3 ways of living
The other day I took the day off of work to go and hear Tim Keller speak at Gordon Conwell. For those of you who don’t know, Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC. He is a great pastor who has a great vision for the church in the inner city. I wanted to share one of the things that he said today in his talk that I found to be most helpful.
Keller’s series at GCTS was called “Preaching to the Heart”. To better explain what that means, preaching to the heart can be contrasted with two other ways of preaching, namely preaching to the will and preaching to the emotions, both of which do not get at what Gospel preaching is all about. To illustrate the difference he examined Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church to give money. The way that Paul preached to the heart was by recontextualizing the Gospel in terms of the issue he was addressing. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9). Here Paul states the Gospel message in terms of wealth and poverty. If he was to preach to their will he could have appealed to his authority as an apostle and commanded them to just work up the energy to do what he said. Or if he was preaching to their emotions he could have told them about the details of the condition of the poor Israelites to get them to give. But he does neither of those things. Instead he knows that a true understanding of the Gospel is motivation enough. What is more the Gospel is not simply the motivation to give, but is itself bound up with the ability to do what God commands.
One of the ways that preachers can “preach to the heart” is by distinguishing between three ways of living. Keller noted that traditionally preaching has focused on emphasizing two ways of living – man’s way or God’s way. We can choose to live our lives according to our own rules and desires or we can submit and live for God and in his way. This dichotomy is heard regularly in many contemporary Gospel presentations. And while on the surface the identification of these two ways is true, unfortunately we live in a day when these two ways of living do not accurately correspond to the reality of what Christianity and the Gospel are all about. Instead Keller says that we must distinguish between three ways of living. In his terms these are irreligion, religion and the Gospel. In other words, living according to our own ways, living according to the external religious regulations or living according to the Gospel. Distinguishing between these three ways is important for a couple of reasons. First, it is important because non Christians don’t realize there is a difference. They already know that there is the way they are living their life and the way that they see Christians live. But they think that Christianity is all about moralism; it is all about getting everything “right”. They don’t always realize that Christianity actually has a lot to say against legalism and moralism and they need to hear Christians deconstructing it. Moreover, Christians need to hear legalism and moralism (religion) being distinguished from the Gospel because sadly, many Christians (including myself) have a tendency to fall into that trap. The main Biblical example Keller provides of this distinction is the story of the prodigal son. He says that the story of the prodigal on pretty closely reflects what he is trying to get at by distinguishing between 3 ways of living. Irreligion corresponds to the younger brother and his quest to control the father’s wealth through disobedience and rebellion. Religion corresponds to the older brother who tries to control the father’s wealth through obedience and condescension towards the younger brother. The fact is that both of them are wrong and both ways of living need to be contrasted with the Gospel. The problem is that we often spend too much time contrasting just the story of the younger brother with the Gospel and not doing the same thing with the older brother and the Gospel. Both are wrong and both need to constantly be avoided. Finally, the Gospel is not simply some happy medium between irreligion and religion; it is on a completely different plane. In mathematical terms it would be like moving from a simple two dimensional plane of x and y coordinates to a third or fourth dimension. To those stuck in a two dimensional world, the third dimension comes a something completely foreign and new. It is unlike anything they have ever experienced before.
It is this careful thinking being done by people like Tim Keller that really gets me excited. Be sure to check out the work he and his church are doing; there is much to be learned from them. You can download audio versions of a couple lectures where Keller talks about these things from the Covenant Seminary website (LINK)