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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Tim Keller

City to City part 1


I spent this past week in Miami a meeting with a number of Church Planting Networks and planters too look at the possibility of beginning a North American Network for city movements.  This gathering was catalyzed by the folks at Redeemer City to City and brought together people from  Renew South Florida, Acts29, the RCA, many from the PCA, the SBC, the GCM Collective, and others.  It was an awesome time to meet other folks who are passionate about reaching North America, particular through cities.  It was great to hear the unique challenges and opportunities that cities bring and present to the church.  The outcome of this gathering was that a group will be formed, likely to be called the City to City Collective for shared resourcing, networking, encouragement, and more.  It'll be great to see what unfolds. Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York was the keynote speaker, and I want to share just a few things.  In the first session, The Challenge of North American Cities, Keller said that the expense of cities, the complexity of cities, and the mobility of cities makes a church plant there very hard.  Knowing that, it's important to see larger trends, and in that vein he spoke about the decline of cities from 1970-1990 in which cities were hollowed out at the core, with suburban flight the order of the day.  This left an urban desolation in many cases, with increased crime rates, devalued properties, and a cultural malaise.  The rich would commute from the suburbs and leave the urban poor in the central city.  From the 1990's to today, there was been an upsurge in cities, a renewal of the urban core.  In many ways this was due to gentrification (young professionals re-locating to urban environments).  Crime went down, cultural productivity increased, and the core of cities have thus seen a resurgence.  However, the poor are also often displaced as property values increase and the city finds cultural and economic renewal.  Each era presents a different kind of opportunity, different needs, and different responses by the church.    The follow up question is, then, what is the future of the city?

Keller, then, offered his analysis of what the future holds for American cities.  First, he spoke of the following positive trends:

  • North American churches are globalizing.  This is a positive trend because strong international connections create stability and prestige.  Because the era of America as an economic self-sufficient engine is over, globalization is important.
  • North American churches are urbanizing.  By urbanizing, Keller was particularly speaking to the trend in cities towards smart growth, urban planning of  the New Urbanism kind.  He referenced the return to a walkable, mixed-use human settlement in cities, including places to work, live, shop, play, and learn within 10 minutes as opposed to the suburbanizing affect in which everything is about commuting and doing life with people that are not the same people you live with.  There are lots of great books on this, and I think he's right on about not only emerging urban planning, but also that this is a positive trend not only for cities and human beings in general who live there, but also for the church because it creates a possible parish that is not merely made up of people commuting to their favorite church or speaker.

Secondly, he spoke of negative trends:

  • The rise of great need:  Here, Keller focused on the recent recession and global financial meltdown, particularly in American cities.
  • However, though this is a negative trend in some ways in terms of urban development, Keller rewinded to remind us that through our history lessons we learn that God has often used urban dysfunction to win the hearts of people.  When we are in times of great need, there is also great opportunity for the church to respond.

So, for Keller, the future of urban ministry looks good because of globalization, new urbanism, and increased need.

Lastly, in terms of cities, Keller mentioned the following future trends to expect:

  1. Increasing hostility in the culture wars.  He was particularly on target when he said that we are fighting a Two Front War:  Secularists think Christians are too moralistic.  Muslims and Hindus think we are too permissive.  There will, then, be increasing hostility from secularists and increasing hostility from fundamentalists (of all sorts, including Christians).
  2. More opportunities for justice and mercy.  This is true particularly because of the increasing needs in the global financial meltdown and the increasing gap between the rich and the poort.
  3. Culture-making will be increasingly important, particularly with respect to the integration of faith and work.  People in the city will desire more and more the integration between multifarious worlds.
  4. A new kind of apologetics.  This part was particularly poignant for me.  Back in 2000, I started a class called "Beyond Apologetics" because I was realizing that because of the shifts we are experiencing in late modernity or post-modernity, that a new kind of apologetics is needed.  This doesn't mean that the classic apologetics are wrong or bad, but merely that we need a new apologetic for a new emerging culture.  In Keller's words, "We need to answer questions people are actually asking" or in one of the bylines of my former church in Ann Arbor, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  Here are some of the points and reasons for a new apologetic:
  • The world essentially says to Christians, “You are not good neighbors.”
  • We need more cogent and powerful answers to questions that people are actually asking.
  • The basic objection alongside of evil & suffering, etc. is that Christians are bad citizens of pluralistic cities because as we grow and if we grow, we will take away people’s rights and freedoms.
  • We are completely outflanked in the public arena.
  • We have to care for the whole parish, including our secular neighbors.
  • The public narrative is that Christians are intolerant, and that is very powerful and makes it extremely hard to enter public discourse.

Keller also spoke about the stages of development of the catachuminate which we need to revisit, and how the church is failing in its response to homosexuality.  That's a long conversation for another time.

I'll blog a bit more on this in the future if I can find the time, including some of his other sessions.

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Tim Keller: Leader People to the Prodigal God #tls09


These are some of my notes from the third session of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Pastors are suckers for anything that promises spiritual renewal for the church.  The thing that shocks us is the amount of spiritual deadness in our congregations.
A Diagnosis of Spiritual Deadness
  • Parable of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15
  • "Prodigal love for the prodigal Son" sermon by Spurgeon
  • The parable was not really written to younger brother types
  • Two groups of people around Jesus - sinner types, and religious leaders/ Pharisees
  • Jesus then tells 3 parables: Lost Sheep - Lost Coin - Lost Son
  • The parable is for the religious.  But both the older and the younger son are lost and the father has to go out and invite them into the party.
  • The younger son is concerned about the money more than the father.  The elder brother is concerned about the money more than the father.  Both are concerned about the money.  The younger tries to get the money early and run with it.  The elder tries to get the Father's things by living such a good life that he deserves blessing.  There are two ways to be your own savior - one is by being irreligious and one is by being very religious.  The difference is the claim by the older brother that he does love the Father, but underneath is the same reality.
  • Shocking ending:  the good boy is lost... the bad boy is saved.  The good boy is not lost despite his goodness, he his lost because of his goodness.
  • The gospel is not goodness or non-goodness, morality or immorality.  It is something much bigger.
  • Elder brothers are obeying God to get things.  They are using God as a means to an end.
  • Gospel believers believe God to get more of God.
The source of spiritual deadness: elder brothers, because they are trying to make God through their being good and righteous believe they are getting leverage over God and think they have a righteousness over others, have a gospel that is based on performance.
  • Elder brothers get very angry, furious when things don't go well with their lives.
  • When elder brothers get criticized, they respond with viscious protection/ defensiveness or they respond with complete devastation.
  • Elder brothers pray mostly petitionary prayers, and when thing sare going bad you pray a lot.  Elder brothers rarely just enjoy God, adore him, and contemplate him.
  • It's impossible for elder brothers to not be primarily doctrinal people, and will loathe those who don't agree with them.
  • Elder brothers can't forgive and remain with ongoing bitterness because they feel superior to others.
  • Elder brothers are merciless in condemning others.
A Prescription for Spiritual Renewal That's Not Too Programmatic or too Vague
A new level of repentance
  • Not just repentance for your wrong-doing, but repentance for the reasons for your right-doing
  • Until you can understand the reasons for your right-doing, then you aren't truly repentant.  What are the motivations for your right-doing?  Do you belive that you are doing God a favor?
  • It's typical to read the story of the prodigal son and ask "what is the moral of the story?"  To which we answer, "Repent of wrong-doing and come back to the Father." However, we need to be moved by what it cost to bring back the prodigal son.  It was at the expense of the elder brother that the son was brought back.  The other half had been lost!  For every 2 fatted calves, for every signet ring, there were now only 1.  A true older brother would've gone and gotten his younger brother back.
  • The Father can only bring the younger brother back in at the expense of the older brother.  What kind of older brother do we need.  We have an older brother who has sacrificed to let us come back home.  Look what it cost our true older brother.
  • Church/ spiritual renewal
A new level of rejoicing
5 Things about Getting this Biblically Repentance and Rejoicing more Deeply Into Our People's Hearts
  1. You the leader need to work the Gospel into your heart.  (Stop trying to save yourself through your ministry).
  2. All of your preaching must be gospel centered.  If you're a preacher or a teacher, always move beyond biblical principles to the gospel.
  3. Get leaders together, and take them through the book Prodigal God.
  4. Work it into your congregation the slow way (through the leaders on their own spreading) or do the whole church at once.
  5. Pay attention to what happens.  Notice that you'll start to have disagreements and you'll You'll see religious people coming to you because they realize they are not Christians.

"The Gospel is not religion or irreligion but something else."

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Lining Up


One of the things that has always bothered me, and that continues to bother me is the ongoing segmentation of the church.  It seems that we evangelicals in particular have a penchant for either creating new litmus tests, new groups with whom we need to affiliate in order to be orthodox, or in order to be a part of the true, pure, right and holy group of Christians. It's been interesting because so many young people have lamented the fact that the church is so broken and disunified, and yet no, many of us are falling into the same trap.  Recently, I've seen this in the desire to protect the church from sermon pastors.  The emerging church is now splitting into multiple categories depending on who you agree with.  Are you a Bellist?  Or a Driscollite?  Do you ascribe to Piperian Baptist Reformed theology, or are you dabbling in McLarenism?  Are you falling prey to Seayanic visions of the missional church, or are you a Kellerite?  Does McManustic theology intrigue you or is Hirschology forming you? Is your church designed around Coletic discipleship, Seeker-sensitive Hybellianism, suburban Warrenics, urban Claibornest new monasticism, or McNealian simplicity?  DA Carson, Stanley Grenz, or NT Wright?  Clark Pinnock or Wayne Grudem?  Scott McKnight or Spencer Burke?  Mars Hill Graduate School or Trinity Evangelical?

Those are just a few of the things I hear in my own circles.  I find myself feeling like I always have to choose and line up or I'll be labelled a heretic at the next turn.  If I agree with something Rob Bell is doing or saying, am I heretical?  If I like Radical Reformission by Driscoll, but I disagree with where he draws the line for what's orthodox, am I out? If I like a lot of what McLaren says in Generous Orthodoxy and I think Bill Hybels is a great evangelical leader, whose camp am I in?  And how do we figure out who's with who?  Is Donald Miller with Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll?  Is Erwin McManus with DA Carson or Chris Seay?

I guess one of my frustrations is that we are continuing to throw out the word "orthodox" as if it's a word that has a pretty solid, hard and fast meaning.  So, where's the list?  If it's drawn from the Nicene Creed, then when we use it, we certainly expand the content.  Who decides what and who's orthodox?  What does orthodox really mean, anyway, because it seems to me lately to have a pretty wide semantic range.  And we seem to be quite afraid that the church is going to go to hell in a handbasket even though Jesus said quite clearly that the gates of Hell wouldn't prevail against it.  I'm not saying that theology, boundaries, truth, and orthodoxy don't matter.  In fact, I'm quite convinced they do.  But the way we are currently talking and treating one another by forcing each other to line up is getting a little tired.  It's particularly frustrating, for instance, when people get accused of being unorthodox because they are seeking to deeply enflesh the gospel in a culture of poverty while "solid" evangelical churches are deeply heretical in their praxis of encouraging personal success or other theologies. 

Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

How about we start talking about what it is the unifies us?  How about we start talking about how Jesus is being displayed in the world? 

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