Archives For Tim Keller

An Example for Corporate Prayer: Collect

Greg Strand – December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Most who pray publicly do so extemporaneously.

As an example and one from whom we can learn much, I commend Thomas Cranmer’s collected and written prayers known as Collects.

Though I am not mandating we move towards written prayers, I am encouraging us to think about the form and content of what we pray corporately. We not only manifest what we believe but we model our response to God through prayer. There is something to the statement: “lex orandi, lex credenda,” What we pray reflects what we believe. (Some add lex vivendi, so that it means, “how we worship reflects what we believe and how we live”.)

A Collect is both a “gathering of the people together” and also “‘collecting up’ of the petitions of individual members of the congregation into one prayer.” More specifically, “A Collect is a short prayer that asks ‘for one thing only’ and is peculiar to the liturgies of the Western Churches. It is also a literary form (an art comparable to the sonnet) usually, but not always, consisting of five parts.” (From C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], ix-xi).

  1. The Address: The invocation is primarily addressed to the Father.
  2. The Acknowledgement: This gives ‘the foundation of doctrine upon which our request is made.’ It reflects some quality of God related to that which we shall be asking Him in the Petition: His power, His grace, His transcendence, His mercy. In a few cases, however, what is acknowledged is our weakness or frailty or sinfulness.
  3. The Petition: Here is the actual prayer concerning basic needs: cleansing, forgiveness, protection, guidance, comfort, holiness, love.
  4. The Aspiration: Though not appearing in all Collects, this is introduced by the conjunction ‘that.’ As an example, pardon and peace are desired so that we may be better fitted for God’s service. Pardon and peace are not an end in themselves but there is an even higher aspiration.
  5. The Pleading: ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ is our only mediator and advocate. Through Jesus alone we draw near to the Father. The pleading historically contained the doxological words, “who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.’

For an example, consider the Collect for Purity (Communion).

  1. Almighty God,
  2. unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,
  3. cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
  4. that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name,
  5. through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Tim Keller learned a great deal about praying publicly from reading Thomas Cranmer’s collected written prayers known as Collects. In fact, from the form/structure used by Cranmer, Keller began to follow a similar format as he considered his own public praying, which generally consists of the five parts listed above.

Evangelicals often conclude that extemporaneous prayers are more godly and spiritual than written prayers. There certainly is a place for extemporaneous praying. But it is not the only kind/type of prayer. In particular, when the people of God gather during a corporate worship service, it is worthwhile to give careful thought and prayer to the corporate prayer during the service. Written prayers can be dead, but so can extemporaneous prayers. Both can also be living and full of life and truth. The written prayer helps you to be purposeful and intentional in your praying. We certainly don’t expect the pastor to preach the sermon extemporaneously, neither should be approach corporate prayer any differently.

One of the ways I helped pastoral interns in this area is that I asked them to write out their prayers when they would pray corporately during the worship service. It was not a discipline that was necessary/required to do always for the rest of one’s pastoral ministry days. But it is a good discipline to learn to think through the prayer so that it is centered on God in all his Trinitarian fullness, faithful to the Scriptures, and pastorally sensitive to the people. That ought to remain central in one’s pastoral prayers, whether or not they are written out.

Cranmer’s outline/structure for prayer has been instructive and helpful for me personally, and in how I think through modelling for others corporate prayer.

A few questions:

  • What does your corporate praying communicate about prayer?
  • How do you approach corporate prayer?
  • How do you teach/instruct elders and/or others to pray corporately?

The Cultural Interpretive Lens

Greg Strand – November 11, 2015 2 Comments

What role does our cultural narrative play in our understanding of ourselves and in our understanding of truth? All of us are influenced by this narrative. Being influenced by this cultural narrative, however, does not mean it is the controlling narrative. The ultimate and absolute narrative, the grand story that is true and true for all, is God’s narrative found in the Bible.

In light of all being influenced by, and some being controlled by, this cultural narrative, what does that mean? How might that work itself out as we consider ourselves in relation to the contemporary culture?

Tim Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism, 135-136, gives us an excellent example of what this entails (HT: Andrew Wilson).

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon warrior in Britain in AD 800. He has two very strong inner impulses and feelings. One is aggression. He loves to smash and kill people when they show him disrespect. Living in a shame-and-honor culture with its warrior ethic, he will identify with that feeling. He will say to himself, That’s me! That’s who I am! I will express that. The other feeling he senses is same-sex attraction. To that he will say, That’s not me. I will control and suppress that impulse. Now imagine a young man walking around Manhattan today. He has the same two inward impulses, both equally strong, both difficult to control. What will he say? He will look at the aggression and think, This is not who I want to be, and will seek deliverance in therapy and anger-management programs. He will look at his sexual desire, however, and conclude, That is who I am.

What does this thought experiment show us? Primarily it reveals that we do not get our identity simply from within. Rather, we receive some interpretive moral grid, lay it down over our various feelings and impulses, and sift them through it. This grid helps us decide which feelings are “me” and should be expressed – and which are not and should not be. So this grid of interpretive beliefs – not an innate, unadulterated expression of our feelings – is what gives us our identity. Despite protests to the contrary, we instinctively know our inner depths are insufficient to guide us. We need some standard or rule from outside of us to help us sort out the warring impulses of our interior life.

And where do our Anglo-Saxon warrior and our modern Manhattan man get their grids? From their cultures, their communities, their heroic stories. They are actually not simply “choosing to be themselves” – they are filtering their feelings, jettisoning some and embracing others. They are choosing to be the selves their cultures tell them they may be.

A couple of questions to ponder:

  • As those called to preach and teach the Word of God to the people of God, how do you help people to see, understand and discern the power of the cultural narrative in forming and shaping beliefs and lives?
  • And then in response to the cultural narrative, how do you constructively build the biblical narrative as the true interpretive lens by which to understand life, ethics/morals and the world, i.e., a God-centered, gospel-focused, theologically-driven life-and-world view?

Many are familiar with the ministry of The Gospel Coalition. Many others regularly glean from the TGC website. In fact, this site receives approximately 4 million pageviews monthly.

Recently Ben Peays, executive director, sat down with Don Carson and Tim Keller, co-founders, to talk about the history of TGC and its future: “Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going.” Discussion for this ministry began in 2002 with the goal to “restore the center of historic. Confessional Christianity.” If you are interested to learn more, take ten minutes to listen to this dialogue.

I am grateful to the Lord for the ministry of TGC!

Benefits of Catechisms

Greg Strand – October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Tim Keller, “Catechesis Miscellanies,”(October 29, 2012)

As we have mentioned in a number of previous posts, a new catechism has been written by Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian, and its scope has been broadened and its use encouraged among Evangelicals. Recently Keller includes two final introductory thoughts regarding the New City Catechism.

First, it is important to understand the purpose of NCC—its goal is to introduce the almost-lost pedagogical method of catechesis to a new generation, and to direct and motivate far more people to study and learn the longer and historic catechisms than are doing so now.

Second, to appreciate NCC it will be critical to remember that catechisms are primarily instructional instruments, not creedal standards. So it shows no more disrespect to the Westminster Catechisms to write a new catechism than, for example, to write a new Sunday school curriculum. In the centuries after the Reformation in Britain hundreds and hundreds of catechisms were produced. While the Heidelberg and Westminster catechisms were intentionally written to be confessional documents, binding doctrinal standards, the vast majority of catechisms were designed to do Christian formation.

Keller concludes that the “educational genius of catechesis is largely lost today.” However, he states that “those who use catechesis have come to see the enormous benefits.” Here are some of Keller’s stated “enormous benefits” for the Christian, including the individual and the community. (I have restricted the benefits into bullet form.)

  • Catechesis teaches basic mental discipline. . . . of practicing the reality that God’s truth is true whether it is personally fulfilling at the moment or not.
  • Also, catechism teaches a lost art—the art of meditation and slow reflection. Memorization requires you to pay attention to every word, even every comma. The slow turning over of every word leads to depths of new insight.
  • Another powerful feature of catechesis is that it teaches us not only the right answers but also, more fundamentally, the right questions.
  • Last, it would be helpful to understand that NCC is written with a view to 17th-century British pastor Richard Baxter’s vision for the role of catechesis—as not something only for the ambitious few or for children but as a normal feature of Christian life.

Keller concludes with a story from the pastoral ministry of the Worcestershire association of pastors, which included Richard Baxter. They lamented that after many years of faithful preaching of the Word of God, there was very little that was remembered by the people of God. This led Baxter to engage in catechetical instruction with the members of the local church where he served. It is an amazing story of how God used a faithful pastor, the weekly preaching of the Word and the regular catechetical instruction of God’s people in their homes to transform a people. Certainly Baxter’s personal approach need not be replicated. But some of his methods and his goals for God’s people ought to be.

New City Catechism

Greg Strand – October 22, 2012 2 Comments

Here are a number of links for New City Catechism, a new catechism written by Tim Keller for Redeemer Presbyterian, but made available to a wider Evangelical audience.

New City Catechism

This Catechism consists of 52 questions and answers and is done in a format for both adults and children. Keller based it primarily on the Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter (107 questions) and Larger  Catechisms, and primarily the Heidelberg Catechism (52 Sundays, with 129 questions).  

The same Catechism is used for both children and adults, with the adults learning an additional sentence or two. The benefit is that it is all the same. In addition to the question and answer, you will also find a supporting Scripture passage, a commentary and prayer from the saints across the history of the church, and a brief video on which someone explains/comments on the question and answer.  It is also divided into three sections: Part 1 – God, creation and fall, law (20 questions); Part 2 – Christ, redemption, grace (15 questions); Part 3 – Spirit, restoration, growing in grace (17 questions). 

Here is how Keller explains the Catechism:

We decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

Attached to each question and answer there is a short written commentary from a historical preacher (e.g., Augustine, Edwards, Spurgeon, Wesley, etc.) and a short video commentary from some of the council members of The Gospel Coalition (e.g., Don Carson, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, etc.) and the pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So the idea is to read a commentary from a historical preacher and then watch a commentary from a modern one.

Here is a sample:

Question 1:  What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:  That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Scripture:  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Romans 14:7-8

Commentary

If we, then, are not our own but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us…. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone.

John Calvin (1509–1564). A theologian, administrator, and pastor, Calvin was born in France into a strict Roman Catholic family. It was in Geneva however where Calvin worked most of his life and organized the Reformed church. He wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion (from which this quote is taken), the Geneva Catechism, as well as numerous commentaries on Scripture.

From Institutes of the Christian Religion, edited by John T. McNeill, translated by Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), III.VII.I., 690.

Further Reading

“Salvation” in Concise Theology, by J. I. Packer.

Prayer

Lord, here am I; do with me what thou pleasest, write upon me as thou pleasest: I give up myself to be at thy dispose…. The ambitious man giveth himself up to his honours, but I give up myself unto thee;…man gives himself up to his pleasures, but I give up myself to thee;…man gives himself up…to his idols, but I give myself to thee…. Lord! lay what burden thou wilt upon me, only let thy everlasting arms be under me…. I am lain down in thy will, I have learned to say amen to thy amen; thou hast a greater interest in me than I have in myself, and therefore I give up myself unto thee, and am willing to be at thy dispose, and am ready to receive what impression thou shalt stamp upon me. O blessed Lord! hast thou not again and again said unto me…‘I am thine, O soul! to save thee; my mercy is thine to pardon thee; my blood is thine to cleanse thee; my merits are thine to justify thee; my righteousness is thine to clothe thee; my Spirit is thine to lead thee; my grace is thine to enrich thee; and my glory is thine to reward thee’; and therefore…I cannot but make a resignation of myself unto thee. Lord! here I am, do with me as seemeth good in thine own eyes. I know the best way…is to resign up myself to thy will, and to say amen to thy amen.

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680). An English Puritan preacher, Brooks studied at Cambridge University before becoming rector of a church in London. He was ejected from his post, but continued to work in London even during the Great Plague. He wrote over a dozen books, most of which are devotional in character, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod (from which this prayer is taken) being the best known.

From “The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, edited by Rev. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Volume 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1866), 305–306.