Tim Keller’s Secret

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and author of The Reason for God, is coming to Berkeley on 4 March. Here’s a follower of Jesus the Messiah who doesn’t sound crazy but also doesn’t sacrifice the unabated gospel on the altar of coolness, one who does the truth and grace thing very well.

Why is this? What’s the big secret? There is no secret. Apparently there’s something called repenting for what we do wrong no matter how badly it’s articulated by our accusers while at the same time not being cowed into abandoning what we rightly defend.

What he says about evangelicalism is spot-on. Yes, there are many false criticisms of orthodoxy, and yes, true believers are emphatically not the “God hates fags” group, but even as strongly and vigorously we oppose things that, though they are called “difficult grey areas”, we can clearly know from Scripture to be unequivocal sin, we as a “movement” also have things to repent of.

It is not enough for us to cast token attention on Darfur (or, as some charge, make it a political issue), nor can we just distance ourselves from Pat Robertson, nor can we just hold up our correct doctrine and judge ourselves to be fine. And I find that I myself often use the Asian card to avoid being labelled, you know, a whitewashed (in both senses) racial and class oppressor, the grossest stereotype of “the conservative”. In other words, I want to say things like “I can’t be reinforcing a wicked system, because I’m so Chinese.” And maybe it’s for my own fear of shame that because I’m a follower of Jesus Christ I always think I have to look unfailingly intelligent and indeed intellectual, to “compensate” for the anti-intellectual attitudes that I so detest among Christians.

The thing I must ask myself is, am I really doing this for God’s reputation, or am I just doing it for my pride? Maybe both. I seem to expend so much energy on trying to maximize my rhetorical “ethos”, which lies in my establishing in the way I speak why what I’m saying is worth taking seriously. I don’t focus enough on becoming more fully the person I should be in Christ, instead hoping to dampen the misconceptions that would cast aspersions on me and then on God. God can defend Himself. 知止 is one thing I need.

At the same time, even if criticisms of the things attached to me (as I perceive it) as labels are greatly exaggerated, when is there ever a time when I care enough for poor people, or when I’m diligent enough in dedicating my mind to Jesus, or when I do any of these things well enough? There isn’t. I am a sinful person, and only God can make me whole. This is not to my shame but to God’s glory. There’s no need to mitigate or “moderate” the tone of John’s Newton’s lines:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!

I should feel no need to hedge what I say or be so assiduous toward shielding myself from aspersions with the energy I could spend on learning to follow Christ and to love Him and the church as He loved me. There remain “two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”

There are probably many things that I should tell my brothers and sisters in Christ are “not cool”, many things that I fail to say, more for my own sake than ever for God’s, because I so dread being called legalistic or judgemental or any of these very serious charges that I think people take more lightly than I’m comfortable with. Or I fear that after I’ve said it, believing it to be truth, people will do nothing about it but tell themselves that it’s debatable and that nothing needs to change, thus invalidating everything I might say to them in the future or closing them to hearing it from someone else later on.

Grace is not timidity. Power and passion is not ferocity. May God be glorified in the uncontainable truth.


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