Rough notes on Tim Keller’s address, “Gospel-Centered Ministry,” from the Gospel Coalition conference.
What does ministry profoundly shaped by the gospel look like?
Peter was addressing a church being actively and passively persecuted. Peter is seeking to show how the gospel should shape how we should live.
Peter shows us that there are seven features used to describe the gospel:
1. The gospel is historical.
The gospel is good news, not good advice. Lloyd-Jones: Advice is counsel about something to do that hasn’t happened yet, but you can do it. News is about something that has happened. If a king defeats an invading army, he sends back messengers (heralders, good-newsers) who bring a report: respond with joy and live in because it’s all been the defeat has happened. Every other religion sends military advisors.: rites, rituals, laws so that the people can fight for their lives. One is a response of joy; the other is a response of fear. And in the short run, they look alike.
Ministry implication: the significance of declarative preaching is irreplaceably central. If Tim was teaching an advanced homiletics course, he’d make everyone read C. S. Lewis’s Studies in Words. Last chapter: you don’t use words to instruct someone how to tie a tie. But words are required to explain a historical event. How-to’s require modeling. But if you believe the gospel is good news, declarative preaching will be irreplacably central.
“Preach the gospel–and if necessary, use words.” That’s a misunderstanding of the gospel.
2. The gospel is doxalogical. Doxology is the basis of the entire Christian life.
Luther’s Larger Catechism: the first commandment summarizes all the rest. Underneath every sin is idolatry in general, and underneath that is some form of works righteous. First commandment: believe the gospel and you can’t look to anything else for your justification–and that’s the basis for everything else.
Everything from eating disorders to racism is functional worship–the heart’s imagination dotes on something more than God (my thinness, my race, etc.). The only way to change is to worship.
Sometimes we have X on “video” and God on “audio.” When audio and video are on at the same time, video wins. You say it but don’t believe it. The solution is worship.
Ministry implication (from Edwards): the purpose of preaching is not just to make things clear, but to make them real. We need to make things vivid. The heart is one’s core commitments, capturing our imaginations. JE is rational, persuasive, logical–but he uses images. We must teach Christ vividly and practically, from a change life. We can’t just take a narrative approach or a commentary
The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently . . . It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.
It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom, that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning. It may be done by excessive pampering – but it is almost never done by the mere force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed, may be dispossessed and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its, power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind.
It is thus, that the boy ceases, at length, to be the slave of his appetite, but it is because a manlier taste has now brought it into subordination – and that the youth ceases to idolize pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has become the stronger and gotten the ascendancy and that even the love of money ceases to have the mastery over the heart of many a thriving citizen, but it is because drawn into, the whirl of city polities, another affection has been wrought into his moral system, and he is now lorded over by the love of power. There is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered; but as to its desire for having some one object or other, this is unconquerable….
Thus may we come to perceive what it is that makes the most effective kind of preaching. It is not enough to hold out to the world’s eye the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration, however pathetic, of the evanescent character of all its enjoyments. It is not enough to travel the walk of experience along with you, and speak to your own conscience and your own recollection, of the deceitfulness of the heart, and the deceitfulness of all that the heart is set upon….
3. The gospel is christological. Jesus gave an advanced hermeneutics seminar in Luke 24: everything in the OT points to me. Here in Peter there is an echo in 1 Pet. 1:10-12.
Ministry implication: every subject of every sermon should be Jesus. Tim doesn’t want to have a party spirit here. (I’m of Goldsworthy; I’m of Chapell; etc.) Kathy’s feedback to Tim years ago: when you say “here’s what you ought to do” I already know. Sometimes you say, “But you can’t do it, here’s one who did. If you believe in him, you’ll begin to be able to do it, too–to the degree you truly understand the good news.” That’s when the “lecture” becomes a “sermon.” You gotta get to Jesus. If you don’t get there, you’re just wailing on people’s wills.
Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.
Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.
Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.
Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”
Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.
Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.
The Bible’s really not about you – it’s about him.
4. The gospel is personal and individual. Imputation and the historic understanding of the gospel are in dispute right now. Packer: to understand grace, you have to understand both (1) how great your debt is; (2) the magnitude of the provision. They may only believe that Jesus died the death I should have died ( he died for our sins and paid our penalty, hence I better live a pretty good life”). But you must also believe that Jesus lived the life I should have lived.
Some people are changing the gospel in response to the misunderstanding-distortions of the legalistic moralists and the easy-believing liscentiousness.
The gospel is individualistic: individual sinners are saved from the wrath of a personal God. But…
5.The gospel is cultural. The gospel creates a culture–called the church. It’s not just a collection of sinners. The gospel is massively transformational and creates a counter-culture, and also makes us relate to the people around us. Those of us who believe in an individual gospel often miss the communal implications.
1 Pet 2:11-12: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
The gospel says there are dangers of both cultural accommodation and cultural withdrawal. No one sees your good deeds of those who withdraw from the world. On the other hand, people who accommodate the culture are never persecuted.
We’re to go in deeply, but to stay very different. We need to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7).
Those who want to be prophetic tend not to be priestly. Those who are servant-hearted tend not to talk about hell and wrath.
1 Peter depicts an effective, persecuted counterculture. You’ll always be both attracting people and facing persecution.
6. The gospel is the basis for a worldview; it’s massively transformational.
7. The gospel is wonderful. 1 Pet 1:12, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” Tim’s been thinking about this verse for 20 years. Angels are very smart people! They’re like us except they don’t die, so they know more. They “long” (Gk. epithumaio) to look into the gospel. Gospel ministry is endlessly creative, ever new, never boring. It’s not the ABCs of Christianity. It’s the A-Z. The gospel drives everything we do. It’s the solution to every problem. Every theological category should be about expounding the gospel.