In his recent essay, Tim Keller has entered his bit in a persistent dialogue regarding how Christians should speak in public. The players in this dialogue, including James Wood, Aaron Renn, and Simon Kennedy, are working to sort out how Christians should speak outside the church. At odds is not sermonic form or structure, but what it should sound like when Christians are called to “give an answer” (1 Peter 3:5).

Keep in mind that the content of the answer is, for the most part, not up for debate. “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), they all say. But the authors of this piece are not so sure.

Keller has settled on an account of “persuasion” as the form Christian speech should take in the negative world. Though we are no more satisfied with Wood’s account of a more confrontational approach, Keller’s account of persuasion falls flat in the negative world. Indeed at the heart of persuasion, what should be called apologetics, is a functional agreement between the speaker and the audience. Rhetoric has long been studied as an art, a means not of strict coercion but of moving the hearer one step towards the goods that the speaker offers. Successful persuasion, using the art of rhetoric, will achieve the ends of the hearer agreeing with the speaker’s argument.

Apologetics in the form of persuasion is an assumed good with today’s Christians acting as Paul behaved with the Corinthians:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

The argument, as Keller frames it, is between “seeker-sensitive” approaches, which seek to win the listener through an argument that is behovely and winsome, and the “just tell the truth” approach, which doesn’t bother to put lipstick on a pig but “just state[s] the unvarnished truth.”

Keller enters his own strategy into the “public speech” conversation. His theology of public engagement is characterized by affection, resolution, and persuasion. One must be calm, kind, confident, and most of all, strategically persuasive. In Keller’s words, in regard to the stated concern of traditional sexual norms, the Christian must problematize a simple view of Christian belief as offensive or causing harm. Keller suggests that the speaker might raise the fact that a majority of the world’s Muslims also hold what could be called a “traditional sexual ethic.” (Putting aside for the moment that a Muslim sexual ethic also entails beliefs regarding female sexuality that Christians would hopefully find abhorrent).

To Keller, raising this question “uses secular persons’ own cultural narrative (that of diversity and the value of racial minorities) against them.” One point for the Christian side. Keller gives a version of the statement he would have offered, were he given the opportunity to give public witness to his position on sexuality:

The fact is, David, that everyone has a set of moral standards by which they include some and exclude others. No one is completely inclusive..…and yes, Christians like everyone else lay down moral principles for people. We believe they fit in with how God created us and so they will help us thrive. And some people disagree with those rules and principles — but we do not kick them out and tell them they are abominable. We include them in loving community and walk with them as long as they wish us to. We believe that fits in with how Jesus lived and died forgiving those who opposed him.

Persuasion, for Keller, is the goal that both seeker-sensitive and “just tell the truth” confrontational types have missed. Keller seems to see persuasion as the chief end of Christian public speech. But more so at the heart of Keller’s project is a kind of apologetics (what in other places he calls Christian high theory). This is where the goals of the world are actually goals that can only be found and completed in the gospel.

We think that Christians need to continually ask themselves: persuasion to what end? And is persuasion in fact a chief Christian good, or does it undercut the distinctiveness of Christian belief?

In all ages and all times Christians have been bound first of all to their witness. Now certainly this took the form of outward persuasion. Paul in Mars Hill is a great example of this. But often their persuasion was of an ethical or moral kind, and it functioned primarily internally. People were known as Christians because of their distinctive practices, to which they were on occasion called to account for.

But the practices did not exist for the sake of this public account. The public witness, and the potential it might have to persuade others for this means of life, was only incidental. Further, there is certainly a difference between Paul speaking apologetically before the time that Christianity was well established, and Christians seeking to do so after. Put another way, a post-Christian apologetics would certainly look different from a pre-Christian one.

That Christians were primarily known as a people with distinctive practices does not mean they were a more moral people. Of all the traps for modern people, this idea is perhaps a primary one. Being a Christian does not and never has meant, primarily, being a “better person.” It means seeing a better country, and trying to situate your life so that one day you fit there. It is preparing yourself for a different country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11).

Now wedding one’s allegiance to a better country will necessarily yield distinctive practices: charity, almsgiving, forgiveness, repentance, and sexual fidelity among them. But these practices cannot be reduced to “what Christianity is.”

The temptation of Keller’s approach is to cede his point, “he’s just citing the Bible on this.” Certainly such a view on persuasion is one way to read the biblical text. But there are other biblical accounts, too, where Israel encountered a changed world and needed to learn how to live there. Israel in Babylon wasn’t doing a whole lot of cultural exegesis or persuasion. They were learning how to pray while they longed for home.

This is perhaps what Christians today are most at risk of getting wrong. A desire for “relevance” or “value” often seeks to cash out practices that are distinctively Christian and offer them to the culture: See what good neighbors we are! Don’t you see how much we have contributed to the betterment of the neighborhood?

And yet practices should not be severed from witness in this way. To do so is to weaken the Christian call from a whole person to a simple practice. Further, and most dangerously, it is to abstract practices from the worship from which they rightly relate.

If there is one concern that arises from this view of “persuasion”, it is that it requires a common ground on which to speak to cultured despisers (to borrow a Kierkegaardian phrase). Of course language is shared, and concepts are as well. But to persuade a nonbeliever of the goods of Christianity requires that we speak about things that are in fact “goods” to secular man.

And is marital fidelity a good? Is promise keeping? Is forgiveness, and charity? Self-sacrifice and dying to self? All of these principles are quickly diminished in today’s world. Marital fidelity is a drag on the pleasure of polyamory, promise keeping is an onerous burden of care for an individual who has been difficult, forgiveness is possibly weaponized or required in situations where it cannot be reciprocated, charity is so often a colonial response to human need that perhaps unjust structures have created.

No! The secular world will grant none of these Christian values as unimpeachable goods. Persuasion in such a context is likely to fall on deaf ears, at best. The best it can hope to do is win secular man to see Christians as not as bad as he’d thought. At worst, it will thin the distinctiveness of Christian witness to “odd things Christians do.” We must instead speak of a different kingdom.

What is our option then? Witnessing to a different world, another kingdom. As Stanley Hauerwas puts it:

Christians are often tempted, particularly in this time called modern, to say more than we know. We are so tempted because we fear we do not believe what we say we believe. So we try to assure ourselves that we believe what we say we believe by convincing those who do not believe what we believe that they really believe what we believe once what we believe is properly explained. As a result we end up saying more than we know because what we believe—or better, what we do—cannot be explained but only shown. The word we have been given for such a showing is “witness.”

Were we on Australian television, asked to give an account for our church’s retrograde practices, we do understand the pressure to be persuasive while doing so. But we remain more concerned that our witness speaks of a different kingdom than that it speaks of a culturally coherent one. “Yes, our church believes many hard to imagine things; forgiveness, turning the other cheek, fidelity and covenant keeping, too. We believe these things because we think this world does not tell the truth. We believe in another kingdom, a heavenly one, where our lives witness to a crucified Lamb.”

What often becomes clear in Keller’s speech and examples is how the church might be able to come alongside the world and narrate its hopes towards a completion in the gospel. Here lies the temptation to think the world just needs to be explained, that what they really believe is what we believe when what we believe is properly explained. There was a time when the church could get away with coming alongside the world, but that time has long passed. It is no longer simply that ‘they want the kingdom without the King.’ It is that the kingdom they want is a thin, malformed view of self-help that misunderstands what a person is, trading finite goods for infinite ones.

We would push Keller and all those seeking to “persuade” to remember that their primary goal as Christians is to bear witness, not to persuade.

To give a biblical example of such an account:

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect (Hebrews 11:32-40).

Christians may well be called to give an account for the hope that is within them (1 Peter 3:5). But that account should seek primarily to be a witness to a different kingdom, a heavenly one. In this way we are not pointing to ourselves but continually to the reign of the one who is to come. This is the One with whom we have to do, before whom all speech is properly witness.

These ideas were worked out in conversation with Matt Shedden, but Kirsten Sanders was the primary author of this essay.

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Posted by Kirsten Sanders

Kirsten Sanders (PhD, Emory University) is a writer and theologian. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.


  1. Sanders doesn’t seem to be familiar with Keller’s work…

    First, all you need to do is look at his books Centre Church or Preaching (or even his article) to see that persuasion is not the ultimate aim for him.

    Second,I think Sanders is failing to see Keller’s underlying beliefs about common grace and utilising presuppositional apologetics. The Apostle Paul preached the gospel but he also got there by first discussing the common ground God’s word had with his listeners.

    “We would push Keller and all those seeking to “persuade” to remember that their primary goal as Christians is to bear witness, not to persuade.”


  2. I also found Keller’s approach to be wanting. That’s because it failed to grasp the elephants in the room in this debate.

    One of those elephants is the desire by white evangelicals to have their moral preferences to be reflected in the broader culture. Over the weekend, a writer in Renn’s orbit suggested that the unanimous failure of the pro-life side on various state referenda was evidence that Christians live in negative world. This is a startling statement, given that these votes say nothing about how people may view Christians. The votes merely suggest that the public at large doesn’t share the prevailing view of many evangelicals on the question of criminalizing abortion. That’s only evidence of negative world if Christians believe that part of their mission is to have the political power to force non-Christians to conform to Christian practices by threat of criminal prosecution. And is that’s indeed part of your mission, you can probably expect a negative reaction from a religiously pluralistic culture that resents efforts by a single sect to impose its views into others. Thus, the question is whether Christians are willing to disabuse themselves of the effort to impose sectarian rules onto others.

    The second elephant is homosexuality. Christians will not gain much credit from the culture on this issue until they repent of their role in the past promotion of invidious discrimination against gays and lesbians. It’s not enough simply to stop engaging in such activity. Christians need to call out the last sins with particularity, repent of them, and commit to abandoning such practices (and separating from those who won’t).

    Winsomeness is not going to kelp you if people suspect that you’re seeking to reduce them to the status of dhimmi within the broader culture.


    1. Ryo,
      I agree with your criticism of Keller though I have much respect for him.

      In the Reformed Theology world, there are two dominant schools of thought regarding how the Church should interact with culture and society. Keller is from the transformationalist school that believes that Christians should impose or more accurately persuade society to adopt some Christian moral positions into culture.

      The other school of thought is 2KT which formally does not support transformationalism, but it does believe that our laws should be based on natural law–a Christian view of natural law.

      Being from the Reformed theological tradition, I see strengths and weaknesses in both positions. But whenever we religiously conservative Christians want to force our personal moral standards on society, we show that we do not fully understand what democracy is about.


      1. I’m positively inclined to the 2KT approach. I read a book a number of years ago by a guy named David Van Drunen on that topic. I liked the book. I’m fine with that approach as long as natural law looks to nature. It goes astray when it treats allegedly inerrant interpretations of Scripture as part of nature.


        1. Ryo,
          Though 2KT seems to respect democracy more than transformationalism does, its weakness is that it prohibits the Church, as an institution, from speaking prophetically to a society and nation. Those who embrace 2KT tend to have problems seeing corporate (a.k.a., group) sin.

          Why I say that 2KT seems to respect democracy is because I have read some of its proponents demanding that the Christian view of natural be codified.


          1. The canon is closed and spiritual gifts, such as prophecy, have ceased. The church errs when it seeks to speak prophetically.

          2. Ryo,
            Speaking prophetically can have more than one definition. When talking today about speaking prophetically, most are not talking about the supernatural gift of prophesy but the applying of scripture to an action or actions that are unjust.

    2. Stephen McAlpine November 18, 2022 at 7:37 pm

      While the second elephant is homosexuality, and there is a need for Christians to repent of some of their invidious discrimination, what does that look like? For example I along with Keller et al would not affirm homosexual practice, and would deny that those who live such a lifestyle can take part in active Christian leadership. If the only recognised repentance includes affirmation – and I would suggest in most cases that is what people re calling for – where do you land when people ask for repentance for discrimination, but refuse to affirm? Does the lack of affirmation of such a lifestyle within the church need to be repented of? It seems it’s a face off between two repentances.


      1. For starters, evangelicals need to develop a coherent theology of sexuality. As it stands, evangelical theology on sexuality is a syncretistic admixture of biblical concepts and right-wing secular social science. For much of the evangelical movement’s history (starting in about 1946), it has incorporated various right-wing political and social ideologies into its theology. In fact, this incorporation is so thorough that people don’t even realize it.

        One of these is the notion that sexual orientation is binary and an essential feature of human identity, and that there is some inherent virtue in “heterosexuality.” Michael Hannon wrote a series of pieces in First Things in the 2014-15 timeframe that critique this notion of heterosexuality from a Christian theological position. The concept of heterosexuality was first proposed only about 140 years ago, and only came into popular usage about 70 years ago. Its scientific basis is rather specious on two points. We know that sexual orientation, as a biological phenomenon, is fairly complex and not susceptible to a small set of categories. For this reason, it’s a rather useless concept around which to organize one’s social identity.

        But too many people—both in the left and the right—have too much invested in this concept. The left-wing effort to end the cultural stigma against non-heterosexual people largely rests on the faulty assumption that sexual orientation is an essential organizing feature for people. So, by preventing non-heterosexual people from constructing social identities that reflect their sexual orientation, society is engaging in improper discrimination. So, the faulty essentialist narrative is key to the left-wing activism of the past 50 years.

        But the essentialist narrative is also key to the right-wing project and much of evangelicals’ thinking on these topics. The right-wing project agrees that sexual orientation is essential to social identity. It departs from the left-wing project mainly in defining heterosexuality as a moral ideal and as morally superior to non-heterosexuality. In short, the right-wing project also rests on the dual Freudian error that sexual orientation lacks complexity and is a useful feature around which to construct one’s social identity.

        This right-wing secular thinking is central tone way that most evangelicals think about these issues. The recent book by Kristen Du Mez does an excellent job of tracing the history of how evangelicals came to incorporate a host of right-wing secular notions of masculinity into its theology, to the point that a kind of performative heterosexuality has replaced asceticism as the Christian ideal. In that sense, this kind of performative heterosexuality has become a kind of “noble lie” at the center of the evangelical project. And, as with all noble lies, there must be a corrupt “other” whose inherent perversion is revealed by the lie.

        In my view, a good deal of LGBTQ activism is misguided. It accepts this othering as partially legitimate, and tries to subvert the social hierarchy by granting moral superiority to those who’ve suffered under this othering. In my view, it would be better to move on from our cultural captivity to Freud and ditch this whole framework altogether.

        This creates a great opening for the Christian church to offer an alternative. But taking advantage of this opportunity would require an admission that evangelical leaders have spent the past 70 years passing off certain right-wing secular ideologies as biblical mandate because doing so served to harmonize the evangelical subculture with certain secular political movements.


  3. What I noticed from Keller’s article printed on this blog was a concern stemming from identifying with someone who was in a similar situation that Keller had been in. That is an attribute that is sorely missing when we speak to and about each other.

    While Keller’s emphasis was on how we talk with others, Sanders’s emphasis in the above article is on what we say. Here we might ask why can’t we fit the two emphases together since there seems to be no logical reason why we should to employ an exclusive-or logic. But Sanders does not see it that way.

    What Sanders sees in Keller’s approach is a compromise between our message and what our Post-Christendom with its negative view of Christianity (Keller) or today’s secular view that sees no value in any of the on the this side of eternity benefits that Christianity has to offer. Here Sanders seems to be saying that Keller underestimates the world’s objections to the Gospel by saying that Keller believes that unbelievers only need some new information and insight regarding where it is going. And so Sanders believes that we must emphasize the sharp contrast between the coming kingdom and what the world promises today. So instead of taking Keller’s approach on trying to persuade by pointing out how we can have a better life here, Sanders believes that our preaching and efforts to persuade should revolve around the coming kingdom and the world to come.

    But again, why do we have a mutually exclusive choice here?

    What I like about Keller’s approach that Sanders seems not to adequately appreciate is that while some would use the words ‘winsome,’ ‘nice,’ ‘conciliatory,’ and ‘compassionate’ to describe our tone in speaking to others, Keller emphasizes the fruit of the Spirit which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and humility. So it seems that whether we are emphasizing how Christianity can produce a better life here or prepare us for the future kingdom, we should be exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit.

    What neither Keller nor Sanders seem to mention is that we can’t speak of our unbelieving audience as being a monolith. Some will still exhibit characteristics leftover from Christendom while other will not. And so while Sanders claims that coming alongside an unbeliever no longer appeals to people because of what the world wants, we should note that we need to listen to each unbeliever as an individual and thus avoid making assumptions about our audience.

    And so we need to be able to switch hats in how we speak and share the Gospel with unbelievers. In the end, however, we should not try to persuade people to believe based solely on the goods they can obtain in this life. After all, Jesus commanded us not to store up treasures on earth because our real reward is in heaven. But that does not mean that Keller’s approach of showing how unbiblical ways of solving problems here is without merit.

    One aspect that is necessary in sharing the Gospel which is either too lightly or not touched on by either Keller or Sanders is that of understanding the credibilities of the Gospel and of today’s way of life. Because of Christendom, we have a lot of damage control to do to the reputation of the Gospel. But today’s unbelieving society also needs to do some damage control as well. The latter point is what Keller has been correctly pointing out when he says that we need to show unbelievers that taking today’s ways of living often does not result in the kind of life many unbelievers want to live. The word ‘often’ is key here. Again, our unbelieving audience is not a monolith.

    As for the damage control Christians must face and begin to repair concerns the many moral failures we see in Church history. And here I am not just referring to sexual scandals of individual ministers. From siding with wealth and power to supporting white supremacy, to supporting immoral wars and imperialism to siding with economic approaches that produce gross disparities in wealth and income to denying climate change and to opposing governmental social safety nets ,just to name some of our failures, the Church has failed the world in living the Gospel. And here, I must disagree with Sanders about the place morality plays in our witness. We can’t say that morals don’t matter while acknowledging what Jesus said about judging a tree by its fruit.

    The Church’s many moral failures have contributed to today’s spiritual and intellectual climate. We can see that in Marx’s and Lenin’s claim that ‘religion is the opiate of the people.’ And thus the Church’s moral failures have contributed to the development and persuasiveness of Critical Theory and Post Modernism. Thus, the Church’s many moral failures have contributed to the current social climate that the Church finds itself in from the post Christendom hostility noted by Keller to the secular belief that Christianity has no relevant goods to deliver to today’s unbeliever as noted by Sanders. So we have to address and even account for the Church’s moral failures when sharing the Gospel. And unfortunately, we have to account for our own moral failures too regardless of whether they have reached a scandalous level.

    Finally, we need to account for the differences in contexts between the Church in today’s world and the biblical examples and even instructions that we might be tempted to use to guide our sharing of the Gospel. It isn’t just the Church’s many moral failures that we must consider, it is today’s world and all that is involved democracy and the fact that the Gospel has been spread to almost every part of the world. Not adequately accounting for the differences in contexts can easily lead us to misapplying the lessons learned from both examples in the Bible and instructions found in the Scriptures.


  4. To me this article shows the beauty of the Body of Christ. Only Jesus was perfectly balanced. We all emphasize different things based on our background, personality, etc. Tim Keller emphasizes persuasion in his ministry (I believe to great effect). This author emphasizes the need for a clear and distinct witness. Only Jesus could perfectly hold these things together. As his united Body we can help each other stay balanced if we’re willing to listen.


  5. We don’t get much Hauerwas on this site, nice to see a quote from him. I actually don’t think Keller and Sanders are that far apart. Persuasion/witness are more closely related than the pugilistic perspectives.


  6. Once we profess, repent and accept Christ as our Savior, we are a witness 24-7. A witness for Christ, be it good, bad or indifferent. I feel like some think it’s something to turn on and off. Witnessing has to do with all we say and do. Just as the Bible says faith without works is dead, so works without faith is dead. When I think back to hearing different preachers, it’s their passion for Christ that speaks to me. Billy Graham is/was one of those who was very passionate for Jesus! My pastor is also very passionate about Jesus and preaches the Bible – God’s Word – all of it. He doesn’t cherry pick or sugar-coat it. He does it for the love of Jesus! To me, there’s a difference in how someone preaches that makes a difference to me for example: some can preach on hell and satan and use all kinds of scare tactics and yelling, no love or passion, more like anger. That’s not for me. Jesus came condemning sin. I know being a Christian doesn’t mean we’ll live a life like a bed of roses. We live in a broken, sinful world. Any preacher who preaches a life here on earth to be problem-free and have material wealth is not in touch with God’s whole Word and misleading so many people. Just look at what the Apostles went through after Jesus was crucified, resurrected and ascended to Heaven. Those that preach/teach half truths will answer to God for it. Life isn’t going to be a bed of roses. But God still blesses and sees us through life’s challenges if we call on Him and have faith in Him. Do we have the passionate love of Christ to tell others? We would/should be planting seeds, the Holy Spirit will do the prompting. I’d say one way or the other, a preacher is using some kind of persuasion in their preaching. People respond to all types of preaching. For me it’s a God-loving, people-loving, Bible-preaching man of God.


  7. I’ve learned much from Kirsten Sanders’ writing in the past and much from this good essay. I agree that there are inherent dangers in the effort to persuade, and Kirsten describes them well. But I can’t go all the way with her argument, just as I can’t go all the way with Karl Barth or Stanley Hauerwas in their denial of the validity of any apologetics at all. Her key point comes when she says that persuasion requires a common ground on which to speak. And at this point she seems to deny the doctrine of common grace (or general revelation), which Barth also denies but, for example, Herman Bavinck does not. Bavinck agrees with Barth that there is a radical antithesis of Christian and non-Christian thought, but he also holds that the Bible teaches common grace. It means non-believers will always be somewhat inconsistent with their own beliefs. I think this combination of antithesis and common grace explains Paul’s teaching on and practice of persuasion—and I believe Paul’s example is still relevant today. So basically I agree with all Kirsten’s warnings and they are theologically important but, biblically, there’s another shoe that should drop.


    1. I agree. The Barth-Bavinck distinction is helpful. Lots of good stuff in this article to heed so we avoid the idol of people-pleasing and the practices of over-accommodation and assimilation. But when Dr. Sanders writes “Israel in Babylon wasn’t doing a whole lot of cultural exegesis or persuasion,” I’m not sure that’s entirely true. One thinks of Daniel persuading Nebuchadnezzar to act justly: “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity,” (Dan 4:27). (Or the whole book of Esther–but that’s Persia, not Babylon). Or Paul before Agrippa (Paul’s persuasion doesn’t work here, but the point is that he is trying to persuade him. Agrippa even is shocked at this: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” The early apologists did this in pre-Christendom and Augustine seems to do it in City of God in a “mixed-bag Christendom”. Put simply, I agree that Witness is definitely the mode of the church in the world, but I don’t see why this excludes Persuasion.


    2. Tim,
      Thank you for providing a model of how we should respond to and disagree with others.


  8. BTW – Kirsten hints that the pre-Christian pagan culture may have been less hostile to persuasion than a post-Christian culture. But I believe Larry Hurtado, in “Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries?” refutes that. He says Christianity was more persecuted in the Roman world than any other religion by far, and it was because Christians would not allow that their God was one among many, and therefore Christians could never pay tribute to the gods of a town or guild or of a home and estate. The anger and hostility to Christians was intense over their perceived exclusivity, and this has parallels with the hostility of post-Christian culture to us today. For your consideration.


    1. Tim, thanks for this exchange. I do think it is an error to conflate “common ground” with “common grace”, though I understand their relation. I do, also, think our particular moment requires a renewed emphasis on a kind of difference- in kind, not degree- that is not merely moral or ethical. In fact, some of this may be accentuated because the kind of social pressure Christians may face- not in life and death, as with the Romans, but still threatening to the Xn appeal- may be deceptively subtle. It is my view that some infinite goods cannot be easily reached by logical deduction or proposition. They must be shown, or witnessed to. I also don’t think everything comes down to Barth versus Bavinck. ;-) Cheers-


      1. Kirsten,
        What I just wrote to Tim I will write to you. Thank you for providing a model of how we should respond to and disagree with each other.


      2. Stephen McAlpine November 18, 2022 at 7:38 pm

        In a sense we need to be angular but not angry.


  9. OK, thanks, Kirsten!

    I don’t think the persuasion I see Paul doing is so much logical deduction though it is, of course, reasonable. Bavinck puts his finger on it (I think) when he talks about showing non-believers that their beliefs split off their hearts from their heads, that what they say they believe doesn’t fit with what they sense intuitively and practice, and that Christianity unites head and heart. That is indeed persuasion–it is not mere declaration–yet it entails the witness to infinite goods that you rightly stress.


  10. This is an interesting exchange. I’m a bit of an outsider to this discussion, so I’ll begin by saying that I am unaware of how the words “persuasion” and “witness” are being construed on social media. (For example, I wonder ,when people hear “persuasion”, whether there is a fear that it automatically includes as part of its meaning, “judgmentalism”. Or, when they hear “witness”, are people assuming that it is synonomous with a social gospel devoid of any verbal declaration about the historical reasons undergirding our hope for a glorious future kingdom, etc.

    Having said that, I cannot disagree with anything in your essay, Kirsten. I was left wanting more. I reread it several times looking for more about your view of witness. I’m interested in concrete examples. Near the end you include the passage from Hebrews which is replete with examples, but it seems to me most of those are quite dramatic and not yet the norm for bearing witness, at least for North American Christians.

    I also went to your website to see if there you’ve addressed the practical or personal ways in which you see witness as instrumental and valuable in your own life. I see that you like to run, grow dahlias, host dinners, practice effective parenting and much more. One expression of your raison d’etre seems to be your statement: “I work in my writing and teaching to help people rethink what it means to believe in God.” To me, helping people to “rethink” involves a lot of listening, conversing, respectful questioning, informed explaining, and more. Do all those full under the notion of persuading, or witnessing? To me, the answer is both.

    Anyway, those are some of my reactions this morning. I find myself asking at this point, “Why am I even taking time to post something here.” My answer is twofold: One, my hope is that the discussion around this topic does not become divisive. With the potentially toxic medium of social media as our context for having so many discussions, I am wary of the possibility of discord, of discussions moving into the realm of gently (or strongly) “cancelling” someone because they appear to have slipped onto the “wrong side” of whatever topic is under discussion. And two, I’m curioius to have more clarity, with examples, of how we witness, especially if there is a contrast to ‘persuade’ that is helpful to understand.

    I’m not a philosopher, nor a regular writer. I simply desire that in my own life I will be one whose conversations are lovingly and respectfully persuasive, and whose life is as clear as possible a witness to the power of God, through the thick and thin of all my remaining days.


  11. All this discussion around Keller’s thoughts on witnessing Christ to the culture is a tempest in a tea pot. Keller’s ministry speaks for itself. He has been a clear and unwavering witness for the Gospel in a modern day Babylon. Oh, and by many standards and accounts, a successful one. Keller never says his is the only way. All he has ever suggested is that there are other ways to preach and minister.


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