Thursday Review: Keller on the Gospel in Life

A review of Timothy Keller, Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Workbook purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, Zondervan, 2010.

In January I claimed that Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God DVD and workbook was my resource of 2009. I’m pretty confident that his new Gospel In Life DVD and workbook will my resource of 2010.

As the title suggests, Gospel in Life looks at how the gospel is to be lived out in our lives, in our church communities and in the world. So it’s a kind of discipleship programme. It would be great to use for training leaders within your church or with your small groups or as part of a vision-setting programme.

The DVD consists of eight ten-minute talks by Keller. It’s just Keller speaking to camera, but the windows behind open out onto different views of the city and key points are animated on cityscape backgrounds so although its very simple the overall effect is engaging and pleasing. The workbook includes and Bible study and discussion questions for each session plus fairly intensive ‘homework’ involving further reading and a small group project. Here’s the outline of sessions:

1. City – The World That Is
2. Heart – Three Ways to Live
3. Idolatry – The Sin Beneath
4. Community – The Context for Change
5. Witness – An Alternate City
6. Work – Cultivating the Garden
7. Justice – A People for Others
8. Eternity – The World That Is To Come

It’s all here – all the important missional insights we have come to expect of Keller: the focus on the city, the centrality of the heart, the need to live by grace, the significance of idolatry, the importance of cultural engagement, the role of work in mission, the integration of social involvement. If I have a criticism is that, given the constraints of eight sessions of 10 minutes, I was often left thinking, ‘I’m glad he made that point, but I fear people might miss it.’ Also the homework is too intensive for some of the people with whom we work. But you can readily adapt the material.

It’s clearly designed with a Western context in mind, but we went through it on a recent visit to a couple sent by a our church to the Middle-East and it was full of resonances for them in their context. Because time was short we combined sessions 2 and 3, 4 and 5, 6 and 7, and sessions 1 and 8 could also be combined.

One final reflection. I was struck working through the sessions how close Keller’s vision of church and mission is that to ours in The Crowded House. What’s striking is that the structure of his church is so different. Steve Timmis and I have begun refuting the idea that there is a ‘TCH model’ of church – not least because there are different church structures within The Crowded House network, but also because we have never wanted to put The Crowded House forward are the right way of doing church! But we are persuaded by the theology of church and mission that shapes what we do. Listening Keller reinforced this conviction: the principles we share in common matter, the structural outworking of those principles can and should vary in each context. So don’t get hung up on how to do this or that – get the theology right.

The workbook is available from, but not the DVD so UK readers will have get this from

Porn Statistics

In my forthcoming book, Captured By a Better Vision: Living Pom-Free purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, I describe the spread of pomography as an epidemic. Here are some stats that back up this claim …

  • Every second, 28,258 Internet users are viewing pomography and $3,075.64 is being spent on pomography
  • The pomography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink
  • There are 4.2 million pomographic websites, which is 12% of all the websites on the internet
  • Every day there are 68 million (25% of the total) search engine requests for pomographic terms
  • 42.7% of internet users view pom
  • The average age of first exposure to pomography is 11 years old and 80% of 15-17 year olds have had multiple hard-cor e exposure
  • The 35-49 age group is the largest consumer of internet pomography
  • 47% of Christians say that pomography is a major problem in the home
  • 17% of women struggle with pomography addiction and 70% of women keep their cyber activities secret
  • The USA produces 89% of all pomographic web pages (Germany are the next biggest producer, producing 4% of all pomographic web pages)

Captured by a Better Vision aims to offer hope for people struggling with pom and guidance for those trying to help them. It is published by IVP  in the UK on 19 March 2010. It will be published in the US by InterVaristy Press.

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Captured by a Better Vision – Contents and Commendations

My new book, Captured by a Better Vision: Living Pom-Free purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, is due to be released in the UK on March 19.

Here are some commendations:

‘Fantastic practical and realistic help… I highly commend this timely book.’ Carl Beech

‘A lifeline for those who feel trapped… A message of grace, strength and hope.’ Ian Coffey

‘Will rescue many a marriage and restore many a man to a place where purity and passion coexist in biblical relationship.’ Steve Gaukroger

Here’s the table of contents:

Foreword by Lyndon Bowring

Introduction: Let’s talk about porn

1 Looking beyond the frame

2. Freed by the beauty of God

3. Freed by the grace of God

4. The fight of faith

5. Freed for the glory of God

6. Conclusion: Putting it all together

The chapter titles don’t give much away, but they do emphasise that this is not just a grim assessment of the grip that porn has on so many Christians. Instead, this is a book which brings a positive message of hope and freedom. I’ll post an excerpt in a future post to give you a flavour of the book.

You can see me talking about the book here:

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Sin and grace and the limits of psychiatry

Here’s a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s excellent little book Life Together (purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US):

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is.

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.

In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.

The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness.

The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. (118-119)

HT: David Powlison via JT.

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The lead-tipped whip

I was reading from John’s Gospel this morning and this verse stood out to me: “Then Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip.” (John 19:1 NLT)

I can’t imagine how terrible it must be to be flogged with a lead-tipped whip. I don’t really want to think about it.

Why did Jesus have to be flogged with a lead-tipped whip?

I take it that it was part of the suffering he had to undergo to pay the penalty of my sin and yours. The full weight of that penalty would be borne when he hung on the cross and experienced the abandonment of his Father. But the lead biting into his back was part of it. And perhaps it is there to graphically present to you and I the depth of our sin and the horror of judgment that Jesus would endure on the cross.

There are no small lapses or minor sins or little white lies or mere indiscretions. There are only sins that caused Jesus to endure the lead-tipped whip.

Every sin we commit has a consequence. For those outside Christ those consequences add up to  eternal hell. But there are consequences, too, for the sin of those in Christ. For us Christ endures the lead-tipped whip. Cause and effect. My actions; his suffering.

He was pierced for our rebellion,
     crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
     He was whipped so we could be healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

So let’s make 2009 a year of self-control and holiness, secure in the freedom and forgiveness of God’s grace.

Is depression a sin?

I’ve been sent a couple of questions on depression. One was in response to my book, You Can Change, asking if I think depression is a sin. The other is from David Wayne, a pastor in Maryland, in response to my series on communities of grace. Here’s what David wrote:

Here in the US, the therapeutic culture defines and narrates the story of depression.  The psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists are the great high priests on these issues, high priests to whose wisdom we ill-informed pastors must bow. I do know and understand that, by and large, the church and many of us pastors are given to flippant and pious platitudes in response to depression.  On the other hand, since the therapeutic culture gets to narrate the story of depression, when we pastors seek to frame a biblical story of depression we are usually ruled out of line and hurtful.  For the most part, depressed people in my congregation, or others who are under the influence of any kind of counsellor simply will not listen to me.  They will tell me what their counsellor says about how I am to help them and it is my job to receive instruction from them and to never contradict the authority of the counsellor.

Here’s my response to these two questions.

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Pastoring one another in community

Here’s a summary of part of my talk at the North American Total Church conference on ‘making disciples in missional church’.

Pastoral care in community

Churches often have a very professional approach to pastoral care – it’s something done by a pastor or a counsellor. But Paul tells the whole Christian community in Ephesus to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15). The context is the gospel community (Ephesians 4:1-16) and the content is the gospel word (Ephesians 4:17-25).

God has given us the Christian community with all its differences and giftings as the context for change and growth. Paul says Christ ‘makes the whole body fit together perfectly’ (v. 16, NLT).
– you need to help others change
– you need to let others help you change

Pastoral care through the gospel

We help one another change and overcome pastoral problems:
– by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (v. 15)
– by speaking ‘the truth that is in Jesus’ (v. 21)
– as we ‘put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body’ (v. 25)
– as we ‘do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ (v. 29)

We pastor one another through speaking the truth because our underlying issue is the ‘deceitful desires’ of our hearts (v. 22; see also Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:18-25).  Sin promises satisfaction, meaning, identity. but it deceives. In reality it enslaves and destroys. So we need to speak the truth to one another, calling on one another to repent of our idolatrous desires and turn in faith to the truth that is in Jesus.

Ordinary life with gospel intentionality

So missional communities need to create a culture in which we encourage one another to challenge, comfort, console, exhort and rebuke one another with the gospel in the context of ordinary life.

If I’m moaning, I need someone to challenge me to find joy in Christ. If I’m anxious, I need someone to exhort me to trust in my heavenly Father’s care. If I’m ashamed, I need someone to comfort me with the grace of God. It might be another leader; it might be a new Christian. It might be in a scheduled meeting; it might be as we tend someone’s garden together.

This is not just about what happens in a weekly meeting. This is about gospel intentionality through the week in the context of shared lives. We need daily exhortation (see Hebrews 3:12-13). And we need it from people who see us in the daily grind of life, not just when we are on our best behaviour. Anger, frustration, bitterness, sulking, jealousy and malice are all signs that are idolatrous desires are being threatened or thwarted. We need people who see us when we are angry, frustrated and so on so they can challenge those idolatrous desires.

We need to create church cultures in which it is normal to comfort and rebuke one another. One of our dangers is that we only do this in times of crisis. As a result, speaking the truth in love actually creates a crisis. We need to think of church discipline not simply as a final act of excommunication – that kind of discipline rarely works. We need to think of it as a lifestyle of discipleship.

As with mission, this speaking the gospel to one another does not happen automatically. Hanging out with people is not enough in itself. If I go to the cinema or do some chores with you, that is not going to change you on its own. Again, we need ‘gospel intentionality’. We need to engage in every relationship thinking, How can I bless this person? What’s the next step for them? What truth do they need to here? It’s about ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

This material is developed more in chapter 9 of my book, You Can Change.

Spiritual experiences in the night

Not sure what it is, but many of my most profound spiritual experiences, or at least my most intense spiritual thoughts, come to me in the middle of the night. It might be the dark; it might be the quiet. Though they are not the result of time spent in contemplation. I usually wake with the thoughts fairly fully formed in the my mind. So perhaps they are the after-glow of dreams?!

Last night I had a strong conviction that, while in recent years I have come to a greater sense of how my sin is ridiculous and pathetic, I need a much stronger sense of its evil, horror, spite, darkness. I need to be repelled by my sin. I want to be brought low so that God might lift me up. I want to be horrified at my sin so that I might flee from it into the arms of God.

But I also suspected that such insight might crush me. I thought of Isaiah seeing the holiness of God in the temple and crying out, ‘Woe to me’.

So my prayer in the small hours was this. First, that God would give me as much of a sense of the evil of my sin as I can presently bear. And, second, that he would match a realization of my sin with a corresponding realization of his grace so that I could bear it.

Why doesn’t God reveal himself more clearly?

On Sunday’s we’re running a series on ‘questions about faith’ that people often ask. Here’s the first from the series looking at ‘Why doesn’t God reveal himself more clearly?’

– How do you respond to being called a ‘faithhead’?

–  Would you like God to reveal himself more clearly?

– How would you answer the question, ‘Why doesn’t God make himself known to me?’

1. God has revealed himself

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