I am the kind of nerd who aspires to listen to three sermons every week. I hear my own minister preach on Sundays and when I am blessed with mp3 player time I also listen to whatever gruel Trevor Morrow served up that week in Lucan. But the only person who can compete in terms of shaping my preaching as much as Dr. McCrory and Dr. Morrow is Tim Keller.
I finished preaching the book of Galatians once for a bunch of college students. 6 hours in 2 days. Exhausting stuff. A smartass comes up at the end and says, “That was great Kevin. It’s really cool to hear Tim Keller sermons in a Dublin accent”.
Keller is the founding pastor of the hugely influential Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and that is fine and dandy and he used to lead the Presbyterian Church of America’s justice ministry and before that he used to teach theology at a seminary and before that he was the pastor of a little rural church but the reason I write this morning is his writing. In the last three years he has written three books: The Reason for God, The Prodigal God and now Counterfeit Gods.
In Counterfeit Gods he writes about how the human heart is at base an idol factory. An idol after all is not simply some large phallused statue that Amazonian tribes dance ecstatically around in some hi-larious Hollywood comedy. It is a good thing in our life that we elevate to become an ultimate thing. Keller, like Marilynne Robinson, is one of those current crop of Presbyterians that seem to get to the heart of what our tradition is about without being distracted by the debris of free-will/Calvinistic arguments.
Early in the book he tells the story of Jacob and his pursuit of the beautiful Rachel. He works 7 years for Laban to earn the right to wed his stunning daughter and then that cunning old fox switches Rachel for Leah, the ugly sister. In his drunken state, Jacob marries the minger and wakes up the next morning furious, still dedicated to paying any price (another 7 years labour) to get Rachel and utterly uninterested in Leah. It is a tragic tale. Each character has idols at play motivating their behaviour. And so Keller writes:
At this point in the story, many contemporary readers will be wondering: “Where are all the spiritual heroes in this story? Whom am I supposed to be emulating? What is the moral of the story?”
The reason for our confusion is that we usually read the Bible as a series of disconnected stories, each with a “moral” for how we should live our lives. It is not. Rather, it comprises a single story, telling us how the human race got into its present condition, and how God through Jesus Christ has come and will come to put things right. In other words, the Bible doesn’t give us a god at the top of a moral ladder saying, “If you try hard to summon up your strength and live right, you can make it up!” Instead, the Bible repeatedly shows us weak people who don’t deserve God’s grace, don’t seek it, and don’t appreciate it even after they have received it. If that is the great Biblical story arc into which every individual scriptural narrative fits, then what do we learn from this story?
We learn that through all of life runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment. You are never going to lead a wise life until you understand that…
– Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. 36-37
This superb book is finished with a killer final chapter where he argues with aplomb that the only way to rid our lives of an idol is by replacing it with something more beautiful and worthy of our love. Sheer effort will result suppression at best abject failure at worst. Or in other words, the way to get free of the things that enslave you is to fall in love with the one who is most worthy of your love.
I wonder who that might be.
No! It’s not me! Silly.
Your Correspondent, Never refuses food from strangers