‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’

My Conversation with Timothy Keller

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue.

So, I was talking to Tim Keller this week when the topic of sex came up…no, wait, that’s not right.

Let’s reframe that without me lying. I managed to snag a ticket to the Gospel Coalition’s 2013 National Conference this week and sit in on a breakout session on the subject of revival by Dr. Keller. He gave a brief recap of some of the material in his recent book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City for those who hadn’t encountered it yet.

In a nutshell, his view of revival is that it is an intensification of the ordinary operation of the Holy Spirit in conviction, assurance, regeneration, and sanctification. He says, “You will see sleepy Christians waking up, nominal Christians being converted, and hard to reach cases being extraordinarily converted.” The marks of revival will include:

  1. The Gospel being recovered from legalism or antinomianism.
  2. True repentance, not just “emotional frothiness.”
  3. Anointed corporate worship.
  4. Some sort of church growth.

Of course, there was more to it than that, but for those of you who are really interested, I suggest picking up the book—it really is must-read stuff.

Now, I happened to be one of the lucky few to ask Keller a question after the session (at a distance…on a microphone) and seeing as how he’s probably the most astute cultural observer I know of working the pastorate today (aside from our own staff here at CaPC), I stumblingly asked him if he could identify a couple of the major obstacles for our current culture when it comes to the seeing revival or spiritual renewal in the church, especially with respect to repentance.

Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

Fornication—Good times.

Some might initially balk at the suggestion: “Really? Almost everybody outside the Church? Most inside?” Yup.
Lest anyone think Keller is giving in to typical preacher’s tendency for over-exaggeration, his claim can be backed up by the latest in sociological research. Even if we don’t get suckered into falling for bad statistics, the picture isn’t pretty. For instance, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker tell a concerning tale in Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying, that something on the order of 90% of young Americans will experience intercourse before getting married, and certainly a majority of Evangelicals have, at some point, had sex outside of the bonds of marriage, even if they’re currently repentant.

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