Tim Keller is one of my favourite preachers. He’s insightful, wise and connected to his city’s culture in astounding ways.
This interview reveals his astute ability to present gospel truths in palatable yet uncompromising terms.
What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? Can one be a Christian and yet doubt the virgin birth or the Resurrection?
I put these questions to the Rev. Timothy Keller, an evangelical Christian pastor and best-selling author who is among the most prominent evangelical thinkers today.
Our conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
KRISTOF Tim, I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on. Since this is the Christmas season, let’s start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief, or can I mix and match?
KELLER If something is truly integral to a body of thought, you can’t remove it without destabilizing the whole thing. A religion can’t be whatever we desire it to be. If I’m a member of the board of Greenpeace and I come out and say climate change is a hoax, they will ask me to resign. I could call them narrow-minded, but they would rightly say that there have to be some boundaries for dissent or you couldn’t have a cohesive, integrated organization. And they’d be right. It’s the same with any religious faith.
But the earliest accounts of Jesus’ life, like the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s letter to the Galatians, don’t even mention the virgin birth. And the reference in Luke to the virgin birth was written in a different kind of Greek and was probably added later. So isn’t there room for skepticism?
If it were simply a legend that could be dismissed, it would damage the fabric of the Christian message. Luc Ferry, looking at the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus’ birth into the world, said this taught that the power behind the whole universe was not just an impersonal cosmic principle but a real person who could be known and loved. That scandalized Greek and Roman philosophers but was revolutionary in the history of human thought. It led to a new emphasis on the importance of the individual person and on love as the supreme virtue, because Jesus was not just a great human being, but the pre-existing Creator God, miraculously come to earth as a human being.
And the Resurrection? Must it really be taken literally?
Jesus’ teaching was not the main point of his mission. He came to save people through his death for sin and his resurrection. So his important ethical teaching only makes sense when you don’t separate it from these historic doctrines. If the Resurrection is a genuine reality, it explains why Jesus can say that the poor and the meek will “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). St. Paul said without a real resurrection, Christianity is useless (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Church communications is both art and science. You can use spreadsheets, but you also need finesse.
You can print bulletins, but few people will read them. You can use social media but few people will see the updates. You can send email but a majority won’t see it in their inboxes. You can even print and snail mail a newsletter, but why in the world would you?
Church communications leaders and church staff members hear it all the time… I didn’t know that was happening.
I’ve been a pastor for twenty years and I’ve been designing church websites for fifteen years. I’ve worked in church communications for over a decade and in the last five years, I’ve watched our church plant grow from two families to five hundred or so regular attenders.
We still struggle with all of the same questions every church leader has about keeping people informed.
- What gets announced from the stage?
- What gets put in the bulletin?
- What gets posted on social media?
- What gets passed along via email?
- Who is in charge of all of that?
The reason this matters so much is that people are constantly being bombarded with noise. From work, from school, from entertainment, people are listening to tons of signals. As a church communicator, you have a desire to send just a few more signals their direction about the most important things in life.
It’s vital that you sort your signals to make the biggest ones stand out.
We’ve mastered a few things, we’re making progress on a few things, and we’re still figuring a lot of things out as we go. It’s especially tough that the way people consume information and engage in community is always changing, and it’s always changing at a faster rate.
I have noticed that a ton of youth ministries are using snapchat as a communication tool. I have been thinking lately, should youth pastors use snapchat? Should we use this as a communication tool?
I don’t know if youth pastors, or youth leaders should be using a tool that will cause so much destruction for so many teenagers. In 10 years from now, we will look back and grieve for the students in our youth ministries who’s lives were destroyed by sexts sent out through snapchat. I hope that when we look back, we will be equally grieved by our endorsement of snapchat.
I feel like we don’t know, or are being naive about how destructive snapchat really is. All you have to do is google “teens and sexting court cases” and you will notice that there are post everyday.
Because this is really a problem. According to this infographic on snapchat called Snapchat defined and dethroned states, 20% of teenagers have sent a sext message via snapchat. 1 in 6 students have received a sext from snapchat.
If you are not alarmed by those numbers, you should be. Snapchat and sexting affects 1 in 6 students in your youth ministry. This isn’t a christian or non-christian issue. Its a digital culture issue. It affects all students.
What should we do?
The idea for this post came after talking with my friends Jamie and Jessica Limato. We sent them out from our church almost a decade ago to plant Aletheia Church in Norfolk, Virgina. When God called them to plant this church, Jamie was working at a Starbucks and teaching PE at a private school and Jessica was the principal of a private school. They have been faithful servants of God and the church has grown consistently under their care.
I wanted to share some insights from Jamie today about what it was like to begin planting a church with a wife who had a Master’s degree in Leadership and School Administration.
Jamie says: Guys, when it comes to administration, what do you do if your wife is more gifted in parts of administration than you? Don’t be threatened by her gifts! Early on in the church plant, my wife encouraged me and was consistently asking to help, but rather than doing that I tried to do it all myself. Looking back, I wish I would have utilized her strengths and asked more of her.