Day Three Update

Bob Hayton did an excellent job describing Wednesday's night sessions, so i'll leave them alone, other than to say they were indeed powerful. Let's just say there was no time for daydreaming.

Thursday morning's sessions were quality.

Mike Bullmore, pastor of Crossway Community Church in Wisconsin preached the book of Zephaniah.
He entitled it God's Great Heart of Love Toward His Own.
I hesitate at being critical, but his presentation was the least engaging of any of the conference speakers. However, his message was very solid. He highlighted something that i had never given much thought. When God gathers his people together in the last day, he is going to sing over us loudly.  Mr. Bullmore talked of the Lord's passion at what he will have accomplished and how powerful it will be that the Lord will rejoice in his bride. It will not be, "Father, I did the best i could with the cards you dealt me." It will be loud rejoicing among the Godhead over the righteous bride in all of her glory. It was encouraging.

The second session was by D.A. Carson. He's the research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He's also the heart and soul behind the Gospel Coalition.  The man is the real deal. If you have not read or listened to him, you should drop whatever else you are doing and absorb some of what God has gifted him with.  He's written approximately 50 books, and not just leaflets, major volumes. He writes music, poems and publishes hosts of articles.  He's also a pilot, a plumber, and an electrician.  But above all, he demonstrates a deep reverence for God in all that he says and does.

His message was from Psalm 110 entitled Getting Excited About Melchizedek.
He spent an hour threading the scriptures together connecting David's prophecy, Abram's tithe and Hebrews' explanation of the connections to Christ.  As was the case with the entire conference, very little of the content was "new". But the depth and articulation of the truths Carson unfolded were lofty. He brought the multiple trajectories of Melchizedek into focus and developed in his words  the "theological payoff" of Jesus as King, Conqueror and Priest.  

I am sure Bob will add some more on these sessions.

Finally, our staff stayed for a post-conference session with Tim Keller that Bob was unable to attend.  For those that don't know Tim Keller's church is in Manhatten, and he has had a strong influence on developing evangelical conceptual strategy for urban ministry.  His session was entitled Reaching the City for Christ. It was not a sermon. It was an hour seminar on some basic strategy.

He broke it into three questions: 1) Why Reach Cities?, 2) What Do You Have to Know?, 3) How Do You Reach Cities? I don't have time to give the details, but one of the takeaways was his emphasis on the critical thinking that has been put into what he calls a Biblical Theology of the City.  He doesn't just wing it, and hope the Spirit fills in the gaps.  Their ministry focuses in specific areas with specific purposes. He quickly acknowledged that strategies don't save people.  But he gave a keen illustration.  

He described the planning and strategy of partnerships and church planting and such in the urban environment as a way for the church to build an altar.  And by building an altar we invite God to pour himself out upon people. In other words, intentional ministry is the act of faith that God will change lives, as he alone can change lives.

It was a controversial session, and he acknowledged that as well.  The key controversy was his recommendation that churches partner inter-denominationally united by a consistent Fabric of Theology.  His personal opinion which he readily voiced is that his presbyterian polity is the best system of church organization. But he knows that some people will not align with that. So in an effort to reach the city, he recommended reaching out to others who employ various systems of church organization. Be aware, this was not ecumenical in the sense of joining hands with Catholics or some such nonsense.  His thoughts were along the lines that Baptists, Presbyterians, Bible, Community, and Non-Denominational churches that embrace core orthodox theology but accept differences in polity and ministry specific vision can unite to have a broader influence in a city.

What he meant by ministry specific vision was that one church might have a burden to be in the heart of the art district while another may focus attention on being a light in poor neighborhoods. One church may be focused on schools, while another focuses on the business community. All urban churches will have influence in these areas, but one may have a greater burden and vision for one or the other.  Diversity in the partnerships will assist in broad influence.

So, unique plan. Controversial for evangelicals.  And i would wager Extremely Controversial for fundamentalists. Regardless it was informative, well-crafted and food for thought.

That concludes my general summaries of the Gospel Coalition 2011. I may post another note about general observations of the conference in relation to fundamentalists interacting with evangelicals and such.



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Joel Shaffer's picture


I brought 11 of my college age students/leaders from Urban Transformation Ministries to the Post-Conference G.C. on Christ and the City. Did you leave right after Keller's presentation on Reaching Cities for Christ, or did you stay for the workshop session and Kellers's message on Generous Justice? If so, what did you think?


mrecker's picture

Jonathan Cousar who attended Redeemer for nearly 20 years, and loves the people of this church, has written an excellent review on Tim Keller's "Generous Justice." I add that Jonathan is a personal friend and now attends Heritage Baptist in NYC. I recommend Jonathan's post, and among his points are that Keller's "generous justice" is really a re-wording of the socialist phrase, "social justice," and that his "re-weaving" a community is another way of promoting a redistribution of wealth. The link is:

C. Matthew Recker

Joel Shaffer's picture

I guess I will have to read Generous Justice for myself. In the past I have leaned on keen reviewers such as this one from 9marks.

However, Cousar's review left something to be desired, since he could only see Keller's book from a political standpoint, which is understandable since Cousar is a self-proclaimed political conservative junkie. It kind of reminds me of Maslow's hammer. "When all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail."

Let me give you an illustration. Towards the end of article, Cousar talks of Christian Community Development pioneer John Perkins who talks about redistribution. Of course when most people think of redistribution, they think of communism and socialism. (By the way, John Perkins was conservative enough to serve on a hunger task force in the 1980's for Ronald Reagan) To Perkins, redistribution mean redistributing skills to help others. Our ministry is doing this. For instance, UTM is starting to connect Christian entrepreneurs to teach former drug-dealers that have come to faith in Christ and are currently being discipled in our ministry to also start their own businesses, to create a business plan, and etc...By the way, these former drug-dealers also are evangelists in our ministry, sharing the gospel whenever they can. But it is taking people from the outside coming along side our students because our students don't have the normal social capital that a typical middle-class person has and sharing their skills with them.

Also, Cousar assumes that the free market economy (which I strongly believe in) and all the social structures in America that have been created works well for everyone. Not true in my neighborhood. For example, my inner-city neighborhood has a high school which is considered a drop-out factory by a study from John Hopkins university. The school's standards are so low that they refuse to fail anybody unless the students drop out of the school and approximately 46% do. That makes it much, much more difficult for some of our students that come from single parent families and do not have someone advocating for them. And what if liberal social policies have created some of these problems (such as automatically passing students regardless of their actual grades in order to not hurt their "self-esteem") and these liberals who are in charge will never change them? (The city of Grand Rapids liberal in its politics but the surrounding suburbs are quite conservative). And what are the options? Charter schools often skim from the top from inner-city taking students that will score well in state requirement testing or at times will take students for a month and then drop them after the state money comes in for that child. Of course, Christian schools are too expensive. My point in all of this is that not everything is fair, so justice for the poor, the widow, and the fatherless is Biblically legitimate. (Proverbs 29:7) Enough of my rambling.

Steve Davis's picture


Thanks for blogging. I wish I could've attended and appreciate the reports. I especially found interesting your remarks on Tim Keller:

"It was a controversial session, and he acknowledged that as well. The key controversy was his recommendation that churches partner inter-denominationally united by a consistent Fabric of Theology."

This is what we are attempting in Philadelphia at some level. We retain our distinctives with generosity toward other views particularly in the areas of eschatology and ecclesiology. I don't find many urban church planters who would disagree with Keller on this point although it might look different in different places. We don't want to build churches on top of each other and want to encourage church planters with whom we might have some divergences. As long as we work in our own little corners without regard for what God is doing with others our vision remains parochial and the impact on the city will be weakened. We thank God for what He is doing through Acts 29, PCA, Sovereign Grace, etc.


dmicah's picture

thanks for the feedback...

Joel, i left after that first session. Glad you were able to attend. So i can't speak to Generous Justice. I've read only an excerpt from GJ, but it left me wanting to read the entire book. I can't speak to mwrecker's comments, but in hearing Keller preach and reading other of his books, i would never come away thinking he wants to do anything except promote the glory of God even if some of his ideas are congruous with political/government/NGO activities.

Steve, great to hear from you. It's refreshing to know folk who are church planting. Our church was a plant, but we no longer call ourselves "new" as we are in our 7th year. You would have benefited greatly from the sessions as Keller poured out a number of statistics. One he mentioned was that if partnered churches can achieve 14-15% of a city going to bible preaching churches, then the culture of that city can be strongly affected.

jcncnc's picture

dmicah, I hope you all will really listen carefully when Keller speaks. Notice how he always stresses "affecting the culture" as seemingly the primary goal of Christianity. There is little to no emphasis on individual salvation as a goal in and of itself. In fact, he tends to minimize or sometimes even subtly ridicule the idea. As he did in 2006 when before the Redeemer Entrepreneur's Forum he told the audience that traditional evangelical Christians (of which he claims to be one), have gotten it wrong. He says they've wrongly stressed personal salvation over "cultural renewal." He said they wrongly stress where one will spend eternity over the more pressing concerns for fixing the daily injustices of our world. He then goes on to say that "the primary purpose of salvation is cultural renewal - to make this world a better place."

Once you understand that that is his guiding principle, you'll start to see almost everything he says in a very different way. For instance, when he says we need to "spread the Gospel", most traditional Christians cheer because they believe he means we need to share Christ's salvation with unbelievers. But once you understand that what he actually means by "gospel" is "cultural renewal" you start to see what he says in a whole different light. When he says we need to spread the Gospel he means we need to work to renew the culture! Something even hardcore New York secularists are on board with! Which partially explains the church’s popularity in New York.

Speaking of the Gospel Coalition, give this a watch:

Pay close attention to what he does around 5:00 - 6:00 minutes in. Notice how he starts to caricature born-again Christians. He often speaks of them dismissively. Notice how he puts his fingers up to make the quote sign as he says the words "born again"... as if to suggest "born again" isn't really a Biblical term, given to us by Jesus himself.

He says many (by which he means most) born-again Christians never have their pre-Christian thinking challenged. He says that Paul preached the Gospel in such a way that it changed his converts’ lives (something we'd all agree with, I'm sure). He says, "Because [Paul ] went after the idols of the region and the idols of people's hearts, when they converted it so changed the way in which they lived in the world that it affected the culture.

He says, “In most cases I think today, there's a lot of folks having "born-again" experiences as they say... deciding for Christ... but they don't live any differently than the surrounding culture, I think that's one of the scandals of the church. I think it's because their idols weren't confronted with the Gospel. Paul confronted the idols of the culture so his converts changed the way in which they lived to the extent that the VERY ECONOMY WAS AFFECTED... THE CULTURE WAS AFFECTED."

Several things there... first, you see how he elevates "cultural renewal" to the primary purpose of salvation? He says the greatest part about the fact that Paul's preaching changed the way people lived is that it AFFECTED THE ECONOMY AND THE CULTURE. No celebration of the fact that they were born again and would spend eternity with God. No celebration of the fact that their sins were forgiven. And no connection is made between the way Christians affected the culture and their ability to do that being rooted in their personal, individual salvation - in the personal radical change that God brings about in the human heart when one is born again.

Second, he says people who have had a “born-again” experience haven't had their idols challenged. Well, that may be true to some extent, but I found in nearly 20 years at Redeemer that it’s actually the people at Redeemer who don't often have their idols challenged. Not often from the pulpit anyway. Especially their intellectual idols.

When I led a fellowship group I was stunned to discover one night that half my group had serious questions about whether Jesus was truly the ONLY way to God. Now this might be excusable if they were mostly new to the church. But these were people who had attended regularly for at least 5 years. One woman was even a deaconess in the church – and she had therefore been through all the church training.

I thought this problem was serious enough that I should bring it to the attention of the leadership of the church. So I had lunch one day with the pastor who oversaw my leadership of this group and brought this up. I only wanted to suggest that the church might begin to think of ways to better impart Christian teachings to the flock.

But his answer really surprised me. When I told him how half the group had serious questions on this fundamental belief of our faith – he said, “well, I wouldn't worry about feeling like you have to correct every single piece of bad theology people in your group might put out there.”

It was stunning that he had such little concern about this that he didn't even feel it needed to be addressed. And he made it clear that he was not going to go back and suggest that the church think harder about how to impart Christian truths to the flock – because he didn't see it as a serious issue.

But the most surprising thing about Keller’s pastoring of Redeemer in light of the claims he makes here about how “evangelicals” and people who have been “born again” get it wrong – is how unchallenged New Yorker’s intellectual idols go at Redeemer. A secular New Yorker will feel quite at home at Redeemer. Rarely will her beliefs be strongly challenged. If they come into the church believing for instance, that same-sex marriage is a fine idea, the will walk out of the church with that belief comfortably intact.

In fact, many Redeemer members will tell you that you should never bring this topic up as it might turn people off from the “gospel”! It’s kind of like saying “don't ever mention God’s words because it might turn people off from God’s Word!”

When a sin is as accepted and as prevalent in society as homosexuality is – every pastor has a responsibility to address it from time to time – from the pulpit. However, it is NEVER addressed from the Redeemer pulpit. A pastor should at least seek to prepare his flock to answer questions from the world on this and other sin issues. But that never happens either.
So, it’s a little disingenuous, I find, that Keller would criticize (and really demonize if you listen to him carefully), another group of Christians for not effectively challenging their pre-existing beliefs and worldview, when Keller himself does very little on Sundays to really seriously challenge a secular worldview.

And I hate to say this, but it's almost hypocritical the way he constantly criticizes born again Christians and Evangelicals because he always talks about not demonizing "the OTHER." Yet he turns evangelical, born-again Christians into "the other". Redeemer members frequently tell us that we shouldn't divide the world into "us and them" - yet Keller frequently does this as he routinely criticizes Christians who don't share his views on everything.

Joel Shaffer's picture

Pay close attention to what he does around 5:00 - 6:00 minutes in. Notice how he starts to caricature born-again Christians. He often speaks of them dismissively. Notice how he puts his fingers up to make the quote sign as he says the words "born again"... as if to suggest "born again" isn't really a Biblical term, given to us by Jesus himself.

brother, I think you are unfairly judging motives on this instance. He used the quote sign for born again experiences to accentuate the fact that maybe they weren't really saved, not as "if to suggest born again isn't really a Biblical term."

By the way, here is a link when he talks about with the gospel in leadership magazine.

His single statement about the gospel and restoration of all creation (cultural renewal) does focus firstly on individual conversion first, then the restoration of all creation.


If I had to put this outline in a single statement, I might do it like this: Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.

The emphasis on "restoration of creation" comes from a more Kuyperian Reformed view. Kuyper and his followers believed that the Reformation needed to impact all of life and society, not just our salvation through Christ. This has nothing to do with anything that the social gospel proclaimed. However, there are those who emphasize restoration of creation that are social gospelers. However, it is other doctrines of the faith that they have rejected such as total depravity and original sin, penal substitutionary atonement, and final judgment plus "restoration of creation" or and overemphasis on the present kingdom. I have more to say about your observations, but cannot do it right now.....Gotta help my wife cook dinner and then go run a basketball outreach.....

jcncnc's picture

Joel, I so wish I could believe your more benign view. However, after nearly 20 years in his church I'm sorry to say - but his actions and the fruit of the church bear out my interpretation of his words. He often talks of born again Christians with disdain. And certainly he talks of evangelical Christians with much disdain.

As far as his quote above - yes that's right. He does believe that. My main concern here though is his overall impact on his congregation. By that I mean, you can believe all the right things but if, as a pastor, you speak about them so infrequently that no one knows - it actually sends a message that you don't believe them.

And in that respect, he focuses so much attention and effort on cultural renewal and so little on the importance of personal salvation or evangelization, that the average attender is left with the impression that personal salvation or a born-again experience is something weird that those evangelicals do - but it's not for a sophisticated New Yorkers.

I used to wonder when I attended Redeemer fellowship groups - whenever the study would touch on something that bore on evangelism - people would just look at me like I was from another planet when I'd mention it!

One time during a study of Acts I pointed out that Paul was actually debating with people. That was to counter the prevalent view of people at Redeemer that you should never debate or argue the Christian faith... but you should just show love to people. They constantly told me, "I don't know if you really want to get into a disagreement with people. People aren't really interested in arguments. What they really want to see is that you love them."

So I pointed out that not only did Paul and others debate, but they also said things that they knew would be extremely unpopular - so unpopular in fact that they were constantly in trouble for it! And that was to counter the other prevailing view at Redeemer that we shouldn't talk with non-Christians about Biblical matters that we know are controversial.

dmicah's picture

Jonathan, thanks for your comment. I have also read your article at Freedom Torch that juxtaposes this comment. I will not dismiss outright your thoughts and will duly note them as you were a member of the church there in NY.

I am limited to what I hear, see and read from Mr. Keller. In these areas, i have come to appreciate how God uses him.

I can also rely to some extent on the confidence that other leaders have to join him in ministry. I have no doubt if men as diverse as James MacDonald, Mark Dever, John Piper and DA Carson believed Keller to be skewed in his approach to the gospel, it would be addressed. (For the record, he and Dever got into a friendly disagreement during a panel discussion in which Keller challenged Dever that he was not expositional enough in his preaching style.)

So while i understand your concern, i have to say that in reading through your thoughts, it appears there may be more complex and diverse issues at work in your life as it relates to Redeemer/Keller that would create a negative opinion. By that i mean, that in having attended there for 20 years, there is more going on in their ministries than one litmus test concept that has caused you to abruptly walk away. Having read his material and listened to him for a number of years, i just don't sense any surprises regarding the content your conveying.


jcncnc's picture

Well, John Piper was actually very "understanding" of N.T. Wright's errant views on justification. So... I'm not so sure. I mean I have to tell you I have been really shocked and disappointed over the last few years to see that there are so few Christian leaders who are really getting the big stuff right.

Yes, there are things I've gotten from 20 years of attendance ... but they're linguistic and theological things I pick up on. I've never had a bad experience there with any of the ministries I was involved in. Well, I mean nothing worse than you'd expect when working with other human beings! But no - nothing I saw that made me say "WOW, this church is totally hypocritical." Nothing like that at all.

My main concern is the IMPRESSION Tim is leaving on the people who follow him. And someone just sent me an article in that is the PERFECT example of what I'm talking about and what I'm concerned about! This article is written by Joe Scarborough:

Joe attends Redeemer whenever he can... he LOVES Tim Keller... he's a HUGE FAN... and look at what has happened to his theology as a result of being such a follower of Tim's teachings. He writes:

Thoughtful leaders like Keller, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner believe that politics should be left outside the doors of the church so spiritual leaders can focus on preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of sponsoring glorified political rallies. At the same time, they are moving away from defensive doctrines and instead focusing on the things Jesus said would assure his followers a place in heaven: antiquated concepts like feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and bringing hope to the hopeless.

Did you catch that!!?? After sitting under Tim for whatever number of years he believes that Jesus taught that our place in heaven would be assured if we practiced things like feeding the poor and clothing the naked.

THIS IS A DIRECT RESULT of Tim's huge emphasis on social justice!

THAT is my concern. THAT is why I wrote this article... to try and warn people that while Tim might say some of the right things some of the time... his EMPHASIS is misleading people into something far different than what the Bible teaches.

Oh and by the way, I'm sensing there are some pastors here! Who might feel a little uncomfortable at my suggesting that Pastors be held responsible for the confusions among their flocks! But in this case you can draw a direct line from the things Tim emphasizes to the confusions his followers have. I'm happy to say that I find NO SUCH CONFUSION among the flock of Pastor Recker's church!