The book Center Church by Timothy Keller is outstanding!
Timothy Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City and he is a noted writer. He is one of the most scholarly pastors in the United States, but he writes with his heart and not merely his head.
This book is a goldmine of vast research on the church and culture and what God is doing today around the world. The reader can access all of this research by reading this one book. (Admittedly, it is not a quick or an easy book. In fact I would say that reading this book and interacting with it is somewhat akin to taking a seminary class. But it is well worth the effort.)
He has an outstanding section on the gospel and the far-reaching implications of the gospel for life. He makes the points that the gospel is not everything, the gospel is not a simple thing, but the gospel affects everything.
“The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A to Z of the Christian life. It is inaccurate to think the gospel is what saves non-Christians, and then Christians mature by trying hard to live according to biblical principles. It is more accurate to say that 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” (p. 48).
He also includes an outstanding section on revivals. He understands the history of revivals and the biblical treatment of revivals. Included in this section are profound insights on the idolatries of our day and on the nature of preaching.
The third major section is on the somewhat cerebral topic of contextualization. Contextualization has been commonly used as a missionary concept, but it applies to the church in the United States in a post-Christian world.
He also includes an outstanding section on the nature of the city and why the city is increasingly important in our world and increasingly important for the kingdom. He calls the believer to love the city and to know the city and to serve the city.
“Christians should seek to live in the city, not to use the city to build great churches, but to use the resources of the church to seek a great, flourishing city. We refer to this as a ‘city growth’ model of ministry rather than a strictly ‘church growth’ model” (p. 172).
In another section of his book that is intellectually rigorous, Keller has a third discussion of the relationship of the gospel to culture. He says some Christians confront culture, whereas others withdraw from culture and others transform culture. However, if we do not think about the relationship of the gospel to culture, it is so easy for us to be conformed to our culture without being aware of it. This is an important section and has great implications for the Christian and politics, but it has implications for every area of society and life.
He has an outstanding section on the missional nature of the church. Like everything else in life, we need to be clear on the gospel for a proper foundation for mission.
“People who believe they are accepted by God because they lead good lives of sacrificial service will be insecure, unable to take criticism, prone to look down on people who are not ‘getting it right,’ and unsure of God’s love or of their identity in Christ” (p. 270).
This section on the missional nature of the church also has thorough summaries of worship, discipleship groups and justice.
The final section is on the movements of the gospel and the necessity of church planting.
This is an important book. It is filled with wisdom and insight. On almost any topic Keller touches on he writes wisely and often profoundly. This book is worth a careful reading. If you undertake the book, brace yourself. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Even if you read a couple of pages a day it would be worth reading in a half year. Take copious notes and ask God to speak to you.