In the face of a U.S. Supreme Court decision finding a constitutional right to gay marriage and the Oklahoma State Supreme ruling a Ten Commandments monument unconstitutional, many Christians are experiencing increased intolerance in the public square. But does the increasingly secular culture mean believers need to adjust how they share the gospel?
“Yes, I mean, and no,” said Dr. Tim Keller, founding pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. “No in that you don’t change the good news, but yes, it does I think change the way you share it.”
Keller is the author of several well-known Christian books, including “Counterfeit Gods” and “The Reason for God.” His new book is “Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism.” Keller says we frequently alter our method of communicating with people based on what we know about them, and sharing Christ is no different.
“If I’m talking to somebody who’s skeptical or somebody who’s sympathetic, I change the way I talk. We’re that way with everyone. Hopefully, if you know how to communicate, you instinctively say things differently when you’re trying to bridge a barrier. Now that we live in a more secular society, we’re going to have to change the way we communicate the gospel,” said Keller.
According to Keller, a key step to engaging this generation is to be able to explain your personal relationship with Christ through His word.
“The gospel has to be real to you. It has to have really changed your life. It can’t just be something you’ve adopted because you inherited it. If you simply say, ‘Well, this is the truth,’ people aren’t going to listen. Instead, you have to say, ‘Here’s how it works. Here’s how it functions in my heart, how it functions in my life.’ There’s got to be authenticity and you’ve got to make it life-related. Otherwise, people won’t listen,” said Keller.
Keller says authenticity is critical to the millennial generation, although he says young people are often quite hypocritical on this issue.
“Millennials are very high on authenticity. They’re often self-righteous about it. I’m not sure that they’re any less self-righteous or any more tolerant than their grandparents, or parents or great-grandparents. What’s funny about the millennials is, like every other generation, whatever they value they’re self-righteous about it. ‘We have it and nobody else does.’ And then they look down their noses and so they’re no better,” said Keller.
That being said, Keller says authenticity needs to be at the core of our witness.
“Paul says, ‘We didn’t just preach the gospel, but we shared our very hearts with you (1 Thessalonians 2:8).’ Therefore, you really do have to do that and it’s never been more important,” said Keller.
Keller is very quick to assert that engagement is meaningless unless the truth and significance of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is conveyed. He says many clergy fail to be clear and it leads people down a road of false assurance of their salvation.
“If you don’t do that people just assume in their heart what you might call moralism,” said Keller.
“So if you’re preaching on Malachi, where it talks about tithing and giving your money away and not spending it all on yourself. Jesus is not in the book of Malachi. It’s an Old Testament book. If you just explain that and then you end the sermon, the impression will be that I’d better give my money away or God’s not going to take me to heaven,” said Keller, calling that thinking “deadly.”
“You don’t want to encourage people to think that it’s their moral efforts that can get them to heaven. That creates pride and discouragement,” he said.
Keller says every Bible passage can be logically connected to the gospel, and he says the Malachi example is no exception.
“You have to go to the gospel. You say Jesus Christ was infinitely rich. He was in heaven with all the spiritual riches. But He became poor so that through His poverty, we might become rich. He came to earth, became immortal, He died on the cross. And He didn’t just tithe. He didn’t just give ten percent. He gave everything,” said Keller.
“When you do that, you’re not only giving people an inspiring motivation, but you’re reminding people that you’re not saved through your giving of money. You’re saved through Jesus,” he said.
Keller says all preachers, ordained or not, need to keep the gospel at the center of their messages.
“It’s not something a lot of preachers do, but it’s something they need to learn to do,” he said.