Sober and Courageous: Tim Keller on Risk in the Christian Life
Acton Institute Powerblog

Sober and Courageous: Tim Keller on Risk in the Christian Life

The Christian life is one filled with risk, driven by active faith in an active God whose ways are higher than our own. In all that we put our hands to, God calls us to turn away from the supposed predictability of our own plans and designs and rely entirely on Him.

Such an orientation transforms each area of our lives, from family and friends to politics to church life and beyond. But for those involved in entrepreneurship and business, the stakes feel particularly high, and amid the rise of modernity and overwhelming economic prosperity, the temptation to rely on our own devices is more alluring than ever before.

Christians are good at talking about “abandoning all” for the sake of the Gospel, to be sure, but what does this look like in day-to-day life? The rich young ruler made a risk calculation when asked to give all of his wealth to the poor, and based on that output, he failed. What similar calculations do we encounter as God prompts our stewardship, whether it means donating to a particular charity or investing in a new idea or enterprise?

As Christians actively engaged in the economic sphere, seeking to innovate, create, and contribute to society through work and service, how are we to understand risk in a Biblical perspective?

In a marvelous talk at the Center for Faith & Work’s EI Forum, Tim Keller explores precisely this, reminding us that although the Bible doesn’t speak much about “risk” directly, it does deal extensively with fear and control:

Keller outlines the challenges of being “smart and savvy, courageous and sober entrepreneurs,” noting that, in modern society we’ve begun to trust far too much on our human ability to “get things done.” Whereas societies of the past felt bound by some sort of fate outside of their control, with increases in freedom, individual empowerment, and overall innovation, we have grown overly confident in our ability to “make things happen” and less concerned with making the right things happen.

Pointing the way forward, Keller reminds us of that basic reorientation of the heart and mind. For the Christian, our perspective mustn’t dwell on either the fatalism of ages past or the pride and materialism of the present, but rather be driven by obedience to God, putting our calculators down and asking the King, “What would you have me do?”

To combat fear, Keller notes that we must “relocate our identity before God’s glory.”

Whenever you start to feel this deep anxiety over failure, you need to realize something very simple. If God and his relationship with you, if his love for you, if your identity in Jesus, if your salvation, if his grace — if those things were your real, most valuable assets, then you wouldn’t be that afraid. You know why? Because [for] a Christian who’s not just a Christian up here [in the head], but who existentially says “you are my glory, you lift my head up”…there’s never really risk to your real assets.

To combat our illusion of control, Keller reminds us that we must “humble ourselves before God’s providence.” “The one who is in control is not a puppet master,” Keller says. “He died for you,” and we get to respond to that invitation of grace through active participation with Him and through His Spirit:

We absolutely live in a culture that says you can control things. And the Bible says you’re not in control …Humble yourself and realize that you aren’t really in charge, that you’re not in control of your life, that you can’t manage it, that you’re really in the hands of God…[But] though you’re in the hands of God, what you do matters….There is a mysterious compatibility between God’s sovereignty and what we do…

The irony is that although we have so many choices before us, and although we have unprecedented tools and resources for assessing and analyzing this and that option, if we try to respond to these choices on our own, trusting in our own plans and our own designs, that’s where the real risk resides.

Through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, however, we can be both “sober and courageous,” “wise and bold,” all together at the same time, resting and trusting in God in all that we put our hands to, and stewarding the earth in ways that bring life and light to our neighbors and the world.

Joseph Sunde

is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.