PARADIGM SHIFT IN AMERICAN EVANGELISM: TIM KELLER
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

The following is my attempt to outline Keller's thoughts:

 

"Gospel Communication," (Jonah 1:1-17) Tim Keller, 2007

(For other related Tim Keller sermons, click here.)

 

Jonah finds himself in a bucket (boat) of pagan idolaters.  He ran away from pagans and is now trapped with them.  Commentary by Hugh Martin speaks of the world rebuking the church.

 

Subtle Theme in Bible: Two ways to run from God.  Rom 1.  Religious and irreligious (or orthodoxy and unorthodox.)

 

GOSPEL COMMUNICATION: HOW DOES IDOLATRY HELP OUR EVANGELISM?

 

I. It would be good in our evangelism to say there are three ways to live.  (The three-ways paradigm.)

  • Man's way (to avoid God as savior):
    • Being very bad. (irreligious/immorality)
    • Being very good. God, in this view, now owes you. (religious/morality)

 

If I was saved by my works, there's a limit to what God can ask.  But if it is by grace alone, there is nothing that he can't ask of me.  All Jesus and no conditions.

                                   

  • God's way:
    • Jesus, the gospel.

 

II. Support for this three-ways view.

  • Rom 1-3 (Gentile or Jews; disobeying or obeying law).
    • No one is seeking God but seeking something else.  Using God to get something else.  God was a means to an end.  Trying to be your own God.
  • Mt 5-7 (Sermon on Mount): Dick Lucas series (his expositions are terrific). Two ways to live at conclusion of Jesus' sermon so there must be two ways to live within the body of Jesus' sermon.
    • Two groups both praying and seeking to please God--Pharisees and Jesus' way.  Both groups in Sermon on Mount are trying to obey God not disobedience versus obedience.
  • Luke 15 Prodigal sons. (Younger and older brothers.)
    • Both are in need of grace and salvation.  There are as many verses about the older brother as about the younger.  The elder brother represents the Pharisees.  According to Keller, the older brother is the point of the parable.  Getting control of father's wealth through obedience or disobedience.  The good boy won't come in because of his goodness.  It's always the younger-brother type that gets the gospel because the younger-brother type knows he's far from God.  (This type is all through the Bible especially in the Gospels, Pharisees and publican, Pharisees and prostitute.)

III. Why make this three-ways distinction?

  • Many people you're speaking to think they're Christian but they're elder brothers.  (Revivals: people already in church and then truly trust Christ.)  Unless you distinguish between the two "brothers" many people you're speaking to will think you're talking to the younger brother and won't get that they too as a "good" person are an older-brother type.  Many of our presentations presume the crowd is filled with younger brothers.

 

  • There are lots of younger brothers out there in the world because they didn't want to be around the older brothers in the church.  If you don't distinguish between these two types of ways to run from God, then the younger brother will think he has already seen and tried real Christianity (older brother version), rejected it, and will miss the gospel.  Many people think that churches are well meaning but silly.  Without the two brother distinction, younger brothers will think you're giving them the same old elder brother version--moralism.  Deconstruct legalism to win people living lawless lives.  (Show them legalism isn't the gospel.)

 

  • If Martin Luther is right (that the default mode of the human heart is self-righteousness) then when you preach to the average non Christian and say things like "accept Jesus," "ask him into your life," etc., listeners will assume you're saying, "Be very good."  You must distinguish the two-brothers way so they can see the gospel.  Otherwise, they'll mistake your presentation for "be sold out for Jesus," "go to church," or "clean up your life."  The default is to base our justification (salvation) on our sanctification (good works) not the other way around (basing our sanctification on our justification--the way it should be).

 

IV. If you are going to make a gospel presentation how do you deal with sin, grace, and faith?

  • Idolatry is critical to explaining the three-ways paradigm.

 

    • Evangelism Explosion (D. James Kennedy) starts with the concept of "you're a sinner."  The assumption on which this model rests is that the listener understood that he was supposed to be good but through this E. E. gospel presentation will see that he can't be good on his own, and, thus, needs Jesus.  (This is the approach of all basic evangelism models from that era.)
    • 80 years ago people understood sin as breaking the rules (God's law) because people agreed on the "rules."  The cultural consensus was to be a good person.  Many people thought, wrongly, that they were probably good enough to get to heaven.
    • 1990s to 2000s in NY and other places, people don't agree on the rules anymore.  "Is it wrong to commit adultery?" would be the sentiment of the average American now. 
    • Keller has found that the evangelistic conversation with non Christians is different when you're talking about the subject of idolatry.  (He does not normally use word idol in presentation.)  Idolatry is a key to explaining the gospel and will help you get traction in the conversation.
    • Idolatry isn't so much doing bad things as it is making an ultimate out of a good thing.  Idolatry includes the bad things (sin list).  The concept of idolatry is profound and includes the violation of rules (younger brother) and the desire to save one's self from sin by good works (older brother).  Moralistic rule keeping is not rule breaking but keeps the rules for wrong reasons.
    • When witnessing to someone you can say something like this:
      • Everybody has to live for something.  Harold Abrahams in "Chariots of Fire" said, "I have ten seconds to justify my existence."  When he said that, he meant, that's what he was living for.  In "Rocky I" Rocky said to Adrian, "I just want to go the distance and then I'll know I'm not a bum."  Modern idols: Power, approval, comfort, control, achievement, family.
      • Everybody is a slave.  Anything that you have to have, if you begin to fail to get it, you'll feel incredible irremovable guilt.  If someone blocks you, you'll have incredible irremovable anger.  Everybody's got a bottom line and that controls him.  If you try to not give your heart to something, then you've given your heart to the idol of independence.
      • Even irreligious people are worshipping something. Most religious people are usually worshipping something besides God and they don't know it.
      • Jesus, however, is the only Master that if you center your life on him who, if you fail him, will forgive you, or if you get him, he will fulfill you.  Other things drain you or punish you if you fail.  Your failures will punish you forever but Jesus died on the cross because your idolatry is an offense to God.  When you make Jesus the center of your life, the beauty of that will change your heart.  Those secondary things (which were primary in your life) will not drive you into the ground but can be a blessing to you.

 

Again, in America's past, the thought was that you need to be good but now it's that you need to be free.  Only in Jesus do we have a master who can set us free.

Compiled by Kevin L. Howard, www.neednotfret.com.