How to Speak to the City

keller2.jpgI am looking through an interesting journal entitled The City published by former Baylor University President Robert Sloan.  Sloan is now the president of Houston Baptist University.  This is the second issue of this publication.


In this particular issue, there is a fine essay by Tim Keller entitled "The Gospel for the City."  (This is actually an address delivered to the Dwell NYC Conference.)


He speaks of communicating the Gospel in an urban center like New York City.  He emphasizes in this address the importance of using different forms for communicating the Gospel.  I have great respect for Keller as a preacher with a high view of Scripture who also wants to connect with people.  For instance, the following remarks deal with an approach to "sin."

I take a page from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death and define sin as building your identity — your self worth and happiness — on anything rather than God.  That is, I use the Biblical definition of sin as idolatry.  That puts the emphasis not as much on "doing bad things" but on "making good things into ultimate things."  Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their romances to justify and save them, to give them everything that they should be looking for from God.  This idolatry leads to anxiety, obsessiveness, envy, and resentment.  I have found that when you describe their lives in terms of idolatry, postmodern people do not give much resistance.  Then Christ and his salvation can be presented not (at this point) so much as their only hope for forgiveness but as their only hope for freedom.  This is my "gospel for the uncircumcised."


Follow the lead of the texts and vary the form, and then your people will hear all the points.  Won’t this confuse people?  No, it will stretch them.  When one group — say the "postmodern" — hears a penetrating presentation of sin as idolatry, it opens them up to the concept of sin as grieving and offending God.  Sin as a personal affront to a perfect, holy God begins to make more sense, and when they hear this presented in another gospel form, it has credibility… (pp. 28-29)

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3 thoughts on “How to Speak to the City

  1. This also presents the gospel as it relates to all of life, not just a one point in time conversion experience.  Good stuff.  Thank you for exposing us to things like this, Jim.  It’s really helpful, even if you’re not in the big city!