Chester, Tim and Steve Timmis. Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008. 224 pp. $15.99. Purchase at Westminster for $10.55.
The authors of this book are also cofounders of a church planting initiative in Sheffield, UK called The Crowded House. The name of that initiative might have doubled as the name of this book. Both men have experience in what they write. Timmis is a former director of Radstock Ministries. There he helped the local church engage in world missions. Chester was a church planter for 15 years. Currently they are serving together as the codirectors of the Porterbrook Network a training and mentoring ministry for church planters.
Summary of Total Church
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is the foundation for the entire book. In it, the authors set out the two key components to the thesis of Total Church. The subtitle of the book shows what these two components are: gospel and community. In this part, Timmis and Chester argue that for a church to be biblical, it must be centered first on the gospel (if Christ was not crucified, buried, raised and ascended, then we have no church). The second focus is that of community. All throughout the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul (as well as the general) we read of a community of believers.
This community is a must in a world that no longer views a Christian as someone who is trustworthy and retainer of the truths found on in “The Book.” Without community, it is so easy to see believers leave the church disenfranchised with fellow believers. Perhaps one of satan’s greatest victories is a lack of community in the local church.
Part two comprises the majority of the book and looks at eleven different areas of “doing church” and how they would be impacted if the gospel and community were central to the local church. Here we see what evangelism and social involvement would look like and how they go hand in hand. Church planting would no longer be a concept approved of but would become a way of life in the local church. Discipleship and Training would not be sought out by young Christians longing to be discipled; rather, they would automatically be discipled and trained without having to sign up for a class. Things like theology and apologetics (seminary or local church?) would be taught.
All of this, plus much more, would ultimately lead to a deeper passion for God. Instead of “doing church” in the form of meetings and administrative work (yes, those have their place in the local church but are not as central as many think), the local church would actually be involved in the community by default. In other words, the content of the local church is the gospel while the context is the community of believers.
While you may not agree with everything the authors have to say, I think the concepts in this book deserve to be looked at and judged in light of Scripture. I would contend that the precepts found in the pages of Total Church are in fact biblical. Thus, I would recommend this book as a mandatory read for any young aspiring pastor. It is even more recommended for those who have a heart for planting churches.
As a matter of church government, I think a third part would have been nice to see that dealt with how best to govern this local body of believers. It is hinted at all throughout the book but never really dealt with explicitly. I realize there are differing opinions on church government, and entering into that debate is not within the parameters of this book, it still would have been nice if they took a stab at showing the infrastructure (humanly speaking) of the local church and how it shapes the duties of the church.
While the subtitle claims “a radical reshaping” of the church, I believe what is at issue is not so much a reshaping as much as it is an issue of sola scriptura. Most churches need to do away with the business and pseudo-business models of church life that focus on administrative work and get back to the heart of what a community of gospel believing sinners should be. In other words, we need to stop doing church in our meetings and offices and be the church doing the work of the gospel in our communities.