Tag Archives: Tim Keller

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Confessions of a “reluctant” “inner city church planter”

There’s a bit of a conversation happening in the Australian Evangelical Blogosphere (so about the smallest pool in the world) about inner city church planting. They’ve got me mulling over next year and life at Creek Road South Bank – a new church, in Brisbane’s inner city, that I’ll be serving as the Campus Pastor (note, I think just about any name/title for a ministry position can sound a bit ego driven, the emphasis here hopefully will remain on the “serving” not on the “Campus Pastor”).

Here are some of the posts I’ve read…

The answer to the question “do we need more inner city church plants?” is clearly a yes.

It’s the answer to any question about “do we need more churches?” Churches are like broadcast towers that send the message of the Gospel around Australia – we need something like the National Broadband Plan to ensure good Gospel coverage around Australia. We also need more workers to work in these churches, and we definitely need more Christians. Australia isn’t meaningfully becoming less Christian, Australia has never been particularly “Christian” – church attendance was high when we started because people were forced to go to church. Australian laws might have assumed or reflected a Judeo-Christian moral framework – but that was the default, it didn’t mean they were written by people whose hearts were owned by Jesus, even if some of our early colonists were passionate Christians, others weren’t. We need more churches in Australia because Australia is full of lost people. And so are our inner city areas.

Which is why, for want of a better understanding of the nuance of what the church I’m part of is doing (hopefully this post will clear this up a little) – next year I’ll be an “inner city church planter.”

I’m finishing college soon. I’m thinking about what life in ministry, post-college, is going to look like for me, and what I thought it would look like before college. So just indulge me a little with this poorly structured stream of consciousness response to the posts above. It’s more about me than most posts you’ll read here, but indulge me a little.

Why I do what I didn’t want to do…

I feel like this whole South Bank thing is forcing me to think through a whole heap of competing thoughts and passions of mine in a way that hopefully ends up being consistent and a healthy compromise on my youthful idealistic zeal.

Before college I was pretty outspoken and cynical about church planting (or church planters) – and what I meant was inner-city church planting. I was cynical about the guys who wanted to plant churches without working with an established church, in a hip, non-denominational way (or even in the denomination but not of the denomination) – they’re the guys who were a little bit too sure of themselves, a little bit too sure of their central place in God’s plan. Or so I thought (and still think). I was especially cynical about people who wanted to plant megachurches.

This quote I shared from a guy assessing church planters a few years ago still resonates with me… It’s still a problem.

It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelistic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

One of the problems Josh Dinale identified with the current crop of church planters is:

“1) pastors wanting to be the next Mark Driscoll

the more I connect with young pastors (yeah I know I am still generally young, having said that, I have been in Christian minsitry for 10 years, I have been around the block a few times) I am seeing guys who look like Driscoll, speak like Driscoll, act like him, teach like him. I am sorry to tell you, but you are NOT him. you  are fearfully and wonderfully made, God has a plan for you, and you alone. I am pretty sure it is not to be like Driscoll but to be the best pastor God has created you to be. Be content with where you are, minister out of your gifts not someone elses.”

Mike Bird also identifies a similar trend.

“I’ve come across many young men who seem to think they have some kind of destiny to become the next Mark Driscoll or the next Tim Keller. They have a church planting strategy from the movie Field of Dreams. Remember the motto of that movie: If you build it, they will come. But the reality is a bit more complex as church planters are not just battling against a secular culture, but competing with existing churches in their area and even competing with existing church plants. In addition, many church planters are abandoning their denominations to plant these new independent churches, leading to a kind of righteous remnant mentality, cultivating a very low ecclesiology without historic bonds to the past, and looking down disparagingly on pastoral leaders who decide to keep working within their existing denominations.”

The whole “thinking you’re the new Driscoll” thing is nothing new (see this post from 2009 – five years ago) – Driscoll has an incredible ability to create fanboys out of the disenfranchised. But I haven’t spoken to many Driscoll fanboys lately, most people in that sort of camp seem to be man-crushing pretty hard on Matt Chandler. And most people of the generation slightly above me seem to be keen to shave their heads, read CS Lewis, and be Tim Keller.

Part of my reluctance to embrace the inner city thing is that there’s a perception that to do this sort of ministry you have to be some sort of bleeding edge hipster. And while I score pretty well on the “Are you a Christian Hipster?” tests because I like specialty coffee and craft beer (and I have a decorative typewriter, and a beard), I don’t want to be that guy.

As soon as ministry becomes about the minister it starts being dead.

This is also my problem with Josh’s thoughtful corrective – I may have been fearfully and wonderfully made – but more importantly I’m being amazingly remade into the image of Jesus – and it’s him people should be thinking about when they go to church. Not me. Or any pastor. If we talk about something a pastor brings to the table, or the locale, and it’s something other than Jesus, we’re talking about the wrong thing. I’m not naive, I think there are good pragmatic reasons that I’m not a bad fit in the inner city, but as soon as I start thinking about myself being a good fit, or being in any way necessary, or the inner city needing me to come in and save it – the narrative is wrong.

I don’t want to be an inner city church planter.

I don’t want to target the yuppies with a trendy and edgy ministry.

I do want to play my part in God’s program of reaching people, including the yuppies, including people in the inner city, and the regions, and the small towns. Sacrificially, doing ministry that resonates with people of whatever culture is around me – a bit like Jesus did when he entered Jewish culture as a Jewish man who spoke the language of the people around him, and told stories they could understand… using imagery they were familiar with… everywhere he could.

I might be a pseudo-hipster, but I have good reasons not to want to be an inner city church planter. I love regional Australia. I grew up in country town New South Wales (after a few years in Sydney), I worked in regional Queensland after uni. And regional Australia punches above its weight on the evangelical scene. In my experience. I think, and still think, that the human resources we suck into cities would, in the providence of God, also produce great results in regional areas. Regional areas and regional people need the Gospel.

Plus. I don’t buy into the tendency to spiritualise “the City”. Cities are significant because there’s a high concentration of people there, but the whole “heaven is a city, therefore city” thing just strikes me as ridiculous. This is a quote from a Christianity Today article about Tim Keller’s philosophy/theology of City ministry from a few years back…

““Surely God’s command to exiled Israelites applied to Christians in New York: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7). Long before that, God had designated cities as places of refuge when Israel entered the Promised Land. They remain so today, Keller noted—which explains why poor people, immigrants, and vulnerable minorities such as homosexuals cluster in cities. They attract people who are open to change. Paul did most of his missionary work in cities, and early Christianity flourished within them. Revelation portrays the final descent of the kingdom of God to earth as a city, although a garden city, with fruit trees and a life-giving river at its center. Keller suggests that, had Adam and Eve lived sinlessly and obeyed God’s directions, they would have made Eden into just such a city.”

I get the appeal of the vision of transforming a culture from the city out (ala Tim Keller), but having spent time in a parochial regional centre that wanted no bar of most of what came from a city, simply because it came from the city, I’m not sure how effective this nationwide campaign of transformation is going to be beyond the urban elite, and those who wish they were urban elite in regional cities – who never really gel with the culture of their town or regional city.

I do, however, think that cities are incredibly useful for producing dominant cultural narratives, that do filter out into the regions via the consumption of media and advertising. But if you’ve ever watched the ads on regional television, you’ll know that even the impact of these zeitgeisty narratives is limited, and watered down by being presented along with not so slick regionally produced media.

And I do think the Gospel is the best story there is going round, and it should be told more, and it should become part of conversations where different narratives compete – ala Peter Hitchens presence on Q&A last night. We need to get better at telling the Gospel story in the places where stories are told or presented professionally. And being crucified for it.

I like what Keller’s attempts to transform culture from the city, but I’m pessimistic about the impact of his method beyond the city. Though less pessimistic than Carl Trueman. I’m less Presbyterian than him too.

“And, to put it bluntly, Keller is the transformationists’ best shot today.   It does not matter how often we tell each other that our celebrity transformationists are making headway, such claims are only so much delusional hype.  A Broadway play and a couple of nice paintings do not help the man who cannot rent space to worship on the Lord’s Day.  Indeed, I wonder if any of these transformationists have ever asked themselves whether what we are seeing are not in fact transforming inroads into the culture but the modern equivalents of bread and circuses designed to gull the gullible — meaningless trivia, conceded by the wider culture, that make no real difference; where and when the stakes are higher and actually worth playing for, no quarter is, or will be, given.

Surely it is time to become realistic.  It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies.  It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home.”

I think the example we get from the New Testament church, especially from Paul, is that it’s incredibly unlikely that we’re going to change a city by producing cultural artefacts – the Roman Empire was eventually transformed by the sheer weight of Christian converts, but I think we produce Christian converts by borrowing or subverting cultural artefacts to tell the story of the Gospel. The early church grabbed hold of a bunch of terminology associated with the announcing and promoting of a new king, they used terminology and titles for Jesus that were identical to the terminology and titles used of Roman emperors, but they promoted a king who was crucified, which was a cultural anathema, and was never going to result in immediate wholesale change.

Paul’s Areopagus speech, probably the best strategic attempt at cultural change we see in the New Testament, ends in what many would suggest is a failure to transform… most people laugh at him, and only some are transformed… and yet his speech, which presents the Gospel in a culturally informed way, is recorded in one of the longest lasting transformative texts in the world.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

Paul goes to the heart of the city, the best place to tell the story of the Gospel, and he tells it in a culturally engaged way. But it doesn’t instantly transform the whole city (Jonah might be a better story about a city being transformed).

Which is why I’m excited that Creek Road South Bank is telling this story, hopefully excellently, at the Queensland Theatre Company’s Billie Brown Theatre, every Sunday. And it’s why I’m excited that our band is aiming for musical excellence, and Creek Road Media is aiming to produce culturally engaging video that tells this story in excellent ways. And I hope this does result in transforming the lives of enough individuals so that the fabric of our city starts to change. Person by person.

I also get that inner city ministry is incredibly hard. Because of the Inner City Pressure (cf this Flight of the Conchords song).

It’s hard because people who live in places that tell incredible narratives that provide apparent satisfaction to deep desires are often pretty convinced that they already live in heaven, while simultaneously feeling profoundly dissatisfied because they are surrounded by lots more people who both are broken, and reveal one’s own brokenness through interpersonal interactions.

But ministry is hard everywhere. Because it involves gathering a bunch of people who naturally think about what’s best for their sinful selves – even while God is uniting them behind the cause of the gospel by his Spirit. Let’s not fall into the trap of hyper-spiritualising inner city ministry.

Inner city ministry – and by extension, inner city church planting, is important because there are people in the inner city.

And, in a city like Brisbane, it’s strategic because there is public transport to the inner city from just about every corner of the city – and evangelical churches in Brisbane are not well represented in the statistical breakdown of religious belief in our city. So if people from parts of the city where there’s no evangelical presence can get to a place where there is, because they’ve been invited there by people who work in the City, then that’s a good thing. The notion of place or a patch for churches is just culturally out of touch. We don’t live, work, and play in the same suburb. Our relationships are likely to stretch not just across suburbs, but across cities, states, and countries. Building a strategy for church planting based on geographic saturation is a bit old school. People travel. We’re better of putting churches in strategic hubs – in Brisbane this might mean places where there are major shopping centres, that people are already in the habit of travelling to…

Image: Relationship networks visualised using Facebook friendships and flight routes, Credit: Robot Monkey

South Bank is also exciting for me because we’ve got a burgeoning ministry to refugees in Brisbane, and many of them live around where this church plant is happening. We’re reaching the world from Brisbane. I’m not sure Iranians on bridging visas are going to be all that enthused about a pastor with a fixie, and a well manicured ironic moustache.

… to do what I do want to do (or rather, what God wants us to do)

Paradoxically, part of the reason I’m excited about being an “inner city church planter” is that I didn’t ever want to be an “inner city church planter.” The bigger reason I’m excited is that I’m not going out on my own as some gung-ho, got all the answers, inner-urban hipster type who is cutting all ties with pre-existing structures. I’m part of a team, that is part of a church, that is part of a denomination, that also has a bigger agenda in terms of church planting. That’s a great way for ministry to not be about me.

While it looks like I’m an “inner city church planter” because each Sunday I’ll be at a new church in Brisbane’s inner city, that’s not what really excites me about next year. As exciting as it is. I went to college as a Presbyterian because being a Presbyterian is a great boat to fish from in Queensland to do Gospel ministry, because I’m theologically pretty Presbyterian, and because I like the attachment to a narrative that has history, that unfolds and is deliberately linked to things that have happened in the past, rather than being deliberately disconnected. I think it’s a little disingenuous to attempt to start a church with a clean slate. With no ties. With no baggage.

I’m excited about being part of the Creek Road team for a few reasons. Mostly because I’m excited about what I think is a reinvention of “team ministry.” I’m excited about team ministry at least in part because I’m an extrovert, but I’m theologically excited about team ministry in terms of what it looks like for a church to function well as the body of Christ, where each bit of the body uses different gifts in complementary and sacrificial ways, that benefit a variety of congregations who are either part of Creek Road, or part of our network. The approach we’re taking at Creek Road has the potential to be incredibly scalable – with some of the benefits of franchising a business in terms of quality control, pooling of resources, and some sort of “brand identity” (which, lets face it, is part of the appeal of denominations), but also the flexibility to do things differently in different places based on who is there – both in the pulpit, and in the congregation.

I think if people in ministry are just thinking about their immediate patch they’re thinking too small. If we’re only thinking about the city, but not the regions, if we’re only thinking about reaching Australia, but not reaching the world, then we’re omnifocused to our detriment, and the detriment of the church’s mission. It’s possible to focus on more than one thing at once. Despite what certain personality types will tell you. Jesus was pretty happy to leave this mission global (making disciples from every nation), while providing a starting place that was geographically bound (first in Judea, then Samaria, then the ends of the earth). We not think global, and act local and global, simultaneously?

Physical presence is a big part of ministry, but the God we serve is transcendent and omnipresent. And prayer works. And prayer is ministry. And communication isn’t geographically contained anymore. Physical distance has collapsed into bits and bytes that can be fired through the skies. Why are we so keen to limit our footprint to our suburb? Using the incarnation of Jesus as a paradigm for local ministry is terrific and necessary, but we’ve also got to learn from the Apostles who used mediums that could be copied and spread, and fly through communication networks (like the Roman roads), whose relationships and span of care stretched across geographic boundaries.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because I want to serve the church and its mission wherever I can, not just in South Bank.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because I’m part of a team that is intentionally trying to create resources that will serve churches anywhere.

I don’t think of myself as an inner city church planter because, as part of the team at Creek Road, I’m contributing, with the rest of the team, to what happens every week in three different locations.

Mike Bird’s suggestion, in the face of this whole inner city church planting trend thing is:

“So I’m wondering, without disparaging church planting efforts, if we need to focus more on church rejuvenation over church planting in areas already well served with churches.”

I think this question presents a classic false dichotomy (on the back of a false premise – that there are areas well served with churches). And I don’t buy it. Why not do both? Why not focus equally on both?

Denominations are in a position to do that – so are bigger churches within denominations. Just about every objection to “inner city church planting” raised in those posts linked above is addressed by a model that sees big churches using their resources to serve and help smaller churches, be it starting them from scratch, or in partnership. And this is why I’m excited about the Creek Road model (you can read a bit of an explanation of this model here), and why I’ve signed up.

Big churches have an incredible opportunity to provide resources for small churches – in their own city, or beyond, that help in the rejuvenating process, they have the opportunity to start new churches that share the economies of scale and resources of the mothership. Whether or not regional churches take up the opportunity is entirely up to them, and there’s a gap between city culture and regional culture that needs to be carefully bridged. But Australia is full of people who don’t know Jesus. I’d really like more people to know Jesus. That’s why Robyn and I quit our jobs and left Townsville to go to theological college. It’s why I’m a candidate for ordination with the Presbyterian Church. It’s why despite myself I’ll be hanging out in a new church in Brisbane’s CBD next year with Creek Road.

We need more churches in the inner city because we need more churches everywhere. Brisbane will have a population of 3 million people in 2020. That’s heaps of people who need to know Jesus. That scales up the wider you cast the net – Queensland’s population is growing, Australia’s population is growing, the global population is growing. We need more churches. We need better resourced churches.

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Unifying unifying ideas

Izaac has been reflecting on life at Moore College – and I’m happy to see that stuff first year Moore College students are taught in the early weeks of their course is similarly formative to the stuff we’re taught in the early weeks of our course at QTC.

It would be really nice if the Bible could be summed up with one unifying idea that every passage drives towards. I think it’s something like “you need God”… other people have more nuanced interpretations of that. There are classic systems for understanding every passage of the Bible – a lens through which people come to terms with every passage they approach.

Here’s Izaac’s helpful diagram.

Let the reader understand.

Here are some of the big ideas that “famous” preachers are famous for:
John Piper: Joy.
Mark Driscoll: Missional contextualisation (and sex, lots of it).
Tim Keller: Idolatry.
Graeme Goldsworthy: God’s people, God’s place, God’s rule.
Phil Campbell: Deuteronomy 30.
Matthias Media: The answer to your every question is Jesus – and we’ll even skip the actual answer to your question and get to Jesus straight away in order to sell books that are the right size for people to read.
NT Wright: Who knows, but it makes people angry (possibly “the people of God”).

Share any more in the comments…

The nice thing about these ideas is that they all capture the essence of something true and good. And something big, but just that little bit elusive. Like an animal you try to spot in the wild – like bigfoot or the Sydney panther – that comes close to being caught but escapes just when you think you’ve got it… Thinking through how each passage we’re exegeting fits into these schemas is useful when it comes to applying them, and to pointing people to Jesus. All have their place.

The problem comes when we push one barrow as the “big” idea driving every part of the Bible. These ideas suffer because they’re never quite big enough. I’m going to plant myself into the “The Bible has more than one big idea that ultimately help us to live our lives as God’s people, joyfully, forsaking idols while pursuing righteousness by the spirit so that people will know that they need Jesus”… I’m not sure that I can fit Driscoll’s second big idea in there… Is this rocket science? It feels like one of those posts you write that is really obvious to everybody reading it.

Jesus was way cool*

You know. Jesus was pretty darn awesome and he hung out with all the movers and shakers in first century Jewish society – so we should totally do the same with our ministries… no wait. That’s not right. An Acts 29 church planting screener has pointed out that a number (all is a number) of the planting candidates he’s interviewed have the same missional passion – the desire to see cool people saved.

It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

His conclusion is just as on the money.

It could be that we’re simply following in the footsteps of the church growth movement that we’ve loved to publically criticize while privately trying to emulate – we’ve just replaced Bill Hybels and Rick Warren with Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll.

In the Australian context it’s probably not so bad – but it’s just something to remember. Jesus loves city people, young professionals, farmers, retirees and the homeless. Our ministries should love those people too.

* Check out the King Missile song by this name if you haven’t already discovered it.

Thoughts and resources regarding Christianity and Science

The question of origins is one of those elephants in the Christian room – it causes fights. I’ve started treating it as a taboo topic – it only ever causes division. But it’s a question that is increasingly an important one to have thought through when it comes to apologetics and evangelism.

Sometimes Christians can be a bit like the guy in this XKCD cartoon when it comes to widely held and established scientific belief.

Scientific questions can be hard – but ultimately our faith is not predicated on rejecting the scientific method and human knowledge of the world – but on accepting the resurrection of Jesus and God’s revelation of his grand plan to tackle the problem of sin and death in a new creation.

The issue of science can be polarising. I shared this article in Google Reader the other day (also – please note – I don’t always endorse the content of articles I share, I simply share articles when I find them interesting) and prompted an interesting discussion with some Christian siblings on google buzz.

Here are some interesting articles I have been reading and pondering on the issue in recent times. Including a few from BioLogos – an organisation set up by Francis Collins to highlight the compatibility of Christian faith and faith in scientific discoveries (I’ll post the blurb about the organisation after the links).

You may have noticed that most of these resources support a non “young earth” position – I am sympathetic to those who want to put a high value on scripture, and I think we should recognise the science is a fallible human construct. If you’re going to read any of those articles read Keller’s it is by far the most useful.

But I think we also need to consider that the author of Genesis did not intend his work (and depending on your view of scripture – neither did God) to be read as science but as theology. The question then is what does this teach us about God and his redemptive plan first and foremost.

And I want to stress that I don’t think your personal views on Genesis are salvific – and it is possible to lose your faith in a young earth without losing your faith in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross – if we make this issue the yardstick of orthodoxy or fellowship we run the risk of being gravely wrong when we get to heaven and find out the truth.

About BioLogos
On one end of the spectrum, “new atheists” argue that science removes the need for God. On the other end, religious fundamentalists argue that the Bible requires us to reject many of the conclusions of modern science. Many people — including scientists and believers in God — do not find these extreme options attractive.

BioLogos represents the harmony of science and faith. It addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life.

Violence: a natural selection

I wrote this in the car today while mulling over a talk we listened to yesterday. Why do some new atheists hate the Christian faith?

I was going to use the word “religion” in that question. But I hate religion too. Jesus spends a whole lot of time rebuking people for their religion. Religion, for those scratching their heads, is the idea that one’s actions win them salvation. It is what distinguishes Biblical Christianity from any other form of faith. For the sake of clarity I should have probably used “antitheists” rather than atheists in the title. But I’ll stick with the label the people I am thinking of apply to themselves.

At the heart of almost every objection to faith that I read from atheists is that people of faith use their beliefs to stymie the desires and actions of people with different faiths. Which is kind of a fair enough criticism. Until you think about it.

What would happen if the new atheists were in the majority and their moral framework (which basically comes down to “if it feels good, do it”) was the yardstick?

Morality is always the standard of behaviour set by the highest power one chooses to acknowledge – be it the individual, community standards, government or a deity. To suggest that morality is set internally is disingenuous and results in a really odd and selfish decision making.

The moral outcome and conclusion of natural selection is either violence or submission. How else does one survive? As soon as one entity, be it an individual or a community, acts in a way that threatens the survival of another the only natural response at that point is to act violently – or to submit and possibly die.

Richard Dawkins has famously suggested that our culture is beyond the “evolutionary” need for religion. That we’ve somehow moved past the need for our behaviour to be moderated by a higher power. Hogwash.

Even if the higher power is a figment of the collective imaginations of believers throughout human history, even if each “imaginary friend” causes their fans to act in an irrational manner towards the other teams, and even if morality that flows from a position of faith is an arbitrary and less “good” moral framework than one’s own “harm based” equation – the alternative to a planet with faith looks much worse than the current state of affairs.

People would no doubt find other reasons to kill one another. Believers must admit that religious codes have caused conflict (and continue to) since the beginning of time. This says nothing about the truth of the beliefs.

I think the reason the new atheists hate faith is not that they think faith is harmful – that cannot possibly the reason. If faith is an evolutionary survival mechanism then people are simply outworking their inherent and instinctive violent natures.

Until the New Atheists come up with a system of morality that curtails this inner violence better than religion they should shut their mouths, to deconvert people can in fact do more harm than good.

It is illogical to operate with a harm based ethical framework and a philosophical framework grounded in nihilistic survival (protect one’s ability to do what feels good) and to call for the removal of the influence of faith from public life. It is irrational, and stems from prejudice.

It can be logical to decide that oneself, on an individual level, does not need to believe God to survive and prosper – but to apply your own personal moral framework to everybody else is dangerous. It only works until someone wants something different to what you think they should want and they decide to take it for themselves.

For many antitheists the question isn’t so much of morality but that they find posited gods immoral. With their superior internal moral framework. These slightly more consistent atheists hate the God they don’t believe in for sending bears to render injustice to intemperate youths. They hate the God they don’t believe in for committing genocide by flooding the world. More accurately they hate that people are willing to describe such a God as loving.

How can a loving all powerful God allow or cause suffering? How can a loving God send people to Hell?

I commend this talk (MP3) by Tim Keller to those asking that question (he touches on the natural selection = violence idea in this talk).

The key to both these questions hinges on the unjust suffering and death of Jesus for his enemies.

I don’t understand how antitheists can be angry at a belief that calls for this sort of action – John 15 says…

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Where Jesus did not just walk the walk – he ran it – Romans 5 says…

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That’s what, in my mind, makes Christianity impossible to hate. How can you argue with a person who is willing to follow that same model? (Luke 9).

“Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

It’s completely counter-instinctive to take that position. Particularly if instincts are defined as actions that contribute to one’s survival under a natural selection model. Christianity doesn’t seem to bear the hallmarks of a tool of natural selection because it rails against the basest element of natural selection – selfishness, and works against our natural inclination to violently defending our rights. I can’t see how the continued existence of such a mindset can be bad for society – even if some believers use their faith to call for different standards of behaviour.

Seriously – if you can’t tolerate a little bit of moral criticism – or persecution – from those with opposing views to you (just because you don’t have evidence to support their deity) – then move to France. It’s really not that bad – and the moderate Christian voices will eventually gain traction as they try to encourage other Christians to put Jesus at the centre of the gospel not religious acts.

I don’t want to go down the path of the “no atheists in the foxholes” fallacy – but how many atheist martyrs are there? How many atheists are dying in Christian nations? I’m sure there are atheists dying for their lack of belief in Islamic nations – but they’re not getting special treatment, the Christians are dying there too.

That is all.

New York magazine on Keller

If you read the blogs I read you’ll already have seen a link to this profile on Tim Keller in the New York Magazine.

If you don’t read those blogs it’s worth reading.

The journalist seems to have a little bit of trouble reconciling this intelligent, rational, passionate urban preacher man with “conservative” positions on homosexuality and abortion.

“At Redeemer, I tell Keller, you may teach that you should treat your gay, pro-choice, or, for that matter, atheist neighbor with respect, even love, but as a matter of belief, you know that he or she has the misfortune of being wrong. “Well, you know what,” he says, “you can’t teach what we teach—that you must be born again through belief in Jesus Christ—without saying most of the world is wrong.”

Keller on ministry experience

Tim Keller is cool. In a geek-chic kind of way. So when he talks about city ministry being important people get all excited and want to plant churches in the heart of big, pagan cities… just like Keller did.

But Keller has a piece of sage advice for those wanting the best ministry experience to build a platform of longevity on…

Young pastors or seminarians often ask me for advice on what kind of early ministry experience to seek in order to best grow in skill and wisdom as a pastor. They often are surprised when I tell them to consider being a ‘country parson’ — namely, the solo pastor of a small church, many or most of which are in non-urban settings. Let me quickly emphasize the word ‘consider.’ I would never insist that everyone must follow this path. Nevertheless, it is worth thinking about. It was great for me.

Yeah. Preach it brother.

Some will be surprised to hear me say this, since they know my emphasis on ministry in the city. Yes, I believe firmly that the evangelical church has neglected the city. It still is difficult to get Christians and Christian leaders to make the sacrifices necessary to live their lives out in cities. However, the disdain many people have for urban areas is no worse than the condescending attitudes many have toward small towns and small churches.

I’ve said it once (literally), I’ve said it a thousand times (metaphorically)… cutting the teeth of young ministers in regional areas makes sense on both the pragmatic and evangelistic levels.

It’s good for the minister – and it’s good for regional areas.

On typology

I’ve had a fair bit to say about typography lately – so don’t get confused here. The first one is about the patterns made by letters, typology is the study of “types” and theologically it’s a way of linking the Old Testament to the New Testament.

Think of the way we use the words archetype and prototype and you’re getting close.

One of the foundational reasons that I think Jesus is something special is the way he fulfils the Old Testament. I don’t mean just the specific prophecies regarding the coming saviour that atheists are so keen to claim are debunked on the basis of generality or whatever other reasons they give. I mean the way he is the fulfillment of the narrative of the Old Testament. In particular the pivotal characters of the Old Testament. And I don’t see how it’s possible for that to be debunked any time soon. Here’s a cool list from a Tim Keller sermon via the new Evangel group blog

  • Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Abel, who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out not for our condemnation, but for our acquittal.
  • Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar, and go out into the void, not knowing whither he went, to create a new people of God.
  • Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his Father on the mount,but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “now I know you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me, now we can look at God, taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing Him, and say,” now we know that you love us, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from us.”
  • Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserve, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
  • Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold Him, and uses His new power to save them.
  • Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
  • Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses who was struck with the rod of God’s justice, and now gives us water in the desert.
  • Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
  • Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
  • Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace, but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
  • Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who was cast out into the storm so we could be brought in.
  • He is the real passover lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so that the angel of death would pass over us

It’s not an exhaustive list – there’s no mention of any of the judges or many of the prophets. But until atheists get this, and critique this properly, they don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to the claim that anyone can “fulfill the Old Testament” given the right mix of intention and coincidence.

Why Redeemer Lives

Justin Moffat (another one of my favourite bloggers – his series on things he’s learned about preaching is worth a read) has a list of ten things he observed about Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church during his time in New York (where he worked in a church plant).

Here are my favourite bits from his list:

3. Redeemer seeks to ‘exegete’ the city. They ‘walked the streets’ early on to breathe in and consider the needs, drives and fears of New Yorkers. They didn’t generalise, patronise, or assume that they knew the needs before they began their project. But when they decided, they were specific.
5. They assume that people can be involved in a ‘service project’ (Mercy Ministry) without sacrificing their commitment to the Gospel.
6. They speak in church as though new people and not-yet-Christians are always present.
7. Tim Keller is positive, insightful, and a good example of the new apologetic. He has clearly identified and articulated certain ‘defeater beliefs’, and he systematically goes about answering them.

It’s a useful reflection – though doesn’t touch on the whole theology/idolatry of the city issue (though he teases a future post on the matter in the comments.

I was going to mention this the other day – but didn’t – but dad paid Redeemer a visit once upon a time during a whirlwind visit of the states – and wrote this useful article about Missional Churches (PDF) (back in 2004 before it the buzzword reached zeitgeist status) – he also wrote something about Redeemer that I can’t find on his old, abandoned blog (again in 2004 before blogging was cool – isn’t he such a trendy/geeky dad) … but I’ll keep looking.

Made in Manhattan

Tim Keller is pretty much the thinking man’s Mark Driscoll. Well, not really, Mark Driscoll is intellectually brilliant too – and communicates brilliant things in a clear way. Keller doesn’t seem to worry as much about the everyman – he knows his audience.

Christianity Today has a rather long feature about Keller’s church – Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. It’s a worthy read.

“The Kellers stick to a few rules. They never talk about politics. Tim always preaches with a non-Christian audience in mind, not merely avoiding offense, but exploring the text to find its good news for unbelievers as well as believers. The church emphasizes excellence in music and art, to the point of paying their musicians well (though not union scale). And it calls people to love and bless the city. It isn’t an appeal based on guilt toward a poor, lost community.”

Sherman [a guy interviewed for the article] relates Keller’s vision to the apostle Paul. “Paul had this sense of, I really should go talk to Caesar. He’s not above caring for Onesimus the slave, but somebody should go to talk to Caesar. When you go to New York, that’s what you’re doing. Somebody should talk to the editorial committee of The New York Times; somebody should talk to Barnard, to Columbia. Somebody should talk to Wall Street.”

That’s all good. But then he gets on the city high horse…

“Surely God’s command to exiled Israelites applied to Christians in New York: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you” (Jer. 29:7). Long before that, God had designated cities as places of refuge when Israel entered the Promised Land. They remain so today, Keller noted—which explains why poor people, immigrants, and vulnerable minorities such as homosexuals cluster in cities. They attract people who are open to change. Paul did most of his missionary work in cities, and early Christianity flourished within them. Revelation portrays the final descent of the kingdom of God to earth as a city, although a garden city, with fruit trees and a life-giving river at its center. Keller suggests that, had Adam and Eve lived sinlessly and obeyed God’s directions, they would have made Eden into just such a city.”

I wonder where he thinks his food comes from? It annoys me that people feel the need to scripturally justify the heart they have for the place in which they minister. Surely we’re all called to do so in different places (unless I’m missing something and the “ends of the earth” only includes cities).

But then he gets back to the good stuff.

On Morality

“Redeemer holds high moral standards, but Keller puts all 10 commandments under the first one—to have no other gods. Preaching about idolatry—the sin of putting something or someone else in the place of God—enables Keller to communicate with relativists, who would respond to Christian moral standards by saying, “That’s just your opinion.”

“When you say the ultimate sin is to put things in the place of God,” Keller says, “you take that argument away. You find that they say, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if there is a God.’ When I describe sin in such a way that people wish there were a God, I’m making progress.”

This next bit is perhaps my favourite. It’s a refreshing approach to interdenominational relationships. And perhaps even tempers my opposition to Mars Hill’s plans for global domination… (though I still hate church by video as a model, perhaps some people prefer to get their pastoring from a big screen…)

“Keller’s PCA denomination proclaims classic Puritan doctrine. Keller not only adheres firmly to that doctrine, he also is a student of it, with a first-class knowledge of such luminaries as Jonathan Edwards. Yet he balances this doctrinal narrowness with catholicity, appreciating not only the Reformed theology of his heritage, but also actively supporting the efforts of charismatics, Lutherans, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Of the 65 churches that Redeemer has helped to plant in the New York area, only 10 are PCA. The largest is Southern Baptist.”