So last week I wrote a post responding to the New York Times article from December where the columnist Nicholas Kristof interviewed Pastor Tim Keller about Christianity.
The article was great, and I appreciated both Keller’s answers and Kristof’s questions.
I wrote last week, that one of the things that I appreciated the most, was Keller’s pastoral yet counter-cultural way of answering Kristof’s question of “Am I a Christian?”
Kristof is an admirer of Jesus and appreciates much of what Christians have done throughout human history to lead to human flourishing, but struggles with several tenants of the faith like the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection. So Tim Keller answered the question honestly and respectfully and told the journalist, and all of us listening in, that in his opinion Kristof was on the outside of the Christian faith.
And that, ummm, got a lot of people talking.
Last week, I defended Keller’s answer and pointed out that the modern myth of inclusion is impossible. It is an attempt to claim for ourselves what only God can do.
We all are arguing from a place of excluding someone.
But I also mentioned last week that I’m currently preaching through the Gospel of John. John is the most sectarian of all the four Gospels.
In John, Jesus is clearly drawing a line and asking people to choose a side, to believe in and follow Him. In John, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is the Vine apart from which we can do nothing. Jesus is the Light that has shone into the dark world and the darkness has rejected it.
In John, the way of Jesus has some strong boundaries. But Christianity has a different type of boundary, doesn’t it? In John, Jesus tells His disciples that if they don’t let Him wash their feet they will have no part in Him.
Jesus, who Christians believe to be God in the flesh, draws the boundary in the last place you would expect. Jesus draws an exclusionary boundary while He is taking on the role of a servant, preparing to lay down His life in the most humiliating way imaginable.
Yes, Jesus is creating an exclusive community, but it is one that is calling those who want to be a part of it to lay down their lives for each other, so that the world might see what God is like by the way they love one another.
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but it is important to remember that this is how Jesus is the Way. If that is true then we all know a lot of Christians who are lost, wrong and blind.
This is where Jesus draws the line between who’s in and who’s out. This, Jesus is saying, is what God is like, and it is here that Judas takes his leave, because this is not what Judas thought he was signing up for. And Jesus lets him go.
So back to that Keller article, if there is one critique I have heard above any other to Keller’s response it was that it doesn’t leave room for doubters and skeptics. But I am fairly familiar with Keller’s writings and ministry, and so I read that interview differently.
Tim Keller seems to always be respectful of people’s skepticism and take their questions seriously enough to make space for them and offer a thoughtful response. And if you didn’t know that about his ministry, you might think that he was just giving a dogmatic, boundary guarding kind of answer to Kristof’s sincere question.
Keller respects doubt and doubters, enough to create a place for them. He even encouraged doubt in that interview saying that doubt and skepticism help in the end, to lead to a stronger faith.
In fact, one of the more effective things (in my opinion) that he has done through the years in his ministry in Manhattan is hold a weekly time designated for addressing questions from people who are visiting Redeemer but are struggling to believe.
You know what is interesting about the Gospel of John? John cares a lot about what you believe, but John never uses the word faith as a noun. It is always a verb.
Faith isn’t what you think. Faith is what you do. It is how you live.
So toward the end of John, after Jesus has been raised from the dead, Jesus appears to 10 of the disciples and reveals that God has in fact, defeated death and the proof is standing among them. But Thomas wasn’t there. He didn’t get to see it, and so when the disciples tell Thomas of the very good news, he is a skeptic. He can’t bring himself to believe it because he has already had his heart broken once, and c’mon, those kinds of things just don’t happen.
But then John tells us this:
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Did you catch that? A week later the disciples are together again…”and Thomas was with them.”
Put yourself in this situation for a second. The direction of human history has changed course, your greatest hopes and dreams have come true, the man you saw publicly murdered has come back to life and when you try to tell the guy you have spent the last 3 years of your life with, He doesn’t believe you.
But they don’t kick him out of the group.
Thomas is still included.
John is the most sectarian Gospel, but this is a different kind of sect, isn’t it? It is a different kind of faith, isn’t it?
It is not just about what you think, all of us change our ideas from time to time, it is not just about what you cognitively assent to about God, it is about how you live out your faith. And Thomas was willing to stay connected to the Vine, the community that Jesus created before He died. And when Thomas couldn’t believe it, they didn’t kick him out, they believed it for him, until he could believe it for Himself.
So, are you a Christian, Nicholas Kristof? Maybe the answer isn’t as black and white as the question, because you certainly are invited to come and see if this is for you, to ask questions and doubt, but as Keller said when you asked him, be sure everything is on the table for doubting.
Also doubt the faith assumptions that drive your skepticism, there is a chance you just might find the risen LORD.