Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Kristoff’

Advent Podcast Day 21: “Peace Among Those with Whom God Is Pleased”

December 23, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 2:13-14

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 23, 2017, and this is Day 21 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio from 1965, and their very interesting rearrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy,” called “My Little Drum.” This comes from the 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

When we hear the Christmas story in the Bible, it often sounds better in the classic King James translation. In fact, many people of my generation think it sounds best of all when we hear Linus read it in the TV special. Let’s listen to that now:

[Play clip.]

Of course, our preference for one translation over another often comes down to style or nostalgia. But the classic King James rendering of the second half of verse 14 is misleading, if not wrong: “on earth peace, good will toward men.”

This translation makes it seem as if the angels are pronouncing God’s favor toward everyone in the world… without condition. And let’s face it: if that were indeed what God’s Word intends to say, well… it would fit in nicely in our culture, which values “inclusion” above all other values.

Just last Christmas, a columnist in the New York Times named Nicholas Kristoff interviewed Tim Keller, the now recently retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Over the course of decades Keller had great success reaching young people in their twenties and thirties with an uncompromising gospel message in one of the most secular cities in the world. I was glad to see Keller being taken seriously by the so-called “paper of record.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 08-13-17: “Living at the End of the Age”

September 7, 2017

This sermon is about Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I chose to preach this doctrine because of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 4:7a: “The end of all things is at hand.” Does this mean that Peter expected that the Second Coming would happen at any moment? Probably not. He knew, based on the teaching of Jesus, that there were signs in history that must occur before that happened. I explore these signs and talk about the most important thing we Christians should do while we wait.

Sermon Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Last Christmas, in the New York Times, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristoff interviewed one of my favorite contemporary preachers, Tim Keller, who, until his retirement a couple of months ago, pastored a large, multi-campus church in Manhattan. Kristoff said, “I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on.”

So Kristoff wanted to know if he could still be a Christian if he didn’t believe “the miracles and so on.” And Keller told him, politely, no—it’s not possible. And of course that’s right. In many ways, Kristoff wanted to do what Thomas Jefferson did: remove all the supernatural stuff from the gospels and focus on Jesus’ teaching. His teaching is great, after all. Or as Kristoff said, “I deeply admire Jesus and his message.”

But I wonder if Kristoff really understands what Jesus’ message is. Now, he likely has in mind Jesus’ great moral teaching, as in the Sermon on the Mount and in many of his parables. You don’t have to be a Christian, after all, to appreciate that Jesus is the greatest moral teacher who ever lived. But what about the rest of Jesus’ teaching? One scholar I read estimates that fully 20 percent of Jesus’ teaching has to do with events associated with his Second Coming.

If Kristoff and many others think Jesus was onto something when he taught about morality, maybe they should hear what he has to say about this other important doctrine.

So that’s what I want to do in today’s sermon: talk about the Second Coming. The reason it comes up is because of what Peter says in verse 7: “The end of all things is at hand”—and this fact ought to dictate how we live. Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Eve Sermon 2016: “Angels, Why this Jubilee?”

December 30, 2016

dreamstime_m_14219263

In today’s scripture, the angels announce good news to the shepherds, not good advice. In other words, it’s an announcement about something that God has done for us, rather than something we do ourselves. As I say in this sermon, this distinguishes Christianity from every other world religion. Apart from Christ’s atoning death and resurrection, we face a crisis in our lives that none of us is able to solve. The good news is that, like any gift under the Christmas tree, God has given this gift of forgiveness and eternal life for everyone. All we have to do is receive it.

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Sermon Text: Luke 2:1-20

A couple of days ago, my boys and I went to see the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One. It began the same way all the other Star Wars movies began—with a black screen and these words: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

In other words, no matter how much tinkering with computer-generated imagery that George Lucas and others have done to keep the movies looking as visually “realistic” as possible, these ten words may as well read, “Once upon a time…” They remind us from the beginning that, despite the fact that thousands of British people in a recent census claimed “Jedi” as their religion, the world of Star Wars is nothing more than a glorified fairy tale.

star_wars

There’s nothing wrong with fairy tales, of course. But please note that the beginning of Luke’s Christmas story couldn’t be more realistic. True, it does take place long ago and far away—but not so long ago that we can’t date it and not so far away that we can’t pinpoint it on a map. No, it happened in “those days” during the reign of Caesar Augustus reigned—we know when that was—and when he issued a decree that the entire Roman Empire would be registered for a census. And not just any census—this was the first one, Luke tells us, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Luke wants us to know, in other words, that the birth of Christ was a real and verifiable event in history.

Why does that matter? Because Luke is reporting news to us—this happened in this time and place, and you need to know about it. He’s not giving us advice. Think about it: Fables, fairy tales, and even science-fiction fantasies can impart valuable life lessons to us. They can give us good advice. Live your life like this, they say. But they can’t give us good news. Read the rest of this entry »

For the sake of my soul, I hope Jesus’ ethical teaching isn’t the “main thing”

December 29, 2016

Just before Christmas, Tim Keller, my favorite contemporary preacher, gave an interview with New York Times. Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristoff asked him challenging questions, and Keller acquitted himself well.

At least one Christian blogger, Steve Hackman, disagrees. He writes (emphasis mine):

Keller deftly does the difficult job of attempting to navigate 21st century sensibilities while still holding and defending cornerstones of the Christian faith…

…but then he drops one little sentence; one little bit of information that would be easy enough just to zoom past without giving it any thought whatsoever.

But this sentence hit me like a hammer!

I believe this sentence is the root cause of the rumblings being felt right now in American Evangelicalism between the old guard and a younger generation.

This sentence is the crack in the foundation ignored and overlooked for too long.

And what is this sentence?

Kristoff: And the Resurrection? Must it really be taken literally?

Keller: Jesus’ teaching was not the main point of his mission. He came to save people through his death for sin and his resurrection. So his important ethical teaching only makes sense when you don’t separate it from these historic doctrines.

Did you get that?  For evangelicals like Keller, Jesus’ teachings are of secondary importance.  They are “ethical teachings” to be incorporated after believing a death and resurrection occurred…

Now I agree with Keller the resurrection of Jesus is important but the resurrection of Christ is the confirmation (and promise) by God of everything Jesus  taught and proclaimed. Both at Christ’s baptism as well as the Transfiguration, the Father shows up to affirm his love for his son and that allshould listen to him!

What Jesus was teaching was not of secondary importance.  It was the MAIN thing!  Evangelicalism has been crippled by forgetting to keep the main thing the main thing.

Did you catch that?

As Hackman himself might say, Hackman drops one little sentence; one little bit of information that would be easy enough just to zoom past without giving it any thought whatsoever.

But this sentence hit me like a hammer!

This sentence is the crack in the foundation of American mainline Protestantism that has been ignored and overlooked for too long.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist…)

Keller says the main thing is Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection, both of which are necessary for our salvation. Hackman responds by saying he agrees that Jesus’ resurrection is important. Wait… what about Jesus’ death for our sins?

Does anyone think that isn’t an intentional oversight? Why doesn’t he mention Christ’s atoning death on the cross? Does Hackman not believe that is important?

Does he not believe the angel who told Joseph in Matthew 1 that he is to name him Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins”?

Anyone who reads the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, without realizing how utterly impossible God’s standard for ethical behavior is, how thoroughly we fail to live it out, and how desperately we need a Savior to save us from our sins, has missed the point of the gospel.

So, yes, I hope Keller is right that Christ’s death for our sins and his resurrection are the main things.

Tim Keller in the New York Times

December 23, 2016

kellerIn today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristoff interviews my favorite contemporary preacher, Tim Keller. You can read the interview here. While I would have pushed back harder on the resurrection and the Bible’s alleged “fuzziness” (Luke’s virgin birth story was “written in a different kind of Greek”? Huh?)  the interview was edited, as Kristoff indicates, so we can’t know what else Keller had to say.

Still, these are not softball questions. As a useful exercise, in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15, you might try formulating your own answers to these questions.

I want to highlight a couple of Keller’s responses. First, when asked about the alleged inconsistency between faith and science, I liked his answer. I’m including it here mostly because I want to remember that Plantinga quote, which I’ve highlighted:

I don’t see why faith should be seen as inconsistent with science. There is nothing illogical about miracles if a Creator God exists. If a God exists who is big enough to create the universe in all its complexity and vastness, why should a mere miracle be such a mental stretch? To prove that miracles could not happen, you would have to know beyond a doubt that God does not exist. But that is not something anyone can prove.

Science must always assume that an effect has a repeatable, natural cause. That is its methodology. Imagine, then, for the sake of argument that a miracle actually occurred. Science would have no way to confirm a nonrepeatable, supernatural cause. Alvin Plantinga argued that to say that there must be a scientific cause for any apparently miraculous phenomenon is like insisting that your lost keys must be under the streetlight because that’s the only place you can see.

Next, when asked about Christianity’s exclusivity (Is Gandhi in hell?), Keller gets to the heart of the matter: Who can be saved by being good? Who is good? And if being good were the criterion, wouldn’t that also be exclusive? The alternative to a works-based salvation, as Keller notes, is universalism: everyone will be saved in the end. But where does that leave justice? Should evil go unpunished?

What I admire most about Christianity is the amazing good work it inspires people to do around the world. But I’m troubled by the evangelical notion that people go to heaven only if they have a direct relationship with Jesus. Doesn’t that imply that billions of people — Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus — are consigned to hell because they grew up in non-Christian families around the world? That Gandhi is in hell? 

The Bible makes categorical statements that you can’t be saved except through faith in Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:11-12). I’m very sympathetic to your concerns, however, because this seems so exclusive and unfair. There are many views of this issue, so my thoughts on this cannot be considered the Christian response. But here they are:

You imply that really good people (e.g., Gandhi) should also be saved, not just Christians. The problem is that Christians do not believe anyone can be saved by being good. If you don’t come to God through faith in what Christ has done, you would be approaching on the basis of your own goodness. This would, ironically, actually be more exclusive and unfair, since so often those that we tend to think of as “bad” — the abusers, the haters, the feckless and selfish — have themselves often had abusive and brutal backgrounds.

Christians believe that it is those who admit their weakness and need for a savior who get salvation. If access to God is through the grace of Jesus, then anyone can receive eternal life instantly. This is why “born again” Christianity will always give hope and spread among the “wretched of the earth.”

I can imagine someone saying, “Well, why can’t God just accept everyone — universal salvation?” Then you create a different problem with fairness. It means God wouldn’t really care about injustice and evil.

There is still the question of fairness regarding people who have grown up away from any real exposure to Christianity. The Bible is clear about two things — that salvation must be through grace and faith in Christ, and that God is always fair and just in all his dealings. What it doesn’t directly tell us is exactly how both of those things can be true together. I don’t think it is insurmountable. Just because I can’t see a way doesn’t prove there cannot be any such way. If we have a God big enough to deserve being called God, then we have a God big enough to reconcile both justice and love.