On the last Sunday in June the Study Group finally offered its “findings.” One central, if not the central, finding was the need to reclaim our Christian story, including our biblical story.
This is especially important because we live in a society where serious, important theological questions go largely unanswered. In a timely article in the Cape Cod Times last summer, the Rev. William Field, a retired Episcopal priest from Orleans, asked why our pews are no longer filled, as in the past.
His conclusion? The clergy have “abandoned” their traditional role as “defenders of the faith.” How? By “ignoring the challenges of nonbelievers.” By this he means the failure among many clergy to explain our Christian faith to nonbelievers.
Within the last year or so, I’ve discovered the ministry of Tim Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Begun in 1989 as a “church start,” Redeemer has grown to become one of the largest churches in New York.
At the beginning, the general consensus was that the church would fail. After all, offering a biblically orthodox message to the educated sophisticates of New York seemed a fool’s errand. Today, the church boasts of several thousand members, most of whom, apparently, are young, highly educated professionals in their 20’s and 30’s, just the demographic least likely to go to any church!
In a YouTube video I saw about a year ago, Keller travelled to the University of California at Berkeley, not exactly a hotbed of traditional Christianity, offering a lecture and then inviting questions. It was fascinating.
The students were bright and inquisitive. They asked great questions, reflecting their intellectual problems with biblical faith. Rather than denounce or belittle his questioners, Keller offered thoughtful, intelligent, respectful responses to such questions as to why, for instance, an all-powerful God allows suffering. It was evident that the students had never before heard the faith thoughtfully explained to them.
In this spirit, I will be offering my first-ever sermon series starting this month. I will address questions outlined in Keller’s book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Each Sunday we will consider topics from Keller’s book such as the following: “How could a good God allow suffering?” “There can’t be just one true religion.” “Christianity is a straightjacket.” “Church is responsible for so much injustice.” “Science has disproved Christianity.” There will be 7 such sermons in all.
I have read about a book that is to be published in August: Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin Vanhoozer. Though I’m not familiar with the author, it has received positive reviews from people I trust: Eugene Peterson, William Willimon, and, yes, Tim Keller.
The title alone seems to capture, at least for me, the great need within the church today.