Archive for August, 2012

Tim Keller’s Thoughts on the Mission of God

August 26, 2012

This past week, (08/20/12), I was fortunate to be able to hear Tim Keller from the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City speak on the Mission of God in our world today. He referenced Leslie Newbiggin, the British missionary to India, whose thoughts and writings have sparked our missional conversations today. Newbiggin once said that during the Christendom era, denominations defined themselves over against each other. But now, in the post Christian reality we live in, churches and denominations need to define themselves as different from the world.

Keller said that we talk a lot about mission, but we don’t do a lot of mission. He said it’s difficult in the U.S. because our country is neither fish nor fowl. We are not like France which is definitely post Christian. We are not like India, which has a majority population of another religion. But, we are no longer living in Christendom. In the U.S., we still have large pockets filled with traditional conservative people. We haven’t been pushed yet into a true missionary encounter with western society. We can still fill our congregations with better programs than the church down the street. We don’t yet know how to have a deep and broad engagement with our post Christendom culture.

Tim Keller spoke from Acts 8:1-13. He began by saying that the U.S. is like the Graeco-Roman world in the Book of Acts. Because Rome conquered everybody, borders went away. It became more pluralistic – people followed lots of gods or no gods. There was lots of peace and lots of mobility. Then the persecution came. People were scattered. As they went, they preached the gospel. Many people were healed. And this caused great joy.

Keller mentioned five key aspects about Christian mission for us to consider:
Gospel mission, grassroots mission, embodied mission, city friendly mission, and suffering mission.

1. Gospel mission
The Apostles proclaimed the Messiah, preached Christ, and shared the good news. They came into contact with other religions that had already taken root in various communities. The difference between Christianity and other religions is that other religions proclaim what YOU must do to connect with God. Christianity proclaims what GOD has done to connect with you. Every other religion is advice – here’s what you should to do. But, Christianity says here is what has been done for you.

2. Grassroots mission
In Acts 8, all except the apostles were scattered. Those who were scattered preached the Word wherever they went. Who preached the Word? Everybody except the apostles.
Where was the strategy? There was no strategy. Nobody wrote out a mission plan that was then approved and put into action. This happened because ordinary believers preached the Word wherever they went. The Apostles were not mission strategists. They didn’t need that. Every Christian was empowered by the gospel. Every Christian had a story to tell and they told it. The mission bubbled up from the grassroots. People were living for the vision. The leaders were not too controlling or too remote. Every Christian is not to be a ministry consumer but a ministry provider.

3. Embodied Mission
Acts 8 talks about the Word, deeds, and racial reconciliation. It is not just about words – it is about embodying the words. Faith without works is dead. People need to see Christians living out their faith. The miracles they saw verified the speaker. But that was not the main purpose of the miracles. The purpose of Jesus’ miracles was redemptive. When the crowds heard Philip and saw what he was doing, they listened to him. People want to see your deeds match your words.

4. City friendly Mission
Paul and the early Christians would go to the cities. In Acts 16, Paul was called to go to Macedonia, so they went to Philippi, the biggest city there. Cities are places of influence. Over the first 300 years, the Christian mission was very urban centric, but the country side was very pagan. If the cities are Christian, the country is going Christian. If the cities are pagan, the country is going pagan. As the cities go, so go the country. Every two months, 5 million people move into the great cities of the world. We need churches everywhere there are people. If we want to be in mission, we need to be in cities. People are moving into cities, tens to hundreds times faster than churches are.

5. Suffering Mission
This mission is born out of suffering. In the book of Acts, Stephen was brutally stoned to death and that triggered a persecution. This is why everybody is scattered except the apostles. Because they were scattered, new people were gathered. God used the suffering of Stephen to reach more people. There will be strife and grief. There is suffering with the birth of anything new. God uses suffering in mission. Look at what happened in China. There was a Communist takeover, they expelled the missionaries, and guess what God did? The mission of God grew.

When Stephen was condemned and killed, he was convicted by a kangaroo court. But then he is given a vision – a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen gets a vision of the gospel. Even though Stephen is convicted by a kangaroo court on earth, he is exonerated by the heavenly court, which is the only one that matters. If you can handle suffering – personal suffering and corporate suffering – by remembering the gospel, then mission will be born.

Tim Keller closed by saying that he has never seen real mission that wasn’t born out of suffering. Whenever you start something new, it forces you to do mission. It is mission or die. Don’t worry about the dying part. Worry about the mission part. Focus on the mission part. Do the mission part. And as you do the mission part, then you will also have trouble. Jesus said in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.”