All Preaching, Evangelistic Preaching- Keller

July 17, 2007

I wonder if you would agree with Tim Keller’s comments today? I do, which is why I’ve included it in Tuesday’s Classic Materials. But I would be interested to hear if you have a different take and why.


“Normal preaching should be evangelistic preaching. Ordinarily, ‘edificational’ preaching is more oriented to behavior (“you must obey Christ in this way and this way”) while ‘evangelistic’ preaching is usually oriented toward belief (“you must believe in Christ in this way and this way”). But this misses the unity of the human soul. Edwards in his Affections argues persuasively that, essentially, “if you truly believe, it changes behavior, and if you are not behaving properly, it is because of unbelief.” A person may say, “I know God cares for me, but I am still petrified with fear.” No. If they are running in fear, it is because they don’t ‘know’ God’s care.

Therefore, any failure in behavior in Christians is due to unbelief. The antidote to unbelief is a fresh telling of the gospel. So, if a sermon is Christ-centered in its exposition and application, and if it is oriented toward a) dismantling the unbelief systems of the human heart, and toward b) re-explaining and using the gospel on the unbelief – then it will be highly illuminating to non-Christians even when it is aimed primarily to Christians. Preaching that cannot both edify and evangelize at once is choosing behavior over belief or belief over behavior.”

(Tim Keller; Preaching in a PostModern City, part II)



  1. Yes, this is one of Keller’s best insights. I think the evangelical church in Scotland, and perhaps England too, has confused teaching and preaching. Too many sermons in the UK are teaching sermons rather than preaching sermons. The best way to teach is not a 30 min bible exposition. But the best (only?) way to make/lead people in worship is preaching.

  2. Amen. Superficially, this looks like it is aimed at the “unbelieving”, and thus is too shallow to feed “believers”.

    But Keller is spot on. You never outgrow the gospel. Nice complements to this extract are Keller’s article on the centrality of the gospel, and John Piper’s sermon on God strengthening us by the gospel.

  3. This piece by Keller is very instructive and helpful. It seems to me that “edificational” preaching not only forgets that believers need to continually hear and be reminded of the gospel, but also wrongly assumes that the audience is composed mostly of genuine believers. I don’t think that is a wise assumption to make, at least here in the US.

  4. Note that in Keller’s 2004 lecture at Covenant Theological Seminary “Preaching to Believers and Unbelievers” ( http://www.covenantseminary.edu/resource/Keller_JRW_FA04Lectures.mp3 ), he said that “however we also need to have a way to get the believers deeper.” As I studied through Keller’s Church Planting Manual, he emphasized Christian Education (classes) as a mean to train people to be deeper. And so, Gospel preaching alone is also not good.

  5. I know this is an old post but the essence of it is still applicable today. I agree with Keller when he said “The antidote to unbelief is a fresh telling of the gospel” because the Gospel is forever and it stays the same. But people come and go and our time is continuously changing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: