Tim Keller – Humble Cultural Engagement

Also from the same conference, watch – Os Guiness – Engaging an increasingly post-Christian culture in the west (Gospel & Culture Lectures)

Dr. Tim Keller speaks on cultural engagement with practical insights on how Christians should relate in the culture, and especially at their workplace.

Tim Keller is Senior Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Dr. Keller:

I am here to talk about how a Gospel changed heart makes a difference, how a Gospel changed heart is crucial to a cultural renewal. In the last couple of years, some of the books I have been reading on cultural renewal have been moving towards a consensus. The consensus goes something like this, and this is an oversimplification: When it comes to how Christians relate to the culture- on the one hand, you’ve got a withdrawal mentality, that says, „Christianity is not really here to mend the world.” There is a liberal version of that, that basically accommodating culture? Why would Christians want to change things? There’s a conservative version of that that says that as Christians of the Church what we ought to be doing is just building up the church,  evangelizing, discipling. In other words, there’s the withdrawal mentality that says it’s not the job of Christians to try to mend the world.

On the other hand there is an extreme, which you could call triumphalism. And again, there’s a kind of liberal and conservative version of that. The liberal version is what you call liberation theology, which is a form of marxism. The conservative version is the idea that Christians ought to take power and make society the way that Christians think it should be. In both cases there is talk of some kind of triumphalistic kind of talk of transforming culture- we’re gonna make culture the way it ought to be.

All these writers are saying that this doesn’t fit in with what the Bible says and what the Gospel is. If you think about this, the Bible is a third way between legalism and what you might call license, the theological term is antinomianism. Legalism says: We can change ourselves with our own power, our own strength. Antinomianism , or license says: We’re just fine the way we are. The Gospel is: You’re saved by grace, through faith. You’re not saved by your own efforts and power, but, at the same time, once you’re saved, it changes you.

There is a consensus developing that humble, faith work integration- engaging culture as Christians, but, still working together for a common good,  a kind of cultural engagement that avoids these extremes. And it’s analogous to the Gospel itself. But, if you’re going to engage in this way, the Gospel has to change your heart.

  1. The Gospel actually gives your heart the humility  to appreciate the contributions of everyone out there in the field- christians and non christians. It enables you to humbly cooperate with others, who aren’t Christians to work for the common good.
  2. On the other hand, the Gospel gives you courage and insight to humbly and respectfully provoke the culture and to say, there’s a lot of ways in which work needs to be done in a different way, and public life needs to be conducted in a different way. There needs to be humble cooperation, respectful provocation and then
  3. Last of all, the Gospel shapes the way in which you lead in your vocation.

1. Gospel gives you the humility to work with others. There is a rhetoric out there that says, „Christians ought to go out and take back their culture.” And very often, the critique of that view is that it is not appreciating the fact that the world is filled with the glory of God, that God is at work out there, and through all kinds of people’s work, whether people are Christian or not, that He is doing His work.

Martin Luther had some fascinating stuff to say about this. Luther says: When you pray, „Give us this day our daily bread,” instead of God just having the bread appear on your table, what He is actually doing is He is working through the bakers, the merchants, the people who transform the flour. In other words, what God does is He in fact answers your request , and He gives you food through the work of other people. At one point, Luther looks at all the jobs that are out there and he says, „These are the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed, and do all things. Christians have to be profoundly appreciative of good work done on absolutely everything. You need to be looking out there and seeing God working in all kinds of people.

And, some of you heard that this is often called common grace. Common grace means that God gives good gifts and He works through people. It’s common grace, not special grace. But, the fact is that if you know you’re saved by grace alone, and if you’re a Christian, you know that God is at work in your life, despite the fact that you’re not great  in a lot of ways. He didn’t save you because you are a better mother or father. He didn’t save you because you are a better business person. He saved you just by grace. And you know that God works in people’s lives, even though they’re flawed. And that means that God really does do everything by grace. And out there, there are people who don’t believe what we believe. And yet, God has given them gifts of wisdom and of skill, and of beauty, and of excellence. And through their work, the human race’s life is better than it would have been otherwise. And we have to realize that those are real gifts.

Through the Gospel, Christians should be humbled, enough to see that God always works through grace, and always works through gifts. And when you look out there, you see the whole society, the whole world aflame with the grace of God- all over the place. There’s a tendency for Christians to be so negative about society, so negative about culture. And there’s a self righteousness in that that does not behoove people who understand they’re sinners saved by grace. So, the Christian Gospel teaches you to enjoy God’s gifts, wherever they are, and make you humbly cooperate with other people for the common good. (10:00)

2. Gospel gives you the courage & insight to humbly and respectfully provoke the culture. Christians know that all work is done for some reason. It’s either done for God’s glory, or it’s done for something else. And when work is not done for God’s glory, it’s distorted. When work is done for your glory, or for your status, or for your success, or for your particular tribe’s status and success, rather than for everyone else, there’s all sorts of ways then , that work is distorted in this world. It’s distorted by sin. The Gospel gives you the courage and the insight to tell the world that there is a way to work that is shaped by what we know is the character of God.

So you go out there humbly, respectfully. But, at the same time you have to have the courage and you also have the insight to know that the Gospel shapes the way in which you work, because the glory of God shapes the way in which you work. Everyone works for some reason, everyone works from a particular worldview. And when Christians move out into the world because they believe the Gospel, they think Gospel wise. They’ve got the courage and the insight to change the way work is done from the inside. Not in a triumphalistic way, taking over. Not failing to appreciate the fact that all kids of people who are not Christians, who don’t have a better world view might be doing a better job in your work than you are because of the way God tends to operate, because of the way God gives His gifts of grace all over the place.

Do you see the way God operates? You know you’re a sinner saved by grace, you know you’re completely sinful, and completely loved. There’s a paradoxical balance in the way Christians think. The longer you’re a Christian, and the more and more you learn to think in a kind of Gospel way. And, therefore, not only does it humble you to appreciate what other people do, but it actually emboldens you to say, „We’ve got to change things, the way they are.” There’s plenty of places where the way work is done and the way public life is ordered, changes need to be made so it’s more in line with justice, more in line with the common good.

3. The Gospel changes the way you relate to people in your profession. If you actually do have a Savior who saved you, by taking the blame for what you did; if you have a Savior who saved you, by putting your needs ahead of His own; if you have a Savior who saved you by substitutionary sacrifice- look at that and how you were saved and how you can actually relate to people. The Gospel creates a kind of transformational leadership pattern, in which you give credit instead of always taking it, in which you bear blame instead of always making other people take the blame, in which you lift up others instead of trample on people, so you can get up the ladder. You lift up other people instead. You don’t think people notice that? Oh, they do! You could call it the ethical side of work- Gospel wise. Not so much the shaping of the work through the world view, just the ethical side.

Putting all that together – If you see the implications of the Gospel, if your heart’s really been affected by the Gospel, so that you have this humility, that you wouldn’t have had, unless you knew you’re a sinner; and a boldness you wouldn’t have had, unless you knew you were completely affirmed by God, and therefore, what really matters is not your status, and not your success, and not how much money you make, but, just do a good job. If the Gospel has shaped you, so your relationships are such, that you know how to serve instead of use people everywhere, you’ll engage the culture. A Gospel shaped heart will create culturally engaged Christians that really will change the world.

 Uploaded by RedeemerCFW September 2012

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