I tweeted a while back that I was reading what could be the biggest church book of the year. I meant that in a literal sense. The book is Center Church by Tim Keller. Textbooks are difficult to review because they’re so massive and cover so much territory – and this is definitely a textbook.
I’m going to post a more formal review with some push backs and questions in the next week or so, but I wanted to throw out some thoughts that have struck me as I’ve made my way through the book, focused on the first two areas of the book: gospel and city.
Keller is a gospel fanatic (in a good way). He spends a ton of time talking about what the gospel is and what the gospel is not. He writes that “the gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life…we are saved by believing the gospel, and then we are transformed in every part of our minds, hearts, and lives by believing the gospel more and more deeply as life goes on” (48).
Keller’s Center Church focuses on a narrower gospel than Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel does (or, as McKnight would say, Keller has a more soterian/salvation-focused gospel), but in the “soterian camp” I always find Keller refreshingly “broad” in his description of the gospel and its effects (liberation, restoration, and renewal) and these nuances come through in the 100+ pages Keller takes to discuss the gospel.
Keller’s work on ministering in the city is terrific. My first exposure to Keller was an article he wrote about the city, and this book is the fullest treatment of his many years of experience in the heart of New York City. I particularly liked his “seven vital features” of city-honoring urban ministry (173):
- Respect for urban sensibility
- Unusual sensitivity to cultural differences
- Commitment to neighborhood and justice
- Integration of faith and work
- Bias for complex evangelism
- Preaching that both attracts and challenges urban people
- Commitment to artistry and creativity
So far, this is an insightful and helpful book, though potentially too massive to be consumed by city and urban pastors who are some of the busiest people I know. For those who have time (and especially those who have affinity towards Keller, his theological leanings, or share his commitment to ministry in city centers), it’s worth a read.