Archive for February, 2011
Guest post by Martin McNeely
Not long ago I was asked to take part in a seminar organized by the Urban Mission group of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland entitled “Keller Unplugged”. It was not, as it might sound, a performance of acoustic tunes extolling the virtues of New York’s Presbyterian pastor, author and teacher! Rather, it was a gathering of like-minded church activists who wanted to see if Keller’s ministry could teach us anything in urban and missional contexts closer to home.
At first glance, some would bypass Tim Keller. He’s working in a context far removed from the UK, particularly our estates and unreached areas. Redeemer Presbyterian concentrates on Manhattan urbanites, post-modern younger professionals in a cosmopolitan and socially liberal city. Without doubt, Keller’s ministry and philosophical style reflects this.
But deeper appreciation of Keller gives us good ground for a study of his teaching, not least because his formative ministry development was forged in Hopewell, a blue collar Virginian town. It was there, for the first ten years of his ministry life, where Keller learned to preach. It was in that setting where his theology of evangelical social conscience was worked through, via his DMin studies at Westminster Seminary.
So what did he learn? In a recent exploration of his life at desiringgod.org Keller shared three main influences. The first was the Covenant theology taught at Westminster by Meredith Kline. Keller has also been influenced by and closely associated with the approach of Ed Clowney and his desire to share Christ in Old Testament preaching. I find this emphasis on covenant, or as others may term it, ‘Biblical theology’ most helpful. In our broken, dysfunctional society it is so helpful for the preacher to know that God does have a plan and that He does not break His promises to His people. What a challenging message in a society where promises are broken all the time.
Secondly, Keller emphasizes the doctrineof Justification by faith. He argues from his reading of Richard Lovelace in Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal, that justification has played a role in every major revival of God’s Spirit in Church history. And again, in our society what a Gospel of hope! Broken people in sinful situations can be forgiven and declared blameless by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
Finally, Keller speaks much of the importance of works as a result of our having experienced mercy. The key influence here is Charity and it’s Fruits by Jonathan Edwards. Tim Keller particularly expounds the Good Samaritan parable as evidence of not only God’s great mercy which saves, but of our response as mercy showing people. In his book Ministries of Mercy (P&R), Keller argues that good works provide a “plausibility structure” out of which Gospel relationships and conversations develop. His recent work “Generous Justice” is an extended exposition of the wider Biblical arguments.
Now, I’ve neither studied all of the above names or profess to be an expert on Tim Keller. But neither do we need to be in downtown Manhattan to appreciate him. I find his balanced teaching very helpful in my context. I hope you do too.
Martin McNeely is minister of Ballykeel Presbyterian, a community church based in Ballymena, NI.