How can you learn the foundational truths of your Christian faith so that you really know what and why you believe?
For centuries Christians learned these truths through catechisms such as Genevan, Heidleburg or Westminster.
The new city catechism is ‘a joint adult and children’s catechism consisting of 52 questions and answers adapted by Timothy Keller and Sam Shammas from the Reformation catechisms’. 52 Q and A’s with video and memory verses this looks to be a great new resource for families to learn the Christian basics together.
What if Jesus had never been born…how the lives of even the irreligious have been shaped by his life
Something from Tim Keller’s new book Center Church to get you thinking:
In his history classes, C. John Sommerville used to demonstrate to students how thoroughly Christianized they were, even those who were atheistic or antireligious. He would list the values of shame-and-honor cultures (like those of pagan northern Europe before the advent of Christian missionaries) and include values like pride, a strict ethic of revenge, the instilling of fear, the supreme importance of one’s reputation and name, and loyalty to one’s tribe.
Then he would list corresponding Christian values, which had been hitherto unknown to the pagans of Europe — things like humility, forgiveness, peaceableness, and service to others, along with an equal respect for the dignity of all people made in God’s image. Many of Sommerville’s most antireligious students were surprised to learn just how deeply they had been influenced by ways of thinking and living that had grown out of biblical ideas and been passed on to them through complex social and cultural processes.
His point was that much of what is good and unqiue about Western civilization is actually “borrowed capital” from a Christian faith, even though the supernatural elements of the faith have been otherwise neglected of late in the public sphere.
Tim and Kathy Keller deconstruct the cultural myths that surround marriage and give a gospel answer.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
I’m preaching through a series on the 10 commandments at City Church at the moment and last night we tackled the thorny issue of sex under the heading of the 7th commandment. Below is a slightly expanded version of the first part of the sermon.
I don’t know what invention of the past 100 years has done most to change the very way in which we live. You could make a case for TV, the personal computer, the jet airplane but I wonder whether the real answer is the contraceptive pill because it has revolutionised our attitude to sex.
Sex is now – if we want it to be — something purely for recreation rather than procreation. It has for women in particular become a means sexual liberation.
So in our western culture sex is essentially now thought of as a bodily appetite to be indulged. We have lap-dancing clubs in our city-centres, brothels in the same communities as our students and pornography in our bedrooms. Women’s magazines run lead stories on how to perfect sex technique, some men’s magazines are little more than ‘soft’ porn and in the past week Birmingham’s gay pride march was officially listed as part of the City council’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We’ve never lived in a more openly sex-mad society but as J.John has noted ‘the problem in our sex-saturated society is not that we think too much about sex, but that we think about it so poorly.’
It might be easy to think that Christianity, by contrast, is anti-sex and looking back through the history of the church there have been times when that has been the case. At best sex has been thought of as a necessary evil. One book I read on the subject this week made the point that the excesses of the Catholic church that kick-started the protestant revolution included a list of holy days on which sex was prohibited that numbered 183 days a year!
Clearly the track record of the church has not been good and yet when we read the Bible we certainly don’t find it speaking negatively about sex one entire book, the song of songs is given over to a celebration of romantic love.
In one talk tonight I can’t possibly say everything but I want to start with
A. The setting of the 7th commandment – God’s purpose for sex
In the Bible we discover that sex is a God-given gift. He is the one who has made us sexual beings. He invented sex and he intended it for pleasure. Sexual desire is therefore proper and natural and God even wrote a book about it in the Bible called Song of Songs. So no Christian should feel embarrassed by the subject.
But sex also has a context. Sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose — God intended sex to be a sign and a seal of the union of two lives.
In Genesis 2:24 we discover that marriage is the act of giving ourselves to another a) exclusively ‘leaving father and mother’ and b) without reserve ‘united to his wife’. Sex is then the bodily expression of that union ‘and they will become one flesh’.
Sex is therefore the body-language of marriage. One writer has said;
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment. It is one of the key ways in which we experience loving faithfulness in a total relationship
No wonder then that the Bible not only permits sex in marriage but actively encourages Christians to keep sex alive in marriage.
In Proverbs 5:19 we read
may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
And then Paul in 1 Cor. 7:3-5 reminds Christians that they should not abstain from sex within marriage.
Michelle Weiner Davis in a book entitled The sex-starved marriage has written ‘sex is an extremely important part of marriage, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure through which they connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy, and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. Sex is a powerful tie that binds.’
And this is why sex belongs in marriage. You see it really does do something to us when we seek to separate the physical intimacy of sex from the context of marriage.
Tim Keller in the meaning of marriage writes:
Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.
So to protect yourself against the pain of giving your heart to someone who might not be there in the morning you disconnect the physical act of sex from the emotional intimacy it is designed to breed. And now here’s the problem – if you’ve practised that disconnect – if you have disabled it – what happens when one day you get married? There is a real danger that sex in marriage will not be able to do what it is designed to do.
Tim Keller expresses it this way ‘sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.’
All of the statistical evidence shows that when we separate sex from marriage through pre-marital sex we bring that delayed baggage into marriage. Meg Jay a clinical pschologist has written a remarkable chapter entitled the co-habitation effect in The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them
Living with someone may have benefits, but approximating marriage is not necessarily one of them.
She gives an example of one woman who describes her cohabiting relationship
‘A year of two into it, I started wondering what we were doing. Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the most frustration part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me. I still don’t obviously.’
Jay concludes: Couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.
Quite simply the more sex outside of marriage in a society the shorter the marriages in that same society become.
So sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose
In the next post why God has given the 7th commandment and how we break it.
In a recent blog post my very good friend John Stevens made some comments about the presence of non-Christians in church services. So for example he writes: We need to face up to the fact that we have to take the gospel to people, and not just invite them to come to where we preach it.
I think to a man we would all a big amen to that. No church can afford to limit its evangelism to a ‘they have to come to us’ rather than a ‘we go to them’ model.
But John goes further than the strategic question of how best to gain the gospel a hearing to state a theological conviction that ‘inviting to church’ is not how we should look, primarily, to do our evangelism. He writes:
This doesn’t seem to be the New Testament model. In the NT, church” is the gathering for committed believers, designed to encourage and edify them. Occasionally an unbeliever might come in amongst them (1 Corinthians 14v24). The gospel is to be taken and proclaimed outside of the church
I want to push a little further so for what it’s worth here is the first of two posts on Why church services need to be the primary focus for our evangelism. I want to make the case that church ought to be the primary place for our evangelism both for the sake of the non-Christian AND for the sake of the Christian. Today I’ll focus on the non-Christian.
For the sake of the non-Christian
Although there are lots of ways in which a non-Christian can here the gospel preached through personal evangelism, enquirer courses, social or evangelistic events, the non-Christian needs to hear the gospel preached to the Christian and for that they need to be in a predominantly Christian environment.
Why do I say that? The same gospel of justification is God’s means of both conversion and transformation. It changes the lives of non-Christians and Christians and the non-Christian is greatly helped towards faith in Christ when they hear something of why and how the gospel is God’s power to not only save but to transform. They grasp how the gospel sets you free from idols of self (money, sex or power) they learn how forgiveness towards another human is possible because the resources for forgiveness are there in the gospel, they grasp how the gospel enables and strengthens marriage as the Christian is challenged from the Bible to love their wives as Christ has loved the church.
No-one has modelled preaching the gospel to Christian and non-Christian at the same time in recent years than Tim Keller. He has demonstrated that an attractional model can work in an extremely secular, hostile environment. It takes a great deal of skill and almost a whole new method of preaching to do this well but it works. New Frontiers, perhaps the fastest growing Reformed church-movement in the UK works almost entirely on this model too and God has greatly blessed their work.
As we teach non-Christians how the gospel of grace saves (justification) so they know exactly what response is required of them but then as we teach Christians how the gospel of grace continues to save (working out salvation in sanctification) so non-Christians grasp the life-changing, transformative power that is in the gospel.
In my experience non-Christians are thinking ‘what difference does the gospel make’, ‘how does it work’, ‘what impact would it have on my life’, as they listen in to preaching aimed at the Christian so they learn in real time and through real experience the answer to their questions.
Secondly, as Francis Schaeffer once said the greatest apologetic is love. Only as a non-Christian enters the Christian community can they see, taste and experience both how Christians love one another and also how loved and welcome they are amongst God’s people. How many non-Christians upon conversion talk of how this dynamic of love and acceptance has struck them as unique to the church?The market-place, or the office water-cooler for that matter, is simply not a place where this dynamic can be experienced.
Thirdly, the unity in diversity of God’s new community is unlike anything we can experience anywhere else. A church full of all sorts of people, across all cultural divides and age and race barriers is a phenomena that is humanly inexplicable. Here is the gospel in glorious technicolour! We need to invite non-Christians to see it for themselves.
I could go on with at least three more reasons but I think this is enough for now.
I’m not surprised that more people are converted at City Church by coming along to our church Sunday by Sunday than by attending A Passion for Life (not that I am anything but an enthusiastic supporter of such initiatives!).
What does this mean for City Church Birmingham?
We expect non-Christians to be present in our services.
We speak as if non-Christians are present
We work very hard in our sermons to speak to both Christian and non-Christian at the same time.
We encourage Christians to simply bring their friends and they do!
One final reflection: I think the attractional model works well amongst younger people in urban contexts than some other settings. I agree with John that it is harder to get people into churches than a generation ago but in a city like Birmingham where 37% of our population is 25 or under, church remains my primary focus for evangelism.
I was converted when a friend had the courage to invite me to go with him to a normal Sunday service and I thank God that he did.
Tim Keller spoke at the City to City conference this week in New York on the difference between ‘inner power’ that which flows out of our relationship with the Lord and ‘external power’ that which comes from position, status or prestige. Focusing on ‘external power’ is deadly, but ‘inner power’ brings life and vitality to you and your ministry.
Here are his 5 things we have to work at, plan for, be disciplined at if to have independent, inner, source of power
- Private devotions – regular, consistent; morning (40 mins), lunch-time (5 mins – recap), evening (40 mins), bed-time (pray with Kathy)
- Spiritual friendship – Christian brothers & sisters who hold you accountable. Intimate friendship. Hebrews 3.16. Who have you given the right to do that?
- Right kind of pastoral counselling – Regular evangelism, discipleship, helping others. Some form of serving.
- Study & reading – you’ve got to read your head off!
- Corporate worship – do you really worship in your services or are you merely the producer and director?
Sheri Thomas spoke at the City to City Network Leaders Conference yesterday on church planters and their spouses. Here are a number of key points that really struck me from what was said.
1) Planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.
That means planters need to spend time communicating deeply with their spouses on how planting or planning to plant is impacting their marriage – both positively and negatively.
It also means planters need to be aware, up-front, of the most common causes of pressure that face spouses and to factor into both church and marriage ways of recognising them and overcoming them.
2) Ministry will always win out over family unless deliberate steps are taken to prevent it.
Ministry will always be here. Family will grow up and leave. Make family a priority for their sake and for the sake of the church. Prioritise eating together, taking good holiday, celebrating together eg birthdays, etc.
3) Plan a retreat for church planters in your network so that planters and spouses can be refreshed and encouraged together or if that is not possible try and get together as a church planting couple with another church planting couple.
4) Boundary Ambiguity is a cause of stress and tension. What is the spouses role and responsibility in a plant? Is it clear and has it been communicated to the plant? What protection of boundaries are in place with regard to space especially when it comes to using the home a lot.
5. Role ambiguity. Just how involved does she have to be and how might that role change over time and if children are involved.
6. Isolation is an issue. Groups of church-planting spouses need the opportunity of meeting together and talking about their roles and situations
7. The greatest fear for a church planting spouse is often the fear that she cannot do it all and yet all is expected of her.
8. The marriage is the biggest thing as to whether the plant will make it or not. Therefore assessing a church planter must involve assessing the church planter spouse. The person most likely to want to pull the plug on planting is probably an overburdened spouse.
So in order to protect the marriage in a church planting situation we need to ask:
How is the marriage functioning ?
When it comes to boundary ambiguity does she fight (ie take issue with the plant and how its impacting her in negative ways eg. gossip or even undermining her husband publically) or flight (by becoming withdrawn and isolated)? Does she recognise and want to respond to these temptations in a godly way?
What does she do with problems as they arise in church? Does she have the level of maturity to cope with this?
Is she supportive – does she believe in her church-planting husband? If she doesn’t it’s going to be very hard for them both and the plant.
Who are the people she is going to open up with? Different subjects, different depths.
I’ve just returned from a walk listening to a Tim Keller sermon on the jealousy of God from 2011 in which he offers this extensive quote from CS Lewis’s Problem of Pain, chapter3:
You asked for a loving God: you have one. ..not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philantropy of a conscientious magistrate, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.
When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.
What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chieﬂy has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.
God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives.
God loves us too much to leave us as we are and too much to give us what we want. Keller says we would not give a 5 year old child everything they asked for because we have better things for them in mind. He reminds us of how we look back at our teenage years and cringe with embarrassment at the things we demanded from our parents and even of how our 25 year old selves seem child-like once we have reached 50 and so finally God loves us too much than to give us what we want.
Finding fault, finding forgiveness – part 1
“There are two basic problems in every marriage: one is the husband and the other is the wife.” So quipped author and Church Pastor, Tim Chester.
After all how long into any marriage before we begin to realise that this is harder than we thought it would be!
There are many different factors, situations and circumstances that put pressure on any marriage but crucial to a Christian marriage is a mutual recognition that sin and failure are inevitable.
Yet, despite our theology it can be profoundly disorientating to discover that my spouse has faults I didn’t know about or expect. Somehow, at least for a time, I thought my spouse had avoided the fall.
If we are to build strong marriages we need to grasp that through our failings and faults God works out his purposes for us. They are his opportunity to manifest grace and to demonstrate his power in the weakness of a marriage between two sinners.
Three books have been particularly helpful to me in preparing to teach a seminar at our church entitled ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’. They are When sinners Say ‘I Do’ by Dave Harvey, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and What did you expect? by Paul David Tripp. Each of the three are biblical, insightful and honest but above all else each are optimistic about the impact that spouses can have on each other.
Keller’s book appeals to us to see our marriages as preparation for the great marriage to come between Christ and the church. Once we understand that God has given us a spouse now to change us, to make us fit for Christ, it changes the way we face up to finding fault. Keller writes;
What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then…you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.
So as we get going with a short series of posts on ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’ let’s start with five necessary insights for facing up to sin and finding opportunity in them.
A. Five realities to remember in a marriage:
1. As sinners living together in a fallen world sin and failure are inevitable.
You might think you are going to find the perfect match but no Christian should live under any such illusion. The Christian of all people should be ready to face that fact. When we do enter marriage with realistic expectations it helps us to be ready not to run from them but to embrace them as opportunity.
2. ‘Everyone’s marriage becomes something they didn’t intend it to be.’
Paul Tripp’s observation is both obvious and yet profound. There is always an element of disappointment as well as frustration in a marriage which is flawed. When two sinners commit to spending their lives together it’s the marriage itself that will face challenges.
3. ‘Patterns of sin and failure in marriage must be met with patterns of confession and forgiveness.’
Paul Tripp again on the very way we overcome the corrosive affect of sin in a marriage relationship.Being quick to confess our sin and quick to forgive each other’s sin are necessary to building a strong marriage.
4. When we live this way real transformation is possible in a marriage.
So many marriages are damaged by our unwillingness to ‘find fault’ or to ‘find forgiveness’ but when patterns of mutual confession and mutual forgiveness begin to embed themselves in a marriage real change happens
5. None of this is possible without the gospel that supplies this power to confess and this power to forgive.
In future posts we’ll see that the ability to confess sin, freely and willingly and the power to forgive sin lie not in us but in the gospel and who we are in Christ.
The last word goes to Tim Keller:
I don’t know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive, fully, freely, unpunishingly, from the heart.
The Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) invites students across Oxford to take a fresh look at Jesus. Lunch time and evening events led by Mike Cain and Tim Keller. All happening this week. Oxford Town Hall.
(HT: Gavin McGrath)
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