Today’s guest blog is written by Boston-based writer, Kim Shippey: So, why would someone like me, who has been a firmly committed Christian all of his adult life, choose to spend several hours reading a book by a highly successful New York preacher—Timothy Keller—under the title Making Sense of God? (Viking, 2016) To which the subtitle adds a further touch of mystery: “An Invitation to the Skeptical.”
Keller ranges widely (across 327 pages) in his exploration of current and past thinking on his topic, including the work of C.S.Lewis and John Stott, novelists Dostoyevsky and Updike, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King. He also offers 70 pages of notes in a small font that stretches their length.
The new book, his 14th, was well timed, emerging close to a spirited Q&A in a New York Times Op-Ed column in which Nicholas Kristof posed some trenchant questions under the title “Am I a Christian?” They covered skepticism over such topics as the virgin birth and the resurrection, necessary room for doubt, and the relation between faith and science.
The book also appeared just as Keller was announcing that he would soon be stepping down from the New York pulpit from which he has regularly addressed 5,000 members over the past 28 years to devote more time to teaching and to training church leaders.
In the newspaper and in the book Keller challenges: “Is the secular view of the world capable of making sense of the things secularists themselves properly value: freedom, individuality, justice, community, rationality, personal meaning, human rights?” His answer is a convincing No—spoken modestly but firmly.
Yet my most vivid and lasting memory of Keller is of the way he gently yet persuasively shares the Bible truths he loves so dearly in keynote addresses like the one I heard him give to 800 delegates at a Vision New England conference a few years ago.
Keller spoke about the gospel-centered church under three headings—evangelism, discipleship, and mission, focusing strongly on “gospel humility,” which calls for us to stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with only ourselves. He reiterated a point he has made in several of his books, and in sermons and magazine articles, that a truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating nor a self-loving person, but a self-forgetful person.
Keller urged his audience to build a culture of greater inclusivity: “Get out of your bubble,” he pleaded. “Don’t do friendship evangelism, just do friendship.” But in talking with newfound friends about your faith, he added, remember that no one size fits all. Salvation comes by grace, not temperament or type.
“If you enjoy salvation,” Keller continued, “how could you keep it from others? What sort of monster are you if you don’t ache to share your faith with them?” He called for respect for non-believers, quoting Blaise Pascal, who said, “Make good men wish Christianity to be true, then prove it so.”
Keller said we should help others “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God … [which] does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts” (Romans 5:2, 5, New International Version).
In his observations on the church’s mission in the world today, Keller emphasized the call for churchgoers to make disciples who will then change the world: preach the Word, strive for justice, and love their neighbors.
All believers should be “one in heart and mind,” he said, with “no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32, 34, NIV). Most important, the dynamic of “gospel grace,” he concluded, will change people’s attitude toward themselves, including the “bankrupt in spirit.” As they allow the gospel to penetrate deep into their hearts, they will drop their self-counseling and find their true identity in the grace of an all-loving God.
This call for grace was often expressed by another spiritual pioneer and prolific writer, Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the church that underpins these blog postings. She wrote: “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 4). She also insisted, with deep conviction, that “Grace and Truth are potent beyond all other means and methods” (p. 67).
After all, as Keller makes clear in Making Sense of God, it is Christianity (not secularism) that seeks to provide us with “meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope —all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them.”