Tim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book, Total Church is one of my favorite reads in the last couple of years. I’ve been in the process of reading and digesting this work for much longer than I would have expected with a 200 page book. But every time I would start to read again, the content was so good, so challenging, and so helpful, that I would find myself re-reading chapters, and encouraging others to get a copy and re-read chapters with me. To date, this has been the most helpful book I’ve read in helping to plant Basileia Church. This is the book that I most want all the people of Basileia Church to read, and it’s the book I want all my friends considering church planting to read.
So what is it about? The subtitle of the book tells the whole story: “A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.” In the authors’ own words:
“This book argues that two key principles should shape the way we “do church”: gospel and community. Christians are called to a dual fidelity: fidelity to the core content of the gospel and fidelity to the primary context of a believing community. Whether we are thinking about evangelism, social involvement, pastoral care, apologetics, discipleship, or teaching, the content is consistently the Christian gospel, and the context is consistently the Christian community” (15-16).
Further, Timmis and Chester explain:
“Being gospel-centered actually involves two things. First, it means being word-centered because the gospel is a word––the gospel is news, a message. Second, it means being mission-centered because the gospel is a word to be proclaimed––the gospel is good news” (16).
The rest of the book is basically an explanation and exegesis of these two statements. Following the introduction,there is a chapter on the gospel and a chapter on community, and then the rest of book covers all of the topics that flow out of these two foundations: evangelism, social involvement, church planting, world mission, etc.
The thing that makes this book great is that it is deeply theological and deeply communal. Many would lead us to believe that a church can either be deeply theological or deeply communal, but not both. The argument is usually described like this: “If a church chooses to be good at community, it will come at a cost to theological obedience. Or if a church chooses to be theologically astute, then it will come at a cost to true community.” This is a classic liberalism versus conservatism argument. Liberals apparently do community well, but at a cost to good theology. Whereas conservatives apparently do theology well, but at a cost to true community. Chester and Timmis paint a different picture altogether. (And as a side note, I would argue that it’s not good theology to be bad at community, and it’s not good community to be opposed to hard truth).
To put it another way, the type of church that Chester and Timmis are describing feels very post-modern in a communal sense but not very post-modern in a theological sense (I realize I may not be using post-modern in the most correct sense of the word, but just ignore that for a second and follow my train of thought). It’s very obvious that Chester and Timmis deeply believe the Bible. They don’t don’t deny propositional truth, and yet they’re describing church in a way that feels very at home in a post-Christiandom. What they’re describing sounds not only plausible in my city, but exciting. This description of church will work among people with little or no Christian background (which is increasingly the situation we find ourselves in within the urban centers of America). And Chester and Timmis don’t seem to simply be reacting to the changing culture around them, and thus scrambling to try and figure out how to “do church” these days. Rather, they seem to be reflecting deeply on the Scriptures and trying to figure out how to “do church” period. The authors are actual practitioners, not just theorists. They came to believe what they believe by reflecting on the Bible, putting it into practice, and seeing what happened. The result is both theologically pleasing and pragmatically feasible. A rare combination in the midst of pendulum-swing-prone-Christianity.
Here’s the other reason I really love this book. It’s teaching me how to share my faith in a way that feels both authentic and obedient to the Bible. I’ve struggled all my life to share my faith the way that the Bible commands. It always felt contrived and sales-pitchy. I knew I was supposed to do it, in fact I wanted to do it, it just never felt right. Lots of times I shared, I was trying to be obedient to God, but it didn’t feel like it was doing any good. But now, finally, I’m seeing what living a life of mission looks like. The result has been that I look forward to sharing my faith with new friends. I don’t feel embarrassed to share the gospel. I can see that the gospel really does change lives. Is it still difficult at times? Yes, certainly. But it now feels more like a new way of living, a way of life where all of my life is mission, instead of a segmented time where I try to be obedient to the Great Commission for a couple of hours. This is life-changing. This is authentic. This is New Testament.
I love this book. You should read it.
5 out of 5 cups of black coffee.