– [Collin Hansen] I’m excited
that just what the Lord has in store for us here for this
next hour to talk about why we love Jesus in a secular age. Before we get started,
I want to acknowledge our sponsor for today’s workshop
which makes these events possible for us. This breakout session is
sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom and we’re
grateful for their generous support to make
this session possible. Go ahead and learn more from
ADF by visiting their booth. It’s number 38 in the exhibit
hall or online at adflegal.org. All right. So let’s talk about why we love
Jesus in a secular age and I’ll go ahead and also introduce
our panelists as I do so. My name is Collin Hansen. I’m the editorial director for
The Gospel Coalition and have been privileged to serve in this
position for the last almost 10 years since 2010. Secularism is so pervasive today
that we lack context for even understanding what’s changed,
what’s changed in our culture, what’s changed in our world. But in his 2007 book, “A
Secular Age,” Charles Taylor gives a particularly
powerful illustration that I found consistently helps
to communicate what has changed in this world
as it pertains to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this book, he explains why
you could take for granted 500 years ago that everyone
believed in God and why today it’s an exception to
believe in God, that the fight for faith is fraught
in our secular age. He argues that this secular age
which exalts the self sees the heart of the Christian gospel
as a perverse sickness. Indeed, a perverse sickness,
and he explains it this way. This is how our culture views
Jesus and the gospel. And hence, what was for a long
time and remains for many the heart of Christian piety and
devotion, love and gratitude at the suffering and
sacrifice of Christ, seems incomprehensible or even
repellent and frightening to many. To celebrate such a terrible act
of violence as a crucifixion to make this the center of your
religion, you have to be sick. You have to be perversely
attached to self-mutilation because it assuages your
self-hatred calms your fears of healthy self-affirmation. You are elevating
self-punishment which liberating humanism
wants to banish as a pathology to the rank of
the numinous. That’s what we’re talking about
here with our secular age and how it views Jesus. We’re going to talk about why we
still celebrate the crucifixion, why we still celebrate that,
why we love Jesus in our secular age and supposedly
liberating humanism. Let’s talk then introduce our
different panelists starting on the end here. Brett McCracken, one of my
colleagues as senior editor of The Gospel Coalition and
author of “Uncomfortable: The Awkward and
Essential Challenge of Christian Community.” Also “Grey Matters: Navigating
the Space between Legalism and Liberty.” And finally “Hipster
Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide.” Brett lives in Santa
Ana, California. He’s an elder at
Southlands Church. And we’ll also introduce Jen
here, contributed to the book, “A Secular Age: 10 Years of
Reading and Applying Charles Taylor,” which I’d encourage
you to pick up in our bookstore here today. Next we turn to
Jen Pollock Michel. Lives in Toronto
with her family. She’s the author of
“Surprised by Paradox.” Your brand-new book, right? “Surprised by Paradox:
The promise of ‘And’ in an Either-Or World.” Also “Keeping Place:
Reflections on the Meaning of Home,” she published
in 2017 and “Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life
of Faith,” which came out with University Press in 2014. Of course, we should
also introduce Tim. Tim Keller is founder of
Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, chairman
of Redeemer City To City and vice president of The Gospel
Coalition, a position that he’s held for our entire
history at TGC. Authored numerous books. I think the most relevant one
and one that I probably recommend more than any
other is “Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.” That’s the one that’s most
explicitly relevant to what we’re going to be
talking about today. So Tim, let’s start there. Let’s start with “Making
Sense of God.” You write this. “In the whole history of the
world, there is only one person who not only claimed to be God
Himself, but also got enormous numbers of people to believe it. Only Jesus combines claims of
divinity with the most beautiful life of humanity.” What then makes Jesus so
particularly compelling even in our secular age? – [Tim Keller] Well, maybe
Philippians 2 because Philippians 2 says being in very
nature God, Jesus did not hold on to his equality with God but
emptied Himself and became a servant and died for us. What a lot of commentators will
say, including, by the way, Don Carson, our esteemed friend,
is when it says being in very nature God, right, now, he says,
“That’s actually a causative.” So if you say, “Being a nice
guy, he helped a little lady across the street,” is another
way of saying, “Because he was a nice guy, he helped a
little lady across the street.” Do you realize how crazy it is
to say, “Because He was God, He gave up His privilege?” Which is another way of saying
there’s something in the very nature of God that does not
seek power in a linear way like, “Okay, I see power, and
the way to get power is just to go get power.” Rather, you empty yourself
of your privilege and power and you become a servant
and you really do set aside your power in order to serve. And on the other side of
that is a new kind of power, but it’s completely…
it’s cruciform power. And there is no other religion
that’s got a God like that. And what I’ve done is I’ve
picked up… You know, the way you reach any culture
is you pick up one of their narratives that something
that they really are after and that is, how do we overcome
oppression and how do we serve other people and
how do we make…? And basically, what you’re
saying with Philippians 2 is what you’re looking for is a
kind of power that actually the world doesn’t
have that Christ shows. I think there’s all sorts of
ways in which Christ then becomes the thing that…Christ
is the thing any culture wants. The Greeks want wisdom,
the Jews want power. I don’t know, modern people want
some kind of…they want to see people with privilege.
– [Collin Hansen] Pleasure. – [Tim Keller] Well, they
want to see people with privilege give up
their privilege. In every situation, you are
saying…the way you reach the culture is saying, “What you
want is great but you’re looking in the wrong place. it’s in Christ.” So Christ has got plenty
to offer a secular culture. – [Collin Hansen] Won’t you
say, though, in some ways, the appeal of Christ, even in
the supposedly secular age, is in part because of the influence
of Jesus in the last 2000 years? I don’t think we can necessarily
take for granted that that vision of power that you
articulated there would actually be compelling to
people because it’s certainly not a universal view of
power throughout time. – [Tim Keller] No, this is not
going to be something you go to China, which is a
pre-Christian country. Hopefully, it will become a
Christian country, but it’s a pre-Christian country. No, this is not the sort
of thing people would immediately say, “Oh,
isn’t that wonderful.” You’re right. What you’re actually taking is
you’re taking the emphasis on human rights, the emphasis
on serving the poor is a Christian idea. It did not arise elsewhere. There are scholars, by the way,
right now, that are making that case and it’s a leftover
from the Christian past. And so weirdly enough, it’s a
way to evangelize secular people. You’re reconnecting
with something that they…an idea they got from
Christianity but which now seems like common sense but that’s
okay because that’s basically what you do in every culture. – [Collin Hansen] Common sense
in this case being common grace. – [Tim Keller] Well, yeah, it is
really common grace, yes. Actually, I think you have to
connect with common grace in every culture but that’s
the form we have here. – [Collin Hansen] Okay. Jen, tell us a little bit about
your context, what secularism looks like in your context and
what is appealing about Jesus where you are. – [Jen Pollock Michel] I live in
Toronto and just to give you an example, sorry if I’m
repeating this if you were at an earlier session, but
one of our pastors, who’s actually planting a new church,
has had a really difficult time locating in the city because
people are actually very hostile to a church being in
their neighborhood. It’s not just that Christianity
is something that they don’t understand, it’s something
that they don’t want. They’re hostile to the message
of traditional Orthodox Christianity because
of its impingement on people’s freedoms. And I think that we really have
to talk about how the burden, that there are burdens of
individualism and autonomy that we think that that’s sort
of going to be the way that we sort of reach Nirvana
or we self-actualize. But you know what? If I’m in charge of my
happiness, if my life is completely in my control,
that’s only good insofar as I can control it. So something that’s, I
think, really compelling about Christianity is joy and
hope in the midst of suffering, and I think our pastor just
recently shared that the Christian testimony in an exilic
condition is hope in suffering. It’s not that we achieve our
greatest happiness insofar as we have total freedom
because you know what? We’re not free to ward off
suffering, we’re not free to guarantee the
outcomes of our life. We’re free to surrender to a God
who is good and does good. – [Collin Hansen] I want
all of you to answer this next question. I’m just going to continue
to build on this theme. Brett, you talk about this in
your book, “Uncomfortable.” Tim, this is actually one of
your more viral comments that in a secular age, people are
still looking for community but they cannot possibly find
true community under the conditions in which
they’re seeking it with unfettered freedom,
no accountability. Talk about that, Brett, in
the context of the local church and we’ll build
our way backward here. – [Brett McCracken] Yeah. I think it’s a self-defeating
kind of contradiction because on one hand, people do want
community and especially in a digital disembodied age where
we do increasingly live isolated from each other and
there’s a rising loneliness epidemic that’s a real
thing in this culture. So I think the longing for
community is real but that comes with this simultaneous
elevation of total autonomy and freedom and consumerism
where the expectation is everything should be on my
terms and I should be able to have community but only insofar
as it meets me where I’m at, affirms me where I’m at, kind
of just affirms me with whatever I want from it and it isn’t
holding me accountable to something that
might be uncomfortable. Hence why I wrote the book
“Uncomfortable,” calling people to lean into the challenge of
actually giving yourself to community in a way that puts
that consumer expectation aside and says, “I do
want to be challenged. I don’t just want
to be affirmed.” The blessing of community,
the actual benefit of being around people is that you have
mirrors that can sharpen you and point out things about yourself,
the areas you need to grow in that you might not be
able to see and God gives us this gift of community. The church is a gift for our
sanctification if we’re willing to give ourselves to it without
the kind of string attached of being able to opt out when it
stops working for us or when it gets difficult or uncomfortable. So I think challenging that
autonomy and that idea that it’s all just about what
makes you happy and what enhances your life. Like Church is going to
stop enhancing your life at various points. Like there’s going to be times
where it maybe does and times where it doesn’t and we
can’t just have this expectation of leaving the minute
it stops working for us. – [Collin Hansen] I don’t see
how you can have community without accountability. I want to talk more about that. Jen, what does that look like in
your church context in your neighborhood with people
interacting with your kids? What does that look like? – [Jen Pollock Michel] Well,
I was thinking about Wendell Berry and his essay, “Sex,
Economy, Freedom & Community” where he talks about the
constraints of community that we want to throw
those off but those are for our flourishing. The constraints of a covenant
relationship in marriage, the constraints that are imposed
as you’re a parent and you give up your freedom to drive your
children to soccer and many other things, get up in the
middle of the night and you know. And I think that it’s amazing as
Christians to be able to tap into that modern longing for
community and remind people of the paradox, if I can,
of embodied community. That embodied community is a
constraint but a constraint for human flourishing, and
we have to sort of flesh that out for people. A really interesting article…
yeah, sorry for the pun. Interesting article is the “Sex
Recession” in the Atlantic, December 2018 and really talking
about how people just have the inability right now to
form community, and I think the church has a really
important invitation in that. – [Collin Hansen] More of ways
that we can show the work of Christ in compelling ways
that are going to appeal to our culture. I think that’s one of the
mindset shifts that we have to affect is that we’re under
siege all the time and we’re just trying on the defensive
constantly, as opposed to that we have this
incredible gospel. We have this Savior who is the
exact answer, maybe not for the questions that they’re asking
but what they truly want deep down beneath. How do people respond,
though, Tim when you talk about community and when
you make that challenge? I know you’ve often pointed
that specifically at some of our younger generations that I hear
all this talk about community but not seemingly a
willingness to do what’s necessary to achieve it. – [Tim Keller] Well,
I don’t think it’s all that compelling to talk to
non-Christians about community and accountability. I’d rather talk about
freedom and love. So one thing that always
gets people going is… years ago, in a John Stott
book, I forget which one it was, “Contemporary
Christian,” by John Stott. He brings out an interview
that he read in Limoux. Obviously, he can read
French and I can’t, and it was an interview with
Françoise Sagan, who was a woman who was a
pretty prominent French novelist, secular intellectual. And one of the things they
asked her, “What was your great goal in life?” And she said, “My greatest
goal in life was freedom. I want to live a free life,
I want to be a free woman.” And then the question was,
have you achieved that? Have you lived a free life? And she says, “You can’t
be free when you’re in love but fortunately, you’re
not always in love.” Now, what she was admitting
and John Stott brought that right out, what she was
admitting was that the secular definition of freedom is
absolutely antithetical to a love relationship because even
if you’re in love, it means, for example, you can’t just go
out of town in the weekend without telling
the other person. The other person is like,
“That’s not helpful for me, oh, oh.” And she admitted that a love
relationship is antithetical to freedom, so she had a
definition but it’s actually the secular definition of freedom,
which is an absence of restraints on my life
unless I’m harming you. Well, yeah. Okay, fine, not harming you,
but how about a freedom that is actually…how about redefining
freedom in a way that actually enhances love relationships
instead of undermines them? And when I talk about that and I
say, “So what’s your definition of freedom?” and the secular
people will give me some answer that actually fits in with
Francois Saigon, I say, “Well, good luck on relationships.” And then I say, “Let’s work on
a different definition,” and they’re with me on that. If you hit community,
accountability, I think that your eyes start to glaze over. They feel like how
do I go to these…? I have friends who we just
accept each other and even there, you can
say, define friendship. But the point is it’s very
clear that even a romantic relationship does not work on
the basis of secular freedom. And so that’s where I usually
find a kind of pinch point with non-Christians. – [Collin Hansen] What do you do
though, Tim, when we have a situation like what Jen is
laying out here where I’m not sure romantic love is a priority
for as many people anymore? – [Tim Keller] Okay, fine. Listen, until you’re so lonely
that you’re open to changing your understanding of
freedom, she wasn’t. Francois Saigon got to the end
of her life because she was also…I don’t know. She never got there and until
people get there, there isn’t anything you can say. I mean, ultimately, God’s got to
work on the heart, set things up providentially so that
they realize it’s not working. But there’s plenty of people
that have these secular definitions that will…they’re
already undermining their happiness but if they don’t want
to admit that they’re unhappy or if they just harden themselves
and say, “Hey, it’s better to be alone than to be stuck in all
these love relationships.” If that’s how they work it out,
it’s a little bit like…it’s a bit like…I don’t know. It’s like the disillusioned
sensible man in CS Lewis’s chapter on hope where you
kill the part of the heart that really wanted to be happy and
really wanted to love and then you say, “I’m a sophisticated
person that stopped crying after the moon.” Sometimes I’ll even talk about
that and say…you know, Martin Heidegger said the
difference between an animal and a human being is the
animal just wants to survive and the human being
wants love and meaning. And I said, if in order to
be a sophisticated person you’re killing the part of your
heart that makes you a human being and not an animal,
well, that’s your lookout. – [Jen Pollock Michel] I’m
almost wondering if part of the task now, a new task in the
secular age is actually kind of awakening those longings in
people, not assuming that they even have a longing for
connection and love but they do because, of course,
they’re made in the image of God, a triune God. And so just somehow sort of
tapping into that or giving them vision for that, that
would awaken a longing in them, a longing that then
could not be consoled or satisfied in anything else. – [Tim Keller] It
might sleep deep. I don’t know, is
Alan Noble here? And Alan’s book, “Disruptive
Witness,” says that stories and suffering, in other words,
sometimes people get pulled into a story, it could be a book
or a movie that arouses a desire for the thing and they realize
they don’t have the worldview for it yet they want it. And the other thing is sometimes
suffering, something comes into your life and the… I mean, my niece just died
and a lot of her family are not sure where their faith is. But she was an ardent Christian
and it was good to show up and do a funeral and talk about how
happy she was just by the fact she had a terribly deteriorating
physical condition. And my guess is that that they
were in grief but a lot of them probably were wondering whether,
“Do I have the worldview to be able to handle death
the way she did?” So I think trouble and stories
are two ways that the deep sleeping things that Jen was
talking about there could be awakened. – [Collin Hansen] Couldn’t our
communities and our marriages also do that of how we love one
another, awaken that desire of love? What do you think, Brett? – [Brett McCracken] Yeah. I mean, I think people,
like I said earlier, like people are living in these
more isolated bubbles of just reinforced confirmation
bias and whatnot. And so I think when they
encounter a community like a church of people who are
very different from one another, like I love churches where it’s
just this crazy melting pot, motley crew of people from
all walks of life who have no business being together. Like by the rules of our
contemporary society, there’s nothing that would
bring them together as we’re increasingly kind of fragment. So I think there is a powerful
witness that kind of shakes people up a little bit and
causes them to take notice and just ask questions, what is
it that unifies that community? Now, sadly, a lot of Christians
today aren’t leaning into that challenge of kind of diversity
and being this melting pot across all the boundaries
and we’re just kind of following secularism in just
fragmenting and being divisive. So we’re losing, I think, an
opportunity to kind of be a disruptive witness, to use
Alan Noble’s term, in a secular age. – [Collin Hansen] So help me to
understand whether or not this aspect of Jesus’s teaching which
we’ve seen come up several times in already the plenary
talks, is this a bridge or is this just straight-up
confrontation? So we know that in
whether we call it expressive individualism,
in our age of authenticity, various different ways to
describe, that we’re told to be able to find ourselves,
to find our identity, to find meaning and
purpose in life, we need to inside ourselves. But Jesus’s teaching could
not be more different there. He tells “Us unless you lose
your life for the sake of me and for the sake of the
gospel, you’ll never find it. We did the new book, “Lost
and Found,” to try to give examples of stories with a lot
of suffering so that people are going to be able
to connect that. Do we just have to confront a
secular age with that teaching or is there a bridge that can be
kind of built between those two things? What do you think, Brett? – [Brett McCracken] I
just saw the movie “Us.” I don’t know if anyone
has seen “Us.” It’s by the director
of “Get Out” And it’s a horror film. But horror films often are the
best at capturing the anxieties of any given zeitgeist moment,
and there’s a great tradition of horror movies for doing that. And “Us,” there’s a scene where
a character…the whole movie is about like doubles,
doppelgangers, and the idea like you’re your own
worst enemy and there’s a family that kind of has this
identical family that’s like stalking them. But at the beginning of the
movie, a character, kind of, the plot is set in motion when this
little girl wanders into a hall of mirrors at a fun house and
there’s this neon sign on top of it that says, “Find
yourself,” and I just thought, “Like this film is
capturing the horror of the find yourself mentality as if… You know, its pitch does
kind of a glorious thing. Like just look within,
find yourself, follow your heart, but
it’s a horror show. Like when push comes to shove,
you are not the answer to your anxieties and the deep
longings of your heart. You can’t just look
within for that. And I think that film captures
what maybe people ultimately Are feeling with
that philosophy. It’s a dead end to look within. – [Jen Pollock Michel] I was
going to mention that I was at a New York Times Book
Review event in Toronto and they sent us home
with tote bags that says, “The truth has a voice.” I was like, “What?” The New York Times…
– [Tim Keller] John 1:1? [Jen Pollock] Right,
exactly, you know. But I think that there is sort
of an anxiety right now culturally where we’re sort of
saying, “Wow, we’ve located truth in the interior and in
the subjective, but gosh, that sort of fails us when we
need stories that tell the truth about what’s happening
in the political landscape, for example.” Now, I’m not suggesting,
I’m not saying the “New York Times” has…that they
tell the truth better than other media organizations,
but I think it’s interesting to hear them kind of wanting
to sort of reclaim something objective about truth. – [Collin Hansen] What do
you think, Tim, with that specific question? Are we just straight-up
confronting with those words of Jesus? Is there a bridge
to be built there? How do we bring that truth to
bear on a secular age where it seems like that would be so
antithetical to how people see the world? – [Tim Keller] Well,
there’s a lot of ways. I think there’s a lot of
different ways to go. I mean, Jen’s already
just referred to one. It’s if you really do say truth
is subjective, you’d find truth inside, then you’ve got
absolutely no ability then to ground your calls to justice. You’ve got nothing to build on
because if truth is something I find in my heart and therefore,
you shouldn’t build the wall to keep out the suffering
immigrants, then what if somebody says, “Well,
I didn’t find that truth in my heart. I think what I find in my
heart is build the wall.” So why should your heart take
precedence over my heart. And then we go, “Oh, well.” You’ve actually just destroyed
your ability to talk about any moral obligation at all. That’s a nastier way
to go at it, I think. It’s a way of just hitting them
over the head and saying, “You’ve got no basis for making
moral judgments and you’ve got no basis for doing justice
even though you’re yelling about justice all the time.” I think another way to go would
be to say if people are honest about going inside, that our
insides are incoherent, that it’s saying different
things, that our desires do not line up and they change
terribly, and that you actually have to connect and you are, in
fact, everybody is connecting to something outside in order to
give yourself some sense of self and worth, and
go at it that way. Also, by the way,
Augustine does… Augustine, at one, point says
that in some ways, God is more remote than
anything outside. And yet on the other hand, he
actually says, “You are more inward than my inmost self.” He’s further in the center of
you than even your own feelings. And so there is some sense in
which by going outside to find Him through His word in
Revelation, you are going to eventually discover who you
are, and you have to make that case that Christianity is not
self-renunciation where you just beat yourself down, but
it’s not self-aggrandizement or self-actualization in which
you are, in a sense, closed to the other, you’re closed
to anything outside, you’re creating yourself. Instead, it’s self-
transformation. It’s by going outside to find
yourself on the inside. It’s just that the Christian
approach to identity I think is more nuanced, it’s more
exciting, it actually includes most of what the secular
world wants but enhances it. So it’s not just…I guess your
question is, is it just saying, lose yourself to find yourself,
follow Christ, and everything about going inside is wrong? Not if you read
“The Confessions.” I mean, look at Augustine’s
confessions. He has to go inside. And also there’s this guy
named John Calvin who says in the very, very
beginning of his institutes that your knowledge of yourself
and your knowledge of God increase or decrease together. That you can’t know God unless
you start to see who you really are, otherwise, you’re not
going to see your center. On the other hand, you can’t
know yourself without it driving you more toward God and that
means this knowledge of God, the knowledge of yourself
go up and down together. Again, that’s very modern. It’s a way of saying,
self-knowledge, knowing who you really are, happens
as you get to know God. The deeper you know God, the
deeper you’ll know yourself. So there’s all sorts of ways of
saying, “We can include your concerns without at the same
time undermining the idolatry of the self that you’ve set up.” – [Collin Hansen] I would
emphasize also what we tried to do on this very question with
the book, “Lost and Found,” is to do the stories
and the suffering. That seems a way to be able
to illustrate that from various different perspectives. One of the more helpful books,
more thought-provoking books that I’ve read recently is
Steven Smith’s “Pagans and Christians in the City.” Any of you seen that one yet? – [Tim Keller] It’s a book that
I have that I know I’m supposed to read and now you’re making
me feel even more guilty. – [Collin Hansen] Okay,
that was the goal. – [Tim Keller] It’s right there. I know right where it is on
the shelf, on the stack, I just haven’t gotten to it. – [Collin Hansen] I’ll direct
the question to Jen then. – [Jen Pollock Michel]
If Tim hasn’t read it, I haven’t read it. – [Collin Hansen] But one thing
I really appreciate about, you read “A Secular Age” after
I talked to you about that. – [Tim Keller] How many
years did that take? – [Jen Pollock Michel] I’m
happy to say it only took me like four months. – [Tim Keller] That’s
really pretty good. – [Jen Pollock Michel] That was
on a pretty rigorous schedule. – [Tim Keller] Except, what
did it do to your marriage? – [Jen Pollock Michel] I have my
husband to blame for reading “A Secular Age.” He read “Grit.” Challenged me to do a hard
thing, and Charles Taylor was my hard thing. – [Collin Hansen] Brilliant. May a thousand other people. – [Tim Keller] But
he is Canadian. So you’re a Canadian. – [Jen Pollock Michel]
He’s American but a pretty smart guy. – [Tim Keller] No, I mean
Charles Taylor. – [Jen Pollock Michel]
Oh, that’s right, yes. – [Tim Keller] Charles
Taylor is Canadian. – [Jen Pollock Michel] Another
reason to read Taylor. – [Collin Hansen] All right. So Steven Smith argues that
today’s secular west marks a return to its pagan roots. That’s the basic thesis there. He defines paganism this way. Paganism is this worldly
religion, religion that is focused on these circumstances in this world. He explains then that
Christianity threatened the early Roman Empire with
its appeals to eternal life. That was what made Christianity
a threat in the early Roman era, or in that Roman Empire
in the early church. Then as now, I think it’s
appealing for Christians in that atmosphere to then
present Jesus as the key to to experiencing
our best life now. That then becomes the
temptation in secularism that harkens back to
this kind of paganism. It says, a way of sort of
benefiting this culture. But Jen then, how do we talk
about human flourishing? That’s something
that’s a buzzword. It’s been that way
for a long time. How do we talk about
human flourishing, that Jesus is the ultimate means to
our true human flourishing with our neighbors, here and
now when Jesus is calling us to experience this fullness of
life but only in the context of eternal life? – [Jen Pollock Michel] It’s
going to be a hard sell. People are going to think that
you believe in unicorns which is generally now how I think about
it in Toronto when I say that I believe in the resurrected
Christ and in a life to come. You know, Charles Taylor
essentially says we can’t reduce the burden of the gospel. That at the end of the day,
there is this irreducible tension between “My will be
done,” and “Thy will be done.” But I think that to recover from
the biblical narrative the idea that when we say “Thy will
be done,” it’s not, “Oh, and it’s really going
to be awful.” But when we say, “Thy will
be done,” when Moses said, “Here are the commands of the
Lord and they are means for you to live,” and when Jesus said,
“I’ve come to give you life and life abundantly,” now,
we have to define that. We have to expand a vision
for that that is beyond the here and the now. But I think one of the things,
one of the challenges for the church is that in reaction
to my best life now, we say sometimes, well, you
kind of get your worst life now but best life later. And that’s not a super
compelling message and I don’t think it’s even faithful
to the biblical witness. So this idea that “Thy will
be done,” is my best life, now and later. It doesn’t mean that I’m
guaranteeing certain outcomes for my life but
no one can, whether you believe in Christ or not. I’m as vulnerable to
suffering as anyone else. Boy, I’d rather be walking with
Jesus in a cancer diagnosis than without Him. – [Collin Hansen] Amen. Yeah, that’s one thing. I think as we continue to try to emphasize a shift in posture,
one that’s a little bit more just like understanding the hope
that we have in a secular age, it’s significant to me to
recognize that something like suffering is
not a coincidence. We keep coming
back to that theme. There are ways to suffer
particularly as a Christian. And Jesus talks about those
things specifically for Him, that we will suffer for Him. That’s that emphasis that
He gives us a number of different places. But I think it’s significant
that you will not suffer. You’re not going to suffer less
by abandoning Christianity. You’ll only abandon any reason
or hope within that suffering. I talked with a friend recently
in his church where they were dealing…somebody had abandoned
the faith after suffering many different things and there was
some sort of thought in his head that “Somehow, I can get out
of this,” or that “My faith is the problem. But again, by turning
away from Jesus, it didn’t make him suffer less. It just meant there was no then
redemptive hope and purpose in that suffering. Let ee refocus though,
Tim, on the specific issue of paganism as this
worldly religion. How do we, sort of, in a
secular age, talk about that dynamic interplay between
our best life now, this worldly religion, and ultimately,
eternal life that Jesus continually calls us toward? – [Tim Keller] I’ve two
responses to that. One is I don’t think it’s…it
can’t be a simple return. I mean, it’s partly right,
I think, for him to say we’ve gone back to paganism,
but let me just give you… But we’re a post-Christian,
not a pre-Christian society. So let me just give you one
quick reason why I’m only partly there. Why it’s actually more
complicated, it’s not quite right to simply say, “We
just have to reproduce what the early church did with the
Roman Empire,” but again, that was pre-Christian. So let me give you an example, is Kyle Harper’s book,
“From Shame to Sin.” It’s about sex ethics and
how the Roman world was changed by the Christian
revolutionary sex ethic. The pagan sex ethic was that
when you were married, the husband was expected to have
sex with anybody he wanted to. He could have sex
with domestics, with prostitutes, no problem. The wife could not have sex with
anybody else because in a sense, she had to be faithful to him. He had to know who the
children were from and basically, it was a sex ethic
that was tied to the social order and in the social order,
the men had all the power. Along comes Paul, 1st
Corinthians 7 says the most astounding thing at that point
in history about sexuality. He says “The wife’s body is
not hers but the husband’s.” But then it says, “The husband’s
body is not his but the wife’s.” And if you’re going to have sex
or not have sex, it has to be by mutual consent. What? And also, away goes the
double standard completely. In every way, the double
standard goes away completely and so it’s sex only between a
man and woman in marriage. And we still have that. The idea of consent
is a Christian idea. The first Christian Emperor,
Theodosius or whatever 428 or something like that was the
first emperor to come along and make a law that said no woman
could be forced to have sex against her will which
was a Christian idea. So what happens is we’ve got a
lot of Christian ideas that are leavening paganism but they’re
taken without attribution. That is to say nobody
wants to say we got them from Christianity. And so in some ways,
Christianity is not quite as attractive as
it was back then. The whole idea of universal
benevolence, helping all the poor, it’s a Christian idea. The whole idea of
that kind of charity. And so it’s a paganism with all
these kind of Christian ideas which creates a very weird
relationship to secular culture that was really a little
different than pagan culture. I just got to say that. What was the other part of the… – [Collin Hansen] It was really
helpful for me to understand the nature of persecution
within paganism. So I think one thing that that
stokes a lot of the opposition to us in a secular age is that
we’re telling people that we live by…we’re calling
them to and saying that we live for a higher order, for
something that they can’t see. – [Tim Keller] Yeah, I was
going to say the second…I remember I had two things to
say, and I took too long on the first one. Now, the second thing
was Lewis’s hope… Basically, St.Augustine
just found nothing was making him happy. He said, “If I can just get to
Carthage, then I’ll be happy, and I get in the
inner circle now. Now I need to get to Rome. Then I need to get to Milan.” And every point,
he’s just not happy. Then he reads Cicero’s
“Hortensius” which is basically saying you’re never going
to be happy in this life. It’s just not going to happen
and that the pagan idea that if you just have enough sex, drugs,
and rock and roll or whatever they had back then,
you’ll be happy. And then through Augustine,
first into philosophy and finally into Christianity which
said, “Oh, we’re made for something besides this world
and our hearts are restless till we find a rest in the…,”
I do think you can do what Lewis says and to
everybody and say, “You will find eventually that
the things that you think will make you happy will not. And you will know eventually
that you are not having your best life now and you either
are going to kill that part of the heart that wants more or
you’re going to turn to God.” So I think that worked back for
Augustine in the pagan world. I think it works for us now. I mean, you still
can say that now. – [Brett McCracken] I would just
add with the whole conversation of the this-worldly orientation,
I also think we’re in a moment where it’s a this
moment orientation. We’re in a very
presentist paradigm. There’s a book that came
out a few years ago called “Present Shock” by Douglas
Rushkoff talking about this. Everything has collapsed to
the now, and like social media perpetuates it. It’s all about like…Twitter’s
like what’s happening now, what’s trending now. If you’re not in the
conversation now, you’re irrelevant. And so there’s a burden that
comes with that and this pressure to like, you
know, be relevant now. We have to be understanding
what’s happening and there’s a disconnection from past,
from future, from this higher order. And so I think that’s a way that
we can be a refreshing witness in this world that is feeling
burdened by the presentist this now orientation. It’s actually freeing to kind
of see your little life as part of a bigger ancient
eternal story. So connectedness to the past,
to the future, seeing ourselves as members of a kingdom that
will outlive this universe, let alone this five-minute period
of scrolling social media, I think that’s a way that we can
be different in a noticeable, refreshing way. – [Collin Hansen] A part of what
we deal with in a secular age is not only what the Bible teaches,
not only who Jesus is and how he reveals Himself to us in his
word, but also how Christians portray Him, how we portray him
certainly, but how the church is then perceived. Tim, let me take you to a place
in “Center Church” where you write, “If the Christian
faith is to have any impact on culture, the time must come
when it is widely known that secularism tends to make people
selfish while general religion and traditional morality make
people tribal, concerned mainly for their own. But the Christian gospel
turns people away from both their selfishness and
their self-righteousness to serve others in the
way that Jesus gave himself for his enemies.” To that I’d say Amen and make
sure you pick up a copy of “Center Church” and
read all about that. How though, I don’t think that’s
how Christianity is perceived in this context. So how do we break Jesus away
from His popular conception as a convenient political
prop for Christians? Is there any way to seize
attention for the watching world in our secular age for
this compelling and loving character of Jesus who
transcends and obliterates these secular age’s divides? That’s for you, Tim. You want me to give
you more time? – [Tim Keller] No,
I’ll be really short. We’re going to have to do our
job if we are going to have to be better than we…we just
have to do what the Bible calls us to do to love our neighbor. But then if you’re really going
to have the culture actually notice it, probably God will
just have to do something in His providence. Like the early Christians were
despised but Rodney Stark tells you in his book, “The Rise of
Christianity,” that when the plagues came along, the urban
plagues basically, because of a fear of contagion, people just
left sick and dying family members and just got out of town
and the Christians stayed and they habitually stayed, they
became famous for staying, taking care of people,
in many cases dying. And Rodney Stark just says
that after that, there was a… The reputation began to say,
wait, these Christians, they care about the poor. They’re not afraid of death. Now, I don’t know whether we
have a problem like that shows up and we would have the same
moral character, I don’t know. But generally speaking,
I feel like in pockets, we can be well known for our
good deeds and our love. But probably if the culture is
going to see it, we just have to do our…be who we are and
do our job and let God decide whether he’s going to show
the culture through some kind of intervention. In the past, that’s
what’s happened. I don’t think you
can engineer that. – [Collin Hansen] What
do you think, Jen? – [Jen Pollock Michel] Brett? – [Collin Hansen] Brett. – [Brett McCracken] So I was at
my barber last week and so the barber shop I go to in LA is
like a stereotypical LA, like ust this big muscled, tattooed,
Hispanic barber and he was giving me my haircut. And I was talking to
him and he was… It came up that I was an editor
for something called The Gospel Coalition and he was like,
“Oh, are you a Christian? Are you religious?” And I got to talking and
he’s agnostic, he grew up up Seventh-Day Adventist
Church but now he’s an gnostic. He says, “I don’t know what I
think about God but I will say this,” and this is what
was interesting to me. He says, “I wouldn’t want God
and Christianity removed from politics or government.” He said, “It would
just be chaos. Like our world would
be worse for that.” And so just the fact that he
observed that as an agnostic and I think that that gets to
the idea that Christians at their best are this leavening
kind of salt and light presence in every sphere: politics,
medicine, hospitals and we always have been. So to the extent that we keep
doing that, I think people will keep noticing it and have
at least an interest in that. – [Collin Hansen] Maybe you
could speak to it…well, you can say whatever you want,
Jen, but you could also speak to this issue, cross-border as
an American in Canada where all these things, they look very
different on the other side of the border yet everything
bleeds north as well. – [Jen Pollock Michel] I mean,
a huge difference in Canada is that people don’t assume that
the kingdom is coming by in the next political election
and…sorry, or the past one. – [Collin Hansen] We’ve had such
a great track record so far. Next time, cross
your fingers, right? – [Jen Pollock Michel] So I just
wonder if we can return to teaching the kingdom and
not just spend the truth of the kingdom but the
way of the kingdom. And I really appreciated
Eugene Pearson’s book, “Jesus is the Way.” He says often, you know,
evangelicals seize on the idea that Jesus is the truth. We love to talk about
Jesus being the truth. But Jesus is the way that
it’s not just what Jesus says but it’s how he gets his
work done that we are to emulate as well. And so I think to look at the
narrative of the gospel is to realize that the kingdom
came through suffering and through death and that doesn’t
really make sense when we think about seizing political power
and having cultural gravitas. As long as we have to be the
majority and we think of that being the way the kingdom is
coming, I think we sort of miss the beauty of the gospel and
really the mystery and the miracle of it. The fact that it could look as
vulnerable as a seed and yet this is exactly the metaphor
for the kingdom that it comes in surprising ways. – [Collin Hansen] Here’s a
question though, which side is more messianic
now in their politics? Years ago for Books & Culture,
I reviewed a book on the American presidency by a
presidential scholar and he talked about how through the
20th century, our expectations of the presidency have expanded
beyond comprehension that essentially that office will
crush any human being who aspires to it and earns it. The expectations are
simply impossible. And as we’ve seen these
messianic expectations from Christians for politics,
it might even be surpassed by people outside of faith who
ascribe to a secular worldview. Is that a bubble that might
burst for those expectations that could be an avenue to be
able to show the love of Christ and the kingdom of God
in that atmosphere? I’m going to start turning
to audience members if somebody doesn’t jump in here. I mean, you can say no. You can say no. – [Jen Pollock Michel] I mean,
I wonder if it returns to our conversation about longings,
the longings of the human heart for a righteous king, for a
Messiah, for a kingdom, for the government to be on the
shoulders of the only shoulders broad enough to carry it. And if those longings are on
both sides of the political conversation and we have an
opportunity to say you’re not going to find that in your next
presidential candidate but I get to tell you a better story. – [Collin Hansen] Yeah. Amen to that though I probably
should have answered my own question by saying I don’t
imagine we’ll have a more messianic election than 2008 and
we appeared not to have learned any of those lessons in our
culture in a secular age. So I don’t know,
we’ll have to see. Perhaps the Lord will reveal it. Anyone else want to
jump in on that one? – [Brett McCracken] I think the
reason why politics have been elevated to this messianic
kind of…because we’re in a post-Christian context and
it’s filling the void of religion for a lot of people and
even a lot of ostensibly religious people, Christians,
who would call themselves a Christian, if they were honest
with themselves, politics has kind of become the new driving
passion where their longings for justice and things
like that are given voice. And so yeah, I think that
everyone does long for justice and people want,
they feel that in politics on whatever side you’re at, gives
you kind of a community, gives you a purpose, gives you
meaning in that direction. So even my barber, to go back
to the barber, he was going off about the Jussie Smollett
situation and he was just like, “It’s so unjust. We just have to have
justice in this situation.” And it just struck me,
like yeah, people intuitively feel when there’s injustice and
that is a thing that you have to have an outlet for. Like it can’t go unresolved and
so that’s why people get so riled up on Twitter. That’s why everyone is so
angry about everything. There has to be
an outlet for justice. Currently, politics is
that for a lot of people. – [Collin Hansen] I think if
we’d been having this conversation in 2012 and you
said that kind of the central issue of our day might be the
pursuit of truth, you would have thought, “Whoa, there
went a thousand think pieces of evangelicalism on
post- modernism,” from today of just, “No, no.
no. We’re a post-truth era. Also, and 2016 comes along and
everybody cares about truth now. It’s fascinating how quickly
these things can change. Are you sure I can’t bait you
into something here too? I know you want
to jump in on this. All right, that’s not fair. All right, I’ll get you
some other way. Okay. Let’s bring this home a
little bit, talk about personal, spiritual disciplines and also
how you see people coming to faith. So first, let’s start
with the disciplines. I’ll start with you
down there, Brett. What is the most helpful
spiritual discipline that stokes your love for Jesus when the
pressures of our secular age press in on you? We’re not immune to these
trends and that’s one of the most important things to say in
a Christ and Culture class I was teaching in our church, I said,
“Fundamentally, we must understand as Christians
these are not trends that are out there for those people. They don’t affect us in
many ways just as much.” So this challenge of loving
Jesus in a secular age is one that we face. How does Jesus help align
your heart with his in this? – [Brett McCracken] For me,
I think just the local church and showing up embodied
physically in the local church is a huge important
discipline for me. I mean, I live a lot of my week
in the online space and kind of the digital world. I’m a digital journalist. So for me, coming to church,
week after week, is a refreshing escape from the excarnation. Taylor talks about the
excarnation and how we’re living in this kind of
neo-gnostic disembodied world, and the church
offers incarnation and in fleshed realities. So coming to church week after
week, standing physically shoulder to shoulder with people
who are very different from me, who wouldn’t know what Twitter
debate I was interested in the day before and wouldn’t care
but are there to worship Jesus, to take communion, to take
the physical communion. The fact that it’s a physical
act is so amazing and refreshing in an age of excarnation. So I would say that for me,
just the local church and the habits of that.
– [Collin Hansen] Amen. Jen. – [Jen Pollock Michel] I’m going
to say Church as well but I’m actually going to cite
a different reason. I think church restories us. I think the gospel
essentially restories us. And so Monday through
Saturday, we kind of live the stories of our
neighborhoods and our city. Like we’re just embattled
because the story is your best life now and run fast so
you can get all the toys and it’s certainly that in Toronto. And so I show up to church
on Sunday kind of forgetting. Of course, I’m reading Scripture
throughout the week and being restoried by that as well but
there’s something incredibly powerful to hear other people
rehearsing it and especially on the weeks when I
find it hard to believe. Sometimes, there are weeks I
show up to church and I forget my story, I forget the true
story of the world, and I don’t even have faith to rehearse
it myself, but I hear Brett next to me saying it and his
faith kind of gives me faith and I can’t do it without
the people of God. And I think it’s a reminder too
as parents that even in seasons of life when it’s super busy
and children have activities, like getting them to church on
Sunday is the way that they continue to be restoried. – [Collin Hansen]
All right, Tim? – [Tim Keller] I like
immersion in the Psalms. Read Eugene Peterson’s
introduction to the Psalms called “Answering God” and his
basic point is that we have a tendency in a self-expressive,
individualistic world, to look at prayer as just a way
of expressing ourselves toward God. And he says, for example,
children, if you just let children alone to express
themselves, if you just say, “Hey, we just want them to learn
how to talk by themselves,” they’ll never learn. You learn how to talk because
somebody’s speaking to you and then you learn to imitate them
and he said, “Immersing yourself in the Psalms teaches you
how to talk about God.” The other thing that’s about the
Psalms especially if you do some Benedictine form like every
three months or every month or you don’t want to do like
the Benedictines which is every week: you get through
all of 150 Psalms, you either read them, chant them,
recite them or sing them. It’s such a big God you’ve got
there, so many…there’s a just a danger of making God
into the God you want. We have a tendency to say…we’ve
been taught to determine what kind of self we want to be and
then you only choose and believe in things that fit in with the
kind of self you want to think of yourself as being and
therefore, even our beliefs in God tend to be a
kind of an accessory. It’s like accessorizing
your self-image. But the Psalms do
not let that happen. The Psalms show you who God is. You let God speak into you. And then when you pray, if
you’re always praying back the Psalms or letting your
prayer be conditioned by the Psalms, guided by the
Psalms, in many cases, you’re just praying the
Psalms back to God, it just changes you. And it’s impossible
to be an expressive individualist if you immerse
yourself in the Psalms like that, week after week, month
after month, year after year. So I only was able to not say
that the Christian community and church because that was
already said but I would say that’s another spiritual
discipline crucial in our time. – [Collin Hansen] I don’t know
if I learned it from you or from somebody else. But my reading tends to
be Psalm 1, 30, 60, 90, 120 recycled through on that
monthly basis along with one of the Proverbs, a chapter of
Proverbs, exactly because I find there’s nothing like the Psalms
that just get me back there. Did you have something else
you wanted to say there? Okay. You had the mic already. So wow, just got about
three minutes left before we wrap up here. Tim, I’m going to start
this question with you. What are some hopeful signs of
people coming to faith in Christ in our secular age? Have you seen any of those
trends change over the course of your ministry? Quickly, I’ll say that in
our context, we’ve seen a number of people
come to faith. It is almost always community
for them, a felt need of community and they come in
and they say, “Oh, you’re not like those other people. You love me in ways that I
haven’t been loved before,” and they want to know more
about Jesus and they see that connection to the gospel. It’s pretty simple but that’s
been the most powerful tool in our context. What have you seen
over the years, Tim? – [Tim Keller] Something
similar. Yes, very secular people
can come to faith in Christ. But it takes a great deal
of patience and it takes relationship. So Jen has already referred
to this that we are used to doing…most of our evangelism
assumes that people will think that Christianity is a good
thing, like your barber. In the past, there have been
people who said, “I’m not a Christian, but I do see that
religion and Christianity is a good thing. Churches do good work.” That’s a very different culture
than the culture that says it’s really bad for you and going to
church, having a church isn’t a good idea at all,
it’s bad for people. In that situation, the only
way you draw people in is through long relationships. So yeah, and that’s how I see
it happening, but not bringing people to big events where you
hear the expert evangelist. – [Collin Hansen] Jen? – [Jen Pollock Michel] I was
just going to say creating context where curiosity is
welcomed and where like doubt, maybe even there’s
hospitality for that. And that doesn’t mean that we
valorized out but we have to just be hospitable
to where people are. So in our church context,
there’s Q&A after the sermon and that’s always one of
the most kind of spirit-filled moments as people just…and it’s
not even what is said so much as an environment that’s created
where we say you get to be where you are, you get to interact
with this, you get to engage your mind and your heart,
and your curiosity is welcome here. And so we’re seeing a lot
of people come to faith through that and also just that
I think through the invitation to be on a journey that may
take some time to process intellectual doubts. – [Brett McCracken] Yeah,
I think I’ll just reiterate some things that have already
been said about community. I’ve seen that to be just
the countercultural nature of Christian community
increasingly in a disembodied, fragmented age. But yeah, also to Tim’s
point about just the long burn of relationship. So with the barber, like I’m
going to continue to go to him and keep the conversation going
now that I know he’s sort of got this interest. You just have to kind of lean
into that and trust that the spirit will work in his heart
over time if it’s his will and all I can do is just keep the
conversation going and keep living my life and living my
witness as a Christian in relationship with him. – [Collin Hansen] Well, great. That’s the end of our workshop
here, our panel, why we love Jesus in a secular age. We hope that…maybe we’ve
even given you some book recommendations or some tips
on how you can navigate this in our culture, even some ones
you want to pick up there in the bookstore. But more importantly, we
hope that we’ve stirred your faith and your hope in Christ
and seeing the promise of what he’s doing in our era. Please join me in thanking
our panelists today.