Tim Keller on Absolutism

Tim Keller

Tim Keller
(Photo credit: revjasonclark)

In 1992 the Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy said in a ruling, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This definition of liberty or freedom has been the prevailing one in the West since  Michel Foucault‘s claim that all truth claims are power plays.

This past week I’ve been listening to Timothy Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, on my way to work.

Anyhow, today I listened to one from back in 2006 called Absolutism: Do we all have to find truth for ourselves? in which he talks about absolute truth, personal freedom and the liberty afforded by rightly understanding Christ and the Gospel.

The brief synopsis being:  In today’s society, absolute truth is thought of to be the enemy of freedom. But truth is more important than you think, freedom is a lot more complex than you think, and Jesus is a lot more liberating than you think. Surrendering to God’s absolute truth gives you a deeper, richer freedom in every area, without oppression.



So history starts with the first Adam, and Jesus is called the last Adam in places like 1 Corinthians 15:45 and Romans 5:12-21. The first Adam sinned and this last Adam atoned for sin. Through the first Adam, the human race fell; through the last Adam, members of that race can be saved. Through the first Adam, there was condemnation; through the last Adam, there can salvation. Through the first Adam, we inherit a sin nature; through the last Adam, we receive a new nature. Through the first Adam, we’re born sinners; through the last Adam, we’re born again, saints. The first Adam turned from God in a garden; and the last Adam turned to God in a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. The first Adam was a sinner; and the last Adam is a Savior of sinners. The first Adam yielded to Satan; and the last Adam defeated Satan. The first Adam sinned at a tree; and the last Adam atoned for sin on a tree. The first Adam brought thorns; the last Adam wore a crown of thorns. The first Adam was naked and unashamed; the last Adam was stripped naked and bore our shame. Everybody is born in Adam. My hope is that you would be born again in the last Adam, Jesus Christ. See, Jesus is the better, greater Adam.

Mark Driscoll – How Jesus Taught the Bible

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Stephen Colbert

My debt…

Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Oh praise the One who paid my debt
And raised this life up from the dead.

One of the things that I am not known as is a ball of emotion, but this song wrecks me every time; and, honestly, I’m not sure why.

I don’t mean “I’m not sure why” because I disagree with it or because I don’t “get” the theological implications of the truth of this hymn/song. What I mean is that the truth of the stain of my sin and the costliness and effectiveness of Jesus’ payment doesn’t often hit me consciously. Why is it that this song brings it up? Why does that three-tone quarter-note progression consistently bring me to the point of real tears and help me really, really get it and own those things?

Despite it not being often conscious, I think I really do know the depth of my own sin. I know that it is all-encompassing. I know that I am constantly under its sway to abandon what I want to do and to pursue those things that bring rot to my heart. I also have experienced my inability to change myself. I struggle just to change my actions, to throw off the lies that I believe that hold me down, to press forward to own the strength that God has given to overpower my own faults – and I fail to do those things. And those things stain. They stain in a way that leaves a blot on my life – and my life is under a debt. The stain is like blood on a wedding dress, the debt is deeper and more life-destroying than a foreclosure on a dream house.

Yet, there is Someone who can clean it!

There is Someone who has paid it!

I was quite literally damned without it. I am quite literally helpless without His cleansing.

For this I am thankful – and that is why the tears come. Not out of the fear of what could have been – but out of gratitude of what has been done to save me from it.

Driscoll: What is the Church? [A09]

First up at Advance09 was Mark Driscoll who is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. From my understanding Seattle is a hard city for the Gospel, people largely view the Church as irrelevant, bigoted and backwards (unfortunately, the caricature is not inaccurate enough).

The title/question is a significant one. It’s important to understand what this messy thing is that we call the Church. Driscoll first covered what differing views throughout history have said, but what was interesting is that there was no written works from 251AD – 1378AD that talked about ecclesiology (the study of the theological understanding of the Christian church) and there is no historically consistent belief on it.

Is it essentially a visible phenomenon which is easy to define, or invisible and undefinable? Is it about apostolic succession or about faith and faithfulness? What if things are done wrong, is it still really the Church as God defines it?

So, May 31st was “Pentecost Sunday” which celebrates what is considered the beginning of the Church, so if that was the beginning what changed on that day that set it apart from the 50 days prior after Jesus had ascended? The Holy Spirit.

Jesus, while he was on earth, was in constant contact with the Holy Spirit and dependent on him for power, Jesus was constantly praying and depending on the Father to guide his steps as well. You’ll see (especially if you read the Gospel of Matthew) that Jesus as a real human was dependent on the Holy Spirit to do anything. So, as he’s preparing to ascend and giving last instructions, what does he tell the disciples? “Wait.”

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5 ESV)

He tells them to wait until they receive the Holy Spirit because if Jesus needed him to do what he did, the apostles would certainly need him all the more. It’s on Pentecost that the Church is born. The Holy Spirit shows up and Peter preaches a sermon in the middle of Jerusalem that convinces 3,000 people that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and able to save every one who believes.

When you look at Peter’s words they’re not all that eloquent, but they’re exactly what was true. Peter focused on Jesus because the Church is totally about Jesus. It is not about a political brand, it’s not about family, it’s not about charity, it’s not about morality, nor power, money, buildings, missions, empire-building, growth, your best life now, hymns or “praise and worship”, missional living or monasticism and asceticism or anything else – it is all about Jesus.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:32, 33, 36 ESV)

Driscoll said this about those of us in the Church: “We’re a one-song band, and we’re going to keep playing it until we see him again.”

Ultimately, the Church is that which comes in the wake of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If it’s not following those Two (Three, really, since Jesus says that he does everything the Father tells him), it is not the Church.

Finally Driscoll listed (not exclusively) 8 things that mark a real Church that is following God:

  1. Regenerated Church Membership
    • Members whom God is working within.
  2. Qualified Leadership
    • This should illustrate a reality of the Trinity: ontological equality and functional (voluntary) subordination.
  3. Gathering for Teaching/Preaching and Worship.
    • Preaching illustrates the Gospel: God is the giver, I am merely the receiver.
  4. Sacraments Rightly Administered
    • Baptism and communion.
  5. Unified by the Holy Spirit
    • Distinguish between closed-handed (non-negotiable) beliefs and open-handed beliefs & prioritize important things.
    • Centered around Jesus and proclamation of the Gospel.
  6. Discipline for Holiness
    • I’m still not sure what this looks like.
  7. Obey the Great Commandment to Love
  8. Obey the Great Commission to share the Gospel

It’s not just the Church in its gathered state, but when it scatters into the world it is still the Church. It’s where we’re following in the wake of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.