Tim Keller’s Idea of Apologetics and Gospel Presentation
As long as I can remember, I have always had an intellectual proclivity to be fascinated with the complex. As a believer, this proclivity has produced a keen interest in philosophy and apologetics. While my doctorate is in systematics, with a project in hermeneutics, I have logged several hours in apologetics. However, a few years ago I began to question my behavior in this area and to reevaluate my views. As a result, I have changed my views on philosophy and apologetics a great deal. I still believe it is good to challenge unbelieving thinking when it comes up. However, that challenge must remain faithful to the text of Scripture. In other words, faith can never be surrendered for the sake of making Christian belief make sense to a mind that the bible says is darkened, without understanding, held captive by Satan to do his desires, and that is naturally hostile to God. The question that Keller’s article raises immediately concerns the possibility of making the Christian faith actually make rational sense to an unbeliever. Is such an endeavor even possible? Secondly, is this what Scripture teaches? Moreover, is this approach the model we have in Scripture of Jesus and the Apostles? The next question concerns Keller’s idea of how we should give the gospel. Should we give the gospel in such a way that it appeals to the wants and desires of an unbelieving heart? Is that how conversion and regeneration work? I have thought for some time that Tim Keller’s views on an old earth should have him removed from the PCA as an ordained elder. Having read his views on apologetics and gospel presentation, I am quite sure he is out of step with the WCF on both issues. The text of all texts on the Christian’s duty is 1 Peter 3:15, which says,
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. The term “make a defense” is the Greek word ἀπολογία, which can be translated “defend, make a defense, or give an answer or answer.” Many apologists, so-called, contend that the picture here is one of a court room where a defense attorney defends his client before a court. Some aver that Peter had Socrates’ great defense in mind when he wrote his letter. These views are very problematic give Peter’s audience. It is clear, based on the context that Peter is concerned with how these believers reply or answer or respond to their opponents. The Christian group was under severe pressure to defect from its values and beliefs and return to those of the greater culture. The tactics were so great that actual physical threat may very well have been imminent. Peter’s goal was to shore up the courage and faith of the group by providing them with encouragement and giving them clear instructions on how to deal with the pressure. Remain focused on Christ as the center of your purpose. Set Him apart in your heart and recall who you are in Him. This was the first bit of encouragement.
The main consideration for how to understand Peter pertains to his audience. Peter is writing to the everyday common believer. He is not writing to philosophers or even theologians. He is writing to mostly converted Gentiles throughout what is known as modern day Turkey. It is true that biblical apologetics is about defending one’s personal faith in, and commitment to Christ. First, Peter is concerned about the state of the believers. They are clearly tempted to fear. Perhaps some are tempted to defect. Peter encourages his audience by telling them if they suffer for righteousness sake, they are blessed, which we should understand as honored. It is an honorable thing for the Christian group to suffer for the sake of God. These outsiders are making demands of the Christian group because the group has abandoned the values of the larger group, the culture in exchange for the values of Christianity. The values of Christianity are always set over against those of the world. The world feels threatened by Christian values. This holds true even in modern American culture where Christianity is often categorized with radical Islamic terrorists. It is very important for the believer and especially the elder and pastors to keep this in mind.
With this in mind, we can evaluate Keller’s ideas on the Christian duty to provide a justification for faith and his thought on how we should share the gospel with unbelievers. The first problem is that of justification. What justifies one thing to a believer does not ipso fact justify it to an unbeliever. For example, I am justified in believing in miracles because the Bible records lots of them. The unbeliever would say just because the Bible records lots of miracles does not mean they literally took place. In order for the unbeliever to justify belief in miracles, they require something more than the Bible. It is precisely here that we depart from the idea of justification. Any attempt on our part to go along with this “type” of reasoning would be an act of disloyalty to God and to the Christian group. We bring dishonor on ourselves when we engage in such behavior. The challenge from the unbeliever is even greater here. The unbeliever will demand that you justify your faith in Scripture without referring to Scripture. The unbeliever refuses to admit they have faith in anything. To them, convictions about science and history are not convictions based on faith. When it comes to justification for faith itself, the unbeliever and believer have no common ground upon which to dialogue. The only common ground believers have with unbelievers is the internal revelation of God upon the unbelieving conscience. They know God exists. They refuse to admit that the kind of God Scripture reveals exists. They hate that God because He convicts them of their sin. He demands things of them and threatens their autonomy.
“Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most potent, lasting, penetrating, life-changing, liberating thing a Christian can articulate to any unbeliever, under any circumstances.”