Tim Keller is the Chairman and co-Founder of Redeemer City to City, which trains pastors for ministry in global cities. He is also the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and the author of New York Times bestselling books The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and Prayer.
This is a lovely setting and, yet we can’t hide from ourselves the fact that, right now, in Western societies, and I mean by that, North America, Europe, Australia, in what we consider the most modern parts of the world, there right now is tremendous, not only division, but just deep disappointment and disillusionment with what’s going on. I mean, who feels good about their society right now? Who feels good about their national culture? Who feels good about it? I mean, I’m older than most of you, from what I can tell looking, and I’ve never, and those of you who are my age, you know, we’ve never ever experienced this much disappointment and disillusionment with how things are going in our countries, our respective countries. Why? Well, the answers are very, very, very complicated, but I’d like to drill down on just one factor, and I guess the best way of talking about this would be to use the word “hope”. That we’re having a crisis of hope.
Let me give you four or five examples of it, or maybe I should say, evidences of it. So, just last year in The New York Times, there was an article called, this is the headline and it was on the front page, “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to 30-Year High”. Now, whenever you start to read about the suicide rate in the United States, not that this gets a lot of publicity, but it’s really pretty shocking. For example, what it said in the article was, in the last 15 years, now, it was talking about 1999 to 2014, there was a, the suicide rate has been rising. It was, over the last eight years, in that period of time, it doubled over the rate of the increase, over the first seven or eight years. As you probably know, suicide rates are rising among kids, amongst adolescents. Actually, the highest suicide rate increase, it was tripling for girls aged 10 to 14. It’s tripled. And, when, of course, it’s a news article, so everybody was asking, you know, the reporter, the new rates came out, and the reporter called up a whole bunch of different experts and they all were really at kind of a loss, except one guy named Robert Putnam, pretty well-known social scientist at Harvard and he was the only one who said, “It proves that the society has got a crisis of hopelessness.” It’s a problem of hope.
“It proves that the society has got a crisis of hopelessness.” It’s a problem of hope.
A second example of this would be, the dominant narratives of our TV shows and our movies, so there’s just, over and over and over again, there’s nuclear disasters and environmental disasters and zombie tsunamis, which is a new one, and everything is going wrong all the time. And actually, if you take a look at the newer Star Treks and you go way back to the older one, the original one, you know, the William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy thing, you saw how far more optimistic everybody was about the future than they are now. Far more optimistic. Another example, by the way, is the birth rate. You may or may not have heard of the fact is that the more modern and the less religious a country is, or a population is, the lower the birth rate, and you might say, oh, that’s not necessarily bad. Well, it is when you don’t replace yourself, in other words, when the birth rate goes below two per couple. And what’s happening in big parts of, certainly Europe, by the way, but also, to certain populations here, is that the more modern people get, interesting, and the less religion, any population or any country gets, they stop being able to replace themselves. They stop having children. They stop getting married. Why? Well, social scientists say there is also a lack of hope. And this one last thing. There has been a fair amount of talk about the fact that there’s more and more people just dropping out of the workforce. Period. Just a higher and higher percentage of people, they’re just not part of the workforce at all. They’re not looking for work. They’re just not there, and we, of course, this generation, is the first American generation in history that has said, no, we’re not going to be better off than our parents. And that’s part of the reason why. It’s a crisis of hope.
It’s a crisis of hope.
Now, the question is, why are we having this crisis of hope? I want to get on to the fact that, and I’ll get there really quickly, that I’m going to make the case that Christianity gives you resources for both cultural and personal hope that are unparalleled. It’s got astounding resources for hope. But, for a minute, let me just ask the question, now, why are we having the crisis of hope. There’s probably, if you read all the various books, and I’m not just talking about Christian writers at all, if you just read the best social theorists and the best political theorists, I think they would say two things. There is the social and there is the personal. The social is this. That Western society is the first society that said that human ingenuity is going to bring about peace and prosperity. Not belief in God, not an afterlife, in other words, human ingenuity, our science, our technology, our politics, our economics. We are going to bring about peace and prosperity. And, here’s the problem.
First of all, we’ve discovered that human ingenuity has not brought us the peace and prosperity that we expected across the board, and secondly, those of us who have experienced peace and prosperity are finding that it actually doesn’t deliver the satisfaction that we expected. So, at the cultural level, we’re finding that human ingenuity has not actually given us all the peace and prosperity. There is still too much injustice, too much poverty, too much division, too much violence. So, on the one hand, human ingenuity has not given us the peace and prosperity we expected, but those of us who have experienced some peace and prosperity, may I say, this particular neighborhood, in general, those of us who have experienced peace and prosperity are finding it doesn’t deliver the satisfaction we expected. Let me go through those quick. Number one, after World War I, after World War II, I mean, there have been a number of crises. There’s no one crisis that has sort of gotten rid of all of our optimism, but, you know, at the end of World War II, there were tremendous numbers of people. FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a good old-fashioned, fairly secular, liberal guy who really believed that human beings were basically good, and science and culture and education would basically make people pretty good and that’s the reason why he originally did not believe many of the reports about the Holocaust. He just didn’t believe that that wonderful culture, that wonderful nation, that Germany was really capable of that kind of brutality. And, at the very end of his life, too. At the very end of World War II, when he realized he had been wrong, he started reading Christian theologians to try to come to grips with the fact, wait a minute, maybe, maybe what the Bible says about sin and evil actually is true. So, at the end of World War II, there was a lot of disillusionment, but we get it back. At Tiananmen Square, 1989. I’ve talked to many, many Chinese friends over the years who’ve said there was a huge crisis at the end of that decade when most Chinese people realized, wait a minute, Communism is not going to bring in the worker’s paradise everybody said it was.
And right now, there is, to a great degree, especially in big parts of the Western culture, a disillusionment with Capitalism, saying that actually some people are getting rich but not enough people are getting wealthy. Ad so, we’re constantly wrestling with the question. Is human ingenuity really going to be enough? Have we put our hopes too much in science and technology and Capitalism, or Communism, or human ingenuity? But, what I want to press you, just because of who I think you are, and because of where we are right now, is if you do find yourself actually being able to create a life of peace and prosperity, pretty much, if you are successful, if you do well, you have a house, you have a couple of houses, things start to really go well for you, and you actually, you, in spite of the fact that everybody else is pretty unhappy in society, you have found your way into a pretty nice place. You’re going to be disappointed, too.
One of my favorite things I ever read, when I first got to New York, I would read various newspapers, and in The Village Voice, interestingly enough, it was a kind of downtown alternative newspaper, there was a woman named Cynthia Heimel who wrote a column and she had actually known – what happens in a place like New York City, a lot of people come there to try to make it and like one out of a thousand do. But the fact is that if you stay there long enough, you’ll actually get to know people who used to be a hat checker or used to be a bouncer at a club or used to be, you know, used to be a cashier at Bloomingdale’s, and they make it big, and they become movie stars. And this woman, actually had known Sylvester Stallone, had known Julia Roberts, had known a lot of people who eventually became very famous, when they were just young kinds trying to kind of make it. And this is what she said about them. She actually mentioned some names. I’m not going to mention the names here, because I, you know, I’m not sure this is completely fair, but here’s what she said. She said, “One of the funny things was, that after they got famous, if anything, they were more unhappy, more angry and more mean than they had been before. And this is what she said, “Because that giant thing they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment, and ha-ha happiness, had happened, and nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable. I’ve come to believe that if God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on you, He grants your deepest wish, and then giggles merrily as you realize you want to kill yourself.”
Now, C.S. Lewis put it a little more eloquently than Cynthia Heimel, but basically said this. He says, “Most people, if they really learned how to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and they want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or think of some foreign country that we want to visit, or first take up some subject that excites us, or first begin a career that excites us, these are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, no job will ever be able to satisfy. I’m not speaking right now of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or trips and so on. I’m speaking of the best possible ones. There’s always something we grasp at, in that first moment of longing that just fades away in the reality. The spouse was a good spouse. The scenery was excellent. It turned out to be a really great job. But it has evaded us. It. And it turns out that we don’t have what we thought.”
It’s the same thing that Cynthia Heimel was saying. She says, really, weirdly enough, those of us who never actually get real successful, we can always live in the land of illusion, that if we actually really were successful as that guy or that woman, or whatever, then we’d be happy. See, we don’t know what they do, and that’s why Cynthia Heimel says maybe the worst thing God can ever do to you is give you everything you ever wanted. Because when you get it, you’re going to say, Oh, my word, I was totally wrong. This does not satisfy my deepest hopes. This does not fulfill me. So, actually, I’m saying, I actually think that, at this point, our cultural crisis is basically a personal crisis. That we have tons of people out there that say, if only I had more of the piece of the pie and then I’d be happy and those who actually do have a pretty good piece of the pie are beginning to realize, no, it’s not enough. And, of course, C.S. Lewis goes on and talks about, well, one of the things you can do is keep blaming the things and say, I need a better spouse, I need a bigger job, I need a bigger house, I need more trips, and then I’ll be happy. No, no, no, you need to realize that frankly, there’s a hole in your heart too big. You are underestimating the greatness of your own soul. If you think two great houses, and two wonderful places, beautiful places in the world, if you think that’s going to satisfy your soul, you underestimate yourself. Because you’re not just, you’re not just a matter of matter. There’s something else.
Now, let me just tell you four things about the Christian hope that are unparalleled. That is to say, you’re not going to get your deepest hopes satisfied by affluence. You’re not going to get your deepest hopes satisfied by Capitalism, or Communism, or Socialism, or by any particular human ingenuity. So, how will you? Well, here’s the Christian hope. This Christian hope is, and I’ll just give you four things. It’s historical, it’s powerful, it’s personal, it’s wonderful. Okay? Let’s go through those quick.
The Christian hope is this. Jesus Christ, a human being Who lived and died in history, then was raised from the dead, and He was raised from the dead in history, and He was seen, and this proves that there is something beyond the grave. This proves that there is something, there is a transcendent reality beyond this imminent reality, and that’s what’s going to satisfy our hopes.
First of all, historical. By that, I mean this is not this “pie in the sky”, “maybe”, and “who knows”, and I guess if you just put your faith in it, maybe it will turn out. No, no. The Christian hope is this. Jesus Christ, a human being Who lived and died in history, then was raised from the dead, and He was raised from the dead in history, and He was seen, and this proves that there is something beyond the grave. This proves that there is something, there is a transcendent reality beyond this imminent reality, and that’s what’s going to satisfy our hopes. So, first of all, I’ll just put it this way, it’s historical, that is to say, the Christian truth and the Christian hope actually says, you know, get out your reason, don’t just believe in spite of your reason, get out your reason and look at the evidence for the Resurrection. Now, we don’t have time to go into all that right now, but, I’ll just tell you this. If you’ve never looked at the evidence for the Resurrection, do it.
Let me give you a couple of ideas about this. First of all, Paul wrote a letter, a public letter. It’s called First Corinthians (I Corinthians). There is not a single historian anywhere that I’ve ever read, of any stripe, that doesn’t believe that that letter was, it’s an ancient document written by the apostle Paul and it was written within about 20 years or so of the death of Jesus. And everybody agrees on that too. And in there he says, by the way, he writes to his readers, Many, many people saw Jesus Christ with their eyes raised from the dead. In fact, at one point, he says, Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time. At one time. So, he says, there are hundreds and hundreds of people, spread around the Mediterranean, who actually saw Jesus Christ raised from the dead, and you can go talk to them, says Paul. Now, what do you think of that? Now, here’s what you have to say. That he couldn’t have written a public document like that unless there were hundreds and hundreds of people who had seen Jesus Christ. That’s what they said. Now, you may not believe them, but they were there.
Keep in mind that in that time, both in Roman law and jurisprudence and in Jewish law and jurisprudence, women could not give evidence in court. They weren’t considered reliable witnesses….if you were going to make up a story about the resurrection of Jesus Christ…in order to promote your religion, you would never, ever, ever, ever say, that all the first eyewitnesses were women….the only possible explanation for why, in those accounts, women were the first eyewitnesses, the only reason, only possible historical reason why women were put in those accounts as the first eyewitnesses, is because they were.
The interesting thing about the evidence for the Resurrection is that if you read the Gospel narratives, which were written later than when Paul wrote First Corinthians (I Corinthians), but if you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you’ll see that the first eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus Christ, in all those accounts, were women. Keep in mind that in that time, both in Roman law and jurisprudence and in Jewish law and jurisprudence, women could not give evidence in court. They weren’t considered reliable witnesses. And therefore, if you were going to make up a story about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if you were going to make it up, in order to promote your religion, you would never, ever, ever, ever say, that all the first eyewitnesses were women. Never! So, the only possible explanation for why, in those accounts, women were the first eyewitnesses, the only reason, only possible historical reason why women were put in those accounts as the first eyewitnesses is because they were. There is no other motivation for doing it.
Okay, so, you say, okay, so there are hundreds of people who say they saw Jesus Christ raised from the dead. Okay, number one. Number two, you say, well what if it was just maybe back then. You know back then, people believed in miracles. Now, we know that they don’t happen, so, they were just gullible people. And so, maybe they just heard what other people said and they said sure, I saw that too. Well, you know what, listen, maybe it’s true that modern people are not real likely to believe in miracles, but keep in mind, these were Jewish people. And Jewish people, unlike Easter religions who believe that God is in everything, and unlike the Romans and the Greeks, who believed that the various Gods could, like Zeus and Hermes, could come down to Earth and take on various guises and all that, the Jews believed that God was absolutely transcendent, He was the creator of all things. They had a unique view of God. No other group of people in the world had that view of God. And you know, the orthodox Jews of this day won’t even say God’s Name, won’t even write God’s Name. And so, the Jews were the last people on the face of the Earth to believe that a human being could be God. Yet, we know that immediately, almost immediately, we know because the earliest letters of Paul were written within just a few years of the death of Jesus Christ, there were thousands and thousands of Jews worshiping Jesus Christ as God. Why? Because they said they saw Him raised from the dead. Here’s my question. Ask a historian, how do you account for thousands and thousands of Jews, who have been told all of their lives that a human being could never be God, that it’s blasphemy to say that, what would it change their mind? They said they saw Jesus Christ raised from the dead. And if you don’t believe that, well then what’s your alternate explanation? Then, you say, well maybe it was elaborate hoax. But these people died for that hoax. They spent decades and decades and decades. The early Christians did not do well. They were constantly being persecuted. And when they identified, it made them pariahs in many cases. So, here’s my question. We know that Jesus Christ, we know that hundreds of people saw Jesus Christ raised from the dead, that’s what they said, we know that they died for that, and we know that they were the last people on the face of the earth to believe it, therefore the evidence must have been very strong. What is your, if you don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ, what’s your historically possible alternate explanation for the birth of the Christian Church? And I would tell you that there isn’t one. Did I just prove that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead? No. But, what I’m trying to say is the hope that Christians offer has got historical roots.
Secondly, I tell you what, you can ask me more, I want to make sure I give you enough time for Q & A. Let’s move on to personal. It’s historical. Number two, it’s personal. How do I mean that? Did any of you ever see the movie, or see the play, The Lion King? It’s on Broadway now. You know that one place where the little lion is talking to the bigger lion, I guess it’s Simba, right, and Simba is trying to say something about, asking about death, and, of course, the big lion, he says, well, you know, here’s the great thing. We die, yes, but then we become fertilizer, you know, we fertilize the ground, and then up comes the things in the ground that are eaten by this group, and then the antelopes eat that group, and then we eat the antelopes, and see, when we die, we become part of the life cycle, and he says, we’re all part of the circle of life. So, he says, when you die, don’t worry, you don’t go away. You become part of the circle of life. Isn’t that wonderful? I do remember once seeing somebody, I saw a woman once try to talk to a group of children about it, who were asking about death, and she didn’t believe in an afterlife. She didn’t believe what the Bible says. She just said, well, no, here’s the great thing. When you die, you go to become part of the circle of life and it was an 8-year-old that ran away screaming, I don’t want to be fertilizer! And the reason the 8-year-old was right. He was trying to say, you’re giving me something you think is hope, and it’s not hope, and here’s the reason why. The main thing in life is love. If you don’t have love, you don’t have anything. And if you don’t have a personal self, you don’t have love.
So, to say, oh, it’s okay, because when you die, of course, you just become part of the soul of the world, or you become part of the life cycle, or, it’s very nice. No, it’s not. What you’re really saying is everything that matters to you basically is love, and that when you die, everything that matters to you is going to be taken away from you. That’s what you’re saying to me. You can talk about fertilizer, you can talk about stardust. John Updike wrote a personal novel, I mean, it was not a novel, it was a personal account of his own life, and the last chapter, you know, John Updike clung to his Lutheran faith, and one of the reasons why he did, he said in one of the chapters, was entitled, “On Being a Self Forever”. And what Christianity tells you is not that, when you die you become part of the life cycle of the world, or that you just become part of stardust or something like that, which sounds kind of maybe comforting and sweet on the surface, but it means you won’t stay a self forever, but Christianity says, no, look at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That proves that you will – He was a self after death, and He’s the firstborn from the dead – and if you believe in Him, you will be a self forever. And you will always have love. And that’s infinitely wonderful. Here’s my last thought.
J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote Lord of the Rings, wrote a wonderful essay called “On Fairy Stories”, and the essay is trying to explain the appeal of fairy tales. One of the things he points out – now Tolkien, he was an Oxford professor, and he knew that amongst the high, sophisticated literary critics of the world, they were irritated that people still spent so much money on movies and books in which you have, you have supernatural things, you have magic – they just hated that. They said, why do you want to escape? Let’s have realistic fiction that talks about life as it is. Why these fairy tales? Why do people keep on writing fairy tales and watching them? And J.R.R. Tolkien defended fairy tales like this. He said, “Every human being has got five very, very deep longings.” Five very deep longings. One is we want to step outside of time. We are fascinated by the idea of stepping outside of time. Secondly, we want to defeat death. We want to escape death, too. Thirdly, we want to communicate with non-human beings. Fourthly, we want love that never goes. We want love without parting. Once you have love, once you have love, you just never want that relationship to go away. And lastly, we want to see good triumph over evil. And those are five things that human beings long terribly for. And he says, that’s the reason why we keep writing these stories in which those things happen. Even though we know it’s not true, and yet, deep down inside, we feel like it ought to be true. He says, human beings are in a strange spot that if you give them realistic fiction and say, come on, those things don’t happen. You can’t step outside of time. You can’t ever escape death. All love relationships go away eventually, see? There are no non-human beings to talk to. Good does not triumph over evil in the end. These things. So, stop worrying about them. He says, we can’t not want them because deep down inside we know that, even though those stories technically are fiction, in some other way, they are really true to the way things ought to be. And at the very end, Tolkien, who was a Christian, by the way, at the very end, Tolkien says, “Christians understand why human beings cannot get rid of those longings. They are memory trees. Deep inside our soul, they are memory trees of what the world was created to be, but it’s not, because we turned away from God. That’s what the whole Bible is about.”
“Someday you will read in the papers that Dwight Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead. Someday you will read in the papers that Dwight Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment, I will be more alive than I am now.”
However, I want you to think about this for a second. Let this go to the heart of your heart. If Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, if the Resurrection really happened, and you believe in Him, every one of those five things is going to happen to you. You will know all of those things. You will step outside of time, you will escape death eventually, you will know love without parting, you will communicate with non-human beings, angels and who knows what else? And you will see good triumph over evil. Now, here’s what I want to know. If there’s anybody here who actually is not sure whether Christianity is true, if that’s true, if those five things are true, and Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, why wouldn’t you at least want Jesus Christ to be raised from the dead? If you have, if you’re a reasonable person, if you’ve got a heart, you would want that to be true, and therefore, you ought to explore to see whether it is. Because that’s a hope that is absolutely powerful, totally personal, and rooted in history. So, you know, let me wrap it up there. The other thing, of course, is if you have this hope, one thing Tolkien didn’t actually say, well, yeah, he did say it, okay, is when you face death, and you will, then this hope is a hope indeed, the Christian hope. Dwight Moody, who was a Chicago minister, just before he died, he wrote something that was really pretty great, he was getting sick, here’s what he said. “Someday you will read in the papers that Dwight Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts” – that’s where he was from – “is dead. Someday you will read in the papers that Dwight Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment, I will be more alive than I am now.”
And Dietrich Bonhoeffer, some of you know, just before he died, he was executed because of his plotting against Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer actually wrote to his parents from the cell. He says, “I’m about to experience the supreme festival on the road to freedom.” That’s hope. Do you have that hope? It’s available.
“I’m about to experience the supreme festival on the road to freedom.”
Q & A Session
Keller: Well, there’s a lot to say about that. Actually, your question, gave part of its own answer. One answer would be, well, if it’s true that science has disproven God, then why do so many scientists believe in God, and there’s plenty of scientists who believe in God. That’s one response. A second response would be if you were with me, I would say, please tell me how science could possibly disprove the existence of God, I mean, let me give you a quick example. Science has to always assume a natural cause, right? That’s how it works. It always has to assume a natural cause. That’s what science does is it tries to find the natural cause. So, for a minute, let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that there is a God and there is a supernatural. All right? For the sake of argument can we agree? If a miracle happened, and let’s assume that it really did, could science prove that miracle happened? No. You know why? Because the science would, science has to believe in replication, see, because it believes everything has a natural cause, therefore, everything has to be able to be replicated. That’s the essence of science. And so, if something happened, and it had a supernatural cause to it, science would try to replicate it, and it couldn’t be replicated, and they would, it would say, there must be a natural cause, we just don’t know what it is yet. Science couldn’t actually prove a miracle. You can press me on that, but I’ve been through this with a lot of people. Scientists would say, no, there would be no way to prove a miracle, even if a miracle actually happened. Now, if that’s the case, then how could science disprove the existence of God? One other quick thing is the people that say that science has disproved God assume that you shouldn’t believe anything unless it can be proven. Usually. But, do you believe in human rights? Do you believe that all human beings are equal in dignity and have human rights? That is not a scientific postulate. It couldn’t be possibly proven with science. That’s a belief and a lot of people hold that belief and a lot of people would die for that belief, but guess what? You can’t prove it, so, when people tell me, you shouldn’t believe in God unless you can prove Him, I say, do you believe in human rights? They say yes. Well, you shouldn’t believe in human rights unless you can prove them, and you can’t. The reality is everybody believes virtually everything through a combination of reason and faith. There are rational reasons to believe in human rights, but there’s also, in the end, you can’t prove that they exist. There are rational reasons to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the end, it does take faith, but that’s true of absolutely everything. And Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was a great Oxford philosopher, German Oxford philosopher, about 150 years ago, he pretty much proved that you can’t prove anything. He says, you can’t prove your memory works without using your memory. In other words, even though Wittgenstein was not around, he says, do you, here’s what Wittgenstein would say if he was here. He would say, have you ever seen the Matrix? Can you prove that you’re not in a vat somewhere with all these things coming out of the back of your head? You can’t actually prove anything in the end. So, anybody who says you shouldn’t believe in God unless you can prove Him is not living by that axiom at all because everybody believes what they believe through a combination of reason and faith. Christians believe what they believe and non-Christians and secular people, and atheists believe what they believe through a combination of reason and faith. Nothing can be absolutely proven. On the other hand, you should always use your reason. You should test the things with your reason. So, it’s a combination. It’s not like you have faith and I’ve got reason. That’s just not the way it works. Go ahead Richard.
Audience member: I wonder if you might share what you’re comfortable sharing. I know that we all pray for God’s blessing and for God’s benefit and we thank Him for that, but sometimes negative things come our life, and, we sometimes thank God for those, too, whether it’s then or in retrospect, but I’m wondering, I know you have shared what you’re comfortable sharing, you have a personal self, a self-help [inaudible 32:53] and in that time, I think you read N.T. Wright’s book on Resurrection. And I’m wondering if you could share a bit on that, and how, even from a negative occurrence, which we pray won’t happen, that we can get blessings from that. That Paul would pray less for circumstances, I’m guilty of praying for better circumstances for myself and my family. I don’t mean Paul. Paul seemed to go from within [unintelligible 33:22].
Keller: Okay. Right. You’re referring to the fact that when I had thyroid cancer some years ago, I was obviously laid up for a while, and, even though I got a good prognosis and it worked out well, you can’t have cancer and it not change the way which you think about everything. Pretty treatable. This is probably pretty treatable. Probably? They said, well you have to say that about all cancer. Probably. So, during that period of time, I read a book that was new at the time by Tom Wright, N.T. Wright, called The Resurrection of the Son of God. It’s like an 800 or 900-page book. High-level scholarship, basically making the case that I just gave you in three or four minutes. I saved you all a lot of time and probably about forty dollars. You could buy the book, but it’s just high-level scholarship basically saying, no, in the end, no, you can’t prove anything happened in history. You know that. In a test tube, you can prove something. You can’t prove anything about history, actually, but there is overwhelming historical evidence that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead. N.T. Wright says, unless you have a philosophical presupposition that that couldn’t have happened. If you actually just have an open historical mind, and you don’t have a philosophical presupposition that says it couldn’t’ happen, just open to the historical evidence, he says, clearly, that’s what happened. I read that, and it really changed my life. I gave you, like I said, a synopsis. You say, well, weren’t you already preaching the Resurrection of Jesus Christ? Didn’t you already believe that? Yeah, but I believed it frankly, a lot more deeply, and it was just very consoling. The bigger point, and I’ll just finish with this, the bigger point I think you’d like me to make is that suffering, God does bring good out of suffering. I only want to add the caveat, that it doesn’t mean you will always see the reason for it in this life. I mean, you’ve got to be careful. There’s some suffering that fairly, almost immediately you can see why this is actually good for me. This was really hard for me, but almost immediately, it turned me around, it got me, you know, I was flying high, I was brought down, you know, I had this financial crash, I realized that I was losing touch with my family. Sometimes, some of the bad stuff, you immediately see the good. Sometimes, it’s further out, but there’s really, you know, the book of Job, which I talked about to some of you last night, the book of Job is intriguing because, at the end, even though the reader knows why Job is going through all the suffering, in the end, God appears, tells Job he’d done a great job at enduring the suffering and never tells him why. If He had said to Job, oh, by the way, Job, you’ve been suffering and you’re going to become one of the most famous persons in the history of the world. Do you realize that millions and millions of people will read about you until the end of history and you suffered and wrestled with it so that you could be a model to hundreds of millions, billions of people, for the rest of your life, I mean, to the end of the age? And that’s why you suffered. And if He had told Job that, he would say, Oh, Job would say, Okay, it’s been a tough time, but man, if I’m going to be the most famous person – God never tells him. And all Job does is he says, you know what, you’re God and I’m not, and I just bow to that. So, you have to be careful in saying even though…here’s the point. The Resurrection will make everything right. Everything right. Everything is going to be made up for. The first kiss from Jesus’ lips on your forehead will make up for a thousand terrible lives, and that’s just the first second, but you don’t know that while you’re on Earth. That’s the important thing. Richard, somebody else?
Audience member: Mr. Keller, so, you had mentioned earlier just about society in general, just like the structure of it, Socialism and Capitalism and Communism. If we looked at the Bible as like, in essence, like the road-map to live by [unintelligible 37:35] of societies throughout history have grown and failed, have you ever researched seeing where the Bible describes like a certain social structure that would compel one to the light and be successful over the long term, even though this world is broken and fallen. I was just curious if you had any insight into that.
Keller: Oh, boy. Well, you know what, there’s a good book by Craig Blomberg called Neither Poverty nor Riches. It’s not a very well-known book. It’s called Neither Poverty nor Riches. And what he does is he just goes through, from Genesis to Revelation, and looks up anything the Bible says about economics, and it’s intriguing. It just basically goes through, he’s a Biblical scholar, and it’s not a, it’s not a hard read, but it’s also not a popular level book, but in the end, he says, you know what the Bible says about money and power doesn’t really fit into any of our systems exactly. And an example of this is the law of gleaning. You know, the law of gleaning, which is interesting, is that you are, it was illegal in Israel, to harvest out to the very edges of your field. You had to allow probably 15% or so of your grain just to stay in your field so the poor people could come along and gather it so they would have something to eat. And in there, he says, what’s interesting about that is, first of all, what that’s actually telling you is God does not want you just to squeeze everybody and get the highest profits and then turn around and do charitable giving. Because, he says, you see, the poor are supposed to go out and work for it. It’s interesting. In other words, you’re supposed to limit your profit so that the poor can come and actually pick it up. In other words, it isn’t a handout. They actually have to work. They have to go to the field and glean. And he says, well how does that principle work out in economics? And so, there are a lot of ways. One is, it means you, what it would mean would be, you should give your customers a pretty good price and you should give your employees a really, really good salary. Rather than say no, I’m going to squeeze everybody and then I will give away, through my charitable giving, no, basically what you do is you share your profits with people as you’re doing your business transactions rather than just squeezing them, getting it all and then you know, think of yourself as this wonderful philanthropist. And he says, now how does that actually work out? And he said, it could work out in different ways, could it not? But it actually does show the principle of work rather than just handouts. It does show the principle of you not being greedy. It does show that you, in a sense, share a lot of the profits, even though you’re the business owner, with your employees, and he gets to the end, and he says, you know, a Christian could work these principles out in a more socialistic centralized economy or in a more market-based economy and he says you really can’t take the Bible and say, this is exactly the way it should be done. That the social democrats in Germany are doing it right, or the conservative Republicans in Arizona are doing it right. He says, actually, you could still be a Christian in all these different areas, so, the answer is no, I do not think that there is a model in the Bible that tells you just the way that the economy ought to run. But there are principles in there that would probably keep us from extremes. Almost certainly. Certainly extremes, and would actually be guidance for Christians. You ought to get a hold of that book. It’s quite interesting. Another question? Your questions are too good, because I could go on for a long time, but I do want to make them brief.
Audience member: Unintelligible comment [41:35]
Keller: This one will be a lousy question. Thank you, sir, we believe in diversity.
Audience member: [Unintelligible 41:36 – 41:42] and he’s kind of a man of God and being vulnerable and knows some stuff, but one thing he struggles with is, He believes God is up there and He created the world and all but just can’t get past how, other people around the world, He sends them to hell. So, you know, I just wanted to get you to speak to that because I’m sure some of us have that tough question. What would you, how would you recommend we kind of speak to him?
Right. I was actually interviewed by Nick Kristof of The New York Times, and I think he ran on Christmas Day last year, so you could find Nick Kristof, December 25th. I think the name of the article is, “Pastor, Am I A Christian?” But, anyway, that was one of his main questions to me. Really pushed me, and I think there are actually answers. There are two answers. One is, I’ll give you the best answer. The best answer is I do not know how God will be both absolutely just and absolutely merciful when it comes to who gets saved, but as a human being, I’ve got to say, if there is a God Who is big enough to create the world, for a moment, if we, if your friend actually said, you know, I believe there is a God, or sort of, if you grant that there is a God big enough to create the world, then you’ve got to grant that He might be wise than you and He knows how to do that. See, what you’re trying to do is to say I can’t imagine a way in which God could say you’re only saved through Christ and then still be both just and merciful. It just doesn’t seem just and merciful, and if I say, well guess what? If there is a God that big, then there’s got to be a way for Him to have a way of doing it, that when we find out what it is, we’re going to say, never thought of that. That’s unbelievable. There it is! Now, if you say I can’t believe in the God of the Bible because I can’t imagine any way that God could be both just and merciful and still have salvation only through Christ and then you say, let me push you a little bit, okay, if there can’t be a way for God to be both just and merciful that I can think of, then there can’t be a way. That’s the logic. If I can’t think of a way, then there can’t be a way. And you know what? That’s not good logic, because that’s saying oh, I believe there’s a God big enough to create the world, but He couldn’t have a way of doing that that I can’t think of. Well, sure He can. So, he said, that can’t be, well all you’re saying is, my argument is that can’t be enough for you to say well I just don’t want to believe in the God of the Bible. But here’s another answer. I press people and say, well what’s so unjust about it? They say, well I believe that all good people, whether they believe in Jesus or not, can be saved. I say, oh, well, there’s your problem. I’m a Christian. I don’t believe good people can be saved. See, one of the troubles with the idea that I believe that Jesus should not be the only way to God. I believe that there should, and I say, what’s the alternative, and they say, well, I believe that good people everywhere should be able to get to God. I say well, wait a minute, that leaves me out. They say, well what do you mean? I saw, I’ll never get to Heaven. They say why? Because I’m not good. And the whole genius of the Christian Gospel is that nobody is good, that even the goodness on the outside is a form of selfishness, that all of us are sinners, that there is nobody possibly good enough. You know the old Francis Shaeffer little tripe? Francis Shaeffer said if you were walking around with an invisible tape recorder around, remember what those things were, an invisible recorder around your neck, and all your life, all it ever did was record when you told somebody else you ought, so all it did was pick up your standards for other people. On Judgement Day, God could take that recorder off and say listen, I’m not going to judge you by the Ten Commandments, I’m not going to judge you by the Golden Rule, I’m not going to judge you by My standards, I’m going to judge you by your standards. I’m just going to, let’s, here’s Judgement Day. I’m going to judge you by the standards by which you judged other people your entire life and guess what? Nobody would be saved. So, what you have to come back with, the second thing I’d say is, the genius of the Gospel is that bad people can be saved if they’re willing to admit they’re bad and repent and there are no people good enough to be saved, because underneath, our motives are always bad and we never even live up to the standards we put on other people. And therefore, the alternative to Jesus Christ being our way to salvation is nobody is saved. So, and whenever you actually say, oh, I think it’s more open-minded and inclusive to say, good people from all over the world can be saved, I say, well, that leaves us out. That leaves out us bad people, which means, you’re not as inclusive as I am. The Gospel is way more inclusive, okay, because your way is the good people are in and the bad people are out, but the Gospel is the humble people are in and the proud are out, and that’s much more egalitarian. Much more egalitarian. Okay, somebody else?
Audience member: So, in light of your speaking this morning about this lack of hope and also in light of the city ministry, you have written and spoken a lot about radical generosity, and this need for social justice. How do you see those two elements being more disconnected today, or being more connected?
Keller: Generosity and justice, you mean?
Audience member: This notion of radical generosity as it relates to social justice.
Keller: Okay, well, that’s a big subject, I tell you what, I’ll be real brief and then Richard, you’ve got a final question, I guess, right? And then, so, Roll Tide, I promise I won’t drone on. I do think – let’s go back to the gleaning thing – what Craig Blomberg said in that book is he said what God did not let you do is to hide behind the idea of injustice. I mean, if you own the field and the poor people are out there and you say, well, this is my field, and it’s all my money, basically, and I’m not going to leave any stalks or any grain in the field, it’s all mine, then, of course, I can be very nice to you people, and I will be very nice. You cannot come into my field and take my grain, okay. And what he’s saying there is that was, in other words, that person might be generous but he really wasn’t just, because he was forgetting the fact is that in the end, we all love to say that I worked for absolutely everything that I have, and the answer is if you really are honest about it, and I can look at myself too, I mean, you know, my church did well so, now here I am speaking to you, right? I have plenty of friends of mine who worked every bit as hard and went to the same schools, worked every bit as hard, and somehow, their churches didn’t do as well, so, they don’t get asked here. And I have to look back and say, did I work for what I got, yes, I know, but so did they, and they didn’t do as well, because in the end, your prosperity is a gift of God. Sorry, it is. You know it. You know that you had that one deal that made you what you are, or you know if that hadn’t happened, and that hadn’t happened, and that hadn’t happened, or you say I worked very hard, yeah, you worked very hard with the hands that God gave you and the brain that God gave you and what if you were born without the hands or the brain? And so, in the end, he says, to say, to only be generous but not also realize that justice says I need to be sharing at a lower level than just squeezing out all the profits and then giving it away. I need to be more just with my employees. I need to be more just with the people in the neighborhood. I need to maybe not make as much money but actually give a better price, that sort of thing. So, he would say you can’t say all that matters is generosity and not a question of justice. A question of making sure we’re sharing our assets and realizing that everything you have is a gift of God and therefore, you just need to be sharing at a pretty radical level.
Richard. I know this last question ya’ll are going to find might be very interesting. Dr. Peter Kreeft, the very prominent philosophy professor at Boston College and a Christian, says that if the Bible’s teaching on sexual sin was made optional, all the hatred and the fear of the Church would vanish. Do you agree?
Keller: He said if all…
Richard: If the Bible’s teaching on sexual sin was made optional, all the hatred and the fear of the Church would vanish.
Oh, you mean from the outside? People…No. Right now, though, about 80%. I don’t agree, because I actually think that there’s a, listen, I’ve been around enough, I, there is a hostility in our culture to authority period. They just don’t like authority. And there is a lot of social and intellectual reason, in other words, we live in a society that says, I should be able to think for myself, I should reason for myself, I should feel for myself, and I don’t want anybody telling me what I should do. Right now, that hatred of authority is generally around what the Bible says around sex and gender. But it would be something else. I think there is a hatred of anyone saying, God says this, and you can’t live any way you want, and you can’t be anything you want, and you need to do what God says. As long as we’re still saying that, that is where the hostility comes from. So, when I say 80%, meaning, yeah, if I actually read things that people are saying negatively about the Church, probably 80% of them are around that. But I think the issue is deeper.