I prefer not to do many book reviews during the school year because I have so much to read already, but when I heard about the new Timothy Keller book, Center Church, I had to jump on board for this one. It was a stretch to get through it, but it was worth it.
This isn't a book about how to "grow your church". I was glad of that. Those books make me a little uneasy. Rather, this is a book about how to put a church in the middle of a city, put the gospel in the middle of that church and make it all work in a way that people will actually respond well to. In fact, he starts off right in the introduction stating that success and large numbers are not what we as ministers are called to bring to the church, but rather it's about fruit. He won me over in the introduction.
Keller is clearly the guy to talk to about church vitality in the big city and his experience and insight shine through in this new book. Set up like a text book, this is not a "quick read" or something that you can take in as a giant piece. It's best read as a text book. Read it a part at a time and let the information sink in. This could be a really good resource for a class on urban ministry because of that format. This book should take you a while to read.
Keller takes the reader through eight basic parts. He begins with "Gospel Theology." What is the gospel? What does it have to say to us and the people around us? What effects does it have? He moves on to talk about "Gospel Renewal." Why do we need renewal? What's at the center of it? What good does it do? Thirdly, he moves on to our ten gallon word of the day, "Contextualization." In other words, how can the gospel answer the questions that people are asking? My favorite section is "City Vision," In which he covers pros and cons of ministry in the city and how to work through those. The vision a church in the city has must be different than that of a suburban or rural church. "Cultural Engagement" is an important section. How does the church interact with the culture in which it finds itself? Now, I get a little annoyed at the overuse of the word "missional" (which spell check and I agree is not a real word), but in the first page of the section on "the Missional Church", Keller starts using words like "soteriology" and cites Karl Barth and Lesslie Newbigin, so I quickly recovered from the use that word. It's a good section on the mission of the church. Keller moves on to talking about "integrative ministry." How does one balance a ministry? How do you help connect people to God, other people, the city and the culture? Lastly, he covers "Movement dynamics." This look at some of the sociology behind church and institutional movements is an important wrap up to the book.
Overall, I liked this book and will definitely be using it as a resource in my ministry in the city. Thanks, Timothy Keller for sharing your wisdom and experience in this book!