There are few authors whose books I pre-order as soon as I know they are coming out, but Tim Keller is one of those authors. Keller is a respected pastor-theologian, the author of the New York Times bestselling book The Reason for God and pastor of Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Keller handles Scripture very well, and writes with a pastor’s heart. Every book he writes is rich with application to discipleship and counseling. Although this review focuses on King’s Cross, I encourage you to devour his other books as well.
Christ’s Life Makes Sense of Ours
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus is Keller’s latest offering, and his first under Dutton’s new Redeemer imprint. Keller says that he chose Mark’s account because of its focus on Christ’s words and deeds, stripped of commentary. Mark’s Gospel is action-packed. In Mark, we learn from Jesus’ life, seeing Him through what He did, more than through what He taught.
Keller’s own life was transformed through looking at the life of Jesus, and he hopes that Jesus, as seen in this book, will transform others as well. As Keller says, “The whole story of the world—and of how we fit into it—is most clearly understood through a careful, direct look at the story of Jesus. My purpose here is to try to show, through his words and actions, how beautifully his life makes sense of ours.” So much of a counselor’s work is found here—attempting to help hurting people make sense of their lives. That’s why I believe this book is not only helpful, but important to read.
God’s Word Reads Us
Of course, the study of Scripture is essential in the life and practice of anyone who sets out to counsel or disciple others. The Bible reads us as we read it—discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. As a biblical counselor, I often find myself reading books on counseling and discipleship by default. But it is the study of God’s Word, especially under the wise teaching and insight of someone like Tim Keller, that brings me back to the essence of what I do.
It is God’s Word which enables me to carefully weigh the multitudinous ideas, theories, and models of change and human behavior that float past me daily. It is also God’s Word which points me again and again to my sin and need of a Savior, and, by extension, to that deepest need in those I serve. Scripture makes sense of the sin, the hypocrisy, the hurt and pain in my life and that of others, and places them in context. We need to be tethered to Scripture in everything that we do.
The Gospel Reveals Us
We also need to stay tethered to the gospel, which is the engine that drives biblical, Christ-centered transformation. Keller shows us radical paradigm shifts through various encounters with Jesus: the emptiness of religion, outside-in vs. inside-out cleansing, and the perfections of substitutionary sacrifice.
As he contemplates Jesus’ life, Keller points out that Jesus’ identity as a King who was headed to a cross is as perplexing to readers of Scripture today as it was to those in the first century. Why would the most important Person in the universe, the great King over all of life, need to die, and in such an undignified way?
As he contemplates this cosmic question, Keller continuously juxtaposes our sad attempts at goodness, love, and virtue with Jesus’ sacrificial, obedient, cross-bearing life. Looking at Jesus, we see our abject need for a Savior and realize that our attempts to save ourselves are pathetic indeed. I walked away more convinced than ever of my own inadequacy and more thankful than ever for Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Jesus Transforms Us
In biblical counseling, what is ultimately transformative is a relationship—the relationship of the counselor and counselee to Jesus Christ. In the first half of the book, Keller reminds us of our need to anchor our identity in Christ our great King. Our problem is that we build our identities on other saviors.
In analyzing the paralytic in Mark 3, Keller states that, “our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. Whether it’s to succeed in our chosen field or to have a certain relationship—or even to get up and walk—we’re saying, ‘If I have that, if I get my deepest wish, then everything will be okay.’”
In the second half of the book, Keller focuses on Christ’s sacrifice for us, dismantling any pretension we have about our own ability to commend ourselves to God. Themes of guilt, pride, failure—all of which we see in ourselves and those we disciple—are dealt with in light of the cross. Just pondering the richness of Christ’s ultimate substitutionary sacrifice helps us see ourselves in proper perspective.
Citing Jonathan Edwards, Keller shows us that these same radically paradoxical traits “that are normally never combined in any one person will be reproduced in you because you are in the presence of Jesus Christ.” What a promise!
The fact that Christ came not to be served but to die sets Him apart from the founder of every other major religion, Keller points out. The gospel of Jesus Christ is far more than empty religion, it is life-changing love, “because all real life-changing love is substitutionary sacrifice.”
King’s Cross is a brilliant exposition of the Gospel of Mark, displaying both Christ’s identity as King and his purpose as Savior. Both the skeptic and the believer will see Jesus, and consequently themselves, as they have never seen before. As in everything Keller writes, the gospel is central and the deep need of both unbelievers and believers for the good news of a King who went to a cross is made clear. To say I highly recommend this book would be an understatement.