Life happens, and so it’s been a couple of weeks since my review on Chapter 1 of Tim Keller’s (2012) Center Church.
The Bible doesn’t give one standard gospel outline.
Depending on the audience and the author, the gospel is presented different ways in different parts of the Bible. Keller points to the Synoptic authors using the phrase “the kingdom” over and over, but John uses the phrase “eternal life.” These are contradictions, just two ways of saying the same thing. But they aren’t just synonyms. They express “complementary aspects of the gospel, stressing both the individual and corporate dimensions of our salvation” (p. 39). Paul even stresses another point of the gospel, and that is justification. Again, these are contradictions. Keller details many of the similarities.
The gospel must be tied to the Bible’s story line and themes.
The Bible can be read two ways: the systematic-theological method (STM) or the redemptive-historical method (RHM). To read the Bible synchronically (STM) is to read along its topics: God, sin, the Holy Spirit, the church, marriage and the family, etc. This method emphasizes the Bible’s unity and the personal message of salvation. To read the Bible diachronically (RHM) is to read it in its plotline: creation, fall, redemption, renewal. This method emphasizes the narrative of the Bible and the purpose of salvation: creation’s renewal.
D.A. Carson has written that one should use intercanonical themes: those that draw from the story and themes of Scripture. These intercanonical themes can be used to present the gospel, but none of them gives the full picture. Carson listed twenty of these themes, but Keller only noted and explained three: the exile and our homecoming; the covenant and its fulfillment; and the kingdom and its coming. In each theme, one should examine it through the lens of creation, sin, Israel, Jesus, and restoration.
The gospel must be contextualized.
Two quotes will sum up this short section:
The gospel has supernatural versatility to address the particular hopes, fears, and idols of every culture and every person (p. 44).
Different cultural audiences respond to different approaches of nuancing and shaping the same message (p. 44).
Keller wrote that because contextualization is so significant, that the third part of the book is devoted to it.
This chapter built on the premises in Chapter 1 about the two ways to present the gospel: personal or narrative; themes or story (or whatever other terms one ascribes to these). Keller suggests Carson’s intercanonical themes as the best way to use both approaches at the same time.
I enjoyed reading the three themes that Keller covered. I can see how someone should use the theme that will most relate to their audience. Contextualization is not the dirty word that I thought it was when I was in college. Every time I open my mouth I contextualize the gospel: by using English; by my phraseology; by my appearance; by my approach to the text. So I should make certain that how I am contextualizing is going to be the way that best present the gospel. I look forward to the part of the book.
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