Book Review: Timothy Keller’s Center Church

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If I were going to plant a church in the middle of an urban area, I would want Timothy Keller to show me how to do it. Why? Because when I think “Manhattan,” I don’t think “thriving church.” But that’s exactly what Redeemer Presbyterian Church is. Redeemer is the church planted by Keller in New York City in 1989—the church that started with an attendance of 50 and has grown to over 4500 since. But more important than the church’s numbers is its fruitfulness—the growth of its body in godly character. This, according to Keller, is the true yardstick for evaluating ministry.

How does a church planted smack-dab in the middle of downtown New York become an orchard of fruitfulness? Certainly God had a hand in it, but Keller walks us through some important things to consider in such a quest in his new book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. It’s a book on theological vision—which Keller defines as:

…a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.

Keller calls his theological vision Center Church. The Center Church theological vision has three basic commitments, and Keller divides the book into three parts based on these axes, as he calls them.

1. Gospel—Center Church maintains that it is critical for every new generation and setting to find ways to communicate the gospel clearly and strikingly, distinguishing it from its opposites and counterfeits.

2. City—Center Church maintains that every church, whether located in a city, suburb, or rural area…must become wise about and conversant with the distinctives of human life in those places.

3. Movement—This has to do with a church’s understanding of traditions and how they effect the practical parts of a church’s ministry.

Today we are going to focus on a component of the second axis, City, and explore a part of Center Church theological vision that is near and dear to our heart here at The High Calling—that is, the relationship between faith and work and how it contributes to fruitfulness in a people.

The High Calling recently partnered with The Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University to offer a free webinar and church program resources designed to help churches encourage people in their workplaces. Marcus Goodyear, Senior Editor of, was surprised at some of the comments webinar attendees made.

One Bible teacher who came to the webinar hoping to find resources warned us: My pastor has no passion for connecting faith and work. There seemed to be a general skepticism from pastors that this could be meaningful.

In Center Church, Tim Keller gives us some idea why this may be a pervasive problem in our churches today. In our post-Enlightenment era, Keller says, a tendency toward dualism—a philosophy that separates the sacred from the secular—continues to shape the way we express our faith. This framework is a descendant of the Enlightenment “fact-value distinction,” meaning that only things that can be proven scientifically are facts and therefore constitute the only legitimate basis for public work and discourse…

The result is that people of faith are uncomfortable with the idea that their religious beliefs might have some bearing on their work.

Center Church theological vision holds the worldview of Christianity—the opposite of dualism. What this means is that all of the world is viewed through the lens of faith, including–and especially—work life. Says Keller:

The Bible teaches that all our work matters to God. The sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers believed that “secular” work is as valuable and God honoring as Christian ministry. When we use our gifts in work…we are answering God’s call to serve the human community. Our work then, whatever it is, matters greatly to God.

Keller identifies four ways churches can help Christians see how the gospel shapes and informs their work:

1. Our faith changes our motivation for work. Instead of finding meaning in money and success, we dedicate our work to God.

2. Our faith changes our conception of work. Our goals are not for individual success but to honor God and our fellow humans.

3. Our faith provides high ethics for Christians in the workplace. We should do our work with a high level of integrity.

4. Our faith gives us the basis for reconceiving the very way in which our kind of work is done. We can seek to renew and reform dysfunctional practices that dominate our fields.

Thus, Center Church theological vision rejects the idea of keeping ourselves separate from the culture in which we live. Redeemer Presbyterian Church has a number of vocational programs that encourage its members to seek excellence in their fields and also work to redeem this important part of culture.

Image by Rick Harris. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.