Published on March 17, 2016 by Joshua Centanni

Zondervan, 2012 | 395 pages

A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance

About the Author

Tim Keller is the founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. 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.



This book sets forth a large-scale vision for church ministry, renewal, and church planting in the city. It lays a strong biblical and theological foundation for church ministry, working from principles to practical application. Everything is grounded in the gospel and its entailments. A theological vision for outreach needs to be built on biblical theology. Keller articulates the necessity of proper contextualization, explains why we need to connect to the city, and shows how to do so. Center Church is a rare book, one that is both strong theologically and informed and helpful practically. Keller encourages churches to work with one another and with other agencies in order to create a thriving gospel ecosystem through the Holy Spirit that can change the city.


Table of Contents

Center Church consists of an introduction, thirty chapters, and an epilogue. The thirty chapters are located in eight parts, which are located in three sections. This table of contents lists the sections and the parts. The summary is based on the parts.

Section One: Gospel

Part 1 Gospel Theology

Part 2 Gospel Renewal

Section Two: City

Part 3 Gospel Contextualization

Part 4 City Vision

Part 5 Cultural Engagement

Section Three: Movement

Part 6 Missional Community

Part 7 Integrative Ministry

Part 8 Movement Dynamics



Part 1
Gospel Theology

The gospel is good news that tells us God has acted to bring about salvation from his wrath and the curse. A good summary of the gospel is that “God saves sinners.” The triune God acts to save, and Jesus Christ provides redemption. The gospel is what God has done for us—what we do and our work to make the world a better place is in response to the gospel, but not the gospel itself. On the personal level the gospel is about how an individual can get right with God, and on the global level the gospel is about the hope for the world. The gospel is a story that has chapters—it develops along the lines of God and creation, the Fall and sin, the salvific work of Jesus Christ, and appropriating this salvation by grace through faith. Jesus saves individuals, but at his second coming he is also going to transform the universe. The gospel is not everything but it needs to be the center of everything we do in church life.

The gospel cannot be reduced to one particular slogan or simplistic formula. In the Bible the gospel is expressed in a rich variety of ways. For example, the Gospel of John emphasizes receiving eternal life, whereas the other Gospels emphasize entering into God’s kingdom. These are not synonymous, but they are mutually complementary—they simply highlight different facets of the whole. Paul frequently explains the gospel in forensic, legal terminology, speaking of salvation in terms of justification. This diversity unpacks the core unity of the gospel, which lies in redemption through substitution. The gospel can be articulated through the categories and questions of systematic theology, and it can also be understood through tracing out key salvation themes that develop through God’s progressive revelation in Scripture. For example, the Bible connects the gospel to the themes of exile/homecoming, covenant/fulfillment, and the coming kingdom (to name a few). The richness of the gospel means that it can be articulated with different emphases, and the diversity of the human race means that the herald should contextualize the gospel motifs to their audience.

We have seen that the gospel is not everything, and that the gospel is not a simple thing. These two realities ground the truth that the gospel affects virtually everything. In the gospel we see the incarnation and the reversal of human measurements of greatness. We also see atonement and grace given to the undeserving—salvation is a gift, the opposite of works-righteousness and legalistic religion. The gospel shows us the power of the resurrection and points forward to the future purification and transformation of the world. As a result, we work to bring as much positive change to the world in the here and now as possible. Jesus is full of both grace and truth, showing us we are more sinful than we imagined and yet God is infinitely forgiving and merciful. The gospel addresses our needs and changes our lives. It brings healing and transformation. The gospel affects our view of God, ourselves, and others. It changes the foundations of our relationships, as well as changing how we perceive ourselves and what we try to do to find self-acceptance and the approval of others. It allows us to rest secure in God’s love and work for us, and it empowers and motivates us to do good works out of gratitude to him.


Part 2
Gospel Renewal

Personal renewal occurs when the Spirit impresses the truth and entailments of the gospel deeply into our hearts and minds. Corporate renewal (i.e. revival) occurs when a body of believers are experiencing personal renewal. A revival takes place because of the work of the Holy Spirit, intensely working through normal means such as prayer, preaching, evangelism, etc. Some revivals have been criticized for being too individualistic and detached from the authority of local congregations, and although there are dangers, revivals are from God. In our society most people are not connected to a church, so revival fits our culture by targeting individuals. It also focuses the message on the need for heart change which is a biblical focus. The heart is the center of the person and it is with the heart that we repent and entrust ourselves to Jesus. Paul prays that Christians will come to know the love of God more and more—we are to continue to grow in our experience of the Lord…

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Zondervan, 2012 | 395 pages

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