Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tim Keller: "The Gospel is not advice."

Keller, in the second chapter of King's Cross, makes the point several times that the Gospel is not advice but news. He must feel it is necessary to make this point because our churches are so flooded with advice instead of news.

Two weeks ago I went to a church in which the preacher talked about removing the obstacles from our lives that keep us from serving in the church. In that same church, at the start of communion, as the ushers passed out the little quarter-swallows of grape juice and tiny flakes of “bread,” an elder of the church talked to us about how God had spoken to him during his quiet time about . . . the need to have a quiet time. The elder then tried earnestly to impress upon us the importance of having our own special quiet time each day. No one ever seemed to think that maybe communion might be precisely the time to stop thinking about what we should do, and start thinking at last about what Jesus has done for us. In other words, rather than talking about quiet times, actually being quiet.

What I mean to say is, we're flooded with advice. So far, my on-again/off-again search for a new church home has been pretty disappointing on this score. No news, lots of advice. Either it's we should defend the faith and return America to its Christian roots, or we should be more generous, or we should examine our lives to see if we are pleasing to God, or we should remove the obstacles to service because the church needs us, or . . . well, you get the pictures.

I have no mind to be a church basher or a professional critic, but I will say this. By and large, people in the church accept this sorry status quo because they like it that way. I get the feeling that if a church service was focused on the announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation, they would walk away feeling they haven't been helped or strengthened in any way. I have seen Christians move happily from one system of advice to another with great enthusiasm. Seven steps to this, four steps to that, now let's everybody do this, now that, and each new set of principles is of course most definitely “life-changing.” And they hop on each of these bandwagons without the slightest sense that there all this seems deeply divergent from the New Testament model of discipleship.

In an interesting article about accountability groups, Tullian Tchividjian says this:
Paul understood that Gospel-driven change is rooted in remembrance. What Paul did for the Colossians is what we all need our Christian brothers and sisters to do for us as well: remind me first of what’s been done, not what I must do.
Tullian also quotes Sinclair Ferguson:
Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality, that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only when our piety forgets about us and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Even the first disciples did not understand the this-changes-everything nature of the good news, and none foresaw the cross as anything but a horrible defeat and failure. To understand the nature of the victory Christ won on our behalf is at least one part of discipleship, and it is one task of the church to teach exactly that understanding and its implications for all of life.

[One book that might serve as a helpful reminder here: Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old Fashioned Way]


Erin Hope said...

Isn't it disconcerting how easy it is to talk of anything but the gospel and Jesus, even though often it is under the guise of somehow being about him ?
I've heard many a conversation, or 'sermon' that turned into simply that: a conversation, about us, always something about us....and have unfortunately been a part of some too- when all the while we were puffing ourselves up by putting the conversation under the subject heading of "Jesus" so that we felt justified about talking about ourselves, etc.... when in reality it had nothing to do with him.
(that's not to say every 'sermon' or conversation should be a clone, or that experience or stories have no place, only that we realize it isn't about us, and are determined to point to, and know, the one whom it is about....and that seems to be a bit of a rarity)

...But isn't it great that the real news about Jesus does change everything?
sometimes I just wish my eyes were better, and less distracted.

Mark Babikow said...

Love it....and it is often subtle in that it is expressed as being about Jesus but at the end you still feel guilty instead of unburdened or fed. The 'quiet time' advice during communion is quite funny. I have begun to agree with my father, you get the gospel in sacreament, liturgy and (some) music...and then the preacher takes it all back.

Bob Spencer said...

Mark, your father's insight is one I am certainly going to use sometime. Excellent!

Mark Babikow said...

Good ole Dad....I knew he was good for somthing;)

Mark Babikow said...

One of these days I will make a comment on the intrenet without a mispelling:)