Center Church: Doing Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City

Keller.Center.ChurchCenter Church: Doing Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City by Timothy J. Keller. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Philosophies of ministry can be tedious and impractical, and “how-to” church books can be simplistic and overly prescriptive. Neither is entirely helpful. What is needed, says Tim Keller, the renowned pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is a theological vision for ministry—something more practical than doctrinal beliefs alone, but something more theological than mere “steps” in a church development process. To that end, Center Church was written.

Part 1 presents the centrality of the gospel for all ministries of the church—a gospel that avoids both legalism (which leads to moralism) and antinomianism (which leads to relativism).

Part 2 deals with the complex issue of the church’s relationship to culture, and what it means to contextualize our ministries appropriately.

Part 3 deals with the church’s mission, and how our ministries can avoid a polarizing movement toward intractable traditions on the one hand, and anti-institutional innovation and change on the other.

The 400-page volume, which is chock full of practical wisdom, historical-theological insights, and balanced church model analyses, is formatted like a textbook with copious sidebars and tables.

Center Church at Amazon.com.

It’s Harder to Be the Straight Man

I would hate to be:

•  Harvey Korman playing opposite Tim Conway;
•  Bud Abbott playing opposite Lou Costello;
•  Dean Martin playing opposite Jerry Lewis;
•  Kelsey Grammer playing opposite David Hyde Pierce;
•  Johnny Galecki playing opposite Jim Parsons; or
•  Anybody playing opposite Bob Newhart.

Dean Martin gives it a whirl in this old skit, and he fails miserably. Bob Newhart is just too much for him. That’s part of the fun.

Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness

unconditional.forgivenessUnconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010.

“If Christianity isn’t about forgiveness,” says Brian Zahnd, “it’s about nothing at all.” True enough, but should a believer always forgive? Does forgiveness compromise justice? Does it facilitate evil? Is forgiveness even possible in every situation? Are there any limits to the practice?

Combining sharp theological insights with poignant real-life stories, Zahnd tackles these questions in a bold, straightforward way. Christians are not called to show hostility toward those with whom we differ, but a surprising and generous grace: “If we enter the Christian faith to find forgiveness, we must continue in the faith to become forgiving people, because to be an authentic follower of Christ we must embrace the centrality of forgiveness.”

Unconditional? is a provocative and prophetic treatment of a major biblical theme, albeit a difficult one. The foreword is written by Dr. Miroslav Volf, who spoke at Evangelical Seminary in the Fall of 2012.

Unconditional? at Amazon.com.

The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature?

Oswalt.MythsThe Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John N. Oswalt. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Does the Israelite religion as portrayed in the Old Testament mirror the faith of its ancient Near Eastern neighbors, or is it unique and exceptional? Recent scholarship trends toward the former, but Oswalt argues for the latter. The Bible’s historical claims, he says, cannot be divorced from its theological claims. To mythologize the history is to neutralize the theology. This clash in perspectives, he claims, is rooted in a secular hostility toward revelation, which presupposes a world beyond the senses and assumes the existence of a realm that one cannot control. Yet the distinctive worldview of the Old Testament, says Oswalt, actually strengthens the claim to historicity:

“When we ask the Israelites where they came up with these fantastic concepts, they tell us they did not ‘come up’ with them. They tell us God broke in upon their lives and dragged them kicking and screaming into these understandings. They tell us that they did their best to get away from him, but that he would not let them go.”

The Bible among the Myths at Amazon.com.

Converts to an Illusion

John.PiperJohn Piper:

“There is a sad irony in the seeming success of many Christian churches and schools. The irony is that the more you adjust obscure Biblical doctrines to make Christian reality more attractive to unbelievers, the less Christian reality there is when they arrive. Which means that what looks like success in the short run, may, in the long run, prove to be failure. If you alter or obscure the Biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you don’t get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. This is not evangelism, but deception.

“One of the results of this kind of ‘success’ is that sooner or later the world wakes up to the fact that these so-called Christian churches look so much like them and the way they think that there is no reason to go there. If you adjust your doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world, sooner or later the world realizes that they already have what the church offers. That was the story of much of mainline Protestantism in Europe and America in the 20th century. Adjust your doctrine – or just minimize doctrine – to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth that alone can set them free.  Continue reading

The Death of Jesus, Part 8: The Burial

O darkest woe!
Ye tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder,
That the Father’s only Son
Now is buried yonder!

O Ground of faith,
Laid low in death!
Sweet lips, now silent sleeping:
Surely all that live must mourn
Here with bitter weeping.

– Würzburg Gesangbuch, “O Darkest Woe, Ye Tears Forth Flow”

INTRODUCTION

In this final post of our series, “The Death of Jesus,” we will explore several aspects of the post-crucifixion burial. Some have claimed that the story we have in Scripture is not credible, and therefore the entire Passion account is untrustworthy. In response to these claims, we will organize our presentation around five questions:

1.   What is the New Testament account of the burial of Jesus?
2.  Were the victims of crucifixion really buried?
3.  Was Joseph of Arimathea a fictional character?
4.  Were there really guards present at the tomb of Jesus?
5.  What does the archaeological record tell us about 1st-century tombs?  Continue reading

The Death of Jesus, Part 7: The Crucifixion

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

– Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

BIBLICAL ACCOUNT

Jesus is crucified by Roman soldiers and heckled mercilessly by the crowds. The biblical account is sparse in its details and matter-of-fact in its presentation. New Testament scholar Martin Hengel—after an extensive examination of the practice of crucifixion in the ancient world—concluded, “It was an utterly offensive affair, ‘obscene’ in the original sense of the word. . . . No ancient writer wanted to dwell on the subject too long.” Hence the New Testament writers give greater attention to the significance of the cross than to a physical description of it.  Continue reading