I found Center Church to be a typical Keller book: thoughtful, logical, biblical, humble, irenic, provocative and thankfully lacking dogmatism. I love the fact that while he has very strong opinions, he does not believe that his way is the only way. His love for “the city” and his wide kingdom perspective comes through very clearly. While he writes out of his own experience in New York City and recognizes his limitations writing from an American perspective, there is much in this book for any pastor. It is especially relevant to those who pastor within a city context and I think will be very helpful for any pastor of an International Church.
Yes, Tim is a committed Presbyterian and Calvinist but he has much to say to all of us. The proof of his wide kingdom commitment is the fact that under his leadership, not only has Redeemer Presbyterian Church grown to several sites in Manhattan but that they have actively supported the start of other churches within Manhattan – churches that are Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.; as well as churches in many other cities.
His book is divided into seven parts: Gospel Theology, Gospel Renewal, Gospel Contexualization, City Vision, Cultural Engagement, Missional Community and Integrative Ministry. Some sections cover familiar ground for well read pastors but even then you will find that Keller has some fine nuggets that will catch your attention if not challenge you.
For those who attend MICN conferences, the last few sections are especially stimulating. Again, not everything is new, but all of it is well presented. I read this book in my Kindle and seemed to find myself bookmarking about every third page. Thus it is hard for me to share only a few thoughts from the book. However here are several to stimulate to read this book.
For example he shares an encouraging comment about the need to strive for fruitfulness but to recognize that while “gardeners” must be faithful in their work, the degree of “success” does not depend entirely upon them.
“The level of fruitfulness varies due to “soil conditions” (that is, some groups of people have a greater hardness of heart than others) and “weather conditions” (that is the work of God’s Spirit) as well.”
Tim argues that the “success” of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York was not so much the ministry programs or the style of service they had adopted. Rather “We had thought long and hard about the character and implications of the gospel and then long and hard about the culture of New York City, about the sensibilities of both Christians and non-Christians in our midst, and about the emotional and intellectual landscape of the center city.”
He argues that we should be clear on our doctrine and our chosen ministry practices. However “between one’s doctrinal beliefs and ministry practices should be a well conceived vision for how to bring the gospel to bear on the particular cultural setting and historical moment. This is more practical than just doctrinal beliefs but much more theological than “how-to” steps for carrying out a particular ministry.”
Keller argues forcefully against evangelicals who take a strong position on a variety of issues and practices and then draw boundaries that shut out those who disagree with them.
“Our goal as Christians and Christian ministers is — (to) seek the peace and prosperity of the city or community in which we are placed, through a gospel movement led by the Holy Spirit. Movements like these do not follow a “bounded-set” approach in which you only work with others who can sign off on nearly all your distinctive beliefs and practices. Rather it follows a “centered set” orientation in which you work most closely with those who face with you toward the same center. That center is classic, orthodox understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a common mission to reach and serve your city and a commitment to have a generous Christ-focused posture toward people who disagree with you. It’s a type of movement that is missional, integrative and dynamic.”
Sounds like what we hope and work for within our Missional International Church Network.
By Nelson Annan