Center Church, Timothy Keller’s recently published book, deals with a topic that is close to my heart. I love the church of Christ, and I am constantly interested in what the church should be and do. Because there is much to digest in Center Church, I have been working through it slowly.
Keller’s first chapter introduces the concept of theological vision, which Keller believes has been ignored or misunderstood in many books about the church. In this respect, Keller has been heavily influenced by Richard Lints (professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and author of Fabric of Theology). According to Lints, “the modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed.” Theological vision, explains Keller, is the “middleware” between doctrine and methodologies (17). He defines theological vision 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” (19).
While I understand completely Keller’s intent, I couldn’t help but squirm a bit at the way he put it here, specifically the words “restatement of the gospel.” Perhaps it would be less confusing to say that theological vision is a setting forth of the gospel’s implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.
That clarification aside, I like what Keller is doing here. He is neither writing another book on ecclesiology, nor advocating a set of methods that has worked for Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Rather, what he suggests might mean even more work for pastors and church leaders. To develop theological vision for his own ministry, a pastor must reflect deeply and decisively on the gospel, his city’s culture, and his own theological tradition (denomination or movement). No church growth guru can do this work for him.
As I continue to read this book, I looking forward to Keller’s answers to some of these questions that begin to surface in my mind:
- Is it practical to expect that the average pastor with college or seminary level training will have the time and expertise to study (in addition to theology) his city’s culture, and formulate a theological vision for ministry that is both accurate and comprehensive enough to drive his methods?
- How can a pastor be a student of his culture?
- What is the right approach to “Christ and the culture?”
- Where does Keller find Scriptural justification for his emphasis on understanding the culture?