Review and Reflection: Preaching by Tim Keller

An excellent book for Christian communicators in cities

I am starting a little project I’ve been thinking about for awhile. I hesitate to say that it’s to get me into a better writing habit. Rather, and more specifically, it’s to get into a blogging habit because all my writing is happening elsewhere. One place my writing is happening is doing very brief book reviews on Instagram that I then copy to Goodreads. The space limit and the mobile medium of Instagram are limiting, but helpfully so in the sense that it gets me to just crank something out and ship it, which is something I find helpful. It also gives my students an extension to the classroom as they stalk me for gossip. That said, I’ve been wanting to edit those reviews, revisit those old reads, and add to them when time allows. Before 2016 ended, and after taking a Strengths Finder test and getting “Input” as my top strength, I read that something helpful for me would be to generate and not just collect information. So starting with my first read and review in January 2017, here we go.

Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller is not an average preaching book. I’ll go a bit beyond saying I enjoyed it and recommend it. What set this book apart in my mind was its emphasis on apologetics. At times it read much more like an apologetics textbook than a preaching guide, which I guess feels very Kelleresque if you are familiar with him and his style. It sets out to do what the subtitle suggests, which is communicate about Christian faith in an era of deepening skepticism, and in my opinion he achieves this. Even in my contexts at international Christian schools in Asia this is very helpful, as many of my students are very skeptical of Christianity for varieties of reasons. Many Asian societies are secularizing in general as well. This book was a helpful guide for various ways of communicating about faith in such a context.

When I first read Preaching I had not read, nor was familiar with, Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. That work along with others like it, that nuance the formation and impact of secularity in the West, are deeply influential in Keller’s thinking and his writing about Christian ministry. It’s always a bit shocking how resistant cultural Christianity is to seeing their own context as a mission field, which explains the often heavy resistance to Keller and others like him doing exactly that. Some are finding the best communication tools they can to speak the Gospel to the secular West with deconstructive nuance to unpack the culture’s lies, and constructive clarity to believe God’s truth, in ways that are so familiar to the culture that they seem foreign to Christian subculture. This is mistakenly taken as syncretistic instead of incarnational or contextual. I would offer it is also an indictment on how isolated much of the Christian West has become from the neighbors they are called to know, love, and serve. I’d recommend this book first and foremost to Christian communicators in urban settings, but any preacher will benefit from a careful read.

320 pages or 6 hours of preaching well in a secular age. All links are affiliate.