Posts tagged ‘Timothy Keller’

It’s Time For A Change

Credit: Mateusz Stachowski

Credit: Mateusz Stachowski

Periodically, I receive email solicitations encouraging me to “take a stand.” I need to “take a stand” against abortion. I need to “take a stand” against sexual immorality. I need to “take a stand” against poverty. There is a whole myriad of things against which I need to “take a stand.”

Now, on the one hand, it is important to stand for truth in a world full of lies. The apostle Paul makes this clear enough when he writes of the armor of God: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14). Indeed, I have written about the importance taking a stand elsewhere. On the other hand, if all we’re doing is standing against sin in our world, we are falling woefully short of our calling as Christians.

When Martin Luther sparked a reformation of the Church by posting 95 theses for discussion to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, his first thesis described the heart and soul of what it means to be – and for that matter, to become – a Christian: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent,’ He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[1] The Christian life, Luther asserted, is grounded in repentance.

In Greek, the word “repentance” is metanoia, which is made up of two parts. The prefix meta means “to change” and the noun nous refers to the mind. To repent, then, means “to change your mind.” For instance, if a husband wants to divorce his wife because he is no longer happy in his marriage, for him to repent would mean that he stop thinking his marriage is all about his happiness and instead see it as a reflection of the commitment that Christ has to His bride, the Church. Repentance requires a shift in one’s worldview. It asks a person to stop thinking the way he used to think.

When Christ launched His ministry, He launched it with a message of repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). Christ’s desire was not just to take a stand against sin, but to change people’s minds about sin. He wanted people who looked at infants as disposable entities who could be left outside to die – which many in the ancient world did – to change their minds and believe that every life is precious to God. He wanted people who believed it was fine to sleep around – as many in Jesus’ day did – to change their minds and instead be faithful and tender to their spouses. He wanted people who looked past the impoverished – as the rich man in Jesus’ story about the beggar Lazarus did – to change their minds and offer what they could in Jesus’ name.

I have heard many a discussion about the sins that beset our culture and how the Church should respond to these sins. Sadly, more often than not, people want the Church only to “take a stand” while ignoring the fact that, first and foremost, the Church is to help “make a change.” The Church is to call people to repentance.

How can the Church do this? By making two shifts.

First, we must stop looking at people who are far from God as merely evil and start looking at them as lost. Looking at people who are far from God as merely “evil” incites our indignation. Seeing them as “lost” arouses our compassion.

I heard a story last week at a conference I was attending about a man who was at the deathbed of his brother. His brother was a recalcitrant non-believer. He refused to trust in Jesus, even as he was drawing his final gasping breaths. As this man stood by his brother’s bedside, trying to comfort him, the thought passed through his mind: “This is the last time my brother will ever experience any comfort. After this, it will only be eternal separation from Christ.” If that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

There are millions of people headed for the same destiny as this man’s brother. How can we only get angry at them as evil without caring for them as lost?

Second, we must stop playing only defense when it comes to evil and start playing offense. I get the impression that some people think if we could just outlaw certain evils, our problems would be solved. But legislation against evil only defensively curbs it. It doesn’t offensively change people’s mind about the fundamental nature of right and wrong. This is why legislation passed in one Congress is so easily reversed by the next Congress. As Christians, our legislative efforts need to take a backseat to our desire to understand and empathize with how our culture thinks so we can winsomely respond to what our culture thinks. If you need a good place to start learning how to do this, I would recommend reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I would also add that changing people’s minds takes time. Sometimes, it takes lots of time. So be patient! A mind changed is worth the wait.

“Taking a stand” may reveal the sin in our world. However, “making a change” – repentance – conquers the sin in our world because it leads people to Christ. And I’d much rather win against sin instead of just complaining about sin.

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[1] Martin Luther, “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” (October 31, 1517).

September 22, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Making the Most of Marriage

At the end of each year, major news outlets publish their lists of the year’s top news stories.  For 2011, Osama bin Laden’s death and Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami were the top news stories according to the Associate Press. [1]  Interestingly, it is not only mainstream news outlets that provide such lists.  Religious news outlets, editorial writers, and bloggers are now following suit.  I have seen lists of 2011’s top religious news stories in Christianity Today [2] and the The Huffington Post[3]  But it is a top ten news story in the Gospel Coalition blog that really caught my attention.  It is titled “Marriages Need Help.”  Collin Hansen, who penned this list, explains why this story made his top ten:

This story could have appeared in my 2010 list, and it might warrant an encore in 2012. Same-sex “marriage,” legalized by New York state in 2011, continues to grab the headlines. But here’s the bigger story: a growing number of Westerners have abandoned the institution altogether. The Pew Research Center recently revealed that a record low number of Americans – 51 percent – are married. The rate dropped 5 percent in just one year, between 2009 and 2010. [4]

If that statistic from the Pew Research Center does not make your jaw drop, it should.  At an increasingly rapid rate, Americans are either (A) getting divorced, (B) never getting married in the first place, or (C) living in lifeless, loveless, romance-less marriages.  It is worth noting that the statistics from Pew do not account for those in category C.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, [5] Pastor Tim Keller distinguishes between two kinds of relationships:  consumer relationships and covenantal relationships.  A consumer relationship lasts only as long as the needs of the partners in the relationship are being met satisfactorily.  As soon as needs stop being met, the relationship falls apart.  These kinds of relationships, then, are inherently self-centered, for they exist merely to gratify their participants.  Covenantal relationships, on the other hand, are binding relationships in which the good of the relationship trumps the preferences and immediate needs of the individuals in the relationship.   These relationships are based on a continual commitment rather than on a consumer-fueled contentment.

Part of the reason marriage is on such a sharp decline, Keller argues, is because we have taken what should be the covenantal relationship of marriage and have turned it into a consumer relationship.  In other words, many marriages last only as long as the partners are having their needs met.  As soon as a marriage hits a rough patch, or as soon as one spouse or both spouses feel as though their desires are going unaddressed, divorce all too quickly ensues.  Indeed, this is why many people don’t get married in the first place.  They don’t want to bother with the kind of covenantal commitment that marriage inevitably brings – at least from a legal standpoint, if nothing else.  As a pastor, I have heard more times than I care to remember, “We don’t need a piece of paper [i.e., a marriage license] to tell us that we love each other.  We don’t need to get married!”  This kind of statement breaks my heart.  For what a person who makes such a statement is really saying is, “I don’t love this person quite enough to make things as permanent as a marriage makes things!  I don’t love this person quite enough to enter into a covenant with them!”

Jesus’ words about a Christian’s life apply equally as well to a spouse’s life:  “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).  Self-sacrifice is the way of the gospel…and the way of marriage.  Marriage is not about getting your needs met.  It is about sacrificing selflessly for the sake of your spouse.  And yet, through such willing sacrifice, Jesus promises that your needs will indeed be met, even if ever so mysteriously.  You will “find your life,” Jesus says.  But take heed of Jesus’ warning:  If you enter a relationship with a consumer mentality, looking only to your own needs, wants, and desires – if you try to “save your life” – you will only wind up sorely and sadly empty.  You will only wind up losing your life.  Fulfillment in marriage – and in life – begins with emptying yourself in service.

So if you are married, but times are tough, in almost every instance, except those instances in which a family member is in danger, the road to recovery begins with serving your spouse.  If you are not married, but you’d like to be, selfless service is the path to your future spouse’s heart.  This is the help our marriages need.


[1] David Crary, “The top ten news stories of 2011,” The Associated Press (12.30.11).

[2]Top 10 News Stories of 2011,” Christianity Today (12.28.11).

[3] Paul Brandies Raushenbush, “Religion Stories of 2011: The Top 11,” The Huffington Post (12.8.11).

[4] Collin Hansen, “My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2011,” The Gospel Coalition (12.28.11).

[5] See chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage” in Tim Keller with Katy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011).

January 9, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments


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