I joined YS Blog Author Maina Mwaura in New York City to sit down with Dr. Tim Keller. Tim is a well-known author, theologian, and the founding Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which has been innovating inner-city ministry in Manhattan since 1989. We talked about Tim’s story, youth ministry, and his latest books Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, and Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.
If you don’t have time to watch the full interview, here are some of my favorite insights that Tim shared:
The message of Christmas.
The message of Christmas is that the only hope we have in a dark world has to come from outside the human race. That’s why the famous Christmas text, “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2 and Matthew 4:16). It doesn’t say light has sprung out of us, but that a light has dawned upon us. Psychology, sociology, and public policy hasn’t solved the problem of evil. Therefore, our hope comes from outside of us.
The roots of Christmas will always survive.
Our culture is always going to have to live with Christmas simply because it is crucial to the economy. And it will be almost impossible to completely extinguish the roots of Christmas because it’s in the imagery and in the songs. Some people are trying to create new classics like “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but they’re still going to occasionally play “Hark the Herald Angel’s Sing.” So in a way, even with the culture getting more secular, at least once a year the whole culture is haunted by the story of Christ. This haunting will always remind people of the story of Christ, and it’s an opportunity to talk with people about Christianity.
The difference between Zachariah’s doubts and Mary’s doubts.
When Gabriel tells Zachariah that he’s going to have a baby—which was John the Baptist—Zachariah expresses doubt and Gabriel punishes him, making him unable to speak until John is born. However, after Mary expresses doubt when Gabriel tells her that she’s going to have a child, Gabriel doesn’t punish Mary. He gives her more information. Mary almost expresses doubt in the exact same way that Zachariah does, but she isn’t punished for it. This could be a lesson that it really is possible for someone to express sincere doubts because they are open to new ideas with an honest desire to know more. It might also mean that someone could express a kind of doubt that wants to ignore truth so that they can maintain control of their life. Only God knows the heart. It’s our job as a youth worker to be merciful to those that doubt, to understand that doubt can lead to greater faith—especially if you cultivate it—and to realize that sometimes doubts and questions are really stonewalling. At that point you do need to call them out, but you’re not going to know which kind of doubt it is right away. Acknowledge that some people can use doubt as a catalyst for growth while others might use it as something to hide behind.
Christianity needs to make cultural and emotional sense to a student before it can make rational sense to them.
Tim pointed out that after years of doing the traditional form of apologetics—trying to prove the existence of God and that the Bible is true—he realized that before someone could honestly believe those things, they first needed to understand Christianity’s way of providing six key cultural and emotional needs:
As youth workers, we need to understand those six things and be able to compare how the secular world and Christianity gives them to you. For instance, the secular world says you can create your own meaning, although that meaning could be taken away by suffering. But Christianity gives you a meaning that suffering can’t take away from you. The secular world would say you can find satisfaction by bettering your circumstances, but Christianity says your satisfaction is not based on circumstances. The secular world encourages you to assert your desires. Christianity, following St Augustine, would say you have to reorder your desires—desiring the most important things first and the less important things less. Secular culture identifies freedom as the complete lack of limitations on all your options, which destroys your ability to have a love relationship. Christianity defines freedom in a way that doesn’t destroy love, but enriches it.
For most youth, being able to answer the formidable questions around these 6 cultural and emotional needs is the real first level of apologetics.
Be sure to pick up Dr. Tim Keller’s latest books Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, and Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.
And a HUGE thank you goes out again to Maina Mwaura, a YS Blog Author, Pastor, and veteran Youth Worker for helping arrange the conversation. Check out more of Maina’s blog posts HERE.
JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.COM.