I recently received Tim Keller’s new book, Center Church, and I think I’m really going to like it. This is an exhaustive textbook that explains Redeemer’s philosophy of ministry—and I suspect it will be our generation’s go to book on this topic. Every church ministry course should require this text, and every pastor should read it to assess the ministry of his own church.
Center Church truly is exhaustive. Its hefty form reminds me of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich social studies textbooks I was loaned in high school—you remember, the ones that had the names of previous upper classmen in the inside cover, various scribbles and highlighted pages, and invariably a corner or two that had been chewed by a pet. Center Church has double column pages, lots of sidebars, and tiny endnotes that require me to grope for my reading classes. The only thing it’s missing is a few pictures of U.S. Presidents, and I’d be back in high school.
Center Church promises to bring some much needed clarity to the current controversy between the Kuyperians and the Two Kingdoms School—is the mission of the church only to make disciples or does it also include ministry to the poor? How should the church relate to its surrounding culture? There is a very helpful diagram on p. 231 that explains the balance needed between Kuyperians, Two Kingdoms, Liberal, and Counter-Cultural churches (my only quibble is that the Two Kingdoms quadrant doesn’t list an extreme as do the other quadrants, which seems a bit unfair. If you’re wondering, its extreme would be a sacred-secular dichotomy).
I thought I might blog through the book, but it’s so exhaustive it might be exhausting, so instead I think I’ll post a few highlights as I’m reading. To whet your appetite, Keller says in his introduction that many people have asked how they can replicate the Redeemer model, just as a previous generation wanted to be Willow Creek. Keller replies that there is no “secret of success,” but that every church should focus on its “theological vision.”
Theological vision is the middle space between doctrinal commitments and ministry practice, and it explains why churches in the same denomination and believe the same thing can look and feel so different in actual practice. Theological vision attempts to understand both the gospel and the church’s cultural setting, and asks what aspects of that culture can be affirmed and what must be rejected. Keller’s point is that while the gospel doesn’t change, the shape it assumes in different cultural settings may look quite different, depending on both the culture and the church’s DNA that is presenting the gospel.
This is helpful and illuminating material, and I’ll close for now with this quote: “Preaching is compelling to young secular adults not if preachers use video clips from their favorite movies and dress informally and sound sophisticated, but if the preachers understand their hearts and culture so well that listeners feel the force of the sermon’s reasoning, even if in the end they don’t agree with it” (p. 15).