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Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Hardcover – September 8, 2012
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About the Author
Timothy Keller is the founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. He has also mentored young urban church planters and pastors in New York and other cities through Redeemer City to City, which has helped launch over 200 churches in 35 global cities to date.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is essentially a manual for creating a theological vision for a city, being a faithful re-statement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history. The book starts by discussing what the gospel is, and what is involved in gospel renewal. It then discusses the importance of gospel contextualisation and how it relates to a city, and finally movement dynamics including mission, institutions and integrative ministry.
While leaders of established churches may not spend much time considering the theological implications of their church practices, church planters (unless they are merely following someone else's template) are inevitably faced with the task of thinking through what the new church is going to look like, how it is going to explain the gospel to the local people groups, and how it is going to embody Christian community. These are challenging theological issues, and the book provides excellent source material to assist in the process.
The author explains how his own approach to explaining and advocating the truth has been honed by receiving extensive feedback from a wide variety of people with different cultural backgrounds, and this is reflected in his writing style, in which he gives careful and respectful consideration to a range of different views before explaining his own view. While you might not agree with him, at least you will feel that all views have been considered fairly.
Readers hoping for an easy read with witty and entertaining anecdotes would be best to avoid this book. It is a long book, with a lot of words packed onto each page, aimed at readers who are committed to thinking in depth about how the current decline of the church in Western countries can be reversed. By the end I was both inspired by the possibilities and somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity and extent of the task of gospel work in cities today. In my view, this is an outstanding reference work for church leaders and planters.
What we need, according to Tim Keller, is middleware. Middleware is like the operating system on your computer. It's neither the hardware (like theology), nor is it the application (the programs). In the church, this middleware -- a theological vision for ministry, really -- is more practical than doctrinal beliefs alone, but more theological than "how-to" steps for ministry. It is, it turns out, exactly what we need, and it's what Keller aims to deliver in his tome Center Church.
Yes, it's a tome. The book is almost 400 pages, and the audiobook is almost 23 hours long. It's formatted like a textbook with lots of sidebars, and some tables and sidebars. As Mike Wittmer writes, "The only thing it's missing is a few pictures of U.S. Presidents, and I'd be back in high school." (The sidebars are one reason why the print version is superior to the audiobook or the ebook format. There's no real way for the sidebars to have the same flow on a Kindle, much less an audiobook.)
The book delivers exactly what you'd expect from Tim Keller: a scholarly but practical look at ministry. The book is broken into three sections: Gospel, City, and Movement.
First, he begins with the gospel, helping us think carefully about what it is and what it isn't. He also describes how the gospel renews the church. Chapter 6, "The Work of Gospel Renewal," is worth the price of the book itself for any pastor who wants to see the church revived.
Second, Keller writes on the city. Keller describes what it means to contextualize our ministries appropriately, and then gives us a basic understanding of urban theology. Keller is the best thing to happen to urban theology since Ray Bakke, who wrote The Urban Christian years ago. Keller makes a compelling case for the importance of ministry in the urban core, without devaluing the significance of ministry elsewhere. He then deals with the complex topic of the church's relationship to culture. Entire books have been written on this topic, but Keller bravely tackles it, providing a good synthesis of the various views. Keller reminds me of why I love cities, and why I'm glad to be pastoring in a city like Toronto.
Finally, Keller writes on movement. The Church, he writes, is both an organism and an organization. It requires that we join God on mission, that we integrate a number of ministry fronts, and that we act as an organized organism.
We need, he writes, more than sound doctrine, although sound doctrine is necessary. We need more than a magic-bullet program that will reach people. We need something in the middle: a theological vision that enables us to communicate the gospel to our time and place. "You can do this ministry with God's help," Keller writes, "so give it all you've got. You can't do this ministry without God's help -- so be at peace."
I can't tell you how much I appreciated this book. It's meaty, but it re-energized me at many points. When Keller writes about church planting, for instance, he both inspired me and encouraged me, and made me want to sign up to be a church planter all over again. He has a knack for communicating complex information in a pastorally helpful way.
This is one of those books that I'll be reading again. It's going to go on the shelf of books that are consulted often, because it covers so much material in a substantive, helpful way.
I did have a couple of mild criticisms. Keller likes finding the via media, the middle way. This is often helpful, but not always. Also, I also found that this book had a heavily edited feel. It ocassionally seemed to lack cohesiveness, which is perhaps understandable given all the ground it covers. Still, it seemed to be missing some of Keller's voice. I could be imagining this, but it felt that way.
That being said, this book is gold. A few of Keller's articles have had a profound influence on my life. Imagine, then, almost 400 pages of such material. If you're in pastoral ministry, or if you are interested in a theological vision of the church, or any number of related topics such as church planting and cultural engagement, then this book is a must. Buy the print edition if you can, and refer to it often. You won't be sorry.
I recommend this book to all pastors and disciple makers who seek to make disciples through the local church for the good of the broader world.
I gave it a five star rating because it challenged me, sharpened me theologically, helped me to think through how to apply the Bible's truth in the context of a church in the city, and because even though I disagree with some small points, it seems to be one of the better books to have a conversation in thinking through church leadership.