Tim Keller - dk purple background
Tim Keller - dk purple background

The Pursuit of Happiness

Tim Keller is the Chairman and co-Founder of Redeemer City to City, which trains pastors for ministry in global cities. He is also the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and the author of New York Times bestselling books The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and Prayer. This talk is from The Center’s BCC Breakfast February 28, 2020.

 

I’d like to talk to you about what people call happiness, probably a better word would be satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment. Let me read to you a pretty famous story from the Book of Mark, Chapter 2. Mark 2. It says,

“A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that He had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, so He preached the Word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get to Him because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus, and after digging through it, lowered the mat and the paralyzed man. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in His spirit what they were saying and in their hearts, and He says, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But so, you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

I want to talk to you about the subject of, like I said, satisfaction, happiness, contentment. And, I would like to start with the thesis that it’s a problem. It’s a problem for all human beings to find satisfaction, contentment, and happiness, and it’s actually a cultural crisis. Now, there are people who would deny that it’s a cultural crisis. And, one of the ways they would do that is they would look at surveys, there are all of these social science surveys. And, in general, if you ask Americans, or most people, “Are you happy?” Most people say they’re happy most of the time. And, so, people say, “There’s no crisis, no problem.”

But here’s the trouble; the trouble is the word happy. It’s a shallow word. If you talk to people and say, “Are you happy? Are you happy most of the time?” I think they mean, too many people, I think the word happy means, “I’m okay,” or “I’m having some fun.” But if you press and asked the question, “Have you really found satisfaction in life,” that’s different. And, I think, if you look closely at our culture, you see the anger. You see how angry people are; you see people just lashing out in every field. There’s something unhappy down deep in us, it’s got to be there. There’s got to be an unhappiness if you push people in the wrong way, and they just explode. Have you not looked at, or maybe seen the stats on suicide? They’re going up in almost every category, almost every category. There is depression. The fact is college students are going to counseling and getting medication for various conditions, psychological conditions at like four or five times the rate of 20 years ago. No, we’ve got a problem. And, it’s a problem not just of happiness, but of a deeper kind of satisfaction.

See, what I’m talking about when I mean satisfaction or contentment, I mean some satisfaction that’s deep enough to deal with the ups and downs of life circumstances. Some of you are probably too old, and some of you too young to remember a very famous, a classic album by U2 called The Joshua Tree. And, there was a great song in there, a pretty famous song, that’s all about this. It’s basically, “I’ve climbed the highest mountains, I’ve scaled city walls, I’ve kissed honey lips, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It’s a pretty famous song, and it’s basically about this idea, that I’m often happy, but whether I’ve really found satisfaction and fulfillment? No.

Now, the text I just read is interesting because here’s a man who is paralyzed, and you could understand why a man who’s paralyzed would say, “If I could get up and walk, I would be a perfectly happy man. If I could get up and walk, then everything would be fine. Everything. I’d have no more complaints, no more problems.” Now, by the way, most of us, most of you in the room here know, you’re walking around, and it doesn’t mean you’re perfectly happy. But he didn’t seem to understand that because when he is brought to Jesus, Jesus walks over to him, and instead of healing, He says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And, I guess we could imagine, I think we could imagine, that he would be sitting there saying, “Uh, excuse me? I’ve got a more urgent problem. I can’t walk! What are you doing here? I’ve got a more urgent problem, I’ve got a deeper problem than that.” And, I think what Jesus is saying to him, and to us, is, “No, you don’t have a deeper problem. You think your biggest problem is if you could walk, everything would be fine. It wouldn’t be. There is a deeper problem.”

Now, to make my point, let me start this way. I have always wanted a fireplace. I love fireplaces and I’ve always wanted a fireplace in my house. And, for the last 35 years, I have lived without a fireplace in my house. And, it doesn’t look like I’m ever going to get one. Now, my wife knows, we joke about it. But what my wife knows, this isn’t a frivolous thing, that I get a lot of satisfaction from fireplaces. And, you might say, it’s a sustained desire, and she knows that if we ever got a home with a fireplace, I would be very happy. And, yet, what do you mean by happy, see? I’ve got three sons. They’re married, they’ve got children, they all believe, they are Christians. And, I’ve also got a career that I’ve seen a lot of fruit in. And, I’ve got to say that I’ve done a lot of things that I’ve really wanted to do, that my family is doing well; that’s a deeper kind of satisfaction, right? And, it’s so deep, so much deeper, the fact that I don’t have a fireplace cannot cast a shadow on that. You know, I never say, “Oh look at my children, they’re married, they’re happy, they’re having children, but gosh, I don’t have a fireplace.” No, I don’t do that! Because even though it would make me happy, there’s a deeper kind of happiness. There’s a desire, up here, for the fireplace, and there is a deeper kind of desire, which is for things like career and family, and so on. But here’s the question.

Over the centuries, the most successful people, the people who have had the best families, and the people who have had the best careers, have begun to realize that there might be a deeper desire than even that. Because those things do not fully satisfy you. See, those of us who are further down the ladder, our families aren’t as good, our health is not as good, our careers are not as good, we think if we got up to where those people are, we’d be satisfied. But here’s the problem; the people who get up there find that they’re not. Yeah, there’s the fireplace level, and then there’s the career and romance and that level. But we think well, that’s the deepest level. No, it’s not!

So, for example, the Roman poet Horace, he was a Roman poet, you know, from the ancient times. And, he very famously said, “No one lives content.” Now, if you know anything about Horace, you would know that that is a pretty significant thing that he was saying because here’s what. When Horace was a young man, he made friends with another guy who was in school, who turned out to be Caesar Augustus. The thing to do is when you’re in college, make sure you get to be close friends with somebody who eventually is going to be emperor of the world. It really helps your career! And, that’s what happened, Caesar Augustus, his best friend. And, Horace reached the very pinnacle of the art world. He was a poet. He was rich. He was a friend of the emperor, and yet, he writes, “No one lives content.” He says, “There is some kind of deeper desire than the things that you think will satisfy. There’s a deeper desire than success, and happiness, and health, and everything can satisfy.”

A little bit more up to date. Some years ago, I read in the Village Voice, the Village Voice has now gone out of business, but it was sort of a downtown, liberal newspaper that looked into, sort of downtown New York City art world. And, it was a woman named Cynthia Heimel there who had been an art critic for many years. And, she wrote an interesting column. Cynthia Heimel, because in downtown New York City, you often have a lot of these aspiring actors and actresses. And, they’re auditioning, and they’re working at Macy’s in the cosmetic counter, or they’re bouncers at a club, and they’re just making ends meet. And, then suddenly, they make it big. And, she made a list of people like Barbara Streisand and Julia Roberts, and Sylvester Stallone, and people like that, that she had known when they were just trying to make it. And, then, they made it big. And, here’s what she said about these folks. She says,

“When they become big and successful, I discovered that, if anything, they were more unhappy, angry, and mean than they were before.” She says, “That giant thing that they were striving for, that fame thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them with personal fulfillment and haha happiness. That great thing had happened, and nothing really changed; they were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.” And then the last line, she adds this, and this is an atheist, by the way, but here is what she says. “I think if God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on us, He grants your deepest wish, and then giggles merrily as you suddenly realize you want to kill yourself.”

Pretty profound theological insight from an atheist.

But C.S. Lewis put it the best, the very best. He says this,

“Most people, if they really learned how to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or when we first think of some foreign country, or when we first take up some subject that excites us, these are longings which no marriage, no travel, and no learning can really satisfy. Oh, I am not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages or trips, and so on. I’m speaking of even the best possible ones! There is something, though, that always we grasp at, and in the first moment of longing, it fades away in the reality. Oh, the spouse may be a great spouse. The scenery has been excellent. It’s turned out to be a wonderful job. But iT has evaded us.”

Now, what C.S. Lewis, he uses the word iT, capital T, iT. And, what he’s saying is over the centuries, people have realized, “Yeah, there’s the fireplace level. You know, I’d be so much happier if I was 15 pounds lighter. I would be so much happier if I had a fireplace.” And, yet, then you go down a level and you say, “Well, but that’s nothing like a successful career. That’s nothing like a happy family. That’s nothing like romance. If we had that, then I would be fine.” What happens when you get that, and you realize there’s something deeper, and it has evaded us, and we can’t get it by being successful and having a great marriage. There’s still something missing. “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” U2.

Now, so what are we going to do? I would say, generally, if I’m speaking to a young audience, and it looks to me that I’m speaking to an audience of mixed ages here. If I’m speaking to a young audience, at this point, I have to say something that, probably, I don’t have to say to you. And, that is, if I was speaking at a college, for example, I would say, “Please trust me. You really do think the deepest needs you have is a successful career and a great romance and those sorts of things. You think if you have that, you will be fine. You will not be.” But I don’t think I probably have to tell you that. So, here’s the question. once we realize that, once we realize that we’re after an iT, something down deeper even in things like career and marriage, how do we respond when we realize we’re actually still not really happy, we haven’t found what we’re looking for?

Well, there are basically three ways to respond, and I’m getting this from C.S. Lewis’ great book, Mere Christianity,  and his chapter on what’s called hope. So, I’m basically channeling him here, but using my own terminology. So, there’s basically three ways. There’s the ancient way to go, once you realize you haven’t found what you’re looking for. There’s the ancient way, there’s the modern way, and there’s the Christian way.

The ancient way is you curb your desires, you suppress your desires. You become a stoic, you become strong. Now, there was a Western and an Eastern version of that. The Western version were the stoics, The Greeks and the Romans. And, what they said is you’re always going to be unhappy if you think it is out there. They basically said there is no it. It’s part of the human condition to think there’s some deeper satisfaction; it’s just not there. So, for example, Epictetus, who was one of those ancient stoic philosophers, Greek or Roman, don’t remember what. But here’s a quote. He says, “What harm is there while you’re kissing your child in the morning to murmur softly to yourself tomorrow you will die?” See, the stoic approach was just don’t attach your heart too much to anything. Don’t look at your children and say, “If they’re happy, then I’ll have this deep happiness. Don’t look at romance, don’t look at marriage, don’t look at your career. Just detach.”

Eastern religion, by the way, is the same way. It’s the essence of Buddhism to say that everything in this world is an illusion. It’s the essence of Buddhism to say the world is dew, individuals are dewdrops on their way into the ocean, and eventually, we will all go back into the soil. We are not individuals; it’s all an illusion. And, that’s another way of saying, “You detach your heart, and you tell yourself there is no it, it is not out there.” That’s the ancient way. And, by the way, plenty of people do that today. There’s a lot of folks into Eastern mysticism, and that’s basically the approach.

Number two is the modern way. The modern way is exactly the opposite. Our modern secular culture says it is out there, and it is up to you to find it; pursue your passion. They definitely believe it is out there. But then, what happens to modern people when they discover that they still haven’t found what they’re looking for? There are several things that happen. Some people blame the things. So, you know, you have a nice spouse, you have a nice career, and yet you’re just, as you get older, your 40s and 50s, and you really haven’t found what you’re looking for, so you blame the things. You say, “I need a better spouse, younger and prettier probably. I need a better job.” So, you blame the things, which means you’re perpetually driven. The second possibility, if you take the modern way, you know, it’s out there, but I just don’t have it, is to be perpetually angry. And, what you do then is you blame social forces, and you blame society for the fact that you’re unhappy. Now, this is, by the way, grown enormously in the last 10 or 20 years. So, you have a tremendous number of people who say, “The reason I’m unhappy is because our society is unfair, it’s not letting me be who I want to be. It’s not letting me pursue the things I want to pursue.” And so, these are people who are blaming society and so they’re perpetually angry. So, you have the perpetually driven, who blame things, “I need new things. That’s why I’m not happy.” There’s perpetually angry who blame society. Then, there’s the perpetually self-hating, who just say, “I’m a failure. I’m a failure.” And, they just get very depressed, they get very discouraged. They say, “I just, it must be something wrong with me.” They’re enormously vulnerable to depression and suicide.

But, then, C.S. Lewis says, what very often happens to modern people is you get deeply cynical. And, deeply cynical people are folks that just start to say, “We’re wrong, there is no happiness. There is no satisfaction.” Now, modern people who spend their life trying to find satisfaction go through two or three spouses, go through careers and all that. And, they finally realize, “I’m never going to be happy.” They are more bitter and cynical than a Buddhist or a stoic. They’re very very cynical. C.S. Lewis calls them, “The disillusioned sensible man,” he says. And, this is the person who says, “Well, by the time you get to my age, you’ve given up chasing the rainbow’s end.” And, Lewis says that disillusioned cynical people. They repress that part of themselves that used to cry for the moon, they say. And, so they say, “We’re never going to be happy.” But here’s the problem. If you do that, you’re dehumanizing yourself. What makes us humans and not just animals is that we want meaning, we want fulfillment. And, to kill that part of the heart that wants that kind of satisfaction is to dehumanize yourself.

C.S. Lewis puts it like this. He says,

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. So, if you want to make sure of keeping it intact, give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap your heart carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries. Avoid all entanglements. Lock it up, safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. Your heart will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.”

So, you see, that’s no way either, so what do you do? Okay, so you don’t want to dehumanize yourself and say, “Oh, there is no deeper satisfaction, you just have to harden yourself.” But you don’t want to be perpetually angry. You don’t want to be perpetually driven. You don’t want to be perpetually self-hating. What do you do? There’s the Christian way, and the Christian way has been eternally and beautifully expressed in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine wrote The Confessions. And, by the way, there’s a new book out, which I think I would recommend to you, by James K. A. Smith called On The Road with Augustine, which tells the story. You’ve heard of St. Augustine, pretty much everybody has. But here’s the story. St. Augustine was, probably, a dark-skinned Berber, an African, who lived in Africa. And, he was just a brilliant man. And, he was an outsider; he was not wealthy. He was not an aristocrat. He was not a European. And, as a result, he just longed to be on the inner ring; he wanted to be on the inside. And, so, he was brilliant, and so he gets up into the higher echelons of literary circles in Carthage. But then decided Carthage, which was in Africa, is a backwater. And, so, what he does then is he says, “I’m going to go to Rome.” So, he moves to Rome, and he starts to move up in the ranks in Rome, but then he still feels like, he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. And, then he gets an appointment in Milan. And, Milan is where the seat of the Roman Emperor, and he starts to work in the imperial government. And, yet, he still finds himself unsatisfied. And, then begins to read the stoics; he read Hortensius by Cicero. And, Cicero, of course, this is what the stoic said, was, “Happiness in life is absolutely not possible. Pleasure is possible, but you’re never going to be happy. So, you just have to kill that part of your heart that longs for it.” And, Augustine didn’t want to go there. And, finally, he became a Christian, and he wrote the wonderful book The Confessions. And, basically, he realized this; this is what he came up with. He says,

“The Eastern and stoics are wrong. It does exist. We wouldn’t have these deep desires unless there was a fulfillment for those desires.” But secondly, he said, “Modern people,” of course, Augustine was modern. “Modern people are wrong because it is not in this world. There is a deeper desire.”

Jesus is talking about it, when He actually says to this man, He says, “You think if I get you up and you’re walking, everything would be fine, but no. You need a relationship with God. You need to be reconciled with God.”

C.S. Lewis put it absolutely perfectly when he says this.

“A duckling wants to swim; there’s such a thing as water. A baby wants to suck; there’s such a thing as milk. And, if I find in myself a longing which nothing in this world can meet, it probably means I was made for another world.”

See, you wouldn’t have a desire unless the fulfillment of that desire exists. Ducklings want to swim; there’s such a thing as water. Babies want to suck milk; there’s such a thing as milk. And, if I find in myself a desire for something that nothing in this world can satisfy, it means I was made for God. And, that’s the reason why, of course, Augustine very famously said,

“Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.”

And, what that means is that if I love God, and I feel God’s love more than I love or feel love from anything else, in other words if I love my wife supremely. If she’s the supreme love of my life, I will crush her with my expectations; she has to always affirm me. She can’t get sick and not affirm me. I live off of her love. If the number one thing in my life is my wife, I will crush her. If I love God more than I love my wife, in other words, if my satisfaction comes mainly from the love I get from God, and from the love I have with God, then I can turn to my wife. If she’s having a bad day, I’m not saying, “You’re not my savior.” I can love her well. I can love her better if I love her less than I love God. That’s Augustine.

Some years ago, just to give you an example, there were two guys in my church. They were both actors, and like many actors in New York City, they were trying to make it; they hadn’t made it. And, they both were up for a part, not the same part, but they were up for a part. And, they knew if they got that part, their career would be made. And, neither of them got the part. One guy was really discouraged for several months, but he said, “You know what, maybe I shouldn’t be an actor. Maybe I shouldn’t be an actor, because what really matters is that I want to serve God. And, that’s really what matters. And, as long as I’ve got His love and I know I am serving Him, then I can do it a lot of different ways.” The other guy, though he was a professing Christian, the other guy went into a spiral, when into despair, went into depression, went into drugs. Because even though he was a professing Christian, the fact was that the main thing in his life was the acting. In other words, if he felt that he had made it in acting, then he would feel good about himself. It was the acclaim that he would get from acting was more important than any sense of God’s love. You might say because he loved acting more than he loved God when he couldn’t get the acting job he wanted, he just, his god punished him. His god blew up. So, if you love God more than acting, you’ll love your acting better. If you love acting more than God, you’ll get neither. I’ve never forgotten that.

Let me just close like this. How do you just get into love, the love of God? If you’re sitting here saying, “Oh, I guess I have to have a love relationship with God, that’s the deepest need of my heart.” How do you do that? You can’t just do that by going home and saying, just trying to whoomph up love. It doesn’t work. You have to look at what Jesus Christ has done for you.

You know, what’s interesting about this text, where He goes up to the man and says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” You know, there’s two things about that. God does not forgive unless somebody repents, right? And, that means that even though he didn’t say anything out loud, Jesus Christ must have discerned in his heart a desire for forgiveness. Otherwise, He couldn’t have forgiven him. And, isn’t that wonderful that we have Jesus who’s that sensitive to us. He’s not sitting down and tamping his foot and saying, “Well, if you come to me and you grovel enough, then maybe I’ll forgive you.” Oh no! Look at how quick He is, how eager He is to forgive us. That’s how gracious He is! But how can He forgive? You cannot forgive somebody if somebody wrongs you like somebody takes your car and totals it. And, the person says, “Will you forgive me?” Well, there’s two things you could do. One is you could say, “No, I won’t forgive you. You have to pay for it.” The other thing is you could say, “I will forgive you,” but then you have to pay for it, got it? If you forgive the guy that totaled your car, you pay for it. If you don’t forgive him, he pays for it. But it gets paid, it has to be paid for by somebody. When God forgives us for debts, because we’ve wronged God and we’ve wronged our neighbor, the only way for that to happen is He pays for it. And, the only way for you to get a love relationship with God that satisfies you deeply is you have to look at what Jesus Christ did, what it cost Him to forgive us. You can’t just, in an abstract way, say, “Oh God is loving, I need to love Him.” You have to look at what He’s done!

For example, this may be a true story, maybe not. Years ago, the emperor of Russia, it was called the Czar. He had a dear friend who died. And, the friend asked the Czar, when he was dying, to raise his little boy, to adopt his son and raise him. And, so, the Czar did, he adopted the little boy and he raised this young man. He educated him, clothed him, everything, gave him a military career. The young man went into the army, the Russian Army. He became an accountant of a pretty large part of the army. He actually rose up into an administrative role. But he had a gambling and drinking problem. And, he began to embezzle money to make good his gambling debts. One night, he was sitting and looking at the books, and he realizes the gig was up. He realized that he wasn’t going to be able to cover up anymore, that the shortfalls were going to become evident. And, he had a gun there, and he said, “The best thing to do would be to kill myself, I won’t be able to stand the dishonor of it.” And, so, he also had a bottle and he was drinking himself to get himself ready to kill himself. But, he actually went past the place of drinking too much, and he passed out. And, the story goes like this. The Czar was the kind of man who, every so often, would dress up as an enlisted man. He would go in disguise and go out amongst the people or amongst the ranks, just to see what the morale was like. And, this was one of the nights in which he had dressed up in a corporal’s uniform, he was going out to see how things were going. And, the Czar comes into the room where he sees this young man passed out over the books. And, he looks at the books, he realizes what’s happened, and when the young man wakes up, he sees a note, signed by the Czar, sealed with the Czar’s ring, saying, “I will make good this debt.” And, he realized the Czar had seen his sin, seen his heart to the bottom, but had forgiven him.

Now, the fact is that God has come into this world in a corporal’s uniform as Jesus Christ; He became a human being. He looked deep into our hearts, He saw us falling, His disciples fell asleep on Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s up there on the cross, and up there there are people mocking Him, and denying Him, and betraying Him, and running away from Him. And, in the greatest act of love in the history of the universe, He stayed, and He died for us.

And, when you see Him doing that, do you believe He’s done that? Do you embrace Him doing that? That will start to reorder all the loves of your heart, and that is it! That love is what you’re looking for. You can find what you’re looking for.

Now, let me just pray briefly, and then we’re going to do a Q & A.

Our Father, thank You for giving us the opportunity to think about this most fundamental of all human pursuits, the pursuit of happiness. It’s put into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, that that is what we are seeking. But we also know that over the centuries, it’s been one of the biggest problems the human race has ever faced. How do we find that deeper satisfaction that enables us to handle the ups and downs of life circumstances? The answer, Lord, we believe is in You. And, not just to You in general, but in the saving love of Jesus Christ. We pray that You help us all embrace that and bring that into our lives so that we can know the joy that is so deep that nothing can extinguish it. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Applause]

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Q & A

Richard: Hey Tim, give us just a second here to get this worked out here.

Tim: Sure.

Richard: Real quick, you mentioned the word meaning once. Where does meaning tie into all of this?

Tim: I would say meaning is probably a component of satisfaction and happiness. Meaning is the word purpose, so you want to say what’s my goal, my mission? I think that’s a component. And, of course, automatically when you get into a relationship with Jesus, Jesus never draws you in to bless you without sending you out to be a blessing. So, like in Genesis, Chapter 12, Genesis:12, when God meets Abraham, He says, “Abraham, I’m going to bless you, that you might be a blessing to all the nations on the Earth.” The minute you get into a love relationship with God through Jesus Christ, you automatically, it fills you up so that you actually want to say I really want to share what I’ve got. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to make everybody a Christian; to share what you’ve got could be a Good Samaritan sharing, where you just are compassionate to somebody in a very practical way, the way God has been compassionate with you. So, meaning is an aspect. I do think all human beings need purpose. All human beings need to have a mission. And, that comes along with the, it’s part of the satisfaction you get in Jesus Christ.

Richard: Great. By the way, if anyone has a question, you’re going to have to come upfront. Fortunately, we have several questions that have been submitted.

Tim: Okay.

Richard: Several months ago in the Wall Street Journal, there was an article that reported 44% of the people in our country between the ages of 18 and 29 were nones. And, for those in the audience, a none is someone who has no religious affiliation. The question that was asked is what’s going on with our younger generation in regards to faith?

Tim: Right. So, you know, 30 years ago, when you talked about nones, you were talking about Catholic women, but now it’s something else. What’s going on with the younger generation, here’s my guess. One of the main reasons that the percentage of younger people who say, it used to be in the past, even if you didn’t go to church much, or even believe much, if you grew up in, let’s say, a Methodist family, or a Presbyterian family, or in an Episcopalian family, even if you really didn’t believe much, you’d still say, “I’m Methodist or Presbyterian, or Episcopalian. Today, however, we live in a culture in which no one has the right to choose anything for me; I must choose things. It’s a very individualistic culture. So, nobody feels like they’re religion should be chosen for them. They believe that if I’m religious, I have to make it my own choice. Now, what that means an awful lot of Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, people who in the past were born into it with a family, and they grew up and felt like my religion is, sort of, part of my family, that’s gone away. And, so, in some ways, the reason I don’t get quite as upset as some others do about this, is I think a lot of younger people just will say, “I have no religious affiliation,” even though they’re probably not a whole lot less religious than their parents. If you’re a family that your background is Methodist and you only go to church on Christmas and Easter, the grandparents will call themselves Methodists, and the parents will call themselves Methodists. But the kids may still go to church Christmas and Easter with the family, but they’ll say no religious preference. So, some of that is nominal Christianity is going away. Devoted Christianity is still, probably declining a bit. But it’s that percentage of Americans that used to say, “I’m a Christian,” even though they didn’t have a lot of devout faith. So, that’s one of the things that’s happening. But it’s also true that even evangelical youth, there’s a lot of them walking away. Because the culture is telling them you have to be true to yourself, and you have to be free to make your own choices. And, that’s not what the Gospel says. The Gospel is you have to lose yourself to find yourself. You have to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. So, that the message of the Gospel is so different than the culture, and a lot of our younger people are listening to the culture rather than listening to the Gospel. Never the less, an awful lot of that growth in nones is, actually, nominal Christianity really just unraveling. And, it’s not necessarily all that bad.

I would much rather, actually, talk, I mean, in 1975 when I was in Hopewell, Virginia, one of the problems I had was everybody in Hopewell insisted they were Christians. And, when you try to share the Gospel with them, you know, they said, “Well, I’m already a Christian.” It’s better, in some ways, to be sharing the Gospel with somebody who says, “I’m not a Christian.” At least the water isn’t so muddy. So, there’s advantages and there’s both good and bad about the rise of the nones.

Richard: Great. This is a question that came from one of our staff people. And, this is probably
appropriate in these politically charged times that we’re in. He said, “Recently, Christianity Today,” https://www.christianitytoday.com/ which of course, is a magazine, “their editor released an editorial in which he took the position that Donald Trump should be removed from office. It created a lot of controversy, as it relates to a Christian’s responsibility in the political world. What are your thoughts on a Christian’s call in such a politically and emotionally charged country?”

Tim: Well, I think Christians have to, we have a two-party system. And, if you’re going to be involved at all, if you’re going to vote. I mean, actually, in some states like New York, I can’t even vote I a primary unless I’m, if I’m an Independent, I can’t vote in a primary. So, I mean, it’s a two-party system, you’re going to have to be involved one way or the other. You’re going to have to, and all Christians are going to have things, both parties have got things going on in there that a Christian would not be happy with. So, you have to, in a critical way, decide how you’re going to vote and where you’re going to go. But then, I would just say, you mustn’t identify Christianity as a whole, or the church as a whole, with your political position. So, when the Bible says, for example, the Bible says you have to care for the poor; you cannot be hard-hearted for the poor. It doesn’t tell you, though, how to do it, at least not in our society. It doesn’t tell you. It doesn’t tell you whether we should have high taxes and a lot of government distribution programs or low taxes and use private charity. It doesn’t tell you that. So, if you decide, “I’m a conservative who feels like there should be lower taxes and helping the poor should be through private charities,” or if you’re somebody who says. “No, I think there should be higher taxes and the government do it,” that’s a judgement call. And, you should not say, “The Bible says, or, “The church says.” So, what I think I would say is be involved politically as a private citizen; it’s really important. But be very careful when you’re making public statements not to say, “All Christians have to vote like this. All Christians have to see it this way.” And, there is a danger, certainly with a minister. For me to be saying, “Donald Trump ought to be impeached,” I think would be a very wrong thing for me to do. But, actually, I even think, probably, for the editor of a magazine called Christianity Today, it also seems like it’s identifying the evangelical church with a particular political position. So, I’m one of those guys who say, “Be very involved as an individual, but do not insist that all other Christians have to see it your way.”

Richard: Very good. Very good. Okay.

Man 1: Tim, I just wonder if you’d comment on the role of the Holy Spirit. My life experience has been significantly different from the acceptance of the forgiveness of my sin and yet reaching a point where I had to relinquish control of my life to the Holy Spirit. I wonder if you would touch on that difference.

Tim: Yeah, the fundamental principle of the Christian life. Now, I mean today, what I did this morning was talk more about, I was reaching out to people to say, “It’s a relationship with God through Christ, and the love of God that actually is the deepest, the it, the deepest need of the human heart.” And, so, I’m reaching out like that. Now, when it comes to actually living the Christian life, and going deeper into that experience, I’d say the main principal is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You’re not your own. You’re bought with a price.” And, that term, “You’re not your own,” you can also see it in Romans 12, where it says, “Make yourselves a living sacrifice.” You can also express it the way you just expressed it, which is, instead of trying to keep control of your life, give control of your life to the Holy Spirit. Another way to talk about it is some people used to call it the Lordship issue. It’s one thing to have Jesus Christ as your Savior; you are forgiven. It’s another thing to really submit your entire life to Him, and say, “Whatever You say, I’m going to do, I’m going to bring every area of my life under Your Lordship and under the control of the Holy Spirit.” So, basically, once you become a Christian, the rest of your life, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing, just be seceding more of your life to the control of the Lord and of the Holy Spirit. That’s a long, if you say, I won’t go into detail because that’s, basically, what the rest of your life is like. But you’re totally right. I agree. There’s more than one way to say it. I guess I would only say giving control of your life to the Holy Spirit is one way to put it, but the Bible puts it a lot of different ways. But it’s all the same.

Richard: Great. I’ve got one last question and then I’m going to make a comment, and close in prayer, all right? All right, Tim, modern people seem to have lost the importance of truth, particularly spiritual truth. They seem to be more interested in what feels right to them. Comment on that, if you don’t mind.

Tim: Yeah, it’s a, that is an incoherence in the modern world view. Now, what people are going to say is that nobody has the truth, truth is relative. Another way they put it is, “No one has the right to tell me what is right or wrong for me. I have to determine what is right or wrong for me.” So, on the one hand, they seem to have lost the concept of truth because they don’t believe in God. They believe that sometimes they say, “Truth is socially constructed, that every culture has their own truths.” But then, they’ll turn right around and want justice and fairness, and get extraordinarily angry when they feel like this or that person, or that group is being treated unjustly. And, you see, that is a deep contradiction. You can’t say there is no truth, or truth is relative, or I have to determine truth for myself, and then turn around and condemn anybody for anything you’re doing at all. If I was going to use a little bit of philosophical jargon, the modern people do not have moral sources for their moral ideals. They’ve got these moral ideals; they talk about justice and fairness and all that. But then, they don’t have any basis for it because they say truth is relative. And, so, you’re absolutely right. People have lost the concept of truth and spiritual truth, and yet, they go off on all these crusades. And, I think Christians have to point it out, that the emperor has no clothes, that the modern secular institutions that talk about justice and then talk about relativism at the same time. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot! You either get back to God and say there’s a basis for moral truth, or you stop talking about justice altogether. But people aren’t doing that.

I have a little exercise I do with folks to try to get them to talk to their non-Christian friends. I give them a set of questions. I say find a non-Christian friend and say, “I’m in a class at my church, and I’m supposed to be asking people who don’t go to church these questions.” One of the questions I always have them ask is, “How do you determine whether something is right or wrong? How do you make moral judgments? How do you determine whether something is right or wrong?” And, you know what? Everybody who comes back to tell me how the interviews went, they say, “My non-Christian friends just tie themselves into pretzels over that question. They have no way of answering it! They have strong feelings about certain things being right or wrong, but as soon as you say why? How do you determine that? How do you tell somebody who doesn’t believe what you believe that what they’re doing is wrong, and they just don’t know what to do?” Yeah, it’s a big Achilles heel in the culture. And, actually, one of the best ways that I know to talk to non-Christians about why they ought to be open to the idea that there’s a God.

Learn more about Tim Keller and Redeemer City to City

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