In his new book, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan, September) Timothy Keller outlines a broad theological vision that connects classic evangelical doctrine to new and vibrant ministry expressions for the realities we face today in our globalized, post-Christian culture.
For more than twenty years, Keller has been the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, which has grown to a congregation of more than 5,000 young professionals. 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.
Keller has been recognized for reaching secular urban professionals who are largely unchurched. His books The Reason for God and The Prodigal God were New York Times bestsellers, speaking not only to a Christian audience, but to skeptics and those who have turned away from the church.
In Center Church, Keller explains the thinking and vision behind Redeemer and the other churches Redeemer has helped plant, across a variety of cities, denominations and cultures. Rather than following a particular brand or model, these churches represent diverse expressions of the church with the common goal of reaching young, urban, pluralistic people who are moving into cities at record rates. In these young churches, people are resonating with the power of ministry in which the classical gospel of Jesus Christ leads them to love culture, serve the city, and be a counterculture for the common good.
“Center Church is my definitive work on gospel ministry,” says Keller. “When I mentor young urban pastors and church planters, this is the core material I always use.”
Center Church is an anthology of essays (each with questions for personal reflection or group discussion) outlining a theological vision for ministry, organized around three core commitments:
- Gospel-centered: The gospel of grace in Jesus Christ changes everything, from our hearts to our community to the world. It completely reshapes the content, tone and strategy of all that we do.
- City-centered: With a positive approach toward our culture, we learn to affirm that cities are wonderful, strategic and underserved places for gospel ministry.
- Movement-centered: Instead of building our own tribe, we seek the prosperity and peace of our community as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
Based on these commitments, Keller offers challenging insights and provocative questions. Rather than doing “business as usual” on the one hand, or abandoning age-old theology and doctrine on the other, Keller shows us how to develop “new” ministry expressions based on “old” theology—how to communicate the classic doctrines of salvation by grace and substitutionary atonement in our globalized culture and context. This will take more sophisticated reflection on both the gospel and our culture. It also requires ministry to be much more balanced than most churches are today: emphasizing word and deed, personal holiness and cultural engagement, doctrinal depth and kingdom-centered cooperation.
Thanks to the globalization and spread of urban culture, the concepts in the book are increasingly relevant not only to ministry in cities, but also in suburbs and small towns.
From young seminary graduates who will find it increasingly difficult to find a ministry post, to older established ministers who are losing the young people in their church, many pastors today need to rethink ministry in a culture that no longer believes Christianity is a force for good, let alone the source of ultimate revealed truth in the person of Christ.