Monday, February 25, 2008

Not at all hip

Timothy Keller, author of The Reason for God, was interviewed at some length by Anthony Sacramone at First Things. The book has received quite a bit of attention and some have compared it to C.S. Lewis's apologetics. Keller isn't entirely comfortable with the comparison:
First of all, I’m inspired by Lewis, and my book is inspired by his book, but I’m a preacher first of all, not a writer, and I don’t even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as a writer like C.S. Lewis. And yet everybody’s doing that, and I take it as a compliment, but it’s pretty unjustified. However, he’s the benchmark, so everybody’s going to be compared.

Lewis definitely lived at a time in which people were more certain across the board that empirical, straight-line rationality was the way you decided what truth was, and there’s just not as much of a certainty now. Also, when Lewis was writing, people were able to follow sustained arguments that had a number of points that built on one another. I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.

In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity—it just didn’t keep their attention, because they really couldn’t follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn’t something that they were trained in doing. I don’t think they’re irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.

I know for a fact that Lewis was just heavy sledding for even smart Ivy League American graduates by the mid-nineties. One of the reasons I started doing this was I thought I needed something that gave them shorter, simpler, more accessible arguments. [the interview]
If Keller is right, and I assume he knows of which he speaks, then it is very sad.

Before the interview, Sacramone described Keller's ministry:
On any given Sunday in Manhattan, before and after theater matinees, visits to museums, and walks in Central Park, some five thousand mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings gather at one of three Redeemer Presbyterian worship sites to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. More specifically, they gather to hear it from Pastor Timothy Keller, Redeemer’s senior minister and the founder and life force of this nationally renowned ministry. Keller’s intellectually upscale apologetic has helped change how non–New Yorkers view our so-called secular city and usher in a paradigm shift in how evangelism is done in postmodern America.

Keller is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell and Westminster Theological seminaries and ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America. Yet his appeal—and approach to church growth—extends far beyond the walls that typically separate confessional and evangelical Protestant denominations.
Later, Sacramone asks:
...I’ve heard you refer to Redeemer as a seeker church. Do you see Redeemer as part of the emerging church phenomenon, and what does that mean?

No, no, no, no. The words “seeker church” now I think mean Willow Creek to most people, which is a service that is strictly—Willow Creek branded that term, so I probably can’t use it anymore.

Seriously?

Yeah, well the seeker church is a church in which you have sort of low participation, there’s a talk, there’s good music—but it’s not really a worship service. You’re not trying to get people engaged. You are targeting nonbelieving, skeptical people as the audience. That’s considered a seeker church. And I would have always said that Redeemer is the kind of church in which we’re trying to speak—it’s a worship service, but we’re trying to speak in the vernacular. We’re trying to speak in a way that doesn’t confuse or turn off nonbelievers. We want nonbelievers to be there. I think that a lot of ministers would never say, “We expect nonbelievers to be constantly there, lots of them there, incubating in the services.” And we do. We do expect that. In that sense we’d be a seeker church. But now I’m afraid I don’t think it’s a good word to use, because when people hear “seeker church” they’re thinking something else.

I found that if you define megachurch as anything over two thousand people, then yes, then we are. But here’s four ways in which we’re not a megachurch, or we don’t do things people associate with megachurches. One is, we do no advertising or publicity of any sort, except I’m trying to get the book out there so people read it and have their lives changed by it, but Redeemer’s never advertised or publicized. And the reason is, if a person walks in off the street just because they’ve heard about Redeemer through advertising, and they have questions or they want to get involved, there’s almost no way to do it unless you have all kinds of complicated programs, places where they can go. But if they come with a friend who already goes there, their questions are answered naturally, the next steps happen organically, the connections they want to make happen naturally . . . We do not want a crowd of spectators. We want a community.

Secondly, we do almost no technology. We don’t have laser-light shows, we don’t have Jumbotrons, we don’t have overheard projectors, we don’t have screens. We don’t have anything like that. Thirdly, we have a lot of classical music, chamber music—we are not hip at all. We don’t go out of our way to be hip.

There’s praise music in the evening services.

Yeah, but it’s jazz. It’s toned down. It’s much more New York. It’s certainly not your typical evangelical contemporary music. We actually pound into people that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city. So we pound that into them, that we’re not a consumer place, that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city.

So no publicity, not at all hip, almost no use of technology, definitely consider it a worship service, do not do much in the way of pat answers and how-tos in the sermons but really have people wrestle with the issues—but we do it in such a way that the interests and aspirations and hopes and doubts of non-Christians are constantly addressed. When a person who doesn’t believe comes they’re often surprised at how interesting, intelligible, nonoffensive the thing is. So it’s relatively subtle at this point. .... [more]
FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » An Interview with Timothy Keller

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