biblicalthought.com has a post by Stephen Macasil entitled, Does Tim Keller Have Two Gospels?. I commented there, but my comment has not been published yet. That’s when I remembered, “Say, I have my own blog! I’ll say what I want to say right there!”
Essentially, Macasil interacts with a Christianity Today article by Tim Keller (see here), specifically the following statement:
“There are people from other religions (Judaism, Islam), people with strong Catholic backgrounds, as well as those raised in conservative Protestant churches. People with a religious upbringing can grasp the idea of sin as the violation of God’s moral law. That law can be explained in such a way that they realize they fall short of it. In that context, Christ and his salvation can be presented as the only hope of pardon for guilt. This, the traditional evangelical gospel of the last generation, is a ‘gospel for the circumcised.’
“However, Manhattan is also filled with postmodern listeners who consider all moral statements to be culturally relative and socially constructed. If you try to convict them of guilt for sexual lust, they will simply say, ‘You have your standards, and I have mine.’ If you respond with a diatribe on the dangers of relativism, your listeners will simply feel scolded and distanced. Of course, postmodern people must at some point be challenged about their mushy views of truth, but there is a way to make a credible and convicting gospel presentation to them even before you get into such apologetic issues.
“I take a page from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death and define sin as building your identity—your self-worth and happiness—on anything other than God. That is, I use the biblical definition of sin as idolatry. That puts the emphasis not as much on ‘doing bad things’ but on ‘making good things into ultimate things.’
“Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their romances to give their lives meaning, to justify and save them, to give them what they should be looking for from God. This idolatry leads to anxiety, obsessiveness, envy, and resentment. I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not give much resistance. Then Christ and his salvation can be presented not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness, but as their only hope for freedom. This is my ‘gospel for the uncircumcised.'”
Macasil takes exception to Keller’s Gospel to the postmoderns, which emphasizes building one’s identity on God rather than things that lead to disappointment. He states:
“If the postmodern accepts the offer of Christ as her only hope for freedom but does not look to Christ as her only hope for forgiveness of her sin, where would she spend eternity if she died on her drive home from believing Keller’s ‘gospel for the uncircumcised’ in a 75mph head-on-collision with an eighteen-wheeler? Would Tim Keller have a biblical warrant to preach at her funeral and offer the same hope for freedom to the surviving family and friends – that they may too go to be with her one day? My answer is no. Tim Keller is preaching another gospel, not just another form of the one true gospel.”
When I lived in New York, I attended Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. No, I didn’t see Ann Coulter there, probably because I sat in the very front and she sat elsewhere. (I was right beside the exit, so I could slip out the door and avoid greeting people right after the service. I am bad, I know!) But I went there for about a year and a half, even though I never got involved in its small groups or ministries.
And Tim Keller emphasized the Gospel that Macasil believes in, week after week. For Keller, the reason we can find satisfaction in God and not other people or things is that God loves us deeply. And how do we know that God loves us deeply? Because Jesus Christ died on the cross. And why did Jesus die on the cross? To pay our sin debt, satisfying God’s justice. The Gospel of forgiveness is a big part of what Tim Keller preaches, even to the post-moderns. So Tim Keller’s Gospel is the true Gospel.
Not that I don’t wrestle with Keller’s Gospel. For one, Paul never really presents the Gospel as the solution to human dissatisfaction or search for meaning. That’s my impression, at least. Paul more or less presents what Keller defines as the Gospel to the circumcision: we have all sinned, God sent Jesus as a propitiation, and we have new life and deliverance from our sinful flesh through faith in him. But the Bible does touch on satisfaction/existential issues elsewhere. Consider the following texts:
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Isaiah 55:2, NRSV).
“[F]or my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
Here, we read that anything other than God does not satisfy us, for only God can provide nourishment and quench our thirst.
That brings me to my second point. I know that anything other than God does not satisfy. Things don’t always go the way that we want, and, even when they do, that doesn’t necessarily satisfy us either. If they did, then why do handsome, rich, babe magnets use drugs or commit suicide? But my question is, “Does God really satisfy?”
For Tim Keller, we are satisfied by God when we realize that he loved us so much to send his son to die for us. When that becomes real to us, Keller says, it will give us poise, peace, and security.
But how does it become real to us? In my impression, Tim Keller tried to address this in a variety of ways. He said that God makes it real to us by an act of grace, so we should keep on pursuing him. Sometimes, Keller used apologetics, particularly N.T. Wright’s book on the resurrection, to affirm that there is actual historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. He also told us that we find God in community, so we should be sure to join small groups.
He was touching on what was probably in the minds’ of many: How can a doctrine give us security, when it looks like just one point of view amidst a bunch of other worldviews? Tim Keller appealed to experience, but his reference to N.T. Wright shows that you really can’t circumvent modernism–the attempt to demonstrate that something is objectively true in a real world–in trying to provide genuine meaning to people’s lives. We want something that’s real, not just something that we think is real. As Tim Keller said on numerous occasions, “Something is not true because you believe it. You believe it because it is true.”