New Tim Keller Book Excerpt

Oh yeah buddy.  Here's another excerpt from the new Tim Keller book coming out in the near future.  I still haven't heard a title.  The first excerpt is here.  The one below is the second, from chapter 4.  Both are provided by Jonathan Keller.  It's timely for some of the topics discussed on Reformissionary.


Perhaps the biggest faith-deterrent for the average person today is not so much violence and warfare but the shadow of fanaticism. Many non-believers in Christianity have friends or relatives that have become ‘born again’ and seem to have gone off the deep end. They soon begin to loudly express disapproval of various groups and sectors of our society—especially movies and television, the Democratic party, homosexuals, evolutionists, activist judges, members of other religions (all of which are branded ‘false’) and public schools. When arguing for the truth of their faith they often appear intolerant and self-righteous. This is what many people would call fanaticism.

What is the solution? Many people try to understand Christians along a spectrum from ‘nominalism’ at one end to ‘fanaticism’ on the other. A nominal Christian is someone who is Christian in name only, who does not practice it and maybe hardly believes it. At the other end of the spectrum a fanatic is someone who is thought to over-believe and over-practice Christianity. In this schematic, the best kind of Christian would be someone in the middle, someone who doesn’t go all the way with it, who believes it but is not too devoted to it.

The problem with this is the same mistake about Christianity that we saw above. It assumes that the Christian faith is basically a form of moral improvement. Full-blown Christianity, then would be Phariseeism. Pharisaical religious people know nothing of ‘salvation by grace’. They assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression.

But what if (as we will explain more fully below) the essence of Christianity was salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? This would mean that both the nominal end of the spectrum and the fanatical end of the spectrum were missing out on the core of the Christian faith. The extremists we think of as ‘fanatics’ are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but not committed enough. Belief that you are accepted by God via sheer grace makes you both confident (because you are loved) and humble (because you didn’t earn it.)

Think of Jesus himself. He was enormously bold and daring, casting the money-changers out of the temple with a whip (John 2:11ff,) calling the ruling power, Herod, a “fox” and refusing to leave his territory, though he knew he wanted to kill him (Luke 13:31-32,) denouncing the religious and civic leaders for their corruption and injustice, though he knew it would cost him his life (Matt 23:27.) Yet he was gentle and embracing of people who were moral, racial, and political outlaws (John 8:1ff; Luke 7:36ff; 15:1ff; 19:1ff.) It was said of him he 'came not be served, but to served' (Mark 10:45) and he was so tender that 'He will not quarrel or cry out...a bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not snuff out... (Matt. 12:19-20).

So think of people you consider of as fanatical. They are over-bearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, harsh. Why are they so? It is not because they are too fanatically committed to Christ and his gospel, but rather because they are not fanatical enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self-improvement moral framework they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) What strikes us as overly-fanatical is actually a failure be fully-orbed in our commitment to Christ.

Extremism and fanaticism, which leads to abuse and oppression, is a constant danger within the body of believers. But the answer is not to toned down and ‘moderate’ faith, but a deeper and truer faith in Christ and his word. The Biblical prophets understood this well. In fact, the scholar Merold Westphal documented that Marx’s analysis of religion as an instrument of oppression was anticipated by the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and others.[i] Marx was not original in his critique of religion—the Bible beat him to it! So while the church itself has tragically and inexcusably often been party to the oppression of people over the centuries, it is important to point out how Christian theology and the Bible gives us tools for unflinching analysis and withering critique of religiously supported injustice from within the faith. We have been taught to expect it and told what to do about it. Because of this, Christian history gives us many remarkable examples of self-correction.

[i] Merold Westphal Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (Eerdmans, 1993.)