TGC15 and an Embarrassment of Riches1
You can’t find too many people, even among those who are not fans of The Gospel Coalition or Tim Keller, who would argue that Tim Keller isn’t a smart guy. I thought about this as I watched the livestream of the opening address for TGC’s 2015 conference. The theme of the conference is “Coming Home” and Tim Keller opened by expositing Deuteronomy 30. I am not going to recap the whole thing because there is no need to when you can just go take 30 minutes to listen to the whole thing. I just want to talk about one thing that Keller emphasized, and I want to thank God for blessing the church with smart guys who use their gifts to edify the church.
Tim Keller, in the course of doing exegesis on Deuteronomy 30, talked about how some scholars have argued that there is no way there was only one author of Deuteronomy because the vision of who God is lacks uniformity. God is gracious, loving, near, forgiving and gathers the outcast, Deuteronomy says. Deuteronomy also says “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, you will surely perish” (30:17-18). These scholars are confused by what confuses many people about God. How is He loving, yet He judges? How is He caring, yet he declares a curse? The Old Testament, Keller says, is full of this tension. But the tension is not in God’s character, and its not caused by a multiplicity of authors with competing notions about who God is. The tension is in us. Our sin creates the tension. God is fully good, so He condemns sin. God is fully good, so he forgives the sinner. This narrative tension is building to a resolution at the cross.
So far this is fairly straightforward. However, it is one thing for a Christian well versed in Scripture to grasp this; but how do we interact with those who are caught up on the fact that God doesn’t treat us as though we are as harmless and basically good as we think we are? If our sin creates the tension, then people who don’t understand sin will naturally be unable to see a tension that needs resolving. Keller’s response to this struck me both in its simplicity and in how he took the answer right from Deuteronomy, where is not exactly where I usually turn in my Bible when looking for wisdom in evangelism. “For this commandment is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven that you should say ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (30:11-14). God is basically saying, ‘you know what you ought to do, and you could do it, but you don’t.’ Keller used a thought experiment that he borrowed from Francis Schaeffer (I think) that basically says everyone has a recorder around their neck (that they don’t know about) which records every time they say ‘you ought’ to someone else. When the person dies and complains to God about being held to a standard they weren’t aware of or allowed in on from the start, God simply uses the recorder to show them they didn’t even live up to the standard to which they held others.
We try to make the issue fairness, and even then we condemn ourselves. God must deal with our sins as they deserve, because He is good and holy. In this simple way, using an Old Testament passage, Keller provides a way of thinking about responding to objections to the Gospel that I will be able to use for the rest of my life. It was one part of one message at TGC. Thank God for smart people who dive into every part of Scripture and mine it for its riches and then present it in a way that is simple and compelling.
Our pastor, Benny Phillips, does this every week, which is what makes Sundays so fun. There is a good and right emphasis at the best conferences, such as TGC, placed on giving the highest respect to one’s local pastor, and not the ‘celebrity’ pastors. But trust me, Dad loves that there are world-class preachers available at the click of the mouse who can be trusted to further enrich our study of the Word. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to our access to godly, smart, useful preaching on God’s word. Whether it’s Tim Keller on Deuteronomy 30, John Piper running wild with his historical pre-millennialism, or Don Carson using Ezekiel to paint a beautiful picture of the day when God will dwell again in our midst, I encourage everyone to check out all the messages that this conference will make available because beautiful gems of truth will be liberally sprinkled throughout. But I also encourage you to wake up and be with the Lord's people on the Lord's day, listening to and thanking God for the pastor that He has gifted to your local church as your pastor preaches the embarassing richness of the word of God.