Archive - June, 2008

Interview With Tim Keller on The Prodigal God

Tim Keller’s next book, The Prodigal God, is scheduled for an October 2008 release. Pastor Keller was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book. The exchange is posted below with his permission.

CHEDIAK: How did this book originate, and why the creative title?

KELLER: When speaking to a group, I can get the essentials of the gospel across better with this parable and text than with any other. (I’m not saying that it is objectively the most important text on the gospel, only that I it has been the one that I preach the best.) The message has been in some ways the very foundation of Redeemer. Quite a number of people have been converted by it.
I don’t know that the title is all that creative. The reason it makes us think for a moment is that so many use the word ‘prodigal’ to mean ‘wayward’ when actually the word means to spend extravagantly. In the end, the father (who represents God) outspends his prodigal younger son, in order to bring him home.
By the way–the subtitle on the Amazon book-likeness (‘Christianity Redefined’) was a working subtitle that I didn’t choose and that we are not going to use. It’s triumphalistic. I hope no one is put off by it. The new subtitle will be something like ‘recovering the heart of the Christian faith’.
CHEDIAK: Why do you think Luke 15:11-32 has come down to us as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”, and might you walk us through a little bit on how you came to see it as something more?
KELLER: I don’t know why over the years our interpretation of the Luke 15:11ff parable has focused so much on the younger brother. Even if you just count the verses it is clear that his part is only about half the story. If you read the parable in its context–Luke 15:1-3–it is clear that Jesus was directing the parable at Pharisees, ‘elder brothers’, who hated Jesus warm reception of tax collectors and sinners, ‘younger brothers.’ So the fate and decision of the elder brother is the real climax of the story. (And it is a cliff-hanger–we never find out how the Pharisee/elder brother responds.) Dick Lucas once preached a sermon on this parable entitled ‘Jesus Pleads with His Critics’! In this parable Jesus is speaking to the people who will eventually kill him, yet he, through the father in the story, comes out and beg the Pharisee/elder brothers to relent and come in to the feast of salvation. I find that so moving. Dick Lucas, Ed Clowney and others showed me that the parable is about both brothers and especially the elder.
CHEDIAK: Which type of error — licentiousness or legalistic righteousness — would you say is more common in our day? Or is more perhaps each more common in certain circles?
KELLER: I wouldn’t venture to say which kind of sin is more prevalent. I wouldn’t even want to try to characterize certain ‘circles.’ Yes, big cities have a lot of ‘younger brothers’ who have left traditional parts of the world and their families for a more liberal lifestyle. But cities are filled to the gills with ‘elder brothers’ too.
CHEDIAK: If you don’t mind my asking, from which of these were you converted?
KELLER: I’ve done and been both.
CHEDIAK: Is The Prodigal God aimed at Christians or non-Christians?
KELLER: The ‘Reason’ book was aimed at non-believers, but with the expectation that Christians would learn a lot by reading it. This book is aimed at believers, but with the expectation that non-believers could read it and find it helpful and compelling.
Update: Keller chimes in on the controversy over his use of the word “prodigal” as a descriptor for God.

Albert Mohler Takes On The New Atheists

Dr. Albert Mohler takes on the recent “remix” of atheistic beliefs and arguments from the likes of Dawkins, Harris, and the others. A concise read (112 pages), this should be a great help for skeptics and Christians alike. The publisher’s description:

A leading Christian intellectual explores the newest strain of atheism, its foremost thinkers, the cultural conditions that have bred it, and how Christians should respond.
Something has changed in American culture. What for years was a little-regarded belief system—atheism—has now gained a large, and increasing, national hearing through the writings of “new atheists” such as Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens.
Wanting to both inform and equip serious-minded Christians regarding this cultural shift, R. Albert Mohler Jr. explores the environment that has bred the “new atheism” while also introducing readers to the movement’s four leading thinkers and the contours of their arguments. Mohler—deemed “the reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the US” by Time magazine—then uses this foundation to pinpoint eight major distinctives that make the new atheism new, and to discuss the future of Christianity in relationship to it.
At school and in the community, Christians are sure to encounter people who have been shaped by this strain of atheism. Here is keen insight that any believer can use to understand and challenge the new atheists.

What others are saying:
“Thoughtful and insightful, this readable work illuminates for scholars, pastors, and students alike the key issues that must be addressed in order to engage the thinking of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and others. I applaud Albert Mohler for his clarity and conviction in helping us understand that biblical theism is the only true alternative to the New Atheism. I gladly recommend this book!”
David S. Dockery, President, Union University
“Instead of becoming just one more voice in the rising debate between Christians and the New Atheists, Dr. Mohler has chosen to provide us with masterful coverage of the dominant writers on both sides. I know of no other introduction to this crucial debate that is as comprehensive and clear in such brief compass. Mohler tells us what’s going on, shows us how much depends on the outcome of this titanic cultural shift, and provides guidance to the resources Christians need to challenge the New Atheism root and branch.”
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“The New Atheism needs a clear-headed, straightforward analysis. Atheism Remix does this, and does it well. Al Mohler is clear and concise in his critique, and the readability of this book makes it accessible to a wide audience. This is a fine introduction and overview of the self-proclaimed ‘Four Horsemen’ of atheism. They are examined and exposed for the vacuous arguments they offer.”
Daniel Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Tim Keller on The Doctrine of Hell

This short article on the biblical support, logical necessity, appropriateness and inevitability of hell for those who reject God and Christ is an extremely helpful read. It will benefit Christians and non-Christians alike. For an extended version, see the appropriate section of Keller’s The Reason For God.
(HT: Tullian Tchividjian)
By the way, Keller has a forthcoming book (Oct 2008) called The Prodigal God, which is available now for pre-order (HT: JT). It is an extended reflection on Christ’s well known parable of the profligate son and his legalistic older brother (Luke 15:11-32). Keller’s unique sermon on this passage can be freely downloaded. I plan to post more about this book in the weeks and months to come; Keller’s sermon on this Luke 15 passage has been revolutionary for me.
Update: I’ve now posted a brief interview with Tim Keller about his forthcoming book The Prodigal God.

Game Day For The Glory of God

This looks like a much-needed book on a much-neglected topic: How to glorify God in the participation and enjoyment of sports. The publisher’s description:

This book gives biblical guidance on playing, watching, and discussing sports in a God-glorifying manner, helping believers grow in both their love for God and their passion for holiness.
Scripture calls Christians to do everything for the glory of God. That means every thought, every word, and every deed are to be done in a way that brings pleasure and honor to him. Believe it or not, this includes playing, watching, and talking sports! But most of us fail to recognize how sports fit into the big picture of a God-glorifying life, unable to imagine that the God who created the universe might actually care about Little League games and Monday Night Football.
So how do we play, watch, and talk sports for God’s glory? Game Day for the Glory of God seeks to answer that question from a biblical perspective. Sports fan Stephen Altrogge aims to help readers enjoy sports as a gift from God and to see sports as a means of growing in godliness.

Some of the blurbs:
What a difference it would make if Scripture informed our participation in and observation of sports: every play, every game, every season could be a heart-revealing, character-developing experience for the glory of God. In this book, Stephen Altrogge shows us how to bring Scripture into the game—and apply it to our hearts. Full of personal anecdotes and recollections of some of the greatest moments in recent sports history, Game Day is a biblical and insightful playbook for anyone who loves to play or watch sports.
—C. J. Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries
What a wonderful and refreshing take on sports that brings God to the position where he should be: Head Coach, Manager, Commissioner! Stephen makes clear God is in every part of our sporting lives. We may think the score of the game is important, but God is only concerned about the score of the game in victory over the enemy (that does not mean the Cowboys). This book is a blessing for anyone who has or needs perspective. Stephen himself is blessed, though the Lord has placed on his heart the Pittsburgh Pirates.
— David Stein, talk radio host, A Celebration of Life Through Sports

Pew Forum’s Religious Survey: Rampant Relativism

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey recently conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has attracted a fair amount of attention (e.g., it came up in the Keller interview I recently mentioned). One prominent finding in this 35,000 participant survey is that most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach when it comes to interpreting the tenets of their own religion. Among Protestants, 83% in mainline churches think that many religions can lead to eternal life. Among evangelicals, 57% believe the same thing. In fact, the survey indicated that “only among Mormons (57%) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (80%) do majorities say that their own religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life.” Check it out.
Responding to the survey, David Van Biema, writing for Time Magazine, aptly concludes:

“The survey’s biggest challenge is to the theologians and pastors who will have to reconcile their flocks’ acceptance of a new, polyglot heaven with the strict admission criteria to the gated community that preceded it.”

(HT: Benjamin)
Related:
1. This month’s issue of Tabletalk warns of the dangers inherent in a pluralistic society.
2. For a great read on the exclusivist-inclusivist debate among professing Christians, see Faith Comes By Hearing, edited by Chris Morgan and Robert Peterson. I interviewed Morgan.
Update: Adelle M. Banks writes today about the Pew Report in Christianity Today, noting that “Americans are religious in unpredictable ways”:

1. More than half of evangelical respondents said that many religions can lead to eternal life, despite the central evangelical tenet that Jesus is the sole path to eternity with God.
2. 12 percent of Orthodox Christians, who are known for their by-the-book liturgical worship, reported speaking or praying in tongues at least once a week — a practice most commonly associated with Pentecostal traditions.
3. 29 percent of Catholics see God as an impersonal force, even though the Catholic Catechism teaches that “the faith of all Christians” rests on the belief in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
4. One in five self-described atheists, whose main tenet is to reject belief in God, say they believe in God or a universal spirit.

Keith Mathison on Humility

Keith Mathison reviews C.J. Mahaney’s book Humility: True Greatness.

Tim Keller Interview in Christianity Today

Susan Wunderink of Christianity Today interviews pastor and author Tim Keller about his (outstanding) book The Reason for God and his apologetics ministry in general. Excerpt:
You reject marketing apologetics like, “Christianity is better than the alternatives, so choose Christianity.” Why?

Marketing is about felt needs. You find the need and then you say Christianity will meet that need. You have to adapt to people’s questions. And if people are asking a question, you want to show how Jesus is the answer. But at a certain point, you have to go past their question to the other things that Christianity says. Otherwise you’re just scratching where they itch. So marketing is showing how Christianity meets the need, and I think the gospel is showing how Christianity is the truth.
C. S. Lewis says somewhere not to believe in Christianity because it’s relevant or exciting or personally satisfying. Believe it because it’s true. And if it’s true, it eventually will be relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. But there will be many times when it’s not relevant, exciting, and personally satisfying. To be a Christian is going to be very, very hard. So unless you come to it simply because it’s really the truth, you really won’t live the Christian life, and you won’t get to the excitement and to the relevance and all that other stuff.

Other questions include the nature of doubts experienced by Christians, intelligent design, and science. I also found Keller’s concern for the (perceived) politicization of the faith interesting, especially in light of the recent Evangelical Manifesto and even Mark Dever’s engaging, remarkable, and somewhat controversial address at Together For The Gospel this past April. Commenting on a recent Pew study that indicated today’s Christians being more polarized (those formerly in the middle having shifted to either robust orthodoxy or to theological liberalism), Keller notes:

One reason for this is because I think there’s been a backlash. Evangelicalism has been so identified with conservative Republican values that a lot of people who might be more moderate have decided they are not religious. I’ve seen that happen in New York. They’re moderate or liberal politically, and they feel like orthodox Christianity is so identified with conservative Republican politics that they have actually distanced themselves from the faith.

That’s unfortunate, but I think its true (and I’m a life-long conservative Republican) – even if the identification is not always fair or is exacerbated by secular media. Anyway, read the whole interview. Though brief, it is quite good.

Albert Mohler on Same-Sex Marriage in California

Dr. Mohler responds to a LA Times editorial which noted that same-sex marriages meant “these couples stand together as full citizens at last”:

Full citizens at last? These Americans were not full citizens at 5:00 pm on June 16, 2008, but they were a minute later when they were granted legal marriage applications?
This leads to other urgent questions. Who else is now being denied full citizenship? Does this mean that others denied access to legal marriage as the recognition of their sexual relationships are being denied status as “full citizens?” Would the editors dare name who these might be?
This editorial is further evidence of a phenomenon that is now standard in many circles — the assumption that all moral and legal discrimination is wrong. That is a disastrous assumption. Civilization requires discrimination between right and wrong behavior, what is legal and what is criminal, what is celebrated and what is condemned.

Mohler’s logic is predictably impeccable. Read the whole thing, and be thankful that there will be a ballot initiative in CA this November. Though similar to Proposition 22, the California Defense of Marriage Act, which voters passed into law with a 61% majority in 2000, this 2008 ballot initiative (with a similar majority vote) would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Of potential concern, however, there are some reports that support for same-sex marriage in CA has grown in the last 8 years.

Alex and Brett Harris – On CNNs American Morning

Tomorrow (Friday) morning from 7:54-8:00 AM (EST) Alex and Brett Harris are slated to appear on the CNN morning show American Morning. They’ll need to be up before 4 AM (their time) to do the brief appearance. They’ll be discussing the presidential election, why they support McCain over Obama, Huck’s Army, and hopefully, the Rebelution and Do Hard Things.

Movie Prince Caspian Disappoints – Big Time

If you’ve not seen it, save your time and your money. And preserve your happy memories. For the sake of full disclosure, I have actually (hold your breath) never read Prince Caspian, and I was still disappointed. Primarily because I’ve read enough of C.S. Lewis to know that they way they depicted Susan was ridiculous (and I have read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardbrobe). I shall have to read the entire series now, and stay away from the rest of the movies. Such a pity, because the first installment was done so well. Steve Altrogge:

For the first ten minutes everything was fine. Then things started going south. If you haven’t seen the movie I’ll try not to spoil it for you. But here’s a few things that frustrated me –
1. Aslan is in the movie for a grand total of about ten minutes, part of which is dream sequence.
2. Instead of being friends like in the book, Peter and Caspian develop a junior-high power struggle
3. Susan has a “Saved By The Bell”-like crush on Caspian
4. Insert extended “Can we make this like Braveheart?” castle invasion scene that wasn’t in the book.

Also, 14-year old Lady Rachel expresses disappointment.
(HT: Josh Harris)

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