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Making the Religious People Angry

I just received The Prodigal God by Tim Keller in the mail today. Tim has not written too many published books and when we get one, it is a gem. This one is no exception. Tim is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Reason for God. Newsweek called Tim Keller a "C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century."

Tim is the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and is actively involved in missional church planting in the major urban areas of the world. We co-hosted a conference on urban church planting with Redeemer last April. Tim is respected as a missiologist among young church planters, particularly the young, reformed, theologically astute planters in the city.

Tim succinctly addressed the problems of the contemporary church in his newest book.

"Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders [that] Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers [irreligious], they must be more full of elder brothers [religious] than we'd like to think."

I love the phrase, "If the preaching of our ministers... [does] not have the same effect on people that Jesus had [they wanted to kill him], then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did."

The issue that our contemporary churches face is a strong gravitational pull toward religion and morality and away from the mission of the lost, irreligious people that we are called to proclaim the gospel. Sermons are typically full of Christianese and religious platitudes. Have you ever heard someone try to explain the sport of Cricket to an American? It all sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher, "Whaa, whaa wicket, whaa." Our sermons have the same lack of comprehension to the irreligious attendees in our church when we preach only to the conservative, buttoned down, moralistic people that make our churches a safe, peaceful place.

If our preaching does not offend the religious people, we may need to recognize that we do not really want irreligious people in our church by the way we are preaching to the safe crowd that is more likely to give an offering each week.

Mark Driscoll often says that in our sermons we need to ask the irreligious to repent of their sin and we need to ask the religious to repent of their religion. It all starts with the message of Jesus-the one that makes religious people angry.




John Fooshee

on Nov 1, 2008 :: 9:21 am

I've heard that John Milton said that the parable of the prodigal son(s) is the best short story that has ever been told. It has certainly been the story that I've ever heard!

After hearing him teach on the subject several times, I was quick to pre-ordered my copy of Keller's book. I now have it in my hands, and once again, "hat's off" to Keller's keen insight - Jesus' parable comes alive and proves to be absolutely revolutionary... again!

Here is the message of the gospel and a great hermeneutic to understand both the heart of God and people everywhere. Years ago, I was the church planter seeking to hijack God's gifts and using them for my own glory in a far away country. Now, as a pastor, I land smack-dab in the elder brother category. But praise God for His relentless pursuit & readiness to throw a party!

I wholeheartedly recommend Keller's treatment of Jesus' masterpiece. Not only should every Christian read it (yeah, that's a big statement), but every pastor should live and minister by it.

Travis Steele

on Nov 4, 2008 :: 11:53 am

I agree with this "we need to ask the irreligious to repent of their sin and we need to ask the religious to repent of their religion."

But you have to define what is religious in our times, and be detailed. We know what is irreligious, all those that do not repent and believe and Obey the gospel.

Archie Spencer

on Nov 5, 2008 :: 11:17 am

Should preaching make the religious and irreligious angry to the point of violence in order to prove the legitimacy and truth of our preaching? This seems to be the logic employed in the Keller quote. I wonder? I think there are legitimate historical circumstances where Christianity should be willing to "let the chips fall where they may" in out preaching, which may well lead to violence against those who preach the message. Jesus is certainly a good example of that. But does this mean that the pastor ought to actively look for ways to tick people off in a sermon. I am not so sure this was what Jesus was about. In the political situation in which he lived any preaching that was percieved to be anti establishment would likely provoke violence. But he did not always preach in this manner or to that effect.

I am sure you do not mean to say He did but that is the effect of the logic you are employing. What about Jesus' directive to "be harmless as doves and wise as serpents". Or the Pauline directive to, as far as it is possible, "live peaceably with all men" and to season our words.

My point is this. Indeed preaching should scandalize, but it should do so only because, when it is told without malice and in the power of the Holy Spirit, it calls to account all on its own. The power of the gospel is not something we give it in our preaching, it is something given to us to preach. If the Holy Spirit so chooses that it will cause the religious and irreligious to change, repent or act in a violent manner, that is His choice. Besides, no one knows how violently God may well be seizing, internally, the most outwardly and seemingly placid or apathetic religious person, as we preach.

Scott Thomas

on Nov 6, 2008 :: 9:12 am

Dr. Spencer,

Thank you for your comments. I think we are saying the same thing in two different ways. I am certainly not advocating inciting violence by our speech/preaching no more than I am advocating falsely yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater. What I am saying, prompted by Keller's quote, is that if a fire does exist, we should stand up and yell, "Fire," rather than calmly inquiring, "Do you all agree that it is getting hot in here?"

Keller's book explains that there is a third category that we should strive. We are not calling the irreligious to become religious. We are calling both the religious (Pharisaical) and irreligious to the gospel of redemption found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the sermon we should aim to preach by the power and winsome fruit of the Holy Spirit.

With appreciation,


Joe Losinski

on Nov 6, 2008 :: 4:21 pm

My name is Joe and I first heard about the Acts 29 network through a member of a local church plant here in Fairbanks Alaska. This was an interesting article; I was curious though- What is "church" for? I have been ubder the impression that church is for the edification, accountibility, and teaching of believers, those core group of regenerated christians. If this is the case should we expect depraved men to want to come to church? Am I missing the mark on this one?

Archie Spencer

on Nov 6, 2008 :: 11:37 pm


I knew you were angling for that and I would tend to agree with your last comment, but I think sometimes when we don't give a context for these quotes we may send the wrong message. Keep on blogging at any rate. I'll drop i from time to time. I am interested to see what will be come of ACTS 29. Our denomination just experienced the departure of one of our flagship churches in this direction so I am curious. Many of your points (on the opening page) I can support, but not all. Still I'll follow with interest.

Travis Steele

on Nov 9, 2008 :: 1:32 pm

I have talked to TIm Keller about different issues, and I hope Tim wouldnt compare himself with Lewis

Read these quotes from Mere Christianity, and while you’re reading, ask yourself if you agree with Scotts comparisson with Keller and CS Lewis

Im curious to know what you guys think about these quotes, I attend an Acts29 church in Denver, we are dealing with these issues also

“Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of [Jesus'] dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make.

“What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work…

“We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world. And if we cannot picture even the atoms of which our own world is built, of course we are not going to be able to picture this.”

Scott Thomas

on Nov 9, 2008 :: 5:44 pm

To be clear, the article above says that it was Newsweek who called Keller a modern day CS Lewis.

Amazon said, "This book of Christian apology(Reason for God) is a 21st-century version of C.S. Lewis's book MERE CHRISTIANITY."

Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller “a C. S. Lewis for the twenty-first century” in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God.