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  • « A Quote on the Importance of Justification by Phil Johnson | Main | Prayer of the Consistent Synergist »

    Engagement with Secular People

    by Tim Keller

    The gospel removes any sense of superiority toward those who don’t share our beliefs. We respect and remember what it is like to seriously doubt Christianity. We therefore expect not-yet-believers in almost every facet of Redeemer’s ministry and life, and we make every effort to engage and address their questions and concerns. One of the main ways we do this is with the missional mindset that makes worship and small groups a place where Christians and non-Christians grow together.

    In general the church’s communication and preaching must continually chip away at the main “defeaters,” the main, widely held objections to Christianity that form an “implausibility structure” keeping most people from solid faith thought because “all the smart people I know don’t believe Christianity.”

    Here are the main ones in U.S. cities today:

    The other religions. “No one should insist their view of God is better than all the rest. All religions are equally valid.”

    Evil and suffering. “A good, all-powerful God wouldn’t allow this evil and suffering. Therefore, this God doesn’t exist or can’t be trusted.”

    The ethical straitjacket. “We must be free to choose for ourselves how to live—no one can impose this on us. This is the only truly authentic life.”

    The record of Christians. “If Christianity is the true religion, why would so much oppression happen in history with the support of the church?”

    The angry God. “Christianity is built around a condemning, judgmental deity who demands blood sacrifice even to forgive.”

    The unreliable Bible. “The Bible can’t be trusted historically or scientifically and much of its teaching is socially regressive.”

    Summary: A city-center church today must use presuppositional reasoning more than the old evidential approach. It has to show that all doubts and objections to Christianity are themselves alternate beliefs and faith-acts. (If you say, “I just can’t believe that there is only one true religion”—that is a faith-act. You can’t prove that.) And when you see your doubts are really beliefs, and when you require the same amount of evidence for them that you are asking of Christian beliefs, then it becomes evident many of them are very weak and largely adopted because of cultural pressure. The city-center church redundantly weaves responses to these defeaters into every area so that people “in process” will have these major barriers to faith removed.
    In general the church’s communication and preaching must also continually lay down important building blocks toward robust faith. In more Christian cultures (i.e., Christendom), evangelism was simpler. Now it requires more of a process:

    Deconstruct your doubts. Your doubts are really beliefs, and you can’t avoid betting your life and destiny on some kind of belief in God and the universe. Non-commitment is impossible. Faith-acts are inevitable.
    Realize you already know there is a God. You actually already believe in God at the deep level, whatever you tell yourself intellectually. Our outrage against injustice despite how natural it is (in a world based on natural selection) shows that we already do believe in God at the most basic level but are suppressing that knowledge for our convenience. The Christian view of God means world is not the product of violence or random disorder (as in both the ancient and modern accounts of creation) but was created by a triune God to be a place of peace and community. So at the root of all reality is not power and individual self-assertion (as in the pagan and postmodern view of things) but love and sacrificial service for the common good.

    Recognize your biggest problem. You aren’t spiritually free. No one is. Everyone is spiritually enthralled to something. “Sin” is not simply breaking rules but is building your identity on things other than God, which leads internally to emptiness, craving, and spiritual slavery and externally to exclusion, conflict, and social injustice.

    Discern the difference between religion and the gospel. There is a radical difference between religion, in which we believe our morality secures for us a place of favor in God and in the world, and gospel Christianity, in which our standing with God is strictly a gift of grace. These two different core understandings produce very different communities and character. The former produces both superiority and inferiority complexes, self-righteousness, religiously-warranted strife, wars, and violence. The latter creates a mixture of both humility and enormous inner confidence, a respect for the “Other,” and a new freedom to defer our needs for the common good.

    Understand the Cross. All forgiveness entails suffering and that the only way for God to forgive us and restore justice in the world without destroying us was to come into history and give himself and suffer and die on the Cross in the person of Jesus Christ. Both the results of the Cross (freedom from shame and guilt, awareness of our significance and value) and the pattern of the Cross (power through service, wealth through giving, and joy through suffering) radically changes the way we relate to God, ourselves, and the world.

    Embrace the resurrection. There is no historically possible alternative explanation of the rise of the Christian church than the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. And if Jesus was raised from the dead as a forerunner of the renewal of all the material and physical world, then this gives Christians both incentive to work to restore creation (fighting poverty, hunger, and injustice) as well as infinite hope that our labors will not be in vain. And finally, it eliminates the fear of death.

    Practical points:

    1) A church that continually chips away at defeaters and continually lays down the basic building blocks of faith in all its services and meetings will actually be training Christians within the basic weekly gatherings on how to do evangelism within their culture. Much evangelism will then happen naturally. Christians will talk more wisely to non-Christian friends and have the confidence to bring them to church meetings because they trust the attractiveness and intelligibility of what will happen there. Some non-Christians will always be getting converted in the ordinary meetings of the church and they in turn will bring others. Ultimately this is the most powerful dynamic for evangelism. Evangelistic programs won’t help if the church itself isn’t permeated with the missional mindset.

    2) This does not preclude evangelistic programs at all! If the church’s basic ministry and mindset is missional, then specific, focused evangelistic outreaches and programs will be highly effective.

    This is an excerpt from Tim Keller's four-part series on MINISTRY IN THE NEW GLOBAL CULTURE OF MAJOR CITY-CENTERS
    Part I ; Part II; Part III; Part IV

    Posted by John on June 22, 2006 12:31 PM


    Interesting read! I know his NYC ministry is pretty huge, but it sounds like their methods are a far cry from the faddish "let's get huge by playing cool music and giving people 15 minute pep talks about not being angry at work, and maybe throw in a paraphased Bible verse for effect" approach.

    We must engage and change the culture, not accomodate it. Cheers for those who do it in the big cities!

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