Monday, March 10, 2008

Making Worship Comprehensible to Unbelievers

I have a confession to make. I've never really read much of anything by Tim Keller. I know he's one of the elite. I know I should read his stuff. I just haven't. At least not much. Until tonight. I dedicated time to my first article by Keller. You can read it here. It discusses Evangelistic Worship. One of Keller's points is that we ought to make our worship service comprehensible to the unbeliever. Here are his seven sub-points on how we make the worship service comprehensible:
  1. Worship and preaching ought to be in the "vernacular"
  2. Explain the service as you go along
  3. Directly address and welcome unbelievers
  4. Have quality aesthetics
  5. Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice
  6. Present the sacraments so as to make the gospel clear
  7. Preach grace
What do you think? Be certain to read the article, focus on page 4-10. Is it necessary to preach in the vernacular? Ought we change words like propitiation, to make them more "clear"? Are quality aesthetics necessary? Is this trying to be too smooth? Should the church toot her own horn, for unbelievers? Is this not letting our deeds be known before men? Are the sacraments for unbelievers, believers, or both? How will we edify the body if we "preach grace" every Sunday? Don't we need to move on from these elementary things?
I am pretty certain that I know what I believe on these issues. I am interested, though, to learn what you think? Is Keller on target? Should we even make the worship "comprehensible" for unbelievers? Isn't the service for the believer and God?


  1. I've only read the outline that you provide, and not the whole article, yet it sounds as if Tim Keller is describing the services led by Rick Phillips, our former pastor from when we lived in Florida, (he now lives and ministers in S.C.). Having experienced such a service many times, I would answer your concerns thusly:

    Preaching in the vernacular doesn't have to mean "dumbing down", simply avoid the high "Christianeze" that only established believers understand. In order to get the message, they must understand the content. Use words like propitiation, but then define your terms. This can be done well without sounding as if you're talking down to the newbies.

    Celebrating deeds of mercy and justice isn't necessarily the same as tooting one's horn. Proclaiming, to God's glory, those things done by the body for the purpose of rejoicing in what the Lord has done can be humbly done.

    As I understand it, the sacraments, such as holy communion, are for believers only. Rick always took this opportunity, regardless of the text, to clarify the difference between belief and unbelief, and call those to repentance who were not confessing members of the body of Christ.

    Finally, preaching grace every Sunday, even to a full house of believers only, is not elementary, but needful. We daily need God's grace, if we have believed for a day or a decade. We tend to forget that we are utterly dependent on God's grace and must hear it from every angle, and often!

    Now I'll read the article, and hope that I've understood your points rightly.

  2. Barbaranne,

    Thank you very much for your insight. It is always great to hear from someone that actually sits under the "Keller-style" preaching. It would be one thing to criticize/accept it from outside the camp, it is quite another to criticize/accept it within the camp. So, thank you very much for providing this perspective.

    By way of clarification, however, I must say that my questions are not "concerns" per se. My questions are questions. I am not saying, yet, that I agree or disagree with Keller. Just wanted to clear that up. Thanks, though, for the comment. Very insightful.



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