Tim Keller on the Christian Tradition in America

Question: How does Christianity differ from the center of the US to the coasts?

Keller:    I think Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Protestant Christianity tends to be in North America, tends to be in the middle of the country Southern and Midwestern, it tends to be for blue collar people and it actually hasn’t been very contextualized for the Coast, it hasn’t been contextualized for the people who live in cities.  And so when I began to, in a sense, I contextualized it, just translate it, and awful lot of people said this is very unusual and I think that’s part of the appeal.

Question: Is the message different geographically?

Keller:    When you talk to somebody, you always take into considerations some of their prejudices and world view in order to make what you’re saying coherent.  So, you assume they know this and this and this and yet they disagree here.  So, what you do is you build a bridge, everybody does that.  You say, I know you believe this and this and this so do I, but if you believe that, then you might want to consider this, and that’s just a normal way in which we reason with each other and I very often find the folks from a different culture that want to bring Islam or Christianity or Judaism or even in a way secularism to a new culture don’t know how to do that and I’ve, I’m from, you might say, this culture and therefore it came more naturally to me.

Question: Why don’t you like the term “evangelical?”

Keller:    I would like to communicate and if I use a word I want to believe that every word has a kind of semantic range, right and if I’m talking to somebody who uses the word over here to mean, for example, Republican, it’s just not necessarily the way I would use the word evangelical or evangelical doesn’t necessarily mean politically conservative or Republican like it does in New York City.  So, that’s the main reason.  I mean, if you actually go back to Martin Luther, if you go back to the Jonathan Edwards and the evangelical awakenings of the 18th century, I’m an evangelical, but the word has actually come to mean something else in New York City that if people say, if I say to them, if I say to people in New York City I’m an evangelical, they have a bunch of assumptions.  And if they ask me 20 questions, when they’re done, they’ll say you’re not what I expected, which means I raise false expectations by using the word.  That’s the only reason I would stay away from the word in New York.

Question: Why should someone believe in the Christian faith?

Keller:    You see, I actually think that Christian beliefs are true and therefore I would want people, there’s a place where C. S. Lewis, my patron saint says, “Don’t believe Christianity because it’s relevant, though it is.  Don’t believe in Christianity because a lot of smart people believe it, though many do.  Don’t believe in Christianity because it fulfills your need, though it eventually will.  Don’t believe in Christianity because it’s incredibly relevant to our cultural moment, though I actually believe it is.  Believe in Christianity because it’s true.  And if you don’t believe in Christianity because it’s true, what will happen is to some degree won’t fulfill your needs.”  After all, Jesus believed in God didn’t have a very good life, I mean, he was tortured and killed.  He says, “You’ll find that if you don’t believe Christianity because it’s true, you’ll have your faith rocked at some point because these other things are only partly right, it’s partly relevant, it’s partly fulfilling, but sometimes you’ll be in situation when it won’t feel very fulfilling.”  And so I try to say if you believe it’s true, you will need to know why you believe it’s true and then you’ll believe it no matter what the circumstances.

Tim Keller on Christianity in New York.

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