steven m. erickson is 27 years old and lives in boston, ma. he writes code, reads books, plays music, thinks deep thoughts and enjoys life.

3 ways of living

April 8th, 2006 theology 6 comments

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)

tags: timkeller


  1. Ugur September 13th, 2012

    anything offensive! I don't swear, I don't teheatrn anyone, but I do try to be direct. The points I've made are simple, no scripture was used by Perry and alot of people on this post seem to be convinced by this guy just because they like what they hear. I have a problem with that. However, I have to point out where you are wrong, for example I do agree with things on the post, I agree on CS on most things, granted I try to work on not being so hard around the edges, but sometimes its just too hard to hear where christianity is today. I mean seriously, when Jesus cleansed the temple do you think the religious leaders liked him? Would Jesus be welcomed on this board today? Have you read what Jesus told people in the NT? Maybe Jesus was a downer! I am the same person here as in real life, and I've had alot of people come up to me and thank me for speaking the truth in love, and by the way love sometimes has to be tough! My parting challenge would be for people to try to return back to a real christianity and to simply let the culture take you all over the place. I think what is at state is nothing more than the very essence of christianity, its all about the kingdom and God, not our own power trips, it just seems to me that this Perry guy is on a power trip and I think the fact that he didn't mention one verse of scripture to back up his position is very telling! in fact it speaks volume!

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  3. Kathy September 22nd, 2012

    Oct28 “Outfruit your critics” – that’s a great word and I’ve learned quite a lot from Perry and RW and others like them, but I’m surprised to see Perry being defended so strongly here. He often sets up his critics (and other local churches) as the straw man for him to tear down and I think its fair to question his casual talk of punching people in the throat, attacking a girl etc. Sure, he’s not being serious, and I’m not going to pretend he is, but he is sloppy in his language so if he really isn’t going to punch someone in the throat, then I wish he’d stop saying it for a laugh. Reading his blog (which is often great) and hearing his podcast, Perry loves a good brawl with his critics, and loves to dog on neighboring churches, so it strikes me as disingenuous that he keeps talking about them and saying he ignores them. In case you’re wondering, I respect the guy and was at Catalyst West when he spoke – great message. But I look forward to him growing out of this current shock jock phase, quite frankly. We have many great church leaders who face lots of criticism (Bell, Groeschel, Andy Stanley) and they all seem to handle their critics by truly ignoring them, not always talking about them!

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  4. Marlien October 6th, 2012

    Oct19CS John Burton:“CS, first I wonder why you are sharing your opinion about that video. Are you a part of his team of advisers?”No. Just someone who came across that video.“Do you have a plan to help him?”My plan would consist of repenting for any sins that may exist and following Scripture rightly. Then again, this plan applies to even the most sound preacher out there.“Are you interceding for him?”I have prayed for him.“What’s the point of sharing your opinion? What’s your agenda?”My point is threefold. First, I wanted to illustrate how Matthew 18 does not apply to situations such as this. Second, I wanted to say that there are times where we should be watching what people are saying and critique it. Why? Third, because the influence of popular preachers like Nobel spreads into all sorts of avenues, not just staying in their own churches. And as that can affect many people who don’t just go to Newspring, it’s worth taking a look at it in more detail.And to one more of your points:“They presume the pastor is supposed to visit people in the hospital.”How would you reconcile this with James 5:14?–CS

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  5. Titia October 12th, 2012

    to be dead on. A lot of time can be wasted arguing with those who do not hold the same opinions we have. It is rarely a productive use of time or energy. In my life and ministry, all sorts of stuff is said about me and the church I serve/lead. It’s always been water off a ducks back to me though. What matters is, “Am I doing God’s bidding?”However, I’ll “discuss” with anyone though. Discussing is one thing–arguing is another. I read in my devotions this morning from Acts 11. Verse 18 jumped out at me. Men who were critical of Peter’s experience with the Gentiles changed their minds and celebrated the expanision of the gospel once they understood the story. These men struck me as open minded men who truely wanted to understand where Peter was coming from. They were willing to listen. And while they listened, I don’t imagine they were forming their rebuttal. They were trying to understand. That was a lesson for me personally today–to not allow tradition, experience, or safety to close my heart and mind.I’ll engage in conversation and discussion with people like that anyday. But not those who argue with a mind that is already made up.

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