying, "Yeah, sorry... but I do believe this. Sorry. I know it's lame. It's true for me. You don't have to believe, if you don't want to. That's cool. But there you have it. Uh... Sorry!"

Well, I'm not sorry, and I don't think it's lame. In fact, I think unbelief is lame. Or I wouldn't bother with this whole take-up-your-cross and deny-yourself business of walking after Jesus. And there you have it.

Now, I'm about to fault Keller's approach specifically, but let me undo myself before I do it. I'm not really accusing Keller of anything bad, truly I'm not. And I'm not saying there's anything evil or anti-Christian or sinister about it — or about you, if that's how you choose to approach the question. Hats off to Keller for preaching the truth of Hell, and for not backing down on a very unpopular issue.


But that approach makes me uncomfortable, and I'd not employ it, myself.

Why?


Because to me it feels like that approach says, "You have a right to challenge God, and oppose your judgment over His. My job is to make God seem reasonable to you, in your judgment, by your standards."

And so the person who accepts Keller's line of reasoning may be saying, "Okay, now that makes sense to me, so I can accept it. It's okay with me if God is God in that area. He has my permission." (And then I guess God says "Cool!", and goes on being God.)

But what if this person later doesn't find our reasoning so persuasive, or if he's not initially caught up in Keller's chain of reasons? Well, then, he has the freedom to disagree with God and reject God's ways.

So since the ultimate issue is going to be the clash between (if you will) God's autonomy and mine, why not start the discussion out right there?

Then some of Keller's other arguments can well be brought in to demonstrate the wisdom of God — but not to get the rebel's permission for God to be God. In his topsy-turvy, chaotic, rebellious moral universe, God's ways will never "make sense" to Joe Autonom — because he has the foundational equation wrong.

Remember what Keller said about the man with whose words he began the article: "He said he was ready to embrace the gospel. But there was a final obstacle." So the man was convinced that he was lost in sin, helpless under the deserved wrath of a holy God; convinced that Jesus was truth incarnate, God incarnate, and Lord of Lords; convinced that his only hope was to come out with his hands up, and bow the knee to the Lordship of Christ as his only hope for life, forgiveness, reconciliation to God — but he still feels his judgment is superior to Jesus'? He's negotiating with God? And Keller's going to help? Obviously Keller can't tell the whole story, but something doesn't fit here. It's that aspect that niggles at me.

Remember: the unbeliever's starting point is, "I am Lord." He's wrong about that, dead-wrong. So that's where the heavy artillery needs to be directed.

My approach, then — and, yes, it probably rhymes with sman Smilianis not, "Lord Pagan, is it okay with you that God is Lord, too? Can I negotiate a treaty between you and God as among equals?" My approach is, "
Here's why and how the boat you're in is sinking, and why you need to bail out; and here's what God the true Lord says."

Sorry.

(Not really!)


Dan Phillips's signature

60 comments:

Tom Chantry said...

What - no man falling down the steps graphic?

Ephemeral Mortal said...

Amen Dan. We ever need to make the point that God has the upper hand when dealing with men, and does thing son His terms.

Ephemeral Mortal said...

That's things on his terms.

Sorry

Ephemeral Mortal said...

That's His terms - sorry (fingers are still asleep).

Revivalfire said...

This is a good post, I remember Hugh Black (a Scottish Minister) saying that too often Christians try and lay the red carpet down for 'the lost' and plead for them to embrace Christ rather than declaring the truth that they are wicked sinners who have rebelled against a Holy God and who need to get on their knees and cry for mercy.

http://revivalfire-johnsblog.blogspot.com/

MarieP said...

Great post, and I agree!

I love Sman Smil, and Leg Lonson too!

Mike Riccardi said...

What a phenomenal post, Dan. I've been having similar conversations with folks who buy into the whole missional thing and it's been discouraging and exhausting. This post couldn't come at a more pertinent time for me.

"You have a right to challenge God, and oppose your judgment over His. My job is to make God seem reasonable to you, in your judgment, by your standards."

That's missional / contextualization / conversation in a nutshell, isn't it? It also really takes a shot at evidential apologetics for the unbeliever. "Here's the best case I can present. What do you think?"

I also think it's an astute observation that this all quickly flies back to God's autonomy and sovereignty vs. man's. So much of ministry depends on an accurate view of man's nature. Here's just another example of that.

Thanks again for this... for all of them.

DJP said...

Thanks Mike.

It's a difficult balance to strike. I do believe in what I mean by contextualization... but I love Phil, and he hates the word. I'm thinking a better c-word might simply be communication, mightn't it? Isn't that what we're really talking about?

My task is indeed to clear away misconceptions and misunderstandings, and to make the Gospel clear. No small task. Viewed one way, it's my job to make sure that, if the pagan rejects the Gospel, it's the Gospel he's rejecting, and not some caricature of the Gospel.

But it isn't my job to change the Gospel into some form that is more acceptable to someone who hates God, and wants to be (or thinks he is) God. (BTW, just to be tediously clear, I'm not charging Keller with trying to do any such thing.)

DJP said...

Chantry, that's pretty funny. I thought I might be dinged for not using a song-title. Of course, I had one in mind... but not sure how many Pyro readers are AC/DC fans. (I'm not.)

Matt said...

Dan, that was excellent. Thanks so much for your thoughts on the root of apologetics. You're absolutely right that so much effort is spent on us trying to win the lost over on their own grounds.

I think the demise of the mainline churches is a great example of what happened when Christians "fought" modernism on its own terms. Likewise, the Em#%#*!$ error is showing us the same thing when postmodernism is "fought" on its own terms.

The gospel must be presented on its own terms. Dan's right, we must expose the fatal problems in secular worldviews, and once they are devastated, we must bring Scriptural presuppositions to the unregenerated.

Rhymes with Sman Smilian, eh? Barthian?

DJP said...

Barthian? Wash your mouth.

Matt said...

Hehe.

LeeC said...

The concept of weighing God in the balance and seeing if we find him acceptable makes me shudder. Yet that is what millions of Christians encourage while evangelizing. I think this approach set the stage for things later on such as consumer church shopping also.

You handled this very well Dan. It's hard to get your convictions across without castigating those who do things differently. You did so clearly and succinctly. I'll try not to be too jealous.

DJP said...

Thanks, Lee.

Listening to John Frame's course in apologetics, I found him to model that. You read Clark and van Til, and it's like two guys saying jovially but at the same time pretty fiercely, "No, no, no, NO! Everybody's got it ALL WRONG! Here, give me that! Now, listen up...."

Frame seems a bit more comfortable with and confident of his position, not angry at everyone, and says, "You know, there's a lot of value in what [Josh McDowell, C. S. Lewis, whoever] says; here's where I'd have a different approach...."

donsands said...

Hell is one of those truths that knocks us upside the head.

It really seperates the sheep and goats.

I don't believe anyone believes he deserves Hell. He may believe he doesn't deserve Heaven, but Hell just doesn't seem fair.

Jesus gaves us enough Scripture to see Hell in all it's horror. And He certainly tells the fate of souls who will be condemned to Hell.

It's hard to speak of Hell "straight up". It is easier when we weaken it, water it down just a bit.

This was a good post to encourage me to speak the truth in love, "straight up".

I try to always share there is a Hell, and a damnation to it for all who who reject Christ, though I fail to at times. And I always try to magnify the Cross, and the Savior as God's goodness that leads us to repentance.

Michelle said...

So very true, Dan. That's why I always cringe when the verse "behold, I stand at the door and knock" (Rev 3:20) is used in an "invitation" for personal salvation.

Sinking boat is right on - RSVP'ing to an invitation or opening the door to one pleading to come in just don't sit well with me.

Tim Lewis said...

I've been lurking for several months now and this is by far the best post yet! Thanks!

Writing and Living said...

Okay, I need to read the comments more carefully. I thought Dan's comment said he was afraid he would get dinged for using a song title, so I've been on Wikipedia trying to figure out if AC/DC ever recorded a song titled, "The Hell, You Say?"

Sigh.

I get it, now.

LeeC said...

"Listening to John Frame's course in apologetics,"

Is there somewhere I could aquire that? I know of several articles but if there was a course in it's entirety I could get by him that would be awesome.

I have often been uncomfortable with that very aspect of Bahnsen and Van Til, more Bahnsen than Van Til though for me. There seems to be a sanguine nature there that relishes the fight for its own sake. I'm prone to that also, but I don't find it an admirable trait of mine.

Our pastor just wrapped up going through Luke 12:4-9 and entitled it "Fear the Executioner of both Body and Soul".

In pastor Jacks words "Owie!"

Michelle said...

Should've been "Behold, I stand at the door and knock ..."

DJP said...

Yeah, Michelle, actually the more I think about it, the more it's bothering me.

This guy is ready to convert, but for this one thing? So... he believes Jesus came in fulfillment of millennia of prophecy, was born of a virgin, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, lived a perfectly righteous life, spoke God's unalloyed truth; was crucified, died, and rose bodily from the dead...

...but if God can't win him over on the Hell issue, the deal's off?

And we're going to barter with him about this?

Just not tracking.

Here's what I'm thinking: this is what "take up your cross, and follow Me" means. It doesn't mean stop smoking, or start going to church, or be nicer to your grandmother. It means DIE! then it means LIVE!

DIE to our autonomous rebellion against God

LIVE to God in, through, and because of Jesus Christ.

That's what I'm thinking.

DJP said...

LeeC --

Check this out.

LeeC said...

I think i found it as an itunes DL from RTS.

"...but if God can't win him over on the Hell issue, the deal's off?

And we're going to barter with him about this?

Just not tracking."

Yeah.

A broken spirit and a contrite heart he will not despise.

He wants our unconditional surrender. No, caveats.

LeeC said...

*slaps forehead*

I read that, but you posted it when my life was a bit more of a whirlwind than usual.

Thank you.

odmorale said...

I was told by my own brother that I can't tell people that they are going to hell. He quotes out of context like many other non-believers Jesus' words about "do not judge" and that because we are not God we have no right to judge.

My response to him was "I am obligated to tell people the what the Scriptures say"

DJP, I know you're not saying negative anything about Keller, but I believe his view is man-centered and can only lead to problems.

Do we forget that the Gospel is a stumbling block and is foolishness to those who are perishing?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

All sharing of truth should be done in love and concern while allowing for some knowledge of you listener for the sake of a more effective communication of that immutable truth.

But when witnessing to someone we should never let an unregenerate sinner leave feeling comfortable with his situation, or that he has just come from a stimulating exchange in which his views were part of a generic conversation in which there was never any urgency conveyed.

The education or sophistication of the listener should only come into play as it pertains to the level of his understanding tethered to his communicative playing field. Those cases may warrant an even greater attempt to communicate the seriousness of the situation since his socio-economic status many times already renders him an analyst rather than a seeker. He is content with his earthly situation and must be directed to consider eternity.

What would I say to this person if he and I were stranded on an island with little hope of rescue? That should probably impact our verbal method of sharing the only eternal hope for this man's eternity. And if this man leaves content with his situation and is killed on his way home, would I be satisfied with an antiseptic round table discussion or would I tearfully desire another opportunity with more unction than I projected?

Over tweeking presentations can sometimes be counter-productive.

Jugulum said...

The atheist in question said:
"I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus."

In Dan's response, he explained why rejection of Christ is a horrible sin.

I agree.

But, I think there's something else that needs to be included, to communicate all the key aspects of the Biblical judgment against mankind: In the first place, his Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic coworkers are going to hell because they're sinners, before/apart from ever hearing and rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

That is the beginning of my answer to questions about "the Pygmies in Africa who have never heard the Gospel", and it is as true here. Their condemnation is just because they sin against the Law written on their hearts, and suppress the knowledge of God revealed in nature.

In that sense, the atheist misunderstood--it's part of his screwed up understanding of sin, holiness, and punishment. It is not quite accurate to say that people "are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus". The sentence of hell would still be theirs even if the Incarnation had never happened and if we had no special revelation about Jesus. They're going to hell because they are sinners.

If they have heard the gospel and rejected Christ, that is certainly sin, and it would be a sufficient cause of condemnation. But there actually isn't anyone who is going to hell just because they reject Christ.

I'm not sure whether this approach should come before Dan's approach, or after, or if they're both valid alternatives. I think, following Romans, I would want to start with this before going to Dan's. But I'm not sure there's a hard-and-fast rule.

Rob Auld said...

So being a Muslim, Jew or Agnostic is the same as molesting children in your worldview...How is this what Christ preached. It sounds pretty sick, even for the Fundamentalists.

Rob

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I actually prefer the Van Tillian presuppositional approach to apologetics too. Although I'm flexible enough to realize that it's not the only effective approach. If Keller brought this seeker to a saving knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior, then (pragmatically) it worked!

P.S. I love presupp. Why does it get such a bad rap? I keep reading about how combative and confrontational it is. Do the presupp critics really have a sound case against the Van Tillian approach?

Strong Tower said...

"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell...You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect...The voice of the Lord cries to the city— and it is sound wisdom to fear your name: “Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!" Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33

"there are pagan saints in other religions"- Pinnock

Really? How would one know light except that it exposes darkness? There is one standard given, and it is his Glory in the face of his Son. Then how would one be sainticfied if they knew not the standard... do they not get the concept of light?

The first thing we know is our depravity and its deserved reward. Fear of condemnation is the hook in the mouth, the drawing of the Father, the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance. Though fear alone is inadequate, without it, the righteousness of God makes no appeal.

The measuring rod of the Lord is The Light of men, exacting in His demands of justice for righteousness sake. Then, "Woe is me, I, a man, am undone..."

HELL is such a strong word, so final... the crucifixion so absolute... Surely, God is not finished... Can we get a vote here?

No, there is no turning back to Sodom...

If Jesus is the only way out and Hell the alternative, it forces commitment. That is so unreasonable. In a buffet society, don't we need to keep our options open?

"I vote we keep a little back just in case", said Rob...

Isn't it just like us to balk at the meaning of I do?

DJP said...

Rob Auld — if I read your comment with the same care and reflection with which you evidently read the post, then I'd say: thanks for your agreement and encouragement, I'll try to keep it up.

art said...

Just so you know, Keller is Van Tillian. By showing this unbeliever the "logic" of hell, Keller was not attempting to show how this person had the right to "challenge God" and oppose their "judgment over his." He was not attempting to make God seem reasonable to this person in their judgement and by their standards.

Rather, he was practicing Van Tillian presuppositionalism. He was bringing the unbeliever over to his 'ground' for the sake of argument, and showing how the idea of hell makes perfect sense FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, not from an unbelieving point of view. This is the exact methodology that Van Till proposes in Christian Apologetics.

So while you may not be comfortable with Keller's argument, it is not fair to charge him with being un-Van Tillian because he is Van Tillian...probably the result of teaching at Westminster and being in the PCA.

DJP said...

Okay, so I guess if anyone accuses Keller of anything, we're all set. Thanks for being proactive.

LeeC said...

James 2
"10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all."

No bell curves in Heaven.

Non-christians say they do not like Christians because Christians "think they are better than the rest of us" and then we tell them "Not so! We believe we are all totally depraved, and only by Gods grace do some of us not act as bad as we could" and they then say "Hey! You cant tell me Im as bad as that guy over there!"

Jesus taught on Hell approximately ten times more than He did love in the Bible I believe.

Sharon said...

Rob Auld said...
So being a Muslim, Jew or Agnostic is the same as molesting children in your worldview...How is this what Christ preached. It sounds pretty sick, even for the Fundamentalists.

It speeks volumes when someone leaves a comment like this, and when you try and visit his profile and/or blog, you find they are either non-existent or "by invitation only."

Titus 3:9

A Musician by Grace

art said...

Dan: Okay, so I guess if anyone accuses Keller of anything, we're all set. Thanks for being proactive.

If you weren't accusing Keller of not being Van Tillian, then please explain how this paragraph makes sense:

My approach, then — and, yes, it probably rhymes with sman Smilian — is not, "Lord Pagan, is it okay with you that God is Lord, too? Can I negotiate a treaty between you and God as among equals?" My approach is, "Here's why and how the boat you're in is sinking, and why you need to bail out; and here's what God the true Lord says."

Throughout your post you contrasted your approach with Keller's approach. Then, you get to this paragraph and contrast your approach with another approach. Hmmm, doesn't take a lot to connect the dots, does it Dan?

But you can feel free to continue to be sarcastic and arrogant in your comments when someone raises an issue. Always easier to doge the issue than actually explain yourself. I shouldn't have expected anything less from you.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Art,

There is merit to your argument. And yes, I too have read somewhere that Keller is a big fan of Van Tillian presupp apologetics.

So although DJP does contrast his approach with Keller's, perhaps it's best not to think of it as Van Tillian versus non Van Tillian (which is what you perceive DJP to be doing), but rather to see it as two different students of Van Tillian presuppositionalism using different styles of presupp apologetics.

What do you think?

Jugulum said...

Rob,

Hint: No one said that rejecting Christ is "the same" as molesting children. Dan said that loving God with all your being is the highest command--that's what Christ preached--so if you reject Christ, you are committing the worst moral crime.

art said...

truth: perhaps it's best not to think of it as Van Tillian versus non Van Tillian (which is what you perceive DJP to be doing), but rather to see it as two different students of Van Tillian presuppositionalism using different styles of presupp apologetics.

That is what I would have taken the contrast to be if it were not for Dan's paragraph containing the "sman Smilian" reference.

In that paragraph he contrasts his view (which he says is the Van Tillian view) with a view that says, ""Lord Pagan, is it okay with you that God is Lord, too? Can I negotiate a treaty between you and God as among equals?"

Earlier he states of Keller's argument: "Because to me it feels like that approach says, "You have a right to challenge God, and oppose your judgment over His. My job is to make God seem reasonable to you, in your judgment, by your standards."

Not only is that an unfair assessment of Keller's apologetics (and had Dan read Keller's book, he wouldn't have thought this way), but it is also putting Keller's apologetics in contrast with Dan's apologetics, which he says are Van Tillian.

I honestly don't think that is fair for Dan to do because it is not a fair assessment of Keller's apologetics.

chris said...

DJP,

I'm glad that you affirm you're not accusing Keller of anything un-Christian. I read his approach, and I read your response, and I like them both.

I have no problem whatsoever with how you frame things. Yes. All true. Had I one, I would give your approach my stamp of approval(tm).
I also have no problem with Keller's approach. Stamp of approval(tm) for him, too.

I think that the use of each method can lead to the same place: a saving knowledge of Christ, and therefore reconciliation with the Father. I don't hear in Keller's method a request for permission for God to be God, but merely an affirmation of it. I also think that sometimes apologetics needn't always demolish what has been built, but merely bring it all together. This traditionalist fellow seems to have the pieces in place, he's just missing that capstone; the submission to the knowledge and wisdom of God. Using apologetics to add the capstone in this case seems fitting. Tearing down everything to rebuild seems excessive.

I also nodded along with your bit about apologetics not being apologising. I'm not sorry, either.

DJP said...

Art, what was I discussing in this article? Keller's entire ministry, or one article?

Did I make clear the scope of my assessment?

Was my article a fair assessment of the article I expressly said I was commenting on?

Is it fair to fault my assessment of something I expressly said I was not commenting on?

In the article, did I "accuse" Keller of anything, or did I rather bend over backwards to make clear that I was not "accusing" him of anything wrong or sinister?

Where I contrasted his approach with mine — do you see no differences in the approaches? Was mine not van Tilian?

donsands said...

BTW,
I loved seeing Popeye holding that famous can of spinach. What a great cartoon that was. "I yam what I yam".

art said...

Dan: In the article, did I "accuse" Keller of anything, or did I rather bend over backwards to make clear that I was not "accusing" him of anything wrong or sinister?

Then Dan, please elaborate on the meaning of the final paragraph. Were you saying that Keller was not arguing as a Van Tillian? Or you were saying that he was, you just disagreed with this particular method of enacting Van Tillianism? Since you have not yet explained your final paragraph, and since it is not clear which view you are contrasting yourself with (be it Keller or someone else), it is not clear what you were trying to say.

Where I contrasted his approach with mine — do you see no differences in the approaches? Was mine not van Tilian?

There were differences, I never said otherwise. I also never said that you weren't Van Tillian.

It is not clear why you are contrasting the two, except that you "feel" "like that approach says, "You have a right to challenge God, and oppose your judgment over His. My job is to make God seem reasonable to you, in your judgment, by your standards.""

Two things:

1) Did you ever stop to think that maybe your "feelings" are off base and that by referencing Keller's other work (which I realize you were not dealing with directly, but would have brought clarity to your "feelings") you would have realized that your caricature that is quoted above is not an accurate description of Keller's apologetics.

2) Why bring Van Tillianism into the conversation unless you thought it was a valid point of contrast? If you weren't saying that Keller's method was not Van Tillian, then what, exactly, were you saying or trying to say by bringing Van Tillianism into the post? That part is not clear.

ChosenClay said...

I've found that most people, who object to Hell, do so not because they deny that they are sinners, but rather, that they think it is not fair that they should spend all eternity in hell for a mere mortal lifetime of sins. However, when it shown that it is not just our sins, but rather, who we are sinning against!!! The Eternal God of all creation, then one can get to the heart of the issue. Our pastor, both Dan and mine, preached a two part series called "The Final State" addressing this objection. Check it out at, www.soaringoaks.org

Mark

Psalm27:10 said...

"Lord Pagan, is it okay with you that God is Lord, too? ... This statement is an implied and reasonable summary of Keller’s approach.

Keller has written much about contextualization over the prior five years and has written a fine white paper analysis of American culture that is available from his Church's WWW site.

Keller’s orthopraxy is to structure the Sunday worship service with the target audience in mind: in this case hip successful movers and shakers in NYC – most of whom are non-believers.

Keller does not promote or expect folks attending his Sunday service to carry a bible into the service - because bible-toting is off-putting to the hip city professional.

The worship service may temporarily employ non-Christian musicians or artists to perform in the worship service or other artistic performances [because New York movers and shakers are attracted to “excellence” and “excellence” may attract them to Jesus].

Keller will ask his staff and others to avoid the use of "Christian jargon" during the worship service - because use of such lingo promotes an “us” vs. “them” or the “in-group” and “out-group” mentality between the believer and non-believer.

While not “emergent” – Keller is “missional”. The purpose of Redeemer Church is to "renew the City socially, spiritually, and culturally". The assumption is that the church must change or die.

Isn’t there something in the Bible about the gates of Hell not prevailing against the Church and something-something? But, I digress.

I honestly believe Keller is seeking to be faithful … while with equal or greater vigor seeking to structure Christian orthopraxy around the relevance of the unbeliever and the prevailing zeitgeist in NYC.

His approach is impacting a whole generation of Pastors who would laugh at the Shepherds conference as “ingrown” and out of step.

The sad and unintended consequence is that those Pastors already enamored with being relevant, missional, and contextual, may easily take Keller’s teachings to levels and extremes Keller never intended.

I was under one such pastor who’s handed out books by Tim Keller and Donald Miller like candy, but would refuse a home study just to study one book of the bible.

Net/net: validated goats [we want to understand and listen to your authentic journey] and starving sheep. The gospel message at this church was: "God loves you just the way you are". This made me wonder why Christ had to die at all.

But, I digress yet again.

Chris Latch said...

Great post, Dan.

Let's remember who God is when we meet with unbelievers.

Stefan said...

I've been very busy today, with no time to read or write comments.

As we mark Good Friday tomorrow, let us thank God for what in His grace and love He did, according to His eternal decrees, so that by the incarnation, atoning death and Hell-conquering resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we who were once rebellious sinners have been counted as righteous, and look forward as strangers and exiles on this earth to the heavenly country, and "to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."

And let's pray for those we love who don't have the blessings of faith and assurance, knowing that the shed blood of the Lamb is sufficient to cover all their sins.

Jason E. Robertson said...

Dan,
Thanks for interacting with Keller's ideas. I appreciate both yours and his approach in this issue. I have used your approach -- probably because I have been around more traditionalists than anything else. But I also find that Keller is very wise in attempting to communicate God's eternal truths in ways that are effective among New Yorkers.

I find that Keller has a high view of Scripture and is very sound in his soteriology. It is possible that his "apologetics" are a little ahead of the rest of America since he is dealing with a complex mixture of cultures and worldviews in one of the largest urban areas of our country.

He does not compromise biblical theology but he does get to the point in different ways than most of us are use to.

In fact, the rest of us should be careful (in my opinion) not to adopt Keller's methodologies too quickly, because in doing so we may not be speaking in ways that our audiences can relate. To do so would be as foolish as when many rural churches tried to adopt the "Saddleback Model" -- they started preaching to Saddleback Sam when only Bubba was in the pew (if you know what I mean).

With that said, I do believe that Keller may be on to something when he states that he believes that the younger generation is not so intersted in Heaven and Hell but they are interested in how to break out of their bondage to sin. Keller therefore is not a big fan of the old Evangelism Explosion material anymore and is attempting to write material that addresses the sin-concerns of the new generations. EE focuses on our failure before God and guilt. Keller is trying to rewrite an evangelistic approach that involves the issues of bondage to sin and freedom to glorify God in Christ.

I think this effort is worthy and needed. I am watching closely. But in the mean time I will probably use Dan's apologetics for the most part.

Strong Tower said...

"...that the younger generation is not so intersted in Heaven and Hell but they are interested in how to break out of their bondage to sin...Keller is trying to rewrite an evangelistic approach that involves the issues of bondage to sin and freedom to glorify God in Christ."

This is a kinda methedone treatment for addiction to heroine? Give them a placebo effect, ameliorate the affect with an affect rather than an effective cure? The apologetic aside, this is not offering the Gospel, it is offering works which might assuage the conscience but does nothing to bring someone under the conviction of the condemnation due to sin, not sins. If Keller is working on the symptoms and not the disease, if he is working from the outside in, he may only be making very healthy dead people. That is deceptive. If they begin to think that they are saved because they haved changed their behavior, what makes them different than the Pharisees who came to John seeking repentance without the proper fruit. Is Keller saying that John and Jesus were wrong in presenting the Gospel in s condemnation and Hell vs repentance and Heaven contrast? You do not get far into John before it is made all to clear that getting free from bondages (living the right religious life) is as much death and bondage to sin as not. And is not glorifying God at all, but man's efforts to do so. Why not just glorify God and let him take care of the bondages? Isn't it, "While we were yet dead in our sin and trespass Christ died for us." And isn't this the way he show his love for us. Romans 1 paints a very vivid picture for us, that it is sins which are the wrath that is being poured out. They are not the cause of not glorifying God they are the fact of not glorifying him. It is those things that people are given over to because of sin. If you do not get rid of it, getting rid of sins is merely the worship of man or beasts or creepy things; the dog will return to its own vomit. How sad that people would be turned in to selfworshippers by turning them away from self worship.

I am not saying that that is what he is doing. It is just the picture I get when I put this collage together.

So, I am really confused. We have on the one hand Ps 27 drawing a picture of Keller as a wack that is nonetheless sound, Jason saying he is sound but a near wack apparently offering a works Gospel, and djp saying that it is merely a matter of approach with some reservations about what the approach signifies, namely that it can turn to a works righteousness allie allie Ox in free zone theology.

Not knowing Keller and just putting this in the blender and hitting frappe, I wouldn't let my dog drink it.

I think that is good advice to yourself Jason.

Long live the contentualization of the Gospel!

Carlo said...

I want to quote Jim Petersen in his book Living Proof where he writes that we need to understand three characteristics effectively beyond the perimeters of own subgroups and the three primary factors are that man is created in God's image, he is fallen and he is influenced by his society. Now there are very important implications to each of those characteristics which I don't have time develop it since it's not my blog, but I think what Keller is trying to do is in addition to understanding and applying the first two characteristics, he is making an honest and I think a real attempt to apply the third charateristic which is considering the influence of society on man.

And I think Keller is keenly aware of is whoever he is ministering to, what his influencing that person's thought. I think most of our country's history is that it is from a traditionalist perspective and I think for the most part, it still is if you believe in the opinion polls (that most people believe in God - not the God of the Bible, but they believe in God and they believe in moral absolutes - at least some of them).

Now, you contrast that to the postmodern influence that is in our colleges and schools and it's quite a contrast. Now, we can't make an absolute statement like, everyone is influenced by post-modernism or everyone is influenced by traditionalism, therefore, only one method of evangelism is going to work. Certainly the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to quicken men's heart is an absolute must and God, through the preaching of the gospel quickens men's hearts. That doesn't alleviate our responsibility, I don't think, from knowing what is influencing the person's thoughts and thinking and attitudes that we are ministering to.

Dan - if you get a chance (if you haven't already) to listen to the link that Erik sent, I highly recommend it. But anyway, in that context, Keller is speaking to a bunch of liberal UC Berkeley students. It's an audience of mostly atheistic, agnostic, undergrads. Well, anyway, you get this question from a student who says, he doesn't believe in God, but if he did, he can't imagine a God that would send people to hell. (As a believer, with a renewed mind, I can chuckle at these people who don't know God, but profess to us how they would design the invisible and visible world). So, Keller, knowing the audience he's trying to preach the gospel to comes back to this kid with really an astounding response and says that you only go to Hell because you really want to go there.

In this video, you wish you could see the students who were asking the question, because you can imagine the stupor on their faces from the silent response. And you hear Keller saying, no really, you go to Hell because you really want to. And what Keller went on to say to this student was, hey you know, you really wouldn't enjoy Heaven, because you really don't want to do what God wants you to do which is why God would send you to Hell. And really, this student was really befuddled I think, because what could he say, I mean, he just admitted he didn't believe in God and certainly, you're not going to want to do what someone like God tells you to do for eternity so why on earth would you expect to be in Heaven for eternity.

So, I think your approach Dan would work if you were talking to someone who was influenced by traditional thought. Certainly, if the Lord granted, He would supernaturally quicken that person's mind through the gospel power. The gospel has power through the supernatural work of the Spirit, whether it's on a person influenced by traditional thought or a postmodern thought but I think what Keller is saying and I think he may be right is be aware what is shaping the person's ethics, values and worldview that you are ministering to. Sometimes, that is only possible by investing time into their lives and knowing what actually influences them, and that comes by only asking a bunch of questions.

Jason E. Robertson said...

Stong Tower,
If your comments were directed at me, I am sorry but I didn't quite understand them. And I think you may have said that I said that Keller is "near wack." I didn't say that or anything like that. Anyway, Keller doesn't need me to defend him.

Good post Dan. This is one of your best posts to date, in my opinion.

Strong Tower said...

Jason- they weren't directed at you- I quoted you:

"Keller is trying to rewrite an evangelistic approach that involves the issues of bondage to sin and freedom to glorify God in Christ."

I took this to mean that you were saying that he was approaching evangelism from a "live your best life now" methodology. Which I find to be near wack. I was not saying, that you were saying that he was, but that you were saying that that is what he is doing, which says to me he is a near wack-

So, I read djp, Ps 27, and you, and my final conclusion was, "what is the reality"-

The categories traditionalist vs neo-apologist (my term) do me no good in understanding how it is that Keller is contextualizing the content of the Gospel. Carlo said:

"Now, you contrast that to the postmodern influence that is in our colleges and schools and it's quite a contrast. Now, we can't make an absolute statement like, everyone is influenced by post-modernism or everyone is influenced by traditionalism, therefore, only one method of evangelism is going to work. Certainly the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to quicken men's heart is an absolute must and God, through the preaching of the gospel quickens men's hearts. That doesn't alleviate our responsibility, I don't think, from knowing what is influencing the person's thoughts and thinking and attitudes that we are ministering to."

If this is what Keller is about, then more power to him. Carlo is absolutely right. We of course have to establish rapport. We have to understand their basic understanding, their basic language. However, if the method is to bring about change in behavior as a precursor to the acceptance of the Gospel, my concern would be as I characterized, not the offer of a cure for the disease of a depraved nature, but a sealing in it by the salve of self-improvement.

Anyway, no offense intended.

Carlo said...

Strong Tower,

You wrote: "If this is what Keller is about, then more power to him. Carlo is absolutely right. We of course have to establish rapport. We have to understand their basic understanding, their basic language. However, if the method is to bring about change in behavior as a precursor to the acceptance of the Gospel, my concern would be as I characterized, not the offer of a cure for the disease of a depraved nature, but a sealing in it by the salve of self-improvement."

I don't believe, from what I've read, that is what Keller is trying to do. I know there are about 50 posts or so on a discussion of "contextualization" and I know Phil Johnson has just done a blog on it and I wish I had the time to read 50 posts and Johnson's treatment on it. (Honestly, I don't know how you people, especially with families, have time to read or write all this stuff). But I think it's important to understand what the person using the word means by it, and Keller has done that.

http://www.redeemer2.com/themovement/issues/2004/feb/advancingthegospel_3.html

Strong Tower said...

Carlo-

Thanks for the link-

I am reading and listening to Keller now-

He is actually quite orthodox and his approach even in discussion with postmoderns is also quite good. One thing he does not do in down play Hell at all, and as I suspected he makes that a sticking point, or so it seems from what I have read so far-

Thanks for the link.

tt

Strong Tower said...

For any who are interested:

http://www.stevekmccoy.com/reformissionary/2005/07/tim_keller_arti.html

It's kinda like a Spurgeon archive, no kidden!

RememberPolycarp said...

Great post Dan! Thank's for helping me sort through what I thought was just my own confusion on Keller. I've found him enigmatic for some time now, as he just cannot be mapped in my mind. I mean, in many ways He seems orthodox and reformed, yet in others he seems emergent. From some of the Desiring God videos I've seen, he seems to be saying: "I was doing emergent before emergent was cool." What is your overall take on him and the ec movement? Or, as an orthodox, reformed Christian leader?

Strong Tower said...

polycarp-

The same question I was asking- I listened to this. Many of the answers are in this recording.

I don't quite accept his full explanation of the separation and descent. There is of course a reality of the fullness of the wrath of God against sin pour out on Christ on our behalf.

Anyway- this clears up much.

Carlo said...

Thomas you wrote: "I am reading and listening to Keller now-

He is actually quite orthodox and his approach even in discussion with postmoderns is also quite good. One thing he does not do in down play Hell at all, and as I suspected he makes that a sticking point, or so it seems from what I have read so far-

Thanks for the link."

My response: You're welcome. I'm also attaching the talk I mentioned that Keller did with the UC Berkeley students.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9fmKSwuoDE

Jake said...

All - I'm not sure what the general relationship is between most the readers here and the Presbyterian Church in America but just as a clarifying point, Keller is a PCA guy which means he's in the same denomination as Ligon Duncan and R.C. Sproul and affirms the same confession that they do. Hopefully that should address any concerns about his orthodoxy. I think it's safe to say that he is well within the bounds of orthodoxy (and if you throw him out, you'll have to dismiss lots of other solid guys with similar beliefs like John Frame and Francis Schaeffer).

The difference with Keller when compared to Pastor Duncan or Dr. Sproul is that he is in a context and culture extremely different from that of those two men, and is proclaiming the orthodox gospel in a way that is sensible to the people he's speaking to. (In other words, "seeker-sensible," not "seeker-sensitive." There's a big difference.)

If you've read Carson's book, "Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church," he has a chapter discussing a church that has all the strengths of the ECM without its weaknesses. The church he's talking about is Keller's church in New York.

Basically, what I'm saying is that we're all on the same team, we just use different jargon.

DJP said...

Art, yes, I phrased myself carefully and deliberately, and it did communicate exactly what I meant to say.

And yes, the two possible approaches is a point of contrast with this article.

To try to tell you one last time, this article was an interaction with one (1) Keller article, not his whole body of work.

Which I stated, and then did.