Reviewed by: Allen Harris
Date posted: 05/29/2011
Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything, by Timothy Keller. Published by Zondervan, 2010. Paperback study guide, 233 pages, list price $10.99; DVD, $24.99; discussion guide with DVD, $31.99. Reviewed by Pastor Allen Harris.
Tim Keller, well-known pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (PCA), has been producing gospel-based discipleship material for over ten years. This course, composed of a book and companion DVD, is the core of his message reduced to eight sessions: City, Heart, Idolatry, Community, Witness, Work, Justice, and Eternity.
Several of the sessions are expanded in his other books: session 2 (The Prodigal God), session 3 (Counterfeit Gods), session 4 (Fellowship Group Handbook [available from Redeemer Church]), and session 7 (Generous Justice).
This is not a basic discipleship course. It does not cover prayer, how to study the Bible, the sacraments, etc. But it does a masterful job of covering some often-neglected basics.
There are four parts to each session: (1) one hour of personal study preparation, (2) a group Bible study, (3) a ten-minute video on the DVD to watch together, and (4) discussion questions on the DVD. At the back of the book are eighty-six pages of "Notes for Leaders." I cannot imagine using the book without reading these notes, since they contain some of the best material, including exegesis of the passages discussed. Our small group is using this course currently, and I have encouraged everyone to answer the Bible study and DVD questions and then read the notes before we discuss the questions. That way, we discuss the questions and the suggestions and material he adds in the notes.
Caution: this is definitely not a book to read on your own. Keller says in DVD session 4, on community: "You cannot change deeply apart from community." One of the great strengths of this course is how often Keller challenges people to repent and change, using questions that begin, "How will you and your group apply…?" It clearly combats the mistaken notion, which plagues many in the Reformed community, that knowledge equals sanctification. Each session is intensely practical and addresses gospel heart change that works itself out in new life lived in community.
The DVD sessions are succinct, ten-minute presentations that are masterpieces of biblical content creatively presented to grip your heart and produce repentance and gospel life change, in the context of the personal readings for preparation, the small group discussions, and group projects.
I have a couple of quibbles. I think it would have been more effective to begin with the second session on heart change and the two prodigals from Luke 15, and then have session 1 on "City: The World That Is" before session 8 on "Eternity: The World That Is to Come." I also think it would have been clearer to title session 7 "Mercy," rather than "Justice." I understand his reasoning for it, developed in his book, Generous Justice, but he does not develop that here and it is confusing. He makes an excellent case for radical mercy practiced in the Christian's life, and should have left it at that.
I highly recommend this course for use in small groups in our churches. It is hard to imagine sincere Christians going through this, and doing what it says, without experiencing deep heart change in their relationship with Christ, their brothers and sisters in Christ, and the community of unbelievers around them.