Tim Keller has written a great post about the apologetic approach he uses in his preaching and conversations with skeptics. The pastor of Redeemer in New York, Tim Keller is known for his ability to communicate the gospel clearly and persuasively. His church, which serves an area of largely urban professionals and secular postmodernists, has grown from a congregation of 50 to nearly 5000 today.
In his post, Keller talks about how he builds his case for one of the biggest points of conflict with non-Christians – the Christian sexual ethic. Keller describes his use of authors such as Immanuel Kant, the influential German philosopher, and Wendell Berry, an American academic. Without compromising or minimalizing the authority of the Bible, Keller discusses how he can gain a hearing from his audience by first appealing to common premises that his modern, secular thinkers might share. He writes:
Here’s what I learn from Kant and Berry. First, there are ways to argue in public discourse for various features of the Christian account of human flourishing without directly appealing to Biblical texts or to God. For example, if I am a Christian in politics, and I am speaking to a body of people who I know will resonate to Kantian views of human dignity or Berryan views of community, then it is possible to make a compelling argument for practices that are rooted in Christian truth. Why? Because people without an overt religious profession still hold many true beliefs about human dignity or community that are spiritually “there” in their souls because they are created in the image of God. We should not be under the illusion that we can “prove” Christianity to secular people however. The compelling nature of our argument relies on discovering the underlying beliefs that a non-believer has that match up with Biblical truth. Only if they grant these beliefs can we make our case.
Second, I find it is often helpful even when preaching to briefly recapitulate arguments such as these from Kant, Berry, and others. Why? The ultimate foundation for what we believe as Christians is the authority of God’s Word, but often the people we preach to are not convinced of the Bible’s complete trustworthiness. Here is an example. I may first present what the Bible says about sexuality. Then I may briefly make a Kantian argument (which C.S. Lewis also makes in Mere Christianity) about how sex outside of marriage de-humanizes or a Berryan one about how it harms community. Then I can add, “These are only some of the terrible results that come from violating God’s design for sexuality. There are certainly many others.” This approach both honors the Bible as the final authority for our lives and draws in listeners who, while not yet sure about the Bible’s inspiration, share the premises of Kant, Berry, or whomever else you use.
Read the whole post here.