Tim Keller as example of how to talk about homosexuality

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, is exemplary in how to bring the Christian worldview to bear on highly secularized and urbanized culture. There is hardly a hotter flash point in our cultural dialogue than sexuality, and in particular homosexuality. I think Keller represents a “best practice” approach as a model for the church.

He does avoid the highly charged “disgust” issue that Martha Nussbaum, law professor of the University of Chicago, deals with in her book From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law, a book I have spent some time with. In this book she is dealing with arguments from those such as Leon Kass, former head of President Bush’s President’s Council on Bioethics, who argue that this repugnance has an inherent “wisdom,” steering us away from destructive choices. Nussbaum’s project is to examine the “disgust factor” underpinnings as justification for legal restrictions applied to the homosexual community. The Apostle Paul might have just this factor in mind in Romans 1.

I think for Keller to have dealt with the topic in a thorough manner, he would have to deal with this. But in broad outline he presents the essential Christian response. And while doing so clearly expresses a healthy temperament for inviting conversation rather than war.

The Reformed as Luddites

I have always been of the opinion that the Reformed communities which I have encountered have much more in common with Southern fundamentalist culture than is commonly recognized. This is surprising and counter intuitive. The level of scholarship demonstrated in the Reformed wing of the hallway of faith is impressive. And when it comes to the exposition of the text of Holy Scripture, the amount of intellectual firepower the Reformed bring to the text can be overwhelming.

But in spite of it all, they essentially move in the direction of “Christ against culture,” even in spite of their firm belief in the cultural mandate and much of the postmillenialism in the camp.

The recent Ligonier Conference is a case in point. I watched a bit of it online. In a panel discussion RC Sproul, Michael Horton, and others were quite critical of technological sophistication in online communications, such as twitter, texting, email. They seemed to rejoice that they were out of touch in this way. One of the panelists seemed quite pleased that he did not ever answer emails in a timely fashion. I think they were making the case that this enabled them to hear God better or something of the sort since they are not subject to the rush of instant communication.

Of course, what was surprising about this is the level of technology that both Horton’s and Sproul’s ministries bring to the table. They serve it up in heaping bundles of technology. And here they are as if they eschew the very thing that their very ministries are doing. Are these things being done behind their backs?

It’s a pose. Their niche is “contra culture.” Believe me, there is plenty to be concerned about in modern cultural development. But that’s different than the Reformed spiel. They seem to tap into the same kind of cultural fears I was used to from the Bob Jones branch of Southern religion. For all their criticism of Baptists, they often sound like Baptists to me.

Tim Keller is a Reformed guy who has distanced himself from this isolationism, it seems to me. He offers sophisticated critiques of culture without descending into paranoia. Note his recent work on idols, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. This is a sophisticated culture critique that demands the intellect without pandering to the thrill of world view collisions. His thoughtful engagement with evolution theory, the historical existence of Adam and Eve as first parents, etc., are exemplary in style even if the conclusions might not be mine.

Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship does the best job I know of both cultural openness and cultural critique. They look for signs of Christ’s presence in the fallen world. In other words, even though our race is fallen, we continue to bear the image of God and inevitably live and work and play in ways that affirm God is yet among us, leaving His calling cards in all sorts of places in the culture building enterprise. Identifying these allows us to build bridges as the Christian community to culture builders in the arts, sciences, humanities, government, and politics. I have observed, however, that some of the most popular of Reformed writers and speakers–John Piper, Al Mohler, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, Mark Dever–do not speak at IV events. I am not sure who is excluding whom. Perhaps these speakers’ public position excluding women from pastoral ministry is the ultimate factor. But I suspect it goes deeper than that to a more visceral conflict of world views. I am an IVCF guy and after 45 years of involvement with the movement have a sense that they have more of a balance. Of course, they are not a church and skirt a lot of the issues the church cannot avoid. It is much more self-limiting and therefore less susceptible to firestorms of clashing views.

Cultural isolation is easy. Cultural accommodation is easy. Aristotle taught us that the Golden Mean is the better, though harder, way.

Have We Misunderstood the Gospels? There’s Good Evidence We Have

NT Wright makes an excellent case that we have. If you are very familiar with Wright, then this video of his recent presentation at Calvin College is a worthy summary of his project.

If you aren’t aware of NT Wright but are an Evangelical, then you need to give this a viewing. As an Evangelical I come out of that wing of the larger hall of Christianity in which the doctrine of justification by faith alone through grace alone by Christ alone is all. It’s the conclusion of every sermon, the point of each message, and the fulcrum point of all doctrine. And it’s just here that many Christians lose touch with parts of the Bible that don’t seem to fit that formula, primarily the Gospels. Much of what we consider to be essential Christianity just isn’t found there, at least not in this form, so there is little deep exposition of the Gospels in any other than proof texting for Jesus’ deity or ethical teaching for Christian behavior. I think Wright opens up deep and rich veins for mining in the Gospels, as well as in the rest of the Bible.

His summary point is, as the title of the address reveals, how God became King. The Gospels are the culmination of God fulfilling His promise to return and in that return inaugurating a new age of kingdom come. The story of Israel grounds the story of Jesus in history and keeps the message of salvation from becoming a private “I’m going to heaven” story but the “renewal of the earth story.” The cross of Jesus is the path through which this kingdom comes.

Scot McKnight in his The King Jesus Gospel takes off on this riff of Wright’s and details it more simply. I have read it twice and now and on my third way through. It changes the whole paradigm. The Good News is that the King has come. The Good News is not justification by faith alone. The Good News includes that, requires that, but cannot be exhausted by that. The larger message is that God is here. The world is changing. Repent.

I have watched this video twice. Tomorrow I will watch it a third time. Don’t watch it once and let it go. Too much. Go back to it at least twice. So you don’t have the time? Your loss. Take warning.

Don’t Assume

Kevin DeYoung reminds us:

Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.

Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.

Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.

Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.

Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.

Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.

Don’t assume the guy from the Mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.

Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.

Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.

Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.

Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.

Don’t assume your parents are clueless.

Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.

Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.

Don’t assume the poor are lazy.

Don’t assume you know what they are all like after meeting one or two of their kind.

Don’t assume you should read between the lines.

Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.

Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.

Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.

Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.

Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.

Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.

Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.

Don’t assume God can’t change you.

Don’t assume God can’t love you.

Don’t assume God can’t love them.

A Worthy Audio Introduction to the Study of the Church Fathers

Wheaton College has recently established the Center for Early Christian Studies. This is a one of kind effort at a thoroughly Evangelical college. Only in the last generation or two have Evangelicals shown a growing interest in the early church. In some Patristics programs in secular universities, the larger number of students represented are Evangelicals.

Cardinal John Henry Newman, a former Anglican who converted to the RC, had fired a warning shot in the 19th century that to be deep in history is to be Roman Catholic. Perhaps Evangelical churchmen took his word for it and stayed away from early church studies. That is no longer the case.

Of course, many Evangelicals return to the early church with a desperation to find the five solas of the Reformation, particularly salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. But this view of the early church is so truncated that it can’t begin to do justice to those times. And to limit the examination to an attempt to find 17th century Protestant doctrinal formulations is to force the early church into an unnatural and unsustainable pose.

Unless one is willing to say that the early church after the apostles bore no real relationship to the Apostles, and many Protestants are willing to say that, the reality is that what one finds in the early church is an outgrowth of some kind of the Apostolic tradition. Therefore, to study the early church is to study the Apostolic influence, a worthy investigation on any accounting.

At the inauguration of the Center for Early Christian Studies, Dr. Robert Louis Wilken gave the Inaugural Lecture. This was certainly a windfall for Wheaton. Robert Louis Wilken is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, where he was William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the History of Christianity. Wilken is interested in the history of Christianity and Christian thought, particularly the use of the Bible, how it was read, and how it shaped culture. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago and has taught at Notre Dame, Fordham, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, and Gregorian University. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a former President of the American Academy of Religion and a founding member and President of the North American Patristics Society. His writing includes over a dozen books, including Christians as the Romans Saw Them, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God and Remembering the Christian Past.

Here is the link to his lecture. It is well worth the listening. Go to the 14:06 mark for the lecture.

“Going Deeper into the Bible: The Church Fathers as Interpreters” (MP3)