Tim Keller: Preaching The Gospel in a Postmodern Culture – Session 5 Notes


Tim Keller preaching image



How do we ‘get down to earth’—bringing a text into direct contact with the hearts and lives practices of the listeners? And how do we do this in such a way that really changes the heart through the gospel rather through general moral exhortation? I will lay down three broad strategies for application that flow out of a redemptive-Historical approach.

Indeed, the second strategy (Aiming at Heart-Motives) flows directly out of the “Law Completion” way of Redemptive-Historical exposition.


One of the most important ways to get a hearing from post-modern people and to wake up nominal or sleepy Christians is to preach the gospel as a “third” distinct way from both irreligion and religion.

Religion is ‘outside in’: “if I work hard according to biblical principles, then God will accept/bless me”. The gospel is ‘inside out’: “because God has accepted/blessed me, I work hard to live according to biblical principles”. Religion (explicitly in other faiths and implicitly in legalistic Christianity) makes moral/religious observance a means of salvation. Even people who believe in the Christian God can functionally ‘base their sanctification. Even people who believe in the Christian God can functionally ‘base their sanctification on their justification’ (Lovelace). Thus a prime need is to distinguish between general ‘religion’ and gospel Christianity as well overt irreligion. Why? (1) Many professed Christians aren’t believers—they are pure ‘elder brothers’ (Luke 15:11ff.) and only making this distinction can convert them. (2) Many, many real Christians are elder-brotherish—angry, mechanical, superior, insecure—and only making this distinction can renew them. (3) Modern and post-modern people have rejected religion for good reasons and will only listen to Christianity if they see it is different.

1. The two “thieves” of the gospel

Tertullian said, “Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors.” Tertullian meant that there were two basic false ways of thinking, each of which “steals” the power and the distinctiveness of the gospel from us by pulling us “off the gospel line” to one side or the other. These two errors are very powerful, because they represent the natural tendency of the human heart and mind. These “thieves” can be called moralism on the one hand, and relativism on the other hand. (Note: Thinking in terms of the RHM, we can say that ‘legalism’ is an under-realized’ eschatology in which the presence of God’s future acceptance and vindication is not grasped, and anti-nomianism is an ‘over-realized’ eschatology in which the law and striving is not necessary).

Another way to put it is: the gospel opposes both religion and irreligion. On the one hand, “moralism/religion” stresses truth over grace, for it says that we must obey the truth in order to be saved. On the other hand, “relativists/irreligion” stresses grace over the truth, for they say that we are all accepted by God (if there is a God) and we have to decide what is true for us. But “truth” without grace is not really truth, and “grace” without truth is not really grace. Jesus was “full of grace and truth”. Any religion or philosophy of life that de-emphasizes or loses one or the other of these truths, falls into legalism or into license and either way, the joy and power and “release” of the gospel is stolen by one thief or the other. The real gospel gives us a God far more holy than a moralist can bear (since your morality is only a filthy rag before him) and far more loving than a relativist can imagine (since his love cost him dearly).

Since Paul uses a metaphor for being “in line” with the gospel, we can picture gospel renewal failing when we keep from walking “off-line” either to the right or to the left. However, before we start we must realize that gospel is not a half-way compromise between the two poles—it does not produce “something in the middle”, but something different from both. The gospel critiques both religion and irreligion (Matt. 21:31; 22:10).

In Galatians 2:14, Paul lays down a powerful principle. He deals with Peter’s racial pride and cowardice by declaring that he was not living “not in line with the truth of the gospel”. From this we see that the Christian life is a process of renewing every dimension of our life—spiritual, psychological, corporate, social—by thinking, hoping, and living out the “lines” or ramifications of the gospel. The gospel is to be applied to every area of thinking, feeling, relating, working, and behaving. Notice, Paul did not say, “you are breaking the no-racism law!” though that is perfectly true. However, it is not the best way to think. Paul asks neither “what is the moral way to act?” nor does he say “we don’t need to order our steps at all!” but rather asks: “what is the way to live that is in-line with the gospel?” The gospel must continually be “thought out” to keep us from moving into our habitual moralistic or individualistic directions. We must bring everything into line with the gospel.

The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Richard Lovelace says that most people’s problems are just a failure to be oriented to the gospel—a failure to grasp and believe it through and through. Luther says, “The truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine…Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.” (on Galatians 2:14f).

2. ‘Two Thieves’ application.

So we see that we must move away from the typical ‘conservative evangelical’ preaching which basically says: “irreligion and immorality is bad; moral living is very good; Christianity is best.” Of course it is better to not rob and kill, whether you are a Christian or not! But gospel preaching is careful to show the ‘dark side’ of morality, so that non-Christians (who see the dangers of religiosity and self-righteousness) will realize the gospel is something else, and so that Christians will not be trapped in the lifelessness of moral self-effort. The following are some examples of how to treat subjects contrasted with both irreligion and religion.

a. Approach to discouragement. When a person is depressed, the moralist says, “you are breaking the rules—repent.” On the other hand, the relativist says, “you just need to love and accept yourself”. But (assuming there is no physiological base of the depression!) the gospel leads us to examine ourselves and say: “something in my life has become more important than Christ, a pseudo-savior, a form of works-righteousness”. The gospel leads us to repentance, but not to merely setting our will against superficialities. It is without the gospel that superficialities will be addressed instead of the heart. The moralist will work on behavior and the relativist will work on the emotions themselves.

b. Approach to love and relationships. Moralism often uses the procuring of love as the way to “earn our salvation” and convince ourselves we are worthy persons. That often creates what is called ‘co-dependency’—a form of self-salvation through needing people or needing people to save you (i.e. saving yourself by saving others). On the other hand, much relativism/liberalism reduces love to a negotiated partnership for mutual benefit. You only relate as long as it is not costing you anything. So the choice (without the gospel) is to selfishly use others or to selfishly let yourself be used by others. But in Christ we see a man who unconditionally sacrificed for us out of love for us (not need for us). When we get both the emotional-humility (who do I think I am?) and the emotional-wealth (he loves me like that!) we are moved to also humbly serve others, but not out of inappropriate need. We do sacrifice and commit, but not out of a need to convince ourselves or others we are acceptable. So we can love the person enough to confront, yet stay with the person when it does not benefit us.

c. Approach to suffering. Moralists believe that God owes them. The whole point of moralism is to put God in one’s debt. So when a moralist suffers, he must either fell mad at God (because I have been performing well) or mad at self (because I have not been performing well) on both. On the other hand, relativism/pragmatism feels always angry, claiming that God must be either unjust or impotent. But the cross shows us that we had a suffering God. But the gospel on the one hand takes away our surprise and pique over suffering. On the one hand, we see him suffering—without complaint—for us. So we know that we deserve to be eternally lost but by mercy we will never get what we deserve. This eliminates self-pity. On the other hand, we know God could not be punishing us for our sin—since Jesus paid for our sins, and God cannot receive two payments. That means whatever suffering we are receiving is not retribution, but instruction. If you face suffering with a clear grasp of justification by grace alone, your joy in that grace will deepen, but if you face suffering with a mindset of justification by works, the suffering will break you, not make you. “He suffered not that we might not suffer, but that in our suffering we could become like him.” Since both the moralist and the pragmatist ignore the cross in different ways, they will both be confused and devastated by suffering.

d. Approach to sexuality. The secularist/pragmatist sees sex an merely biological and physical appetite. The moralist tends to see sex as dirty or at least a dangerous impulse that leads constantly to sin. But the gospel shows us that sexuality is to reflect the self-giving of Christ. He gave himself completely without conditions. So we are not to seek intimacy but hold back control of our lives. If we give ourselves sexually we are to give ourselves legally, socially, personally—utterly. Sex only is to happen in a totally committed, permanent relationship of marriage.

e. Approach to one’s family. Moralism can make you a slave to parental expectations, while pragmatism sees no need for family loyalty or the keeping of promises and covenants if they do not “meet my needs”. The gospel frees you from making parental approval an absolute or psychological salvation, pointing how God becomes the ultimate father. Then you will neither be too dependent or too hostile to your parents.

f. Approach to other races and cultures. The liberal approach is to relativize all cultures. (“We can all get along because there is no truth”). The conservatives believe there is truth for evaluation of cultures, and so they choose some culture as superior and then they idolize it, feeling superior to others in the impulse of slef-justifying pride. The gospel leads us to be: a) on the one hand, somewhat critical of all cultures, including our own (since there is truth), but b) on the other hand, we are morally superior to no one. After all, we are saved by grace alone. Christians will exhibit both moral conviction yet compassion and flexibility. For example, gays are used to being “bashed” and hated or completely accepted.

g. Approach to witness to non-Christians. The liberal/pragmatic approach is to deny the legitimacy of evangelism altogether. The conservative/moralist person does believe in proselytizing, because “we are right and they are wrong”. Such proselytizing is almost always offensive. But the gospel produces a constellation of traits is us.

(1) First, we are compelled to share the gospel out of generosity and love, not guilt.

(2) Second, we are freed from fear of being ridiculed or hurt by others, since we already have the favor of God by grace.

(3) Third, there is a humility in our dealings with others, because we know we are saved only by grace alone, not because of our superior insight or character.

(4) Fourth, we are hopeful about anyone, even the “hard cases”, because we were saved only because of grace, not because we were likely people to be Christians.

(5) Fifth, we are courteous and careful with people. We don’t have to push or coerce them, for it is only God’s grace that opens hearts, not our eloquence or persistence or even their openness. All these traits not only create a winsome evangelist but an excellent neighbor in a multi-cultural society.

h. Approach to human authority. Moralists will tend to obey human authorities (family, tribe, government, cultural customs) too much, since they rely so heavily on their self-image of being moral and decent. Pragmatists will either obey human authority too much (since they have no higher authority by which they can judge their culture) or else too little (since they may only obey when they know they won’t get caught). That means either authoritarianism or anarchy. But the gospel gives you both a standard by which to oppose human authority (if it contradicts the gospel), but on the other hand, gives you incentive to obey the civil authorities from the heart, even when you could get away with disobedience.

i. Approach to guilt. When someone says, “I can’t forgive myself”, it means there is some standard or condition or person that is more central to your identity than the grace of God. God is the only God who forgives—no other “god” will. If you cannot forgive yourself, it is because you have failed your real God, your real righteousness, and it is holding you captive. The moralist’s false god is usually a God of their imagination which is holy and demanding but not gracious. The pragmatist’s false god is usually some achievement or relationship.

j. Approach to self-image. Without the gospel, your self-image is based upon living up to some standards—whether yours or someone’s imposed on you. If you live up to those standards, you will be confident but not humble. If you don’t live up to them, you will be humble but not confident. Only in the gospel can you be both enormously bold and utterly sensitive and humble. For you are both perfect and a sinner!

k. Approach to “right living.” Jonathan Edwards points out that “true virtue” is only possible for those who have experienced the grace of the gospel. Any person who is trying to earn their salvation does “the right thing” in order to get into heaven, or in order to better their self-esteem. In other words, the ultimate motive is self-interest. But persons who know they are totally accepted already do “the right thing” out of sheer delight in righteousness for its own sake. Only in the gospel do you obey God for God’s sake, and not for what God will give you. Only in the gospel do you love people for their sake (not yours), do good for its own sake (not yours), and obey God for his sake (not yours). Only the gospel makes “doing the right thing” a joy and delight, not a burden or a means to an end.

l. Approach to the poor. The liberal/pragmatist tend to scorn the religion of the poor and see them as helpless victims needing expertise. This is born out of disbelief in God’s common grace or special grace to all. Ironically, the secular mindset also disbelieves in sin, and thus anyone who is poor must be oppressed, a helpless victim. The conservative/moralists on the other hand tend to scorn the poor as failures and weaklings. They see them as somehow to blame for the situation. But the gospel leads us to be: a) humble, without moral superiority knowing you were “spiritually bankrupt” but saved by Christ’s free generosity, and b) gracious, not worried too much about “deservingness”, since you didn’t deserve Christ’s grace, c) respectful of believing poor Christians as brothers and sisters from whom to learn. Jesus himself came as a poor man. The gospel alone can bring “knowledge workers” into a sense of humble respect for and solidarity with the poor.


We saw Martin Luther believed that self-justification (rather than Lord-justification) is the root of all sin. This means that there is a particular heart-motive ‘barrier’ under every sin, which is some form of unbelief in the gospel of Lord-justification. This means that we must ‘use the gospel’ each time we do application. We must show that some form of gospel-unbelief is at the root of why we do not live as we ought. We must renew the heart-motives with the gospel, not just with exhortation that focuses directly on the will.

1. Principles for Renewing the Heart with the Gospel.

a. The gospel offers not just forgiveness for our bad record, but also complete acceptance through Christ’s perfect record. Christ did not only die in our place but lived a perfect life in our place. Therefore we do not simply get forgiveness for sins from Christ, but also complete acceptance. His perfect past record now (in God’s sight) becomes ours.

b. There is no alternative to the gospel but works-righteousness. Both religion and irreligion are forms of it. Un-religious persons are struggling to achieve a “righteousness” through their own efforts, and religious persons are struggling to achieve a “righteousness” through their own efforts. So fundamentally, they are no different.

c. All sin is therefore ultimately rooted in ‘idolatry”, pseudo-salvation, false trusts or ‘lords’ caused by works-righteousness. The ultimate reason for any sin is that something besides Christ is functioning as an alternative “righteousness” or source of confidence—and is thus an “idol”, a pseudo-savior, which creates inordinate desires.

d. All of life is repentance—not just for sins, but also for our false “righteousness(es)”. Any failure of actual righteousness is always a failure to live in accordance with our imputed righteousness. We make something besides Jesus our real hope and life. So believing the gospel means to repent, not just for our sins, but the particular (self) righteousness(es) underlying our behavior. That is the secret of change.

e. Gospel repentance creates a whole new motivation in our relationship to God, to others, to ourselves, and to our life in the world. Only through the gospel is there a new sense of delight in and service to God for the beauty of who he is in himself, not for what he gives you. That frees us to love others and do good deeds for their own sake, and not for how they profit us.

f. Therefore, the gospel is not only the way to enter the kingdom, but also the way to advance (in) the kingdom.

2. A Basic Outline for Aiming at the Heart as well as Behavior.

The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

a. The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.

“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative/story tells us that we must do or what we must be.”

b. The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.

“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”

c. The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.

“But there’s one who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the–. He has done this for us, in our place.”

d. The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.

“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”


a) In every text of the Scripture there is somehow a moral principle. It may grow out of because of what it shows us about the character of God or Christ, or out of either the good or bad examples of characters in the text, or because of explicit commands, promises, and warnings. This moral principle must be distilled clearly.

b) But then a crisis is created in the hearers as the preacher shows that his moral principle creates insurmountable problems. The sermon shows how this practical and moral obligation is impossible to meet. The hearers are led to a seemingly dead end.

c) Then a hidden door opens and light comes in. The sermon moves both into worship and into Christ-application when it shows how only Jesus Christ has fulfilled this. If the text is narrative, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of a particular character. If the text is didactic, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of the principle.

d) finally, we show how our inability to live as we ought stems from our rejection of Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (or whatever the theme is). The sermon points out how to repent and rejoice in Christ in such a way that we can live as we ought.


If I preached a sermon on “honesty”, I could show the forms of dishonesty and how harmful it is, and how we need to ask God to help us be honest. But it I stopped there (and merely called people to ask forgiveness for lying and try harder to be honest), I would only be playing to the heart’s natural self-righteousness. I would be essentially supporting the growth of ‘common morality’ in the people. Those who would be convicted by the sermon would feel guilty and burdened. Those who had not lied lately would be smug. I should admit that nearly every sermon I ever preached on honesty/lying up to my first 15 years in the ministry was like this! Even though I knew (via Ed Clowney) that I had to preach Christ and not moralism from every text, I really just made Jesus an “add-on”. I didn’t apply him as Savior to the actual sin of lying, but to the aftermath only. My sermon would go like this:

I. Here are all the ways we lie, and why they are forbidden.

II. We should not lie, because Jesus told the truth and kept his promises (Jesus as Example).

III. If we do lie, Jesus will forgive us and help us do better (Jesus as God-of-gaps).

In other words, I used Jesus as an example, and then as someone who forgives us when, though we try very hard, we sometimes fail. This essentially tells people to sanctify themselves. It implicitly appeals to fear and/or pride as motives for honesty.

But in gospel analysis we ask the question: “why do you lie in a particular situation?” The usual reason we lie is because there is something we feel that we simply must have (besides Jesus) to survive and be truly happy, and so we lie. It is usually a good reputation, or saving face, or approval, or some other thing. I first came to understand this when I realized that my wife and I tend to ‘fudge’ the truth in very different circumstances. I realized that the underlying reason that I lied/deceived was a fear of people’s disapproval.

Using “Luther-ist” analysis, I was trusting in the approval of people rather than in Christ as my functional trust, as my main hope. But anything you add to Jesus Christ as a requirement for a happy life is a functional salvation, a pseudo-lord, and it is controlling you, whether it be power, approval, comfort or control. So the only way to change your habit of lying is to (not just try harder) but to apply the gospel—to repent of your failure to believe the gospel, and see that you are not saved by pursuing this thing (which you are lying to get), but through the grace of Jesus Christ.

Alternatives – What are the alternatives? Type #1 – On the one hand, there is a “Christ as Example” or ‘moralistic’ sermon that says—“please try harder or God will be very unhappy!” Type #2 – On the other hand, there is a “Christ as God-of-Gaps” or ‘relativistic’ sermon that says—“we all fall down but God loves us anyway!” (Many people today in the Reformed camp smell that ‘church growth’ theory has led us to more ‘relativistic’ sermons in the evangelical world. But are we just to go back to the moralistic ones?).

Instead we must do “Christ-as-Savior” or “gospel” sermons. Unlike “Type #2” sermons, they begin with deep, below the surface repentance, not a superficial application of “Jesus loves you anyway”. Unlike “Type #1” sermons, they end with rejoicing, since the thing we must repent of is always a failure to enjoy, delight in, and relish the grace and provision of Christ’s work. So this is how I learned to preach sermons on lying—or anything else. No matter what the issue, if we call people to “try harder”, we actually push them deeper into slavery, but when we always solve the problem by applying the gospel, then both a) non-Christians get to hear it every week in multiple perspectives, and b) Christians get to see how it really works in every aspect of life.

Sum: Only “Christo-centric” preaching can really lead the hearers to true virtue, gospel holiness. Typical preaching only distills “biblical principles” which do not see the text in its redemptive-historical context. Thus it is only natural that the application part of such a sermon will tend to merely exhort people to conform to the principles. Only Christo-centric preaching can produce gospel holiness.

Case Study #2

A Sermon on the power of sexual/beauty’s attraction in our culture.

I. What you must do: The power of physical beauty over us must be broken. Look at the devastation in our society and in our lives. 1) It distorts women’s view of themselves (add eating disorders); 2) It demoralizes aging people; 3) It distorts men’s lives, by making them reject great spouse-prospects for superficial reasons (add pornography). What must we do? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Be deep. Don’t be controlled.

II. But you can’t: You know quite well we won’t be able to. Why? 1) First, we desire physical beauty to cover our own sense of shame and inadequacy. Genesis 3. “When you look good you feel good about yourself” really = …”you feel yourself to be good.” 2) Second, we are afraid of our mortality and death. Evolutionary biologists and Christians together agree that the drive to have physical beauty is a desire for youth. We’ll never overcome our problem by just “trying”.

III. But there was one who did. There was one who was beautiful beyond bearing yet willingly gave it up (Philippians 2). He became ugly that we might become beautiful (Isaiah 53).

IV. Only now we can change. Only as we see what Jesus did for us will our hearts be melted and freed from the belief that we can judge a book by its cover. Only when we can be in Him will be freed from our sense of shame and fear of mortality (You want the non-Christians to wish it were true even if they don’t believe it yet).


What the “Three Perspectives” are.

Vern Poythress in God-centered Interpretation takes John Frame’s 3 perspectives of normative (prophetic), existential (priestly), and situational (kingly) and works this out for hermeneutics. He says that when interpreting the text, you do not know the meaning of a text unless you understand its author’s original historic sense (normative), its application to the hearers (existential), and its place in the history of redemption (situational). If you use one of these three aspects, you make it an idol and it leads to distortions.

However, once you ‘go into’ the application to the hearers, you again have the three perspectives. Again, if you only use one the aspects, you make it an idol and it leads to distortions. He calls these distortions—the “Doctrinalist’ (mainly normative), ‘Pietist’ (mainly existential), and ‘Cultural-transformationalist’ (mainly kingly).

a. A ‘Doctrinalist’ looks to a text to see how it supports sound doctrine. This person makes the Enlightenment mistake that you can have objective knowledge without it being personal. The Reformed way to put this – is that all knowledge is ‘covenantal’. (See Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority and Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God). Their basic gist is this: no part of revelation is given simply to be known. Everything that is revealed is revealed for covenant service (Deut. 29:29). There is no neutrality—you are either in covenant service to God as you look at the world or in covenant service to some other Lord. Thus Frame in “God in our Studies” in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, pp. 81-84 is able to say that the way the Lord has structured knowledge so that you can understand God’s truth if know yourself, and your world, as well as the biblical text. The three perspectives “co-inhere’. You can’t really know what a biblical text means unless you also know how it is to affect the world and you. In short, if I don’t know how to use a text, I don’t know it’s meaning—so the difference between ‘meaning’ and ‘application’ is meaningless.

Many evangelicals, especially in the Reformed camps are afraid of subjectivism and of being ‘man-centered’. They want to simply “expound what the divine biblical text says, without regard to ‘felt needs’ or human concerns.” But that is impossible. The minute the doctrinalist starts reading a text, he is doing so with particular questions on his heart—the last Presbytery debate he was at, the last books he read, a particular cultural problem—and thus the reader finds in the Scripture the answers to the questions on his heart. If the Bible is a covenantal revelation—if, in fact, if all knowledge is covenantal—done in moral commitment to some ‘lord’ so that no such thing as neutral, value-free ‘fact’—then application to felt needs is happening in every interpretation and preaching. So you better do it consciously, to the people in front of you, or you will only be pleasing your self or even solving your own problems in the pulpit and starving everyone else.

b. A ‘Pietist” tends to look at every text as it relates to people psychologically and devotionally. The text is applied to answer the questions: How does this help us relate to the Lord? How does it help our prayer life? How does it show us how to live in the world? How does this help the non-believer find Christ? How does this help me handle my personal problems? The pietist is the best of the three at looking for ways to preach a text evangelistically and bring it to bear on the individual’s heart and conscience in order to get a ‘decision’. Also, the pietist is constantly aware of how Christians are loosing their internal spiritual grip on the doctrine of free justification and may be ‘returning to the bondage’ (Galatians 5:1) to false savior-gods (Galatians 4:8).

c. A Cultural-transformationist tends to look at the text as it relates to corporate and cultural issues, such as social justice and econmic fairness and Christian community building. The ‘Great Reversal’ of the cross means that the gospel proclaims a complete reversal of the values of the world—power, recognition, status, wealth. For example, the gospel is especially welcomed by the poor and for the poor (Luke 4:18 – He anointed me…to preach the gospel to the poor.” Cf. also Luke 7:22). Preaching the gospel and healing people’s bodies are closely associated (Luke 9:6). Jesus points to the coming kingdom of God that will renew all of creation. The gospel creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition—all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26). The cultural-transformationist looks at all things with this perspective.

So the doctrinalist reads Luke 4:31-37 and says: “This passage teaches the deity of Christ and demonstrates his sovereignty over evil spirits and also shows the grace of God toward people in bondage to sin.” The pietist looks at the same passage and says: “this passage teaches that Jesus can solve my problems if I let him and also that once I am delivered I have to tell my friends.” The cultural-transformationist reads the passage and says: “this passage shows Christ as an active power in the world, transforming the world, liberating people from oppressive structures” (See Poythress, pp. 1-4).

We need all three perspectives when thinking about writing application. Orthodox people are sensitive to ‘therapeutic’ and ‘liberationist’ idolatries. But they tend to cling to old Enlightenment idolatries themselves into a ‘doctrinalist’ idolatry. Since by temperament, we all have our ‘bent’, we should force ourselves to look at a text through all three application ‘perspectives’. When we do so, we will often see many rich possible uses of a text that otherwise we would miss.

2. The Three Perspectives and the question of ‘What is the Gospel’?

a. The Discussion. There is a rather significant and growing controversy going on about ‘what is the gospel?’ in evangelical circles today. Many people are saying that the traditional evangelical gospel is too ‘individualistic’ because it left out the ‘kingdom of God’. More and more are saying, “the gospel is the good news of the reign of God, not the good news that you can have personal forgiveness and peace with God.” (Much of this sort of language is inspired by the writings of Lesslie Newbigin, N.T. Wright, and the ‘Gospel and Our Culture Network’).

This kind of talk is both helpful and misleading. It is quite true that traditional evangelicalism has been individualistic, largely because of a lack of orientation to the redemptive-Historical perspective. It is quite true that ‘the kingdom’ is essential to the gospel. For example, the very concept of simul Justus et peccator—simultaneously legally ‘just’ and yet actually ‘sinful’, the very heart of Luther’s gospel—is based largely on the ‘already but not yet’ of the kingdom of God.

Justification by faith is possible because of the presence now of the future verdict upon God’s people on judgment day. When we are ‘born again’, we are born into the kingdom (John 3:1ff). So if you leave the kingdom of God out of the gospel preaching, you are being misleading. However, it may also be quite misleading for a preacher to simply say, “the good news is that the reign of God is here!” That can become a new moralism (a socially activistic moralism) that tells people “God’s program of creation renewal is going on, and you can join it.” But how does a person join it? By ‘getting with the program’ in some general way? By getting baptized and beginning to live according to kingdom values? This may end up being a new kind of self-effort. I doubt that preaching simply “the good news is the reign of God” is going to lead people to respond, “My chains fell off; my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

b. Three Perspectives on the Gospel. I think it is important to see that the gospel itself (just like the Tri-une God) should be understood through three perspectives as well. Each perspective is true in that it eventually comprises the whole, but each approach begins with a particular ‘door’ or aspect.

The ‘normative’ aspect I’ll call “the gospel of Christ” – stresses the objective, historic work of Christ that Jesus really came in time-space and history to accomplish all for us. It will talk much about the real, historicity of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection (John Stott). This view thinks that the problem addressed by Paul in Galatians was a doctrinal heresy.

The ‘existential’ aspect I’ll call “the gospel of sonship” stresses our new identity in Christ as adopted children, liberated from the law. It will talk much of the power of the spirit to renew broken hearts and psyches (Jack Miller). This view thinks that the problem addressed by Paul in Galatians was a pastoral one of Christians falling back into legalism.

The ‘situational’ aspect I’ll call “the gospel of the kingdom” – stresses the reversal of values in the new creation. It will talk about healed community, cultural transformation, ministry of deed and justice (Harvie Conn). This view thinks that the problems addressed by Paul in Galatians was the lack of ‘table fellowship’ between Jew and Gentile.

We need all three perspectives, though each perspective is not simply a ‘part’ of the gospel. For example, the ‘kingdom’ perspective contains the other two. If God is king, then salvation must be by grace, for if we are saved by works, something else will be our Lord and Savior. Or, if we have a new identity in Christ by sheer grace, then we must not look down at anyone else, and self-justification is the basis of racism and injustice. If you go deep enough into any one perspective, you will find the other two.

What is ‘the Problem’? There is a great danger of getting locked into only one perspective because we get obsessed with some too-sweeping analysis of what the main problem “in our world today”. (1) If you think that subjectivism in society is the problem you will do the gospel of X and fear that sonship-gospel and the kingdom-gospel sound too much like the ‘liberal’ ideas. (2) If think that Pharisaical objectivism is the problem, you will do the sonship-gospel with more emphasis on personal individual emotional freedom. (3) If you think the main problem we face is old Enlightenment individualism, you will do the gospel of the kingdom with more emphasis on working together sacrificially to transform through the power of the gospel. But aren’t we facing all these problems?

Remember also that different groups and classes of people are in different conditions. With traditional cultures, the traditional evangelical gospel good, as it builds on a desire for historical evidence and a sense of ‘truth’. Traditional cultures (with their share of ‘failed Pharisees’) often respond well to the sonship-gospel, as may ‘post-modern’ people who have a desire for freedom. Many groups with a high ‘people-consciousness’ such as minorities will respond better to the kingdom-gospel, as will many post-modern people who think more so in terms of ‘sociology’ than psychology (identity politics).

So we should be careful. Most of us are ‘in reaction’ to some approach to the gospel we think is unbalanced. We must not over-react by getting ‘stuck’ in one perspective.

3. Case Study: Application for the Story of Esther

a. God calls us to serve Him in intensely secular settings (Cultural Transformationist). This message is similar (but stronger!) as that of the accounts of Joseph and Daniel. We learn here how a believer can be effectively used by God in the heart of secular and pluralistic culture, even in the centers of its power. In all three accounts, we learn of Jewish figures who rise to power in an unbelieving society through their skills and talents—and then use their places to save their people.

This is a threatening message to many Christians today. There has always been a strong tendency among orthodox believers toward separation from the polluted, unclean, and morally/spiritually ‘messy’ arenas of politics, business, government, and so on. But Esther is a concubine, a member of a harem!

“Let Esther’s harem represent every unclean political or commercial institution or structure where evil reigns and must be confronted. Believers are needed there…Our cities are full of dens of iniquity. Our culture is described as essentially post-Christian, secular, and often antithetical to biblical values and hostile to biblical virtues…[But] Esther gives us permission to reflect on our call to serve God within the matrix of a modern secular…system…How could God call Esther to be the interracial replacement spouse of a polygamous, pagan Persian king? …This book is off the screen for many evangelicals…We urban people need Esther now more than ever. Never allow it to be trivialized or spiritualized away, as it has been so often…” (Ray Bakke, A Theology as Big as the City, IVP, 1997).

b. God calls us not only to change individuals, but change society and culture (Cultural-transformationist). In each case we’ve looked at in this course—Joseph, Daniel, and Esther—God called someone to work for just laws and policies in a secular society. It is common for modern Christians to insist that the only way to change society is to convert and disciple individuals. If that is all there is to be done, then the ‘higher’ calling would be to go into Christian ministry. But the Bible shows us people who God also calls to work for social and “systemic” justice and peace in society. Esther used her position to have an unjust law repealed.

Ray Bakke reminds us that we must read Esther ‘synoptically’ with Ezra and Nehemiah (A Theology as Big as the City, p. 106). These three Jewish ‘heroes’ had three very different callings. Ezra was a clergyman, who taught the Bible to the restored community in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was a lay person who used his skill to literally rebuild the wall and infra-structure of Jerusalem to insure safe streets and a decent economy. Esther, meanwhile, used her position to work for just laws in the secular realm. Only all three people, working together, were able to rebuild Jerusalem into a viable city. One did evangelism/discipleship (working on spiritual welfare), one did community development (working on the social and economic welfare), one did social justice (creating laws that were just and allowed the community to grow). This was not only a lay-clergy leadership team, but a male-female leadership team.

This means that we will never see God’s kingdom move forward with only evangelism and discipleship. We must also do ‘wholistic’ ministry that works on behalf of the poor and at-risk neighborhoods, and we must also have Christians in ‘secular’ jobs working with excellence, integrity, and distinctiveness. We need Ezra ministry, Nehemiah ministry, and Esther ministry—all together—if we are going to ‘win’ our society for Christ.

c. God is the only real King (Doctrinalist).

We have noted that God’s name is never directly mentioned, why? The teaching is: God is sovereignly in control, even when he appears to be completely absent. The dramatic tension in the book revolves around a threat to the very existence of the Jews. If we put the book in its total biblical context, we know that this is really a threat to the whole plan of God to redeem the world by grace. Genesis 12:1-3 tells us that God planned to bring salvation into the world through a family and a people, descended from Abraham. Abraham’s people were to be guardians of both the true faith and the “Messianic seed” which would one day produce a savior who would redeem the world. A threat to the Jewish nation was, therefore, an attack by the world on God’s redemptive plan. However, largely through a set of “coincidences”, the Jews are saved. God’s plan to save the world through grace is intact.

“What the writer of Esther has done is to give us a story in which the main actor is not so much as mentioned—the presence of God is implied and understood throughout the story, so that these mounting coincidences are but the by-product of his rule over history and his providential care for his people. It is an extraordinary piece of literary genius that this author wrote a book about the actions and rule of God from beginning to end, and yet that God is not named on a single page of the story” (Dillard, p. 196).

What a vivid way to teach us that God is always present, even when he seems most absent and his purposes most ‘opaque’! The message of the book is that God’s plan of grace/salvation cannot fail, and though he may appear to be completely absent, he is really behind everything, working out His plan.

Because of this theme, the writer contrasts two conflicting world-views—that of Haman and that of Mordecai. Haman believes in chance-fate. He casts lots to determine the best time to annihilate the Jews (3:7-11). He thinks he can control history by the exercise of his power. The other world-view is that of Mordecai. He believes that there is a divine presence over-ruling history (4:14) who can use us if we make ourselves available to him, but whose plan is not dependent on nor thwarted by human power. “The book sets the two world-views in contrast and shows by the outcome which is to be preferred” (Baldwin, p. 38).

Nevertheless, we are taught that God’s sovereignty is not determinism. When the story is over, it will be possible to look back and see that so much of what happened was due to a divine power behind even the most mundane ‘accidents’. Yet the narrator does not depict a kind of fatalistic determinism. Our choices are not determined apart from the responsible exercise of our will. Esther will have to risk her life and act courageously if the salvation of her people will be realized. We are not just passive pawns in God’s plan.

d. Human strength is weakness and weakness can be strength (Pietist).

Recent commentators have noticed the weakness of men and the power of women in the book. In contrast to the huge show of power in his great feast, the drunken Xerxes tries to humiliate his wife who in turn humiliates him. In response, he decrees that all men should control their wives when he can’t control his own. The decree, evidently made when he was still drunk, only makes him look foolish. Later he appears to regret it on several fronts.

Not only is he ‘bested’ by his first queen, the rest of the book shows him being ‘bested’ by his next queen. While the king is revealed to be ill-informed, forgetful, impulsive, unjust, and unwise, his queen Esther is seen to be a brave, take-charge, focused, wise, and just person. Not only Vashti and Esther, but Haman’s wife Zaresh appear as ‘strong and shrewd’ while all the men (except Mordecai) appear vain and foolish.

Esther, of course, is the person who most of all stands the world’s expectations on their head. First, she was an orphan, without father or mother (2:7). Orphans are one of the most oppressed, powerless groups (cf. James 1:27). Second, she was a woman, and not a powerful or wealthy woman, but a concubine, the member of a harem. In the process of the narrative, however, she ascends from being an orphan and Mordecai’s protégé to being a queen of a great power, who makes plans and takes decisive leadership and who in the end is her uncle’s guardian. Originally, her physical beauty won the king’s heart, but 2:15 indicates that her character and behavior had won the attraction of the rest of the court as well. Esther comes from the outside margins of society and is used by God to do redemption. So again we see a very prominent theme in the Bible. God does not work through the channels that the world considers strong and powerful. Instead, He works through groups (women, racial minorities) who seem powerless. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

In a related theme, we learn that ‘the one who would lose himself will find himself’. We learn that evil sets up strains in the fabric of life and backfires on the perpetrator, while faithfulness to God is also wise. Haman, who intends to destroy Mordecai and his kin, ultimately destroys only himself and his kin. This theme is especially achieved through the literary device of irony. The gallows that Haman builds for Mordecai becomes his own place of execution. Haman seeks to plunder the wealth of the Jews, but it is his wealth that falls into their hands. The reversal of role and fortune that occurs so often in the Bible eventually finds its fullest expression in Jesus, who was exalted because He stooped so low. At the same time Satan is brought low because he sought exaltation.

Sum—Do what you can to penetrate the culture. Don’t live in a ghetto!—and when there, serve the Lord. Serve your people. Serve the interest of justice! Don’t be afraid to lose your power, even your life, for God is the real king! Don’t be seduced by human power, beauty, and acclaim!


Now how can you do it all? You can’t! if we end the sermon right here, we’ll all be in despair. You don’t have the courage to do this. You may get excited today about doing this, but your courage will evaporate quickly. And you may decide you are going to make all the risks that Esther made, but when it comes down to it, you aren’t going to risk your influence and money and status to help people in needs. You just won’t have the ability to do so.


You have to often go into the palace—but not be tempted by the palace! You’ve got to be willing to leave the palace in order to serve your Lord! Ah, but why can’t we? We are enthralled by the acclaim and glory of the palace! How to free ourselves? Esther’s great temptation, once she comes into a place of luxury, comfort, and privilege, is to hold on to that position to the detriment of her people. When by God’s grace we come into such a standing, we may be seduced by it. Mordecai had to challenge Esther and force her to see her choices. Salvation comes through Esther only when she is willing to give up her place in the palace and take her life into her own hands and risk it all in order to intercede before the throne of power. Again we see that redemption comes not by gaining but by losing, not by filling oneself, but by emptying oneself.

We also see, over and over, that we need a deliverer who identifies with us and that stands as our representative—as in the career of Joseph in Egypt, David before Goliath. So in this story we are led to see Jesus, who did not need a challenge to leave his place of power, who saved us not at the risk of his glory but at the cost of his glory, who did not say, “if I perish, I perish” but “when I perish, I perish”, who had to die in order to stand before the throne as our intercessor (Heb. 7:24-25). But the “rest” that Jesus brings is not one that gives us rest from enemies by killing them, but by winning them. After the cross, we pray for our enemies. Jesus has brought the barrier down between Jew and Gentile, Saul and Amalek. We learn—Salvation “rest” comes by the sacrifice and intercession of another. We have one who was in the greatest palace of all, but who did not just serve his God at the risk of losing the palace, but at the cost His own life.

Source: Tim Keller – Personal Notes taken from Lecture at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando in the early 2000’s



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TIM KELLER: Preaching The Gospel In a Postmodern World: Session 4 Notes


Tim Keller preaching image


The historic Protestant doctrine is that we are not only justified by faith rather than our works, but we are also sanctified by faith rather than our works. Yet very few ministers know how Christ’s finished work is the dynamic and guide for growth into holy character.

A. Moralism vs. Sanctification by Faith.

1. The distinctives of sanctification by faith.

Excerpts from G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952):

“The ancient feud of Rome with the Sola-fide doctrine, based as it is on the view that Sola-fide is subversive of sanctification, must be called Rome’s most fundamental error. It was no other than Sola-fide which made clear the true significance of sanctification, and distinguished it from all moralistic effort at self-improvement…” p. 14.

“Wesley admitted full acceptance of the Sola-fide doctrine. [But] one may accept the doctrine and then fail to do justice to it…One can assume it as one’s starting point, as did Wesley, and subsequently view the process of sanctification in terms of a dynamic category—a power plus its effects—without taking account of the bearings which faith always sustains toward divine grace. Sola-fide becomes a point of departure and breaks its connection with sanctification…When the victory of Christ is lost sight of, the warfare degenerates into self-reliant activism…it is on the road to making sanctification independent from justification.” pp. 52, 63.

Luther and Calvin taught that not only was justification by faith in Christ’s work—not ours, but sanctification is also by faith in Christ’s work, not ours. In practice, however, nearly every evangelical teaches that: 1) we are justified by faith in Christ’s work, and 2) we are sanctified by trying very, very hard to live according to biblical principles (with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course). Berkouwer insists that it is not salvation by grace, but sanctification by grace which is the biggest difference between the Reformers and the Catholic church and between the Reformers and later Methodism (Wesley) and much Protestantism today.

2. The general relationship of justification to sanctification.

Excerpts from G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952):

“Orientation”“Genuine sanctification—let it be repeated—stands or falls with this continued orientation toward justification and the remission of sins…too often the bond between sanctification and Sola-fide was neglected and the impression created that sanctification was the humanly operated successor to the divinely worked justification.” P. 78.

“Feeding”“Holiness is never a ‘second blessing’ placed next to the blessing of justification…The exhortation which comes to the Church is that it must live in faith out of this fullness: not that it must work for a second blessing, but that it must feed on the first blessing, the forgiveness of sins. The warfare of the Church…springs from the demand to really live from this first blessing.”  p. 64.

“Commerce”“The believer’s constant ‘commerce’ with the forgiveness of sins and his continued dependence on it must—both in pastoral counseling and in teaching—be laid bare, emphasized, and kept in sight…Faith preserves us from autonomous self-sanctification and moralism.” pp. 84, 93.

Berkouwer says that it is a mistake to ask: “we know we have imputed righteousness, but now how do we move to actual righteousness?” We do not ‘move on’. Any particular flaw in our actual righteousness stems from a corresponding failure to orient ourselves toward our imputed righteousness. Sanctification happens to the degree that we “feed on” or “orient to” or “have commerce with” the pardon, righteousness, and new status we now have in Christ, imputed through faith.

3. The practical relationship of justification to sanctification.

Excerpts from martin Luther’s, Treatise Concerning Good Works (1520).

“There is not one in a thousand who does not set his confidence upon the works, expecting by them to win God’s favor and anticipate His grace; and so they make a fair of them, a thing which God cannot endure, since He has promised His grace freely, and wills that we begin by trusting that grace, and in it perform all works, whatever they may be” (Part IX).

“All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, fasting, obedience, patience, chastity, and innocence of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing back of them…If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…” (Part X, XI).

“This faith, faithfulness, confidence deep in the heart, is the true fulfilling of the First Commandment. Without this there is no other work that is able to satisfy this Commandment. And as this Commandment is the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which they are directed and measured, so also its work, that is, the faith or confidence in God’s favor at all times, is the very first, highest and best, from which all others must proceed, exist, remain, be directed and measured…” (Part IX).

“Note for yourself, then, how far apart these two are: keeping the First Commandment with outward works only, and keeping it with inward trust. For this last makes true, living children of God, the other only makes worse idolatry and the most mischievous hypocrites on earth…” (XII).

All people sin in general because we are sinners, but why do we sin in any particular instance? Luther—any sin is rooted in the inordinate lust for something which comes because we are trusting in that thing rather than in Christ for our righteousness or salvation. Therefore, in sin we are always ‘forgetting’ what God has done for us in Christ and instead are being moved by some idol. Luther says that to fail to believe God accepts us fully in Christ and to look to something else is a failure to keep the first commandment—love God with all the heart. Thus beneath any particular sin is the general sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation.

Excerpt from the Belgic Confession – Chapter 24.

“We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that his justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore, it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a ‘faith working through love,’ which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word…We would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of our Savior.”

Unless we believe the gospel, we will be driven in all we do—whether obeying or disobeying—by pride (“self-love”) or fear (“of damnation”). Apart from ‘grateful remembering’ of the gospel, all good works are done then for sinful motives. Mere moral effort, may restrain the heart, but dos not truly change the heart. Moral effort merely ‘jury rigs’ the evil heart to produce moral behavior, out of self-interest. It is only a matter of time before such a thin tissue collapses.

B. Moralism vs. Gospel Virtue

1. The ‘Splendor’ or Common Virtue and its Weakness.

Excerpts from Jonathan Edwards. Abridged and paraphrased, from Charity and Its Fruits, in vol. 8, Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Paul Ramsey (Yale, 1989) and Religious Affections, in vol. 2, Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. J. Smith (Yale, 1959).

“A result of ‘faith working by love’ is freedom. On this basis, obedience is called “evangelical” (gospel-based)—the obedience of children to a Father, done with love and delight, as opposed to legalistic, slavish, and forced. God is now chosen for his own sake; holiness is chosen for its own sake, and for God’s sake” (CF, p. 182).

“No matter how many our acts of justice, generosity and devotion, there is really nothing given to God…if God is not the end (or ultimate aim) in what is given. If your aim is the gaining of reputation and love, then the gift was offered to your reputation. If your aim is for profit and comfort, then the gift was offered to your profit…indeed, in such cases the gifts are but an offering to some idol…It is true that by doing great things something is worshipped, but it is not God…” (CF, pp. 180-81).

“Those whose affection to God is founded first on his profitableness to them, only regard God to the limit of the good things he does to meet their desires…But in gracious gratitude, Christians are affected by God’s goodness and free grace, not only as it benefits them, but as infinitely glorious in itself…” (RA, pp. 243, 248).

What makes people honest? Generous? Jonathan Edwards tackled this over the years in his Miscellanies and then in his moral philosophy works: Charity and Its Fruits, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, and The Nature of True Virtue. He also says many relevant things about this in Religious Affections. The following is my summary of his “gist”.

There are two kinds of moral behavior: “common virtue” and “true virtue.” Let’s take one virtue: honesty. “Common” honesty is developed in two ways:

1) First it can be inspired by fear. There is the secular version—“be honest—it pays!” or “if you are not honest, society doesn’t work”. There is also the religious version—“if you are not honest, God will punish you!” These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that it is impractical to be honest.

2) Second, it can be inspired by pride. There is the secular conservative version—“don’t be like those terrible dishonest people who hurt others and have no virtue!” or the secular liberal version—“don’t be like these greedy people who don’t work for the common good”. There is also the religious version—“don’t be like these sinners, these bad people. Be a good godly person”. These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that I am better than these people who lie.

Edwards is by no means scornful of common virtue. Indeed, he believes in the ‘splendor of common morality’ (Paul Ramsay), which is the main way God restrains evil in the world. He does call it virtue and not sham. Nevertheless, there is a profound tension at the heart of common virtue. We just said that the main reason people are honest is due to fear and pride.

But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always—it is our fear or pride. So in common virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious for of judo on yourself. (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him). You have ‘jury-rigged’ your heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest. But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and you will do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, “I was not raised to do such a thing.”

But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.

2. The roots of “True Virtue” and its Nurture

Luther told us that the essence of every sin is a desire to be one’s own Savior and Lord in some particular way. It is to set up some idol which is the real way you are going to save yourself. It may even be a very ‘religious idol’ (cf. Judges 17:1-13). It may be a very religious life, but at the heart it is a way of using God as an object, rather than adoring him as being beautiful for who he is in himself. It is using obedience to God to achieve comfort, security, self-worth/status—therefore our ‘virtue’ is self-centered and conditional. It’s a form of bargaining. It is using our virtue to put God in our debt—he now owes us. He must give us salvation and blessing. Therefore, our obedience is a way to save ourselves and control God. Edwards (see above quote #2) also understands ‘common virtue’ as an idolatrous effort at self-salvation, rather than a response to grace (see above quote #3) in which God is adored for his sheer beauty.

So Edwards says—what is true virtue? It is when you are honest not because it profits you or makes you feel better, but only when you are smitten with the beauty of the God who is truth and sincerity and faithfulness! It is when you come to love truth telling not for your sake but for God’s sake and its own sake. But it particularly grows by a faith-sight of the glory of Christ and his salvation. How does ‘true honesty’ grow? It grows when I see him dying for me, keeping a promise he made despite the infinite suffering it brought him. Now that a) destroys pride on the one hand, because he had to do this for me—I am so lost! But that also b) destroys fear on the other hand, because if he’d do this for me while I’m an enemy, then he values me infinitely, and nothing I can do will wear out his love for me. Then my heart is not just restrained but changed. It’s fundamental orientation is transformed.

3. Thomas Chalmers on Moralism vs. Gospel Virtue.

“The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”, from The Works of Thomas Chalmers (New York: Robert Carter, 1830) vol. II.

The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one…Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as doctrine [leading to godliness]…

On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities which he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable to godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.

Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.

[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed—and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.

It is thus that a boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more ‘mature’] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable…

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us—it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, the only way that deliverance is possible.

Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies…Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.

C. Moralism vs. Christ-centered Exposition.

We alluded above to the fact that Christ-centered exposition is very directly linked to Christ-centered application. It is possible to expound Christ and fail to do Christ-centered application, but it is impossible to do Christ-centered application in a sermon if you have not first done Christ-centered exposition.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants of life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight the ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matthew 27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel—Salvation is the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just an “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”). Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable—even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

Source: Doctor of Ministry Class – Personal Notes – Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando – Class co-taught by Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney – early 2000’s. Class available for free on I-Tunes.



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Sinclair Ferguson on “Considering the Glory of God”

Consider the Glory of God


By Sinclair Ferguson

John Newton (1725–1807) is best known today for his great hymns (including “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”). But in his own day, he was perhaps more highly prized as a letter writer — “the great director of souls through the post,” as someone described him. Such was the value of his correspondence that he published several volumes of his letters (including one of his letters to his wife, which called forth the comment by one reviewer, his friend Richard Cecil, that wives would be in raptures reading such love letters while “we [husbands] may suffer loss of esteem for not writing them such gallant letters”).

In several of his letters, he comments on the subject of controversy. He had a distaste for it. (It would be an unhappy thing to have a “taste” for it, would it not?) He also had a sense of being unfitted for it. He remarked that it was “not only unpleasing to my taste, but really above my reach.” But lack of experience is not necessarily an obstacle to one’s ability to give biblical counsel. Newton constantly sought to give such counsel. (Did he not encourage William Wilberforce in the great public controversy of slave trading?) In a day when only a paltry number of Anglican ministers were evangelical, he was particularly conscious that Calvinists, being much in the minority, might feel pressed into controversy too frequently.

It is surely for this reason that one of his chief concerns was that if we are to engage in controversy, our perspective needs to be dominated by the issue of the glory of God. “If we act in a wrong spirit,” he writes, “we shall bring little glory to God.” The first question of The Westminster Shorter Catechism is relevant here as everywhere: How do I speak, write, or act in situations of controversy so that God may be most glorified?

This is the principle. But it needs to be particularized. Newton realized that sometimes we engage in controversy professedly “for the glory of God” but are blind to the ways in which our own motives impact and play out in our speech and actions. The rubric “for the glory of God” must transform how Christians respond to controversy.

For the glory of God” does not call for a monolithic response to every controversy. Circumstances alter cases. We do not cast pearls before swine.

Here are three illustrations of controversy. In the first, silence is the appropriate God-glorifying reaction; in the second, confrontation; and in the third, patience. Why such different responses?


Isaiah 36 vividly describes how Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah. The Rabshakeh (an Assyrian officer) sought to stir up controversy. He spoke, as Hezekiah recognized, “to mock the living God” (Isa. 37:17). But the leaders followed their king’s counsel: “They were silent and answered him not a word” (36:21). The end of the story? God vindicated their response. The angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib retreated.

Would it not have been bolder, more “faithful,” to engage in verbal controversy in defense of the Lord? Why silence? For three reasons:

1. FIGHTING WORDS would not have defended the Lord’s glory here. At such times, we look to the Lord to defend His own glory and not give it to another.

2. WE BEST DEFEND the Lord’s glory by speaking first to Him about unbelieving men rather than speaking first about Him to unbelieving men. Hence Hezekiah’s prayer: “O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord” (37:20). Alas, not all strong controversialists are strong intercessors.

3. WE CAN MAR the Lord’s glory — as Newton hints — by how we respond to controversy. Man’s insulting God is not reversed by our insulting man.


A less public, but no less breathtaking, incident took place in the early church.

Imagine the electric atmosphere: Simon Peter had table fellowship with Gentiles. Then “certain men came from James” (Gal. 2:12). Peter separated himself, as did other Jewish Christians, “even Barnabas” (vv. 11–14). How did Paul respond? He “opposed [Peter] to his face” (v. 11).

Paul was surely right. But why was this a God-glorifying response, rather than silence in deference to Peter and Barnabas, avoiding embarrassment and potential division?

1. THE PROTAGONISTS were present and believed the same gospel. Paul did not wait and later “bad mouth” Peter. He did the hard thing. He spoke personally and directly to him. That glorifies God because it follows a biblical pattern (Matt. 18:15James 4:17).

2. THE VERY HEART of the gospel was at stake here (as Paul notes in Gal. 2:15–21).

3. “ORDAINED” MINISTERS of the gospel were involved, not a single, ordinary individual. The deviation of both Peter and Barnabas would lead to the deviation of others and a disastrous disruption of the whole church. God’s glory in the church required direct speech.


Some years later, Paul encountered a situation that, at first sight, seems similar. There was an ongoing controversy about “diets and days” in the Roman church(es). Some observed special days and refrained from certain foods. It was presumably a controversy between Jewish and Gentile believers (the latter being the majority in the churches after the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome, see Acts 18:1–2). Paul had an eye to God’s glory. How could the two groups in this controversy “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6)?

1. STRIKINGLYTHE “STRONG,” those on “the right side” of the controversy (14:14), are the ones who should refrain from insisting that others adopt their “right” position and practice. The glory of God is best seen when “the strong” welcome “the weak” — because this is what God has done in Christ: “For while we were still weak … Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6).

2. FELLOW BELIEVERS are Christ’s servants, not ours. To demean or despise the weak is to despise the Lord of glory. (Remember Matt. 25:40?)

3. TO INSIST ON exercising one’s “liberty” on a controversial matter (to eat meat, to ignore days, and so on) compromises that very liberty itself. It means we are driven by inner “need” rather than by love. We are focused on self-glory rather than God’s glory. Since “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3), should we?

These examples are by no means comprehensive. But they illustrate Newton’s point. In all things seek God’s glory — and guard your heart. Christians are always in need of that wise counsel.

Source: May 1, 2012



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Tim Keller: Preaching The Gospel in A Postmodern Culture – Session 3 Notes


Tim Keller preaching image

(Strategies for Christ-Centered Exposition)


How do we ‘get to Christ’, practically speaking, when preaching a text that is not directly about Jesus? When most people think of “Preaching Christ” from a text, they think of doing so by typology. They look in the text for a ‘type’ of Christ within the text. So for example, we may preach Isaac as the type of sacrificial son, or David as the type of the warrior-savior, and so on. But that is not the only way to preach Christ or to put a text in its “macro” context pointing to Christ. It is important to see how many different ways there are to ‘preach Christ’ besides direct typology. Sidney Greidanus lays out a number of ‘ways’ to preach Christ besides typology in his book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Greidanus lists the following “Ways” from the OT Passages to Christ: a) Redemptive-Historical Progression, b) Promise-Fulfillment, c) Typology, d) Analogy, e) Longitudinal Themes, f) NT references, g) Contrast). Motyer also does so in his Look to the Rock. This is my own list which I believe incorporates the insights from their outlines. I made a list based on both their outlines (also consult the Scripture index in Clowney’s Unfolding Mystery).

A. Preaching Christ – AS THEME RESOLUTION

There are quite a number of what Don Carson calls ‘inter-canonical’ themes that ‘cut-across’ the entire biblical corpus. Currently, Carson is editing a series of books on these themes (They are called New Studies in Biblical Theology, put out under ‘Apollos’ imprint of IVP in the United Kingdom, IVP in the USA). Motyer’s Look to the Rock chooses seven of these themes and shows how Christ is the fulfillment of each. But Motyer points out that the OT asserts truths in apparently unreconcilable tension with each other. Thus these themes have ‘thickening plots’ as the OT goes on. In other words, like all good stories, there is a dramatic tension within the theme that seems almost insoluble. Only in Christ, however, are the ‘tensions’ in these themes resolved and fulfilled. With this approach, rather than only looking for ‘types’ we should look for the questions the text raises to which Jesus is ‘the answer in the back of the book’. If you find any of the following themes threading through your text (and this is not an exhaustive list) you can simply ‘pull on the thread’, looking back to where it began and ahead to its fulfillment in Christ now and on the Last Day.


1. Theme of King and Kingdom. The freedom and glory of God’s kingdom is ‘lost’ when Adam and Eve sin. The search for a true ‘judge’ and king absorb much of the history of God’s people. The people continually fall away from submission to the rule of God and  instead serve idols, which oppress and enslave. Both the successes and failures of all Israel’s leaders point to the need for a true King. But eventually the tension between the brokenness and depth of sin and the requisite power of the Liberator-King becomes overwhelming. Though Moses leads the exodus out of the land of bondage, he fails to obey God at the Rock. Though David defeats Goliath, he sins against Uriah. No human king is enough. The expectations of a perfect King come to fruition in Isaiah and the Psalms to such a high degree that only the coming of the Lord himself can fulfill them.

Question: “how can any king be powerful enough to liberate us from slavery?” The answer: only one who is God himself. (e.g. In the Lord of the Rings – you need a King).

2. Theme of Grace and Law in the Covenant.

A second major theme of the Bible is how the holiness and love of God relate in the covenant. God is absolutely holy and also merciful. But how can he be both? Ray Dillard says that the histories of Judges through 2 Chronicles seem caught on the dilemma of whether God’s covenant with his people is conditional (conditioned on obedience) or unconditional (by sheer grace). Thus the narratives are mainly propelled by the tension of the question: “how can God be holy and still remain faithful to his people?” The answer: only in the cross, where both the law of God and the love of God was fulfilled. Dillard insists that we must not try to resolve this tension until we get to the cross. Isaiah points to a ‘resolution’ when he speaks of the need for both a High King and a Suffering Servant, but even he is essentially creating just more ‘dramatic’ tension that only Christ can resolve.

3. Theme of Creation, Fall, and Re-creation (Resurrection).

As the Kingdom theme shows us the need for a Liberator from idols and the covenant theme the need for a Redeemer from the Law so the theme of creation-and-consummation points to our need for a Healer who is Life itself. Death brings decay and disintegration to all God’s good creation. Life is filled with grief and loss. Society is a Babel. Even the people of God are in a kind of indefinite ‘exile’. We are alienated from our God, our true selves, one another, and from the creational environment. The question: “how can the creation be saved and healed? How can we be liberated from death and decay?” Answer: only if the one who created us returns to renew us at last. Only by the one who defeats death through the resurrection. He will reconcile ‘all things’ (Col. 1:16-20) and make the world into the Garden of God (Rev. 21:1-8).

“NARROW THEMES” (just some!)

4. Worship and the Sanctuary.

Question: How can we connect to the presence of God? Answer: The Presence was lost through sin. It dwells amidst the people in the tabernacle, but in Christ, God’s glory becomes something we ‘behold’ (John 1:14), and now the presence of God is actually within us (1 Peter 2). Some day, the light and presence of God will fill the earth. Jesus is the Beauty we must adore to live.

5. Righteousness and Nakedness.

Question: How can we be free of shame and condemnation? Answer: We were originally righteous and right with God—naked and unashamed. Jesus however is the perfectly obedient Son, clothing us in a robe of his own righteousness and lead us boldly and unashamedly before the throne.

6. Marriage and Faithfulness.

Question: How can we know love and intimacy? Answer: God depicts his relationship with this people as the relationship of a husband to an unfaithful wife. Jesus however, is the true bridegroom who sacrificially loves his spouse, wins her love, and presents her to himself as a radiant bride.

7. Image and Likeness.

Question: How can we become fully human beings? Answer: God made us in his ‘image and likeness’, but that likeness has been defaced in us, though not lost. In Christ and his incarnation, we have the perfect picture both of who God is (in terms we can literally grasp) and also of who we are meant to be. Through Christ the image of God is restored in us.

8. Rest and Sabbath.

Question: How can we find harmony with ourselves and those around us? Answer: We were originally called into the ‘rest’, the shalom of God, but now we are deeply restless. The Sabbath points to the rest from our physical work that we need. More profoundly, Christ brings us the spiritual rest from our good works (Hebrews 4). Finally, we will have the ultimate rest in the City of God.

9. Wisdom and the Word.

Question: How can we know the truth, especially the reason for our existence? Answer: We were created for a purpose, but now we experience meaninglessness. We do not have the wisdom to direct our steps. But in Christ we have not only the master teacher of the Word, but the Word, the Logos himself, who is the one we should live for, our meaning in life.

10. Justice and Judgment.

Question: If there is no ultimate judge, what hope is there for the world, so filled with tyranny and injustice, but if there is an ultimate judge, what hope is there for us, who have done so much wrong? (I.e. How can the Word of God be life-giving blessing and not just a curse?). Answer: only in Christ is there hope, for he is the Judge who took judgment, so God can be both Just and Justifier of those who believe.


11. Factor of Redemptive-Historical Progression.

The preacher must put the text into the ‘flow’ of God’s salvation history, because all of these themes build to fulfillment progressively. God establishes his world in creation, but through the Fall, nearly all is lost. Then God begins to re-establish (kingdom, sanctuary, Word, rest, covenant) with the patriarchs, then under Moses, then during the time of the Prophets. After this, all these themes flame into new brightness in Christ himself. Now God is working them out in the era of the church and will bring them to finality on the last day. Therefore, the theme of RH progress cuts across all other themes. It is usually important to make some reference to the whole story. For example, when preaching about the Psalmist’s desire to go to the sanctuary, we should not simply exhort our people to enjoy worship. Rather we should say, ‘now we are the temple (1 Peter 2:4-5) because Jesus is the temple (John 2:13ff.). How much more available must the Lord be now for rich communion?’ You can always trace each of these ‘broad’ or ‘narrow’ themes through the progressive unfolding of them.

12. Factor of Promise-Fulfillment.

Many of the ‘inter-canonical themes’ have explicit Old Testament promises attached to them. From the ‘mother promise’ of genesis 3:15 down, Jesus is the fulfillment of them all. Move from the promise (implicit or explicit) in your text down to its fulfillment in Jesus. Or, if you are preaching a text from the New Testament, show the history of the longings and promises that are the background to what is asserted. This gives ‘depth’ and ‘story’ to the rather abstract pronouncements of the epistles, especially.

B. Preaching Christ


A third major way to ‘get to Christ’ is to take the “Law Listening” approach. This is based on the idea of Paul in Galatians 3:24 that the Law is ultimately meant to “lead us to Christ.”

In this approach, we take one of the many ethical principles and examples of the Bible—from the wisdom literature or the Old Testament law or even from a New Testament epistle—and truly ‘listen’ to it. These ethical principles are extremely searching and profound, and if we listen to them honestly and thoroughly, we will see that it is simply impossible to keep them! In Christ-centered preaching we argue that we have not truly ‘listened’ to the full weight of the rule till we see that Christ will have to fulfill this ethical principle for us.

Therefore, ultimately, Jesus is the only way to truly take the law seriously. The law does demand that we be perfectly holy. So we are not really listening to the law if we think we can obey it! The law is saying, in effect, “you can never fulfill me—you need a Savior!” (Galatians 3 & 4). Only if we know we aren’t saved by faith do have the strength to actually hear how extensive and searching and deep the demands of the law are.

What then do we exhort the people to do? The “Law Listening” approach does not say: “well, then you don’t really have to obey—after all, nobody’s perfect!” Instead, we show that we will not be truly freed and able to obey this principle until first we see that Jesus fulfilled it for us. This ties directly into Application Strategy “A. Critique Both Religion and Irrelegion”. Look there for more details.

But it is important to see that we do not need to find a ‘type’ or even an ‘inter-canonical theme’ in order to preach Christ from the text. It is not simply that Jesus Christ fulfills the requirements of the law on our behalf so we are not condemned by it. It is not even only that he exemplifies obedience to the law so that we might have a model for holy living. But since all human history only has happened because of Jesus (Genesis 3:15) and since we are created in his image, institutions like marriage, work, family, and community were designed to reflect him. In other words, it is not just that our relationship with Jesus is a good marriage, but marriage itself was invented to show us what our relationship with Jesus is to be like. Therefore, We can’t explain why we “shall not steal” unless we look at Jesus’ ultimate generosity, who “thought it not robbery” to remain in heaven but gave it away, who “though rich, became poor for your sakes”. We can’t explain why we “shall not commit adultery” unless we look at the faithfulness and (properly!) “jealous” love Jesus has shown to us on the cross. His “jealous” love does not only define sexual fidelity, but it gives us the only sufficient motive and power to practice it ourselves. Jesus is not simply the ultimate example, but as the fulfiller of the principles for us at infinite cost to himself, he changes the inner dynamics of our hearts so we can desire and long to be like him.

C. Preaching Christ


The second major way to ‘get to Christ’ is to take the micro-story line in your text and connect it to the Bible’s ‘macro’ story line: God is intervening into the history of a rebellious human race, by calling out and forming a new humanity, through actions that climax in the death and resurrection of Christ, and which lead to the judgment and renewal of the entire creation. There are two basic kinds of story-lines to be connected to the Christ-story line. (Much of the following is what is traditionally called ‘typology’).

1. Individuals’ story-lines.

All the individual stories point us to Jesus, as we locate them in the history of redemption (often with the direct help of the New Testament writers, often not). Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the temptation test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Cor. 15). Jesus is the true Abel who though innocently slain has blood that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Heb. 12:24). Jesus is the true Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the familial and go out into the void “not knowing whither he went!” Jesus is the true “Isaac” who is the son of the laughter of grace who was offered up for us all. He is the true Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved so we like Jacob only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up. He is the true Joseph, who at the right hand of the king forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them. Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant (Heb. 3). He is the true Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert. He is the true Joshua who is the general of the Lord’s army. He is the true and better Job—the only innocent sufferer who then intercedes for his friends (Job 42). Jesus is the better Samson, whose death accomplishes so much good (Judges 16:31). He is the true David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves. Jesus is the true “Teacher” (Ecclesiastes) who may lead us through despair to help us find God. He is the true Jonah who went into the belly of the earth and so the people could be saved.

2. Corporate story-lines.

It is not simply the stories of individuals that point us to Christ. The redemptive purpose of God (easier to see in the RHM than the STM!) is to redeem a people and renew creation. Therefore, the major events in the history of the formation of the people of God also point us to Christ. Jesus is the one through whom all people are created (John 1). Thus the creation story itself points forward to the new creation in Christ. Jesus is the one who went through temptation and probation in the wilderness. Thus the story of the Fall points forward to the successful probation and active obedience of Christ. Thus the exodus story points forward to the true exodus Jesus led for his people through his death (Luke 9:31). He led them not just out of economic and political bondage to sin and death itself. Thus the wandering in the wilderness and the exile to Babylon points forward to Jesus’ ‘homelessness’ and wandering and wilderness temptation and his suffering as the scapegoat outside the gate. He underwent the ultimate exile which fulfilled the righteousness of God fully.

Jesus is very literally the true Israel, the Seed (Galatians 3:16-17). He is the only one who is faithful to the covenant. He is a remnant of one. He fulfills all the obligations of the covenant, and earns the blessings of the covenant for all who believe. When Hosea talks about the exodus of Israel from Egypt, he says, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1). Hosea calls all of Israel “my son”. But Matthew quotes this verse referring to Jesus (Matthew 2:15) because Jesus is the true Israel. As we have seen above, just as Israel was in bondage in Egypt but was saved by the mighty redemptive actions of God in history, so Jesus leads the new people of God out of bondage to sin through the mighty redemptive actions of God in history (his death and resurrection).

3. Grace-pattern story-lines.

Another kind of ‘typology’ that is often overlooked is narrative pattern of life-through-death or triumph-through-weakness pattern which is so often how God works in history and in our lives. Notice how everyone with power and worldly status in the story of Naaman is clueless about salvation, while all the servants and underlings show wisdom. This is a major pattern in the Bible, a gospel-pattern, a grace event or a grace ‘story-line’. Move from the grace-event to the work of Christ. For example, few have considered either Esther or Ruth to be a ‘type’ of Christ, and yet, in order to redeem the people they love, they must risk loss and do many things that mirror how Christ brought salvation to us. Another, important Grace-event typology is the ‘order’ of the Exodus and the Law-giving. God did not first give the law and then deliver the people. First he delivered the people and then he gave them the Law. Thus we are not saved by the Law, but saved for the Law. The Law is how we regulate our love-relationship with God, not the way we merit the relationship. We are saved by faith in Christ.

By the way, Sidney Greidanus does not like to call this ‘typology’ at all, and prefers to call this ‘preaching Christ by analogy’.

It is especially important to see the importance of tying even the deeds of Christ to his own work. Why can Jesus be so accepting of outcasts and sinners? Only because he paid the penalty for them on the cross. If we preach his examples of loving acceptance without tying them to the pattern of the cross, we are simply ‘moralizing’. We are simply telling people, “be accepting and tolerant of others.”

D. Preaching Christ


We briefly mentioned above how to determine if a particular feature in a text has symbolic significance for the author. In general, if a feature has symbolic significance for the author (symbolizing God’s saving activity in some way) then it may be seen as a type of Christ, even if the author does not evidently have Christ consciously in mind. This is an area where abuse is quite possible. For example, does Eve’s creation out of the side of Adam symbolize our redemption out of the wounding of Christ’s side in his execution? (Example from Greidanus, p. 37). Unlikely. We can’t go into this here. Rather, we assert that symbolism-typology is quite important in the Bible and here are some ways symbols function.

1. Major Figure Typology and Symbols.

All the major figures and leaders of the Scriptures point us to Christ, who is the ultimate leader who calls out and forms the people of God. Every anointed leader—every prophet, priest, king, judge who brings about ‘salvation’ or deliverance or redemption of any kind or level—is each a pointer to Christ, both in their strengths and even in their flaws. Even the flaws show that God works by grace and uses what the world sees as marginal and weak. The ‘outsiders’ who God uses, especially those in the line of the promised ‘seed’, point to him (cf. Matt. 1:1-11). He is the fulfillment of the history of the judges who show that God can save not only many, or by few, but by one. Jesus is the judge all the judges point to (since he really administers justice), the prophet all the prophets point to (since he really shows us truth), the priests all priests point to (since he really brings us to God), and the King of kings.

2. Non-Personal Salvation Typology and Symbols.

Trace the ‘salvation-by-grace’ symbols to their fulfillment in Christ. The bronze snake, the water of life from the smitten rock point to Christ, of course (since John and Paul tell us they do!). But especially the entire sacrificial and temple system is really pointing to him. Absolutely everything about the ceremonial system—from the clean laws to the altar, the sacrifices, and the temple itself—are pointing to him. The Sabbath and the Jubilee point to him. He makes them all obsolete. Jesus is the sacrifice all the sacrifices point to (Hebrews 10). Jesus is the bread on the altar in the temple (John 6), the light stand in the Holy Place (John 8), and the temple itself (John 2), for he is the presence of God with us. Jesus fulfills circumcision—it represents how he was cut off from God. Now we are clean in him (Col. 2:10-11). Jesus is the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7).

“Cross-Cut” Category—Way of Contrast.

Sidney Greidanus is helpful when he reminds us that we do not need a good example in our text in order to ‘get to Christ.’ When we say Christ is the completion or fulfillment of every text, that means that he is not only a comparison but a contrast to every text. Christ is a better David, Samson, and Moses—so we don’t have to apologize for their flaws. Their flaws show us Christ by way of a contrast. Or look at the cries for justice in the Psalms. In one sense, Christ validates those cries—injustice is serious! In another sense, however, Jesus’ fulfillment now leads us to think of our enemies in a different way than David did.

Source: Personal Notes from Doctor of Ministry Class at Reformed Theological Seminary in the early 2000’s.



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Tim Keller: Why Do Christ Centered Application? Session Notes Part 2

Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Part 2

Tim Keller praching w bible image



The first ‘aspect’ of the model is ‘Expounding Christ’ from the Scripture. This part of the course will be carried out by Ed Clowney. Here are some of my (Tim Keller) thoughts by way of overview and introduction. The ability to ‘expound Christ’ from every part of the bible is crucial. Many people resist this approach (on the ‘left’?) as hyper-orthodox or (on the ‘right’?) as not sufficiently honoring the original author’s intent. Others just avoid this approach for pragmatic reasons, claiming that it is too difficult to do week after week. Both the resistance and the despair have some merit! There are both dangers and difficulties that attend this approach.


What does it mean to “preach Christ” from all the Scripture? Sidney Greidanus writes, “We can define ‘preaching Christ’ as preaching sermons which authentically integrate the message of the text with the climax of God’s revelation in the person, work, and teaching of Jesus Christ” (Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 10).

This definition assumes that every text has both a ‘micro’ and a ‘macro’ context. To understand any particular text of the Bible, we must first put it into the ‘micro’ context—its historical and linguistic setting, in order to discern the immediate intent of the human author. But every biblical text also has a ‘macro’ context—its place in the entire Bible which has as its purpose the revelation of Christ as the climax of all God’s redeeming activity in history. We must not only ask: ‘what did the human author intend to say to his historical audience?’ but also ‘why did God inscripturate this as a way of pointing to the salvation of his Son?’


1. The direction of Jesus.

When Jesus met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he discovered that they were in despair because their Messiah had been crucified. He responds, “’how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!’…and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-29). Later he appears to his disciples in the upper room and we are told “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you; everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). Jesus blames the confusion of the disciples on their inability to see that all the Old Testament is “all” about him and his salvation. Another place where Jesus makes this same assertion is John 5:31-47. Jesus says that the father has testified to him in the Scriptures (v. 39). But he confronts his hearers with how they do not understand the Scriptures’ testimony. He says, for example, that they think they follow Moses, but “Moses wrote about me.” (v. 46). The Law of Moses can only be understood as it points to Christ.

2. The example of the apostles.

The apostolic writers are famously ‘Christ-centered’ in their interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, continuously quote Psalms as the words of Christ—and not just ‘Messianic’ or ‘Royal’ Psalms where the speaker is some clearly Messianic figure. The gospel writers also quote passages from the Psalms and Prophets that clearly show they read the words of the Scriptures as being all about Jesus. Peter writes: Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:10-12). He shows that the ‘Spirit of Christ’ in the prophets was pointing to the person and work of Christ in their writings.

So it is not likely that Jesus or Peter are simply talking about isolated, explicit predictions of the Messiah (cf. Gen. 3:15; 49:10; Is. 9:6; 53). That would not do justice to the comprehensiveness of the language employed. Jesus says that “all the Scriptures” point to him and that each part—the Law, the Prophets, and the Wisdom literature—are about him (Luke 24:44-45). It is particularly interesting that he would say that the “Law” is about him! We might understand how he could say that the prophetic literature was about him—but the Law? What we have here is that all the major themes, major figures, major genres, and major story lines are reflective of and fulfilled in him.

“There are great stories in the Bible…but it is possible to know the Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story…The Bible has a story line. It traces an unfolding drama. The story follows the history of Israel, but it does not begin there, nor does it contain what you would expect in a national history…If we forget the story line…we cut the heart out of the Bible. Sunday school stories are then told as tamer versions of the Sunday comics, where Samson substitutes for Superman. David…becomes a Hebrew version of Jack the Giant Killer. No, David is not a brave little boy who isn’t afraid of the big bad giant. He is the Lord’s anointed…God chose David as a king after his own heart in order to prepare the way for David’s great Son, our Deliverer and Champion…” – Ed Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery

Summary: Every part of the Bible is about the historical unfolding revelation and accomplishment of the gospel – salvation through Jesus Christ. The Bible is not a collection of “Aesop’s Fables”, it is  not a book of virtues. Paul shows in Galatians 3 that there is a complete unity in the Bible. There is a story within all the Bible stories. God is redeeming a people for himself by grace in the face of human rebellion and human desire for a religion of good works.

3. The problem of ‘moralism’.

The ultimate reason that we expound Christ in every passage is because that’s the truth! The whole Bible is about Christ. But there is a very practical reason we expound Christ as well. Ed Clowney points out that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story (about Christ), we actually change the meaning of the particular event for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to ‘try harder’ rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what Jesus has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship).

Any exposition of a text that does not ‘get to Christ’ but just ‘explains biblical principles’ will be a ‘synagogue sermon’ that merely exhorts people to exert their wills to live according to a particular pattern. Instead of the life-giving gospel, the sermon offers just one more ethical paradigm to crush the listeners.


1. The concern of allegorizing.

The main danger (and main objective) to the Christo-centric approach is the danger of allegorizing. An example that Sidney Greidanus uses from Augustine.

“The door [in the side of the ark] surely represents the wound made when the side of the crucified was pierced with the spear…This is the way of entrance for those who come to him…” (City of God 13.21).

“Allegorizing” has two very bad effects. 1) It makes for completely arbitrary interpretation. Instead of living under the authority of the Word, we can get nearly any message from a text we wish. 2) It fails to honor the meaning and message of the human author, whose conscious intent is the vehicle for God’s revelation. Modern interpreters, both of an orthodox and liberal bent, eschew allegorizing by concentrating wholly on the original intent of the human author as the only sure and certain benchmark. But there are dangers on the other extreme as well.

2. Remembering the Two Authors

Rodney A Whitacre writes that there have always been two basic emphases or approaches to biblical interpretation. The first he calls this the “Historic Approach” to Bible interpretation. This stresses the fact that each text has a very human author. This approach asks “What did the human biblical author intend to say? What did it mean to the original author and audience? To discover this, the interpreter looks at the linguistic, literary, and historical evidence. But Whitacre also speaks of the “Organic Approach” to Bible interpretation. This stresses the fact that all of Scripture has a divine author. This approach asks: “What does the divine biblical author intend for us to hear? Why did he put this in the Bible for us” To discover this, the interpreter looks at all the Bible (especially texts that are most like and most unlike it) and at Jesus Christ, who (as we have seen) the overall message of the Bible is about. (Rodney A. Whitacre, “Hearing God’s Truth: A Beginner’s Guide to Studying the Scriptures”. Available at the website of the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Http://

a. The Extreme Forms. (1) At the extreme end of an “Organic-Only” approach, we have wildly Allegorical Interpretation. Whitacre gives an example of this in a famous interpretation of Psalm 137:8-9 by the medieval church. “O daughter of Babylon…happy is he…who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” The allegorical interpretation goes like this. Jesus is the Rock. Babylon represents evil and sin. So we are being told to take even our littlest sins and most embryonic sinful thoughts and dash them on Christ. This interpretation connects to other parts of the Bible (Christ as the Rock, the need for purity and holiness) but it makes no attempt to connect to the original historic meaning of the text. (2) At the other extreme of a “Historic-Only” approach to the original “Historic-Only” approach, we have most scholarship in the world today—the Historical Critical Interpretation. It makes no attempt to align or integrate what Paul says with what Isaiah says. There is no concept of any divine authorship or divine unity. Any attempt at harmonization is scorned and disdained. The meaning of the ancient texts is locked away, therefore, in a very ancient time, and has nothing to do with us directly. Any normative or systematic theology is impossible.

b. Moderate Forms. Within the mainstream of the evangelical world these two extremes are rightly discarded. (Of course, the highly allegorical reading of the Bible is quite prevalent among lay people in all churches). But two more moderate forms of the two poles creates real confusion among orthodox students of the Bible today. (1) First, there is a moderate Evangelical-Historical approach which does allow for ‘harmonization’ with other texts for the purpose of Systematics, but is not comfortable with reading any meanings out of a text that the human author did not know of. Because this view believes in the divine authorship of the entire Bible, it will accept that an OT author was talking unwittingly about Jesus, but only when a NT author tells us that he was. (2) On the other hand, the Redemptive-Historical approach, which stresses more the organic unity of divine authorship, believes that many texts mean more than the human author intended. By the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, an OT text may tell us about Jesus Christ and we may discover this, even if no NT author tells us so.

c. Criticisms. (1) Of the “Redemptive-Historical’ approach: First, there is a real danger of allegory. If you are not ‘controlled’ in your interpretation by first establishing the human author’s intention, then your imagination can just run wild, and you can get anything out of it. Second, since you are always trying to ‘find Christ’ in the text, you may miss the very real practical applications and moral exhortations that are there. The people will get an inspiring picture of Jesus, but not get any real practical direction in how to live their lives. Third, it could be hard for your lay people to learn how to interpret the Bible with this method. When you are done, they’ll say: “My! I could never get all that out of a text.” And they’ll be right.

(2) But the criticisms of the ‘Historical-Intent Only’ approach are, I believe, more trenchant. First, the New Testament writers continually interpret the Old Testament using the ‘Organic’ or ‘Redemptive-Historical’ approach. They are constantly reading Psalms and other parts of the Bible as being about Christ, even when those texts have no clear “Messianic Prophecy” in them. This was clearly a ‘model’ with which the NT writers were interpreting the OT. Why not use the model?

Second, the historical approach often speaks of the Christo-centric approach being ‘arbitrary’, but it’s own method is much more speculative than it seems to realize. We are never sure we are able to reconstruct the original condition and historical setting. We are never sure we are right about the original audience. It takes a great deal of imagination and guess-work to posit authorial intent. So the grammatico-historical exegesis is not as scientific and objective as it might first appear.

Third, we must be able to preach Christ from a text, or we have the problem of ‘synagogue’ sermons. We are preaching the same sermon that could be preached in a synagogue—“Here is the righteous law. Do it and you will live.”

Fourth, the ‘Historical-Intent Only’ approach implies that the Church was not able to interpret the Bible properly until very recently we had the historical tools to discern original settings (See Moises Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? Zondervan, 1984).

3. The Difference between an “Allegory” and a “Type”

The biggest practical issue that comes to us in this discussion is—how can you tell the difference between a “type” and an “allegory”? The Redemptive-Historical approach finds typos of Christ in OT texts even where a NT writer does not indicate that there is one. How can you be sure you are not allegorizing? Based on the writings of Clowney and Rod Whitacre’s paper, here is a summary of the difference.

a. Typology: (1) (Clowney) A type is based on something in the text of symbolic significance to the human author and in the Scriptures in general. There must be evidence that the author saw a feature or figure as having more significance of symbolism. For example, is the fact that the chord Rahab uses to mark and protect her home (Joshua 2) is scarlet significant to the author? Or does the color red symbolize blood or sacrifice in general in the Bible. If not (and I don’t think we can demonstrate that it does), then we cannot preach that the chord represents the blood of Christ protecting us from the justice and wrath of God—as some people have done. However, we can preach the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites that way (Exodus 12). Can we preach that God’s choice of Leah as the mother of the Messianic seed is a type of God’s salvation through weaknes and rejection (Matthew 1:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:26ff.)? We would have to demonstrate that the author of Genesis knew that Judah was the bearer of the Messianic strain and therefore it’s coming to Leah rather than Rachel was an act of grace. I believe we can (Genesis 49:10). Can we preach that Isaac represents Christ? Yes, because in the Old Testament, the first-born had redemptive significance. Every first born belonged to God, etc.

(2) (Whitacre) A type is also based on connections between macro features and figures. It sees similarities between persons (prophets, priests, kings), events (Passover, exodus), and patterns of practice (aving through rejection, weakness). For example, in 2 Kings 5, we see a type of Christ’s revelation in the exclusivity of the prophet Elisha. Naaman must go to Israel, and he must wash in the Jordan. Because the Lord’s salvation is a revealed salvation, we must submit to that revelation. On the other hand, we see a type of Christ’s salvation in the prominence of the servants. Naaman keeps going to kings, but God sends his salvation through the weak and marginal. He must go to weaker country than Syria, he learns of his salvation through a servant girl who was victimized by his military, he only avoids disaster when his own servants reason with him to listen to Elisha. Because the salvation comes through weakness and the powerless, we receive it by repentance and faith alone, and we thereafter refuse to worship at the shrine of worldly power and wealth. So types focus on ‘macro-patterns’ of revelation and salvation rather than descending to details.

b. Allegory: (1) Allegory, by contrast, seeks no basis in the author’s original intent. Of course, it reads everything as symbolic, but it makes no attempts to show through linguistic or literary analysis that the feature it fixes on was of some symbolic significance to the human author. In other words, it ignores the human nature of the Bible and treats it as if it were simply a supernatural text. (2) Secondly, allegory focuses on micro-features such as words or even numbers. It may take the two coins that the Good Samaritan left with the innkeeper as the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, left by Jesus to sustain and heal us. It may take the ‘little ones’ of Ps. 137:8-9 as our sinful thoughts or our ‘little’ white lies. Instead of seeking to identify broader patterns of salvation with Jesus’ pattern of salvation, it fixes on details.

Appendix #1 – Historic and Organic: An Outline of Positions


“I interpret the human biblical author’s original meaning without alignment with meaning of the other biblical authors.”


“What does the human author mean?”


“I interpret the human biblical author’s original meaning in alignment with other human authors. But I do not look for meanings in the text that the human author did not put there.” Typology – only if the NT tells me specifically.


“I interpret the human biblical author’s original meaning not only in alignment with other human authors. I also look for meanings that the divine author may have put there that the human author did not.” Typology – based on Symbolic significance.


“What does the divine author mean?”


“I interpret the biblical text without much regard for the human biblical author’s original meaning. I use it to confirm or illustrate other texts in the Bible.


1. Two Basic ‘Theological Frameworks’.

Richard Lints, in The Fabric of Theology (Eerdmans, 1993) points out that what we have been calling ‘Christ-centered’ exegesis is more than a way to interpret texts. He believes that one very significant difference among evangelicals lies between those who organize doctrines into a “redemptive historical” framework and those who organize doctrines along the lines of a “redemptive historical” framework and those who organize doctrines along the lines of a “systematic-topical” framework (See pp. 259-290). The first framework (which he connects with the names of Vos, Kline, and Gaffin) sees the basic theological structure of Scriptures as a series of historical epochs in which God progressively reveals more and more of his redemptive purposes in Christ through successive covenants (Creation, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Christ-inaugurated, Christ-consumated). The second framework (which connects with the names of Hodge, Berkhof, and Erickson) sees the basic framework of Scripture as a series of logical categories or subject headings around which the varied texts of Scriptures are organized to produce doctrines (God, Man, Christ, Justification, Sanctification, Glorification).

What is the difference? Lints argues that the redemptive-historical model (RHM) is better than the systematic-topical model (STM), and so do I. John Murray speaks of the “tendency to abstration” of the STM, the tendency to dehistoricize, and to arrive at “timeless”, topically oriented universals. (“Systematic Theology” in the New Testament Student and Theology, J.H. Skilton, ed. P&R, 1976). RHM, on the other hand focuses on God’s special revelation not primarily as ‘naked information’ but primarily as God’s activity in history. This means:

2. Theological frameworks Compared

a. The RHM gives us a dymanic view of our place in redemptive history. The RHM tells that we are now in a particular period of redemptive history (between the first and second coming of Christ). This is the period of the “already-but-not-yet” of the kingdom of God, which sets us apart from the epoch previous to and following this one. The STM model has little concept of the all-pervasiveness of the kingdom of God. It tends to see the kingdom mainly in terms of one of the traditional ‘millennial’ positions.

The massive importance of the ‘already-but-not-yet-kingdom’ for both faith and practice is largely missed by those steeped in the STM approach. It tends to think of biblical truth in a-historical categories of doctrine which we now have to “apply” to our lives today. It tends to rely mainly on “correctness” or technique (“5 principles for overcoming worry”). The RHM avoids over optimism or pessimism or legalism by focusing always on the dynamic-kingdom-epoch lifestyle we live out now. The City of God and the City of Man are present realities. Christ as died, risen, and ascended has put us in a particular, current, dynamic relationship to God, our sin, our past, the Spirit, the world, and to the assembly of heaven itself. It tells us about this new relationship and status we have now, and how to live it out as the people of God in this entire epoch. This is a far more “organic” way to think out Christianity.

John Stott, in a very interesting and easy-to-understand chapter called “The Now and Not Yet” in The Contemporary Christian (IVP, 1992) shows what a powerful effect this theological category has on our practice. This understanding of our place in RH keeps us from fundamentalism (the “not yet Christians”), Pentecostalism (the “already” Christians), and Liberalism (in some ways too “not yet” and in other ways too “already”). It keeps us from over or under-discipline, from over- or under-emphasis on evangelism or social concern, from over optimism or under-optimism about revival, and so on. A-historical (STM) understandings of the Bible lead constantly to these extremes. By the way, Jonathan Edwards noted these same three enemies of true revival—Dead orthodoxy, Enthusiasm, and Heterodoxy.

b. The RHM gives us a more biblical and less “western” framework. Harvie Conn in Eternal Word and Changing Worlds (Zondervan, 1984) points out that the highly rational, scientific approach of STM is difficult for people of non-Western cultures to enjoy or grasp. Many are now pointing out the many of the formulators of STM were unwittingly shaped and affected by the Enlightenment, its detached rationality and its mistrust of history. Harvie (and Rick) note that the RHM gives much more weight to the fact that the Bible is filled with narrative. The gospel itself is a true story, not a set of “principles” or “laws”. The STM approach has ‘de-storied’ the gospel. Harvie also points out that RHM understands that all God’s truth is covenantal truth, never abstract from history and life. (See pp. 225-234). Thus preaching and teaching from the RHM tends to be much less pietistic and abstract from life. All of this means that RHM s a vastly better vehicle for spreading the gospel through and to all people groups.

c. The RHM gives us a more corporate and less individualistic approach to ministry.

The RHM understands that the goal of salvation history is not simply a ‘right relationship’ with God and live in heaven forever. The goal of redemption is really ‘re-creation’. God’s saving purposes culminate in a new creation, not a disembodied eternal state. The gospel is not that we get to escape earth into heaven, but that heaven “comes down” to transform the earth. The church, then, is not simply an aggregation of people who help one another find God, but it is called to be in this world a sign of the coming new creation. We are to embody the ‘new humanity’ that Christ is creating.

All of this drastically undermines the pietistic,, individualistic, privatistic Christianity that can be a result of the STM approach. While the STM approach points us more to how we as individuals get peace with God and ‘live right’, the RHM framework calls us to live our lives out as a ‘counter-culture’, a new nation, in which our business practices, race relations, artistic expressions, family life, etc., show the world what humanity could be like under the Lordship of Christ. And the RHM emphasis on ‘new creation’ calls us to be concerned for the social and material world, since God’s ultimate salvation will not only redeem the soul but the body and the physical world as well.

d. The RHM gives a much more relevant approach to ‘post-modern’ times. This point is closely connected to the previous one. “Post-meodern” times are characterized by a rejection of the Enlightenment worship of rationality and technique, and is much more devoted to narrative and story as ways of finding meaning. Also, post-modernity rejets the Enlightenment’s emphasis on the individual and stresses the importance of community. As we have just seen, the RHM shows us all those resources in biblical theology that the STM approach has tended to overlook. It breaks the Bible into stages of a Story—the story of Jesus and his salvation—while the STM breaks the Bible into logical categories. More than that, the RHM actually puts us into the story, showing us our place and stage in the unfolding of the kingdom of God. The RHM approach also shows concern for the regeneration of human community and even the physical environment, not just individual, interior happiness. In all these ways, RHM is much more relevant to post-modern sensibilities.

e. The RHM gives us a more Christ-centered understanding of the Bible. The RHM sees each epoch of redemptive history as being the progressive revealing of Christ. God could have poured our judgment on mankind in the Garden, therefore the only reason there is any history is because God has purposed to send his Son into the world, to pour out judgment on him and thereby bring salvation. Jesus is the only reason there is human history, and therefore he is the goal of human history. Thus everything God says and does in history explain and prepare for the salvation of his Son. The STM, on the other hand, will examine the Law, the prophets, and history of Abraham, Moses, David, etc. for information about the various doctrinal topics—what we learn about how to live, what to believe. But the RHM sees every story and law and piece of wisdom literature as pointing to Christ and his work. Preaching and teaching from an STM framework tends to be much more moralistic and legalistic.

f. The RHM gives us a more organic way of reading biblical texts. The RHM works at understanding the differences between stages in redemptive history, while the STM largely ignores such study. But many disputes over the application of the Old Testament laws are really based on a lack of understanding of the role which the Mosaic regulations played in that time in redemptive history (i.e. how they helped us look to and prepare for God’s coming salvation) and of how that role is fulfilled in Christ.

Maybe even more fundamentally, the RHM really leads us to see the very purpose of each biblical passage differently. We have said that RHM understands God’s revelation never comes in the form of textbook type information, but in the form of covenant. Why? Because the purpose of God’s truth is never to merely inform, but to know God in a relationship of love and service. For example, if we read Genesis 1-2 with an STM mind-set, expecting “naked information” about how the world was created, we will see it differently than those who read with a RHM mind-set, expecting knowledge of who are Creator is and how we are to relate to him and to his creation.

Concluding Note: Do not read the above as pitting Systematic Theology per se against ‘Biblical Theology’. There have been many proponents of the RH approach that virtually deny the ability to do coherent ST at all. This is going too far by far, and such a denial ultimately undermines the concept of a single divine author of the whole Bible.

Source: Personal Notes from D.Min Course Co-Taught by Ed Clowney and Tim Keller from Reformed Theological  Seminary


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John Piper: “Were Women Deacons in the New Testament?”

Were Women Deacons?

Feeding of the 5000

By Dr. John Piper

Probably yes. There are four observations that incline me to think that this office was held by both men and women.

1. The Greek word for deacon can be masculine or feminine in the same form. So the word itself does not settle the issue.

2. In the middle of the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul says, “The women likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This could be the wives of the deacons, but could also be the women deacons. The latter is suggested by the fact that no reference to women is made in 3:1-7. Since women were not candidates for the eldership in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:12-13) because of its authoritative function in teaching and oversight, the absence of the reference to women in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 would be expected. But this confirms the probability that the reference to women in 3:11 is to women deacons, not merely to wives of deacons.

3. The deacons were distinguished from the elders in that they were not the governing body in the church nor were they charged with the duty of authoritative teaching. So the role of deacon seems not to involve anything that Paul taught in 1 Timothy 2:12 (or anywhere else) which is inappropriate for women to perform in the church.

4. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is very probably called a deacon. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon(ess) of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.”

It appears then that the role of deacon is of such a nature that nothing stands in the way of women’s full participation in it. Within the deaconate itself, the way the men and women relate to each other would be guided by the sense of appropriateness, growing out of the Biblical teaching of male and female complementarity.

Qualifications of Deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

3:8 “Deacons likewise must be serious. . .”

Serious, Earnest, Honorable (semnous)

The idea of “serious” by itself seems inadequate. This would be an unsatisfactory translation of Philippians 4:8: “Think on these things . . . whatever is true, whatever is honorable. . .” “Serious” is morally neutral. But this word isn’t. The person should not be flippant, but earnest about life.

3:8 “. . . not double-tongued. . .”

Genuine, Authentic (me dilogous)

“Double-tongued” implies saying one thing to be true here and another thing to be true there, according to what people would think. So it implies a lack of love for truth and a fear of human disapproval and a general instability.

3:8 “. . . not addicted to much wine. . .”

Temperate (me oino pollo prosechontas)

Prosechontas implies “to concern oneself with” or “to give attention to” or “to turn one’s mind toward.” So there should be a freedom from drink, and presumably from all substances that would be harmful if taken too freely.

The picture is of a person under control, not carried along 1) by the opinions of others (genuine, authentic) or 2) by his appetites (temperate) or 3) by levity (serious, honorable).

3:8 “. . . not greedy for gain. . .”

Content with simplicity (me aischrokerdeis)

This word is used in Titus 1:7 of elders and in adverb form of elders in 1 Peter 5:2. It corresponds to aphilargon (not a lover of money) in 1 Timothy 3:3.

It seems to be a fourth dimension of freedom (see “temperate” above for the first three), freedom from the pull of money. Other motives should drive him. There should be a contentment in God and a heavenly mindedness.

3:9 “…having the mystery of the faith in a clean conscience.”

Deep Convictions Concerning The Faith

The issue of conscience does not appear to be the general issue as in 1:5; 4:2; 2 Timothy 1:3Titus 1:15. But 1:19 is a very close connection: “holding faith and a good conscience.”

It seems that the conscience bears directly on the “faith in good conscience.” This inclines me to think that the issue is the sincerity of the faith. Do the deacons really have faith rooted in their hearts or are there sneaking doubts? Are their consciences clear when they make a public profession of their faith?

3:10 “And let them also be tested first. . .”

Tested (dokimazesthosan)

The test is not specified, but it is to precede the work as deacons. The test would be two-fold: the life they have lived and the assessment of it by those who know them and by some appropriate body of the church.
This would surely apply to all the leaders including elders and deacons.

I see three usual steps in the testing and selection of leaders.

1. The elders would take responsibility to see that the testing and approval is done in accord with Biblical criteria since they are responsible for the general oversight of the church and for the doctrinal purity of the leadership.

2. They may need to involve representatives of the congregation who have a wider knowledge of some people than they do.

3. The congregation itself would be the final test of approval, as they are the last court of appeal in matters of church discipline (Matthew 18:171 Corinthians 5:4). Therefore, all would be approved by the church as the final step of “testing” and “approval.”

3:10 “. . . then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons.”

Blameless (anegkletoi)

Blameless in the sense that no blame is discovered that has not been settled in a Biblical way. It does not mean perfect, but free from ongoing guilt for some unsettled wrong.

3:11 We will come back to this verse.

3:12 “Let the deacons be the husband of one wife. . .”

One Woman’s Husband

(See section on 1 Timothy 3:2)

3:12 “. . . and let them manage their children and their households well.”
This would seem to imply some measure of administrative ability, but note well, unlike the case with the elders in 3:5, it does not say, “for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?” General oversight does not appear to be in view as with the “overseers” of 3:1-7.

Rather, the point is probably the general truth that much of a man’s true character and gifts come out in the way he leads his family. Something is significantly wrong if the man appears religious and able at church but has a disorderly home.

Again the home is the proving ground for all fitness for leadership in the church.

3:13 “For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

This is not a qualification but a promise of what comes with the faithful execution of the diaconate.

A good standing for themselves may mean a respectable place in the Christian community or a safe place in the last Day of Judgment as in 6:19.

And great confidence is the subjective boldness that rises with the faithful performance of duty.

(Now back to 3:11 and the question of the women.)

3:11 “Likewise the women. . .”

Is this a reference to the wives of the deacons or a reference to women who were deaconesses? See pages 56-57 for a slightly fuller treatment of this issue.

In Favor of “Deaconesses”:

  1. The use of “likewise” to introduce the group in the same way the deacons were introduced in verse 8 suggests a new order, namely, deaconesses.

  2. The women are not mentioned in verses 1-7 where overseers are being discussed. If wives are in view, you would expect that they would be. But if women as a distinct order are in view, you would not, because the elders are given responsibilities which Paul says women should not assume. So the absence of women among the overseers and the presence of the women among the deacons suggests an order, not wives.

  3. Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 appears to be a deaconess.

  4. The deacons are not charged with any duties that in themselves would contradict what Paul says is appropriate for women to do in the church.

In Favor of “Wives”:

  1. You would expect that they would be called “deaconesses” instead of women or wives.

  2. Paul returns to the qualifications of deacons in the next verse, which seems strange if he had begun to discuss a new order.

It seems that the decision will not be made with confidence simply from this text alone but will be made on the basis of the wider considerations of what is appropriate for women to do according to all the New Testament teachings.

3:11 “. . . must be serious. . .”

See above on 3:8, Serious, Earnest, Honorable.

3:11 “. . . no slanderers. . .”

Not Slanderers, Gossips (me diabolous)

A woman who has itchy ears and a loose tongue will not be a good deaconess. Her words must build up. She must keep confidences and not be addicted to scuttlebutt.

3:11 “. . .temperate. . .”

See above on 3:2, Temperate.

3:11 “. . . faithful in all things.”

Honest, Trustworthy, Reliable, Loyal (pistas in pasin)

See above on Titus 1:6, Honest.

Source: ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website:


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Tim Keller and Ed Clowney on Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Part 1


Tim Keller preaching image





In this course we will be offering a model of preaching that can be called by several names and titles—all of which we will be using as synonyms. It is Christo-centric preaching because it calls us to “preach Christ” and his salvation from every passage in the Bible. It is Gospel-centered preaching because it never moves ‘beyond’ the finished work of Christ to supposedly more ‘advanced’ Biblical principles. It expounds the gospel as the central way to address any issue for both Christians and non-Christians. It is Redemptive-Historical preaching because it is based on a way of reading the Bible that stresses the organic unity between unfolding historical stages of God’s redemption in Christ.

Let’s put this in more ‘down to earth’ terms. Kent Hughes tells of an African-American church where there is a very elderly, female member who has a particular concern that the sermons exalt Christ and do not degenerate into mere lecturing or moralizing. If she feels that the preacher is failing in his duty, she begins to call out, “Get him up! Get…him…up!” If you want to learn Christ-centered preaching, you could simply ask her to transfer into your church. But if that is impractical, you could take the rest of this course. So there is just one goal for a sermon—lift up Christ and his salvation.


1. It is helpful to look at this one goal in three perspectives.

Paul on the one single purpose: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1ff.).

Paul on the three perspectives: Him we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28). 

Paul discerns three things that he is doing as he preaches Christ. These are not so much three different tasks as much as three perspectives or aspects of that one basic biblical goal of lifting up Christ. If you accomplished any one of the three things thoroughly, you would automatically complete the other two as well. However, since we never can be completely effective, it is wiser to consciously take up each of the three perspectives individually as you write and evaluate your message.

What are these three things?

First, biblical accuracy and Christo-centricity are the same to Paul—it is “Him” we must proclaim when we preach the Bible.

Secondly, the preaching and teaching is done with “wisdom,” which means “practical life-relatedness”. It must be aimed artfully at the hearts of people so as to produce real life changes.

Thirdly, we see that preaching was no detached, clinical exercise. There was a churning spiritual power which gave Paul an intense internal yearning as he preached—“struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Those who heard Paul must have been impressed that the truth had already exploded with God’s transforming power inside Paul’s soul.

(Personal notes – Keller’s series on the attributes of God – from a systematic approach, i.e. – omnipotence, benevolence, omnipotence, and the like, to God as Father, Friend, Lover, King; or a series related to your feelings/emotions from the Psalms focusing on the different emotions like discouragement, depression, sadness, loneliness, joy, etc.)

In our fear of subjectivism, Reformed folk discuss preaching and teaching almost exclusively in terms of the first perspective. A sermon is to be a “success” as long as it is a true and accurate exposition of Holy Scripture. But accuracy is a means, not the goal of preaching. The goal is “changed lives”—“everyone perfect in Christ”.

2. The concept of “perspectives”

This method is based on John Frame’s tri-perspectival approach to knowledge. Consider the Trinity. God can be viewed from three perspectives. The ‘Son” contains the father and the Spirit. If we explore who the Son is deep enough, we will learn about the father and the Spirit. Yet the Son points us to things about God only he can show us. Or you can learn about the whole Godhead through the ‘door’ of the Father, and eventually come to learn about the Son and the Spirit. Of you can ‘come at’ God from the ‘door’ of the Spirit. In short, God himself requires us to look at him in ‘multiple perspectives’ in order to truly understand him.

Frame believes that all knowledge is ‘Trinitarian’ or perspectival. He speaks of the “normative”, the “situational”, and the “existential” perspectives. “Human knowledge can by understood in three ways: as knowledge of God’s norm [law], as knowledge of our situation, and as knowledge of ourselves. None can be adequately achieved without the others. Each includes the others. Each, therefore, is a ‘perspective’ on the whole of human knowledge” (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, P&R, 1987, p. 75).

Our knowledge becomes distorted if we limit our understanding by leaving out any perspective. For example, we do not become more “biblical” when in seeking to understand a text we forget the situational and existential perspectives. Frame argues that we do not really understand the meaning of a text of Scripture unless we can use it. We must be able to apply the text to our world and ourselves or we do not really “know” the truth. Why? All revelation is covenantal revelation. Everything that is revealed is revealed by the covenant Lord to make us his servants. Obedience and knowledge are near synonyms. Thus applying this concept to ethics, he writes: “Christians should not follow non-Christian models, advocating an ‘ethics of law’ as opposed to a ‘situation ethic’ or an ‘ethic of authentic existence’. Rather, the Christian ethic should present law, situation, and ethical subject in organic unity” (Ibid, p.74).


1. “Prophetic” or Normative aspect.

To expound and teach the text so they understand Christ. The aim is to explain the text in its overall biblical context, which is always to ask “what does this tell me about the person/work/teaching of Jesus?” You haven’t expounded the text unless you have integrated its particular message with the climax of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. The alternative is “to expound biblical principles”—put the text in “systematic theological” context and then explain how it supports orthodox doctrine and ethics. But the text isn’t put into “redemptive-historical” context to reveal what this tells us specifically about the person and work of Christ.

2. “Kingly” or Situational aspect.

To apply and counsel with the text so that they put on Christ. The aim is to use the text on the hearers’ practical life issues and problems, which is always to ask “how am I failing to rejoice in and live as if this were true about who Jesus is and what he did?” You haven’t really solved an individual or community problem unless you have shown the solution to be Christ’s person and work. The typical alternative is “to call for moral reformation”. This approach merely exhorts people to try hard to live up to biblical principles. It usually preaches justification by Christ’s work, but it encourages sanctification by our work rather than Christ’s.

3. “Priestly” or Existential aspect.

To adore and worship with the text so that they rejoice in Christ. The aim is to experience Christ through the text as you present it, so the hearers have a true sense of God on their hearts. This is to ask: “how can I adore and rejoice in Christ from what I learned?” You haven’t really fulfilled the text’s purpose unless you aim to bring people into the presence of God through Christ. The typical alternative is simply “to provide information”. Of course, the setting for your communication is all-important. Is this a lecture or the sermon in a worship service? But regardless of the setting, the goal is not just information-transfer. Jesus is a living person, and the goal of every communication is to get the hearers to sense him as such.

Christ the Key to the Model: The “Christo-centric” focus is not added to the other factors. Christ-centeredness suffuses the whole and is the key. It is only as you show how the text reveals Christ that you truly expound its meaning. It is only as you solve problems with Christ that you change lives. It is only as you point to the ultimate reference in Christ that the presentation jumps from being a “Sunday School lesson” into an act of worship.


Without all three aspects, we are left with something inadequate. Some examples:

1. “Doctrinal”. When preaching concentrates too much on expounding and too little on the other aspects, it ‘hits’ the intellect rather than the heart and the result is more of a ‘lecture’. It is neither life-converting nor does it lead the hearers to corporate worship. Many approaches to preaching now being emphasized in the Reformed evangelical world fall under this category, for fear of the excesses of pietism and emotionalism. In my estimation, much that is called ‘Redemptive-Historical’ and ‘Expository’ preaching fits in this category, though I would insist that the model we are presenting has strong claim to those terms.

2. “Practical”. When preaching concentrates too much on applying, it ‘hits’ the will rather than the heart and the result is more of a ‘how-to talk’. It does not challenge the mind and (again) it does not lead the hearers to corporate worship on the spot. Several forms of this have been popular in our century. In the church growth movement, there has been an emphasis ‘user-friendly’ motivational sermons that focus on setting priorities, handling stress, raising out families, and so on. In the mainline church, liberal activist preaching starts with commentary on current social injustice and then moves to practical action plans to deal with it. In many fundamentalist churches, sermons are little more than moralistic exhortations to “live right”.

3. “Devotional”. When preaching concentrates too much on arousing feelings of devotion and too little on the other aspects, it ‘hits’ the emotions rather than the heart. While this may provide sentiment at the moment, the understanding has not been renewed and converted and therefore the life remains unchanged. In the last decade, there has been a major emphasis on what is loosely called ‘narrative preaching.’ Often one or more lengthy stories, taken from the Bible or elsewhere, are re-told in a dramatic and gripping way. As we will see, Christ-centered preaching does something similar, but much narrative preaching uses the story to work on feelings only.


Though this model is not a practicum, it should lead to much better evaluation of your own preaching. Here are some evaluation questions for a sermon based on this model.

Truth – Was it sound? What was the point—was it clear? Was Jesus preached as the climax or was he added on or missing?

Life – Was it fresh? What difference will it make—was it practical? Was Jesus preached as the solution or were people told to try harder?

Power – Was there a sense of God? What was the central metaphor—was it gripping? Was Jesus made visible or only taught about?

A Longer Evaluation Form

Truth – Is it biblical? Are the assertions validly rooted in the text? Do they convincingly arise from the text? Do they square with the analogy of faith—the whole of Scripture? Are the assertions validly rooted to the redemptive/historical context? Was the central theme solved or illustrated by Christ? Was it really about Jesus?

Truth – Is it clear? Was it obvious what the speaker was driving at during the talk? Was the progression traceable? When it was over, did you know what the main point was? Was it persuasive to the hearers, using lines of argument they could follow?

Life – Is it insightful? Was it clear that the speaker understood the hearers ‘reality’—their very hopes, fears, problems, concerns? Did it leave out non-Christians or Christians? Were the assertions put in a fresh, wise, and striking way, or was it rather boring or cliché-ridden?

Life – Is it practical? Were instructions given on how to implement and practice concretes in behavior? Was Christ and his finished work applied as the practical solution to any problem? Was moralizing or psychologizing avoided and distinguished from the gospel?

Power – is it vivid? Were there some central metaphors used so the basic concepts are given in concrete form? Were the five senses appealed to? Was the imagination engaged? Was Christ presented in some concrete aspect of his person or work? Were one of the biblical metaphors for him invoked? Did he become ‘visible’?

Power – is there transcendence? Was there a goal to merely instruct, or to get people face to face with God? Did the speaker seem aware of God or just aware of his sermon and audience? Was there a balance of warmth, love, and humility on the one hand, and force, power, authority on the other?

A PERSONAL NOTE (From Tim Keller)

Though I learned about ‘Christo-centric’ preaching from Ed Clowney and about the Reformed doctrine of ‘sanctification by faith’ from Roger Nicole when in seminary, and though there I also learned about the difference between mere ‘notional knowledge’ and heart-affections from Richard Lovelace, it took at least 15 years for these concepts to really filter down and begin to effect my preaching. My preaching for many years was basically Puritan-preaching (doctrine, application) with Christ tacked on at the end. All during that time, I would have certainly professed to be doing “Christo-centric” preaching, but really, in general, I was lifting Jesus up as an example and urging people to live like him.

(Note: Ed Clowney, “Often we treat the Bible as a text rather than the Word of the living God”).


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