Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tim Keller

The Carey Family Conference has been one of the highlights of our family year for the last six years or thereabouts. We have good friends there, and it's an environment in which even small children can just spend the day running around with one another, whilst parents can get stuck into serious conversations.

It was great to catch up with friends there, but one of the most significant things about the Carey Family Conference for me this year was in a couple of meetings. I met Mark Troughton, who works at York Evangelical Church, and on the way home we stayed with friends in Bedford, so I was able to renew an old acquaintance with Ray Evans, who works at Grace Community Church (formerly Kempston Evangelical Church). Both churches are thinking hard about how Christianity ought to be presented in today's world. Both leaders pointed me in the direction of some studies on these issues, linked with the central part of the book of Acts, written by Tim Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Here is a link to the first of these papers.

These are full of thought-provoking and challenging material. For example, on music:
God commanded Israel to invite the nations to join in declaring his glory. Zion is to be the center of world-winning worship (Isaiah 2:2-4; 56:6-8). In Acts 2 and I Cor. 14:23ff we see non-believers attracted and disturbed by worship. We learn 1) nonbelievers are expected in worship, 2) non-believers must find worship challenging and comprehensible, not comfortable. If the Sunday service and sermon aim primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they will bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by sheer grace they will both instruct the saints and challenge the sinners. Evangelistic worship is especially important for post-modern people for whom context is everything and who need to see how the gospel 'works' in people's lives. What does it take? 1) General principle--worship as if non-Christians are present before they really are, and they will be brought. 2) Specifics: a) inclusive quality of speaking and music, b) noble simplicity of language (not sentimental, austere, archaic, or colloquial), c) solve people's problems with the gospel.
On being gospel-focused:
Unless you distinguish the gospel from both religion and irreligion–from both traditional moralism and liberal relativism–then newcomers in your services will automatically think you are simply calling them to be good and nice people. They will be bored. But when, as here in Acts 15, the gospel is communicated in its unique, counter-intuitive balance of truth and love, then listeners will be surprised. Most people today try to place the church somewhere along a spectrum from "liberal" to "conservative"–from the relativistic to the moralistic. But when they see a church filled with people who insist on the truth, but without a shred of superiority or self-righteousness–this simply explodes their categories. To them, people who have the truth are not gracious, people who are gracious and accepting say "who knows what is the truth?" Christians are enormously bold to tell the truth, but without a shred of superiority, because you are sinner saved by grace. This balance of boldness and utter humility, truth and love–is not somewhere in the middle between legalistic fundamentalism and relativistic liberalism. It is actually off the charts.
These are probably the most important things I have seen about how to "do church" since I read "Church - No Spectator Sport" by Eric Wright about 12 years ago.

A list of resources by Tim Keller, including links to the four parts of this paper, can be found here.