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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Shaped by the Gospel" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: Shaped by the Gospel: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Center Church)
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (192 pages).

[This book is extracted from Part One of Center Church and expanded with contributions by Michael Horton and Dane Ortlund]

In 2012, popular preacher and prolific author, Tim Keller published a book about growing Christ-centered churches in cities, entitled, "Center Church." It is written to help church leaders in urban cities to develop a theological vision to enable their churches to be gospel-centered. Since then, Center Church has been updated and re-published into three smaller books. They are:

1) Shaped by the Gospel
2) Loving the City
3) Serving a Movement

"Shaped by the Gospel" is the first abridged edition from that book with some additional material from various respondents. It focuses on what the gospel is. I have previously reviewed "Center Church" and so this review will be focused on the reflections by Michael Horton and Dane Ortlund, and Keller's responses. Horton addresses Keller's experience of being confused by some preachers on what the gospel is and what the gospel does. He agrees with a number of Keller's assertions such as the centrality of the gospel; the lordship of Christ; and that the gospel is both life-changing as well as the story of God. That said, Horton takes issue with how Keller distinguishes between the "narrative" and "propositional" approach into a "personal" and "global" implications respectively. He prefers an integrative approach that sees them as one big entity rather than separate parts. That is why he is happy when Keller mentions intercanonical themes that unite the Bible. Horton also disagrees on the way Keller describes contextualizing the gospel. Keller humbly admits his shortcomings and maintains he is a "working preacher, not a teacher of theology." The reflections and the responses show a form of healthy respect and appreciation for each other's ministry, something that readers can be encouraged about.

Reflecting on Gospel Renewal, Dave Ortlund commends Keller for his "distinct contribution to the Church." He highlights the two contributions that Keller has made to our generation. The first is Keller's understanding of the psychology of human beings and the second is about the place and power of preaching. He takes issue with the topic of "union with Christ," something he feels Keller has failed to put adequate emphasis, and to use this emphasis to "fuel gospel renewal and fresh obedience." The second issue is the "heart of Christ" emphasis which raises the question of whether there is a need to distinguish the gospel-centered from Christ-centered. By focusing on Christ, one will avoid becoming antinomian. Yet, throughout his responses, there are a lot more affirmations and accolades upon Keller than anything else. Just like how he responded to Horton earlier on, Keller shows gratitude for the feedback; open to the helpful tips; and intrigued by some of the critiques given.

Sometimes, it feels like there is not much the author and contributors are disagreeing about. Yet, the way they engage each other will be very helpful to the casual reader and intriguing to the keen scholar. At times, just reading the responses by Horton and Ortlund gives readers a chance to re-visit Keller's chapters on it as well. They are helpful guides to read along with us, just in case we miss out on salient points. For that, I think one of the biggest reasons for reading this book is to see Horton's and Ortlund's contributions as a kind of summary of Keller's larger volumes. One can call this an abridgment of the abridged version of Center Church. Reading Keller can sometimes be intimidating, given the amount of content and philosophy that is in his writings.

Ultimately, the value for readers will be how the book assists in bringing out what it means to be shaped by the gospel. This book, plus the other two volumes update and make "Center Church" a much better book. Maybe, the next version of Center Church would be the combination of these three?

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and  in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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