Category Archives: Timothy Keller

Marriage Makes a Poor Idol

Tim Keller, in a 2009 sermon:

Kathy and I, before we were married, had really good prayer lives. Neither of us really thought we were going to get married to anybody. We got married, and without our knowing it, our prayer life kind of went into the toilet.

Why?

Well, why do you have to pray to God when all you could do is just call on the phone?

John Newton said the worst thing about a good marriage is the problem of idolatry. For many years, we had no idea how poor our prayer life was because we had made idols out of each other. We didn’t see it that way. We didn’t understand that. But when bad sickness came to both of us we realized our prayer life was nothing like it should have been. The best thing that happened to us was our idols were in jeopardy. It gave us a prayer life back.

Awakening to a false sense of security in a spouse is often gauged by the erosion of the personal prayer life. It’s a hard lesson, but a good one.

The Confrontation of Christmas

From Tim Keller’s 2007 Christmas sermon:

The world embraces Christmas in a way it has never embraced Good Friday and Easter. I think the world sees Christmas as being rather affirming — it’s all about peace and goodwill. Isn’t that nice? Actually, the message of Christmas is incredibly confrontational. It says the reason for Christmas is the world’s wisdom has failed.


Related posts —

Nobody Does Not Worship

Tim Keller shares this illustration in his new book, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions (Dutton; 2013), 28–30:

Everybody has got to live for something, but Jesus is arguing that, if he is not that thing, it will fail you.

First, it will enslave you. Whatever that thing is, you will tell yourself that you have to have it or there is no tomorrow. That means that if anything threatens it, you will become inordinately scared; if anyone blocks it, you will become inordinately angry; and if you fail to achieve it, you will never be able to forgive yourself.

But second, if you do achieve it, it will fail to deliver the fulfillment you expected.

Let me give you an eloquent contemporary expression of what Jesus is saying. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. He got to the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling postmodern novelist known around the world for his fierce and boundary-pushing storytelling. He once wrote a sentence that was more than a thousand words long. And, tragically, he committed suicide. But a few years before that, he gave a now-famous commencement speech at Kenyon College. He said to the graduating class,

Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god . . . to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before [your loved ones] finally plant you. . . . Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they are evil or sinful; it is that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

Wallace was by no means a religious person, but he understood that everyone worships, everyone trusts in something for their salvation, everyone bases their lives on something that requires faith. A couple of years after giving that speech, Wallace killed himself. And this non-religious man’s parting words to us are pretty terrifying: “Something will eat you alive.”

Because even though you might never call it worship, you can be absolutely sure you are worshiping and you are seeking. And Jesus says, unless you’re worshiping me, unless I’m the center of your life, unless you’re trying to get your spiritual thirst quenched through me and not through these other things, unless you see that the solution must come inside rather than just pass by outside, then whatever you worship will abandon you in the end.

Idols Beneath It All

Acts 17:16:

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.

In his sermon, “A World Full of Idols” (March 29, 1998), Tim Keller said this:

What did he see? He saw idols under everything.

You say, “Of course he saw idols.” He was distressed because he saw idols. Go to Athens today, you’ll see idols everywhere. There’s Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty. There’s Ares, the god of power and war. There’s Apollo, the god of music and art. There’s Bacchus, the god of fraternities. You can go to all of these and say, “Of course, they were out there. They were statues. Everybody can see them.”

But that’s not what the word “see” means. The text could easily have used a simple Greek word for “see,” blepo [βλέπω] or something for “just take a look.” But the word Luke uses to describe what Paul was doing there is the word theoreo [θεωρέω], the word “to theorize” or “to get underneath.” This is the key to working out how to be a Christian in the public world.

Paul saw that underneath all the art, underneath all the business, underneath all the government, underneath all the philosophy, were idols. The real problem with the world is not the bad things, but the good things that have become the best things. He saw what we should see, and this is how it changes the way we do things, that under every personality are idols, under all psychological problems are idols, under every culture are idols, under all moral problems are idols, under all social problems are idols, under all intellectual problems are idols. …

Rather, you have to say, “Jesus Christ is my glory, is my beauty, is my goodness, is my righteousness, is my love, is my meaning.” Then what happens? You’re going to do things differently than other artists. You’re going to dance differently than other dancers. You’re going to do business differently than other businessmen and women.

Naming False Securities

Today on the DG blog I posted some thoughts on the link between faith and joy. Joy in God evaporates when our trust in God grows cold, was my main point. Emails and Tweets are coming in from readers wanting to know more about how to identify false securities (idols) in their own hearts. And perhaps the best list of categories comes from Timothy Keller’s book The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, Study Guide (Zondervan, 2010), and especially what he writes on page 40:

Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is “Because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self-understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart.”

After explaining the idolatry theme more closely from Romans 1:18–25, Galatians 4:8–9, and 1 John 5:21, Keller lists particular categories for personal reflection. The idol categories include the following:

“Life only has meaning/I only have worth if…

  • I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
  • I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
  • I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
  • people are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
  • someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
  • I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
  • I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
  • I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
  • I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
  • I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
  • this one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
  • I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
  • my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  • a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
  • my children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
  • I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
  • my political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)

Then he looks more closely at the first four categories:

If you seek POWER (success, winning, influence)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Humiliation
  • People around you often feel: Used
  • Your problem emotion: Anger

If you seek APPROVAL (affirmation, love, relationships)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Rejection
  • People around you often feel: Smothered
  • Your problem emotion: Cowardice

If you seek COMFORT (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Stress, demands
  • People around you often feel: Neglected
  • Your problem emotion: Boredom

If you seek CONTROL (self-discipline, certainty, standards)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Uncertainty
  • People around you often feel: Condemned
  • Your problem emotion: Worry

Wow, that is quite convicting. All of these false securities erode our trust in God, and when our trust in God is gone our joy evaporates and we are left with dehydrated souls. The response is to turn to Christ, and there to find all the security we need eternally and for our daily bread today.

And for more information on Keller’s material here, see his workbook and DVD.

Living Lights of Christ’s Beauty

From Tim Keller’s convicting and humbling sermon, “Salt and Light” (March 11, 1990), as published in The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013):

When Jesus Christ says, “You are the salt and the light of the world,” this is what he is saying a Christian should be like. Okay, now hold your breath. Number one, salt and light expose decay and darkness. If you are light, that means your life should be so beautiful that when it comes into contact with other parts of the environment, the beauty of your life shows up other things for what they really are.

For example, if you’re a Christian, then just by your very presence, you show up, you reveal the dishonesty in the business. You reveal the gossip in the office. You reveal the racism in your neighborhood. You reveal the corruption in your political ward. You reveal the promiscuity in your party … just simply by being a Christian. You walk on in and it immediately makes the racism look like racism. It makes the promiscuity look like promiscuity. It makes the gossip look like gossip. It makes the corruption look like corruption, just by you saying, “I’m going to live according to the truth, which is the Ten Commandments, to the beauty of Jesus Christ.”

If your life, by its order, by the way in which you handle pressure, by the way in which you take criticism, by the way in which you treat the people who work under you, if you are like Jesus Christ, the beauty of that is going to show up the reality of the environment. A good light shows you real color, right?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you pull out a pair of socks, and you can’t tell if they’re blue or black, and you look in one light and you still can’t tell, and you have to come to a good light in order to tell whether it’s blue or black? A real good light shows you the real colors. If you are a Christian walking like Jesus Christ, then the beauty of your life shows everybody around you what is good and what is bad.

Tim Keller on J. R. R. Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien would have turned twelfty-one (121) today, an age not entirely unreachable for a hobbit of course. In an interview Tim Keller said the following about Tolkien’s influence on his spiritual life:

Tolkien has helped my imagination. He was a devout Catholic — and I am not. However, because he brought his faith to bear into narrative, fiction, and literature, his Christianity — which was pretty ‘mere Christianity’ (understanding of human sin, need for grace, need for redemption) — fleshed out in fiction, has been an inspiration to me.

What I mean by inspiration is this: he gives me a way of grasping glory that would otherwise be hard for me to appreciate. Glory, weightiness, beauty, excellence, brilliance, virtue — he shows them to you in some of his characters.

When people ask me how often I have read The Lord of the Rings, the answer is, I actually never stop. I’m always in it.

As an aside, if you’d like to purchase a copy of LOTR, an edition that will withstand repeated use, Westminster Books now carries a gorgeously illustrated box set. I bought two sets last week and was really impressed with the quality. Find details here.

What do you need to make your marriage work?

Writes pastor and author Timothy Keller in his new (and very good!) book The Meaning of Marriage (Dutton, 2011), pages 47–49:

So, what do you need to make marriage work?

You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on.

There, then, is the message of this book — that through marriage the mystery of the gospel is unveiled. Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us.

Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom — and speak of them — and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it.

This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage.

 

The Happy Marriage

Timothy Keller wrote the following in his new book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (Dutton, 2011), pages 132–133:

A parishioner heard me preach on Ephesians 5, where Paul says that the purpose of marriage is to “sanctify” us. She said, “I thought the whole point of marriage was to be happy! You make it sound like a lot of work.” She was right—marriage is a lot of work—but she was wrong to pit that against happiness, and here is why. Paul is saying that one of the main purposes of marriage is to make us “holy . . . without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (verses 26–27). What does that mean? It means to have Jesus’s character reproduced in us, outlined as the “fruit of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithful integrity, gentle humility, and self-control—in Galatians 5:22–25.

When Jesus’s love, wisdom, and greatness are formed in us, each with our own unique gifts and callings, we become our “true selves,” the persons we were created to be. Every page in the Bible cries that the journey to this horizon cannot be accomplished alone. We must face it and share it with brothers and sisters, friends of our heart. And the very best human friendship possible for that adventure is with the lover-friend who is your spouse.

Is all this a lot of work?

Indeed it is—but it is the work we were built to do. Does this mean “marriage is not about being happy; it’s about being holy”? Yes and no. As we have seen, that is too stark a contrast. If you understand what holiness is, you come to see that real happiness is on the far side of holiness, not on the near side. Holiness gives us new desires and brings old desires into line with one another.

So if we want to be happy in marriage, we will accept that marriage is designed to make us holy.

Idolatry

Timothy Keller writes the following in his book The Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, Study Guide (Zondervan, 2010), page 40:

Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is “Because we are weak and sinful,” but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to be happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires. The key to change (and even to self-understanding) is therefore to identify the idols of the heart.”

After explaining the idolatry theme more closely from Romans 1:18–25, Galatians 4:8–9, and 1 John 5:21, Keller lists particular categories for personal reflection. The idol categories include the following:

“Life only has meaning/I only have worth if…

  • I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
  • I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
  • I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
  • I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
  • people are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
  • someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
  • I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
  • I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
  • I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
  • I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
  • I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
  • this one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
  • I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
  • my race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  • a particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
  • my children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
  • Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
  • I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
  • my political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
  • I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)

Then he looks more closely at the first four categories:

If you seek POWER (success, winning, influence)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Humiliation
  • People around you often feel: Used
  • Your problem emotion: Anger

If you seek APPROVAL (affirmation, love, relationships)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Rejection
  • People around you often feel: Smothered
  • Your problem emotion: Cowardice

If you seek COMFORT (privacy, lack of stress, freedom)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Stress, demands
  • People around you often feel: Neglected
  • Your problem emotion: Boredom

If you seek CONTROL (self-discipline, certainty, standards)…

  • Your greatest nightmare: Uncertainty
  • People around you often feel: Condemned
  • Your problem emotion: Worry

Wow, that is quite convicting.

For more information check out his workbook and DVD.

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