I’ve mentioned this book before: Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. I have to say up front that this is one of the best books I’ve read when it comes to the topic of what a solid church looks like and does. It is a gospel centered discussion of a Christian community/church; it is also a church centered discussion of the gospel. Here’s how the authors put it.
“Christians are called to a dual 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. What we do is always defined by the gospel, and the context is always our belonging in the church. Our identity as Christians is defined by the gospel and the community” (p. 16).
In other words, this book is about Christ and his church; it is about loving Jesus and his disciples; it is about word and deed; it is about the good news and living in light of the good news. Chester and Timmis advocate a robustly Word-centered and fellowship-oriented approach to the Christian church. They say it clearly: “In the church the risen Christ rules through his word” (p. 28). “If the gospel is to be at the heart of church life and mission, it is equally true that the church is to be at the heart of gospel life and mission” (p. 39).
I appreciated this book because it took those two main emphases – gospel and community – and ‘applied’ them to different aspects of the church. “If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians. …Church is not another ball for me to juggle [in life] but that which defines who I am and gives Christlike shape to my life” (p. 41 & 45).
The bulk of the chapters discuss how the gospel affects and effects everything the church is and does: evangelism, church planting, missions, discipleship, piety, theology, apologetics, children/young people, and social involvement. In these chapters, the authors interact with theologians like Luther, Calvin, Bavinck, Barth, Newbigin, Stott, and others. It would be a worthwhile and enjoyable endeavor to summarize each of these chapters, but I want to keep this short. I’ll have to come back to this book later and discuss these areas.
Total Church should be read by all church planters – those who have, will be, or are doing a church plant. Actually, I’d say this is good elder and deacon (and/or core group) training material for getting the church (or church plant) pointing in the right gospel and missions direction. At some point I hope to go through sections of it with the men at the church I serve. Also, it would be a great book for small groups to discuss. Total Church is just under $11, around 200 pages long, and written at a level which most serious Christians could read quite easily. Do your church (plant) a favor and get this book!