Archives For Tim Keller

A New Catechism for a New Day

Greg Strand – October 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Tim Keller has written a new catechism, New City Catechism, for Redeemer Presbyterian, the local church where he serves as the pastor. He has made this resource available to the broader evangelical community.

Here are a few introductory blog posts Keller has written about it, which are excerpts from the Introduction to the Catechism. Underneath each post, I will include pertinent excerpts. There are many good and valid reasons to use a catechism in the life of a family and the church. You will read some of them below. There are also cautions. In another post, I will address the actual New City Catechism. And in a separate post I will address some of the strengths and weaknesses of catechisms, or more accurately why they are to be used, and some of the concerns/cautions when using them.

Why Catechesis Now?”  

But in the evangelical Christian world today the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs are usually superficial when it comes to doctrine. Even systematic Bible studies can be weak in drawing doctrinal conclusions. In contrast, catechisms take students step by step through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology and doctrine, practical ethics, and spiritual experience.

Catechesis is an intense way of doing instruction. The catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts in deep, encouraging meditation on truth. It also holds students more accountable to master the material than do other forms of education. Some ask: why fill children’s heads—or for that matter, new converts’—with concepts like “the glory of God” that they cannot grasp well? The answer is that it creates biblical categories in our minds and hearts where they act as a foundation, to be gradually built upon over the years with new insights from more teaching, reading, and experiences. Catechesis done with young children helps them think in biblical categories almost as soon as they can reason. Such instruction, one old writer said, is like firewood in a fireplace. Without the fire—the Spirit of God—firewood will not in itself produce a warming flame. But without fuel there can be no fire either, and that is what catechetical instruction provides.

Catechesis is also different from listening to a sermon or lecture—or reading a book—in that it is deeply communal and participatory. The practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning. It creates true community as teachers help students—and students help each other—understand and remember material. Parents catechize their children. Church leaders catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. All of this systematically builds relationships. In fact, because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be incorporated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.

Why Write New Catechisms?”

[Quoting T. F. Torrance’s Introduction] “The catechisms set forth Christian doctrine at its closest to the mission, life, and growth of the church from age to age, for they aim to give a comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the context of the whole counsel of God and the whole life of the people of God.”

So the first reason to produce multiple catechisms is that they must serve the whole people of God, and that has always meant catechisms for beginning, intermediate, and advanced learners. There were simple catechisms for very young children, more intermediate ones for those being admitted to the Lord’s Supper, and advanced ones for adults and Christian ministers.

A second reason is that catechisms have always been connected to the “mission of the church”. . . . It is quite evident—if you take the time to read through many catechisms—that each seeks to fortify against the ascendant theological errors in the culture at the time.

Richard Baxter and others of his time saw catechesis as a way not merely to disciple but also to bring people to conversion. So new catechisms were always needed, not in order to change basic doctrine, but to present doctrine in ways that equip people to address the idols and answer the errors of the age.

When the church has gone through a period of reformation there has always been a renewal of catechesis. If we are going to see our people live holy lives in the midst of a post-Christian and anti-Christian culture, we will need to write new catechisms that fit their capacities and equip them for Christian living in the world.

Introducing New City Catechism

Historically catechisms were written with at least three purposes. The first was to set forth a comprehensive exposition of the gospel—not only in order to explain clearly what the gospel is, but also to lay out the building blocks on which the gospel is based, such as the biblical doctrine of God, of human nature, of sin, and so forth. The second purpose was to do this exposition in such a way that the heresies, errors, and false beliefs of the time and culture were addressed and counteracted. The third and more pastoral purpose was to form a distinct people, a counter-culture that reflected the likeness of Christ not only in individual character but also in the church’s communal life.

When looked at together, these three purposes explain why new catechisms must be written. While our exposition of gospel doctrine must be in line with older catechisms that are true to the Word, culture changes, and so do the errors, temptations, and challenges that we must be equipped to face and answer.

The Puritans – Soul Doctors

Greg Strand – October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I have for many years appreciated the Puritans for their sound exposition of the Scriptures and their keen application of biblical truth to the lives/souls of individuals. In fact, I will often explain that pastors are “soul doctors,” an expression I picked up from the Puritans.

Tim Keller wrote an article a number of years ago about how the Puritans have served as an invaluable resource for his own biblical counseling. His six reasons are the following:

  1. The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing.
  6. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used in both repentance and the development of proper self-understanding.

Cf. Tim Keller, “Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling,” The Journal of Pastoral Practice 9/3 (1988): 11-44. (The journal is now named The Journal for Biblical Counseling.)

Trevin Wax, “Gospel, Culture, and Mission: An Interview with Tim Keller,” Kingdom People: Living on Earth as Citizens of Heaven Blog (October 10, 2012)

Tim Keller has published numerous works the past few years that have been very helpful to the church. He has just published another book, probably his most significant up to this point: Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012). It is certainly his most substantive. In this book, Keller writes of his theological vision that has been worked out over many years of pastoral ministry. In essence, it is a ministry that is rooted in the truth of the gospel and gives functional priority to the gospel in ministry.

Wax interviews Keller about his book. Here are a few excerpts including questions about the gospel, how Christians relate to culture, being missional, and the mission of the church and making disciples:

Trevin Wax: [Scot McKnight critiqued Keller’s understanding of the gospel as being too “soterian,” i.e. individualistic.]Why is it important to keep individual salvation at the center of our thinking about the gospel? And do you sense a tension between a focus on individual salvation and the resurrection-centered, kingship-focused sermons we see in Acts?

Tim Keller: Scot and I disagree on this. But yes, I do think individual salvation needs to be kept central.

In Romans 8 Paul speaks of the renewal of creation—its liberation from decay—something that shows that ultimately God’s salvation means the renewal of the whole world, not just the salvation of individual souls. Yet in verse 21 Paul says that the creation will be brought into our freedom and glory as children of God—the glory that we as individuals have received through faith in Jesus Christ.

So rather than saying—as many do—that the main point of the gospel is cosmic salvation, and our individual salvation(s) are just part of that, it might be more accurate to say it’s the other way around. It may be that cosmic renewal is a fruit of our individual, personal salvation.

Because I read Romans 8 the way I do—I see substitutionary atonement and justification as not something that comes along with the bigger story but as the point of the spear of the Big Story.


Trevin Wax:I benefited from the balance on display in your explanation of four common ways many Christians relate to culture (Transformationists, Relevants, Counterculturalists, Two Kingdoms). At the end of this section, you left the question open-ended, advocating for different strategies based on cultural context and personal giftings. How did you come to the conclusion that all four views have strengths and weaknesses that need to be held in tension with the others?

Tim Keller: Don Carson’s book Christ and Culture Revisited looks at the 5 models of Christ-and-culture laid out by Niebuhr. They don’t perfectly line up with my four, but Don’s argument was that outside of the “Christ of Culture” model (the view of older Liberal Christianity) all the models had biblical warrant, yet that meant that any of the models taken too exclusively would be leaving out the biblical insights of the other models.

So in the end I say that you should choose the model that seems to best fit your time, place, and personal affinities, but be very careful to use the insights and tools of the other models to keep yourself from imbalance.

Trevin Wax:The term “missional” is often used today in a variety of ways – some of which contradict each other. You maintain a place for the word “missional,” but want to be specific about what it means and does not mean. How would you define “missional?”

Tim Keller: I think that the word “missional” is useful because it means something more (though not less) than being very evangelistic. It means recognizing the post-Christian character of our Western society, and revamping everything we do in accord with that.

We no longer have cultural institutions imparting respect for the Bible and the church in the general population so that the average person:

  1. pays attention to the church,
  2. seeks it out for milestone moments like baptisms, weddings, funerals, and
  3. understands what you mean by terms like God, sin, heaven, hell, right and wrong.

This means revamping how you preach, how you instruct, how you evangelize—everything. Notice how differently Paul (in Acts) preached to pagans than he did in synagogues where people were steeped in the Scripture.

So I’m not ready to abandon the term missional.  There are very different views of how to be the church now in our post-Christian culture, but we should be making the effort rather than simply doing business as usual.

Trevin Wax:There is a current discussion going on in gospel-centered circles about the “mission of the church,” and particularly, the nature of “making disciples.” What aspects of this discussion have encouraged you? How would you weigh in and speak to some of the deficiencies you see in this discussion?

Tim Keller: I’m good with saying that the mission of the church is basically to “make disciples.” I like it because it safeguards the centrality of what the church alone can really do—bring people to faith in Christ. But I might differ with others on what those disciples look like.

I’d say you haven’t discipled someone if they only have been equipped to evangelize and bring people to church.  If they are truly discipled, they must be motivated and equipped to love their neighbors, to do justice and mercy.  And they also must be equipped to integrate their faith with their work, namely, to engage culture.

One problem I see is that many churches that insist that the church’s job is to only to make disciples do virtually nothing to help disciples grow in these areas, even though it is clearly part of the biblical job description for individual believers.  Put another way—the job of the institutional church gathered is not to change social structures/culture, but to create disciples (who comprise the ‘organic’ church dispersed) who will change social structures and the culture.

Here are a few concluding thoughts. First, Keller’s assessment that the gospel first affects individuals and then expands to the whole is right. My concern is that when you start with the big picture, it is often the focus on the gospel’s effects on the individual which gets lost. History has born this out.

Second, Keller’s perceptive analysis of culture, rooted in Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited, in four different responses is perceptive and helpful: Transformationists, Relevants, Counterculturalists, Two Kingdoms. Beyond this helpful spectrum, he also wisely notes that there is blending and bleeding between categories based on time, place, etc.

Third, Keller continues to use the term “missional” and finds it helpful, but he carefully defines the way in which he finds the word/concept both helpful and important, viz. we live in a different day that requires we, as the people of God, engage in the culture in a new and different way than 25 years ago.

Finally, Keller’s conclusion regarding the primary purpose of the church is extremely important today. Many conclude that the church is to be doing the transforming of society and societal structures, when in reality that moves the church away from its primary purpose for being, that is the proclamation of the gospel for the transformation of lives. Full stop. But intimately and organically connected to this is that those transformed individuals change the culture, society and societal structures. As Keller points out, many churches do not understand this and their ministries are not reflective of this. In other words, the church’s discipling strategies are too narrowly understood and focused, so that they do nothing to help disciples grow in this area. But the answer is not to shift the role of the church as church to do what Christians are to be and do. By doing that, the church is misdirected and misaligned so that she is distracted from her primary calling. That, by the way, is the modus operandi of the liberal church.

Tim Keller, “Ministry in the Middle Space,” City to City Blog (August 31, 2012)

Another book by Keller has recently been published: Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012). In this work Keller commiserates that many churches misunderstand the “relationship between doctrine and ministry.” The church can have a sound doctrinal statement, but it has very little effect on ministry practice. In other words, the church is orthodox in its orthodoxy, but it is “whatever” when it comes to orthopraxy. Keller’s argument for and plea to churches is that orthodoxy is foundational for orthopraxy, and orthopraxy is grounded in orthopraxy. (Michael Bullmore, former Professor of Pastoral Theology (Homiletics) at TEDS, helpfully explained the necessity of the latter as the “functional centrality of the gospel” in life and ministry.) 

Keller refers to the connection between the two as “middle space,” i.e. the importance of developing a “theological vision” that bridges the gap between doctrine and ministry practice, the latter being influenced by tradition, culture, time and place. That is to say, it will require each local church must remain grounded in the gospel, but then they must humbly and wisely consider what this means in their particular instance at this particular time in this particular location. Keller gives some helpful examples, which I encourage you to read.Keller has the final word explaining the problem and the reason he wrote Center Church.

It has become clear to me that while most Christian leaders do very deliberate, conscious study and thinking to arrive at their doctrinal beliefs, they are almost blind to the process of developing a theological vision. They often just “catch” their convictions about culture, reason, and tradition without really thinking them out. They come upon a ministry that they admire or that helps them personally and then they adopt it wholesale without recognizing the presuppositions, convictions and decisions that went into it.

To be faithful and fruitful, more Christian leaders should pay attention to this “middle space” between believing doctrine and choosing methods. The vast majority of resources on “how to do church” discuss either the Biblical basics of church belief and practice or specific ways to adopt certain ministry programs. I don’t know of any book that, instead of asking “what should our doctrine be?” or “what should our programs look like?” instead asks “what is our theological vision for ministry in our time and place?” That’s why I wrote Center Church

Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical and totally focused on physical needs inside the church or on personal needs of the people present. But frontline prayer has three basic traits:

  • a request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves
  • a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church, and
  • a yearning to know God, to see His face, to see His glory.

Tim Keller, “Kingdom-centered Prayer,” Redeemer Report, January 2006.

(Note: Original share via email May 2012)