World Magazine recently ran a two-part series of an interview Pastor Tim Keller gave to senior reporter Sophia Lee.  Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is one of the leading evangelical pastors in the nation.  He is especially known for his outreach to the unchurched in secular New York.  He has learned to communicate with a skeptical post-Christian culture, and I have personally profited from his insights.

During the interview Keller was asked, “Do you see the world’s culture as becoming increasingly hostile toward Christian values (or perhaps it’s just always been hostile)?”  Keller replied, “Absolutely, yes, the culture is more hostile to Christianity.  Whether speaking of the academy, the media, government, business, popular entertainment, the arts, or social media – our culture is growing more hostile toward Christian beliefs and values.  It is not the same as it has always been.”

Keller then provided some insight on how to respond to this hostility: “First, repent for the ways Christians’ inconsistent lives have harmed the Church’s credibility. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. Third, let people know you are a believer – don’t hide it. Fourth, make sure you are not harsh or clumsy in your words (be sure it’s the gospel that offends and not you).  And last, don’t be afraid of persecution. Jesus promises to be with you.” 

After reading the interview, I thought of John 12:37-43, where John quotes Isaiah in response to people not believing in Jesus – even though he had done miraculous signs in their presence.  “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn – and I would heal them” (v. 40).  The Good News divides.

There were leaders, however, who came to believe in Jesus. “But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue” (v. 42).  Then come the fateful words: “…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (v. 43).  It was entrenched religious resistance in the skeptical Jewish community that finally led to our Lord’s death. If I had been in that religious crowd, I fear I might have been a “fellow traveler” afraid to go public in my confession of Jesus as Lord.

What is your experience as a follower of Jesus?  Do you sense more hostility to Jesus and His message today?  Nowhere in the gospels do we have the promise that it will be easy to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells us, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).  

When speaking of the end of the age, Jesus told his disciples, “All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life” (Luke 21:17-18).  Toward the end of Matthew, Jesus warned us, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:12).

We need an attitude check. We might have had an easy road to travel in the past, but now we are facing harder times.  The road is rockier and more dangerous.  Pastor Keller has been a beacon of truth in hostile, secular New York City.  We need to pay attention to his advice.