I debated on whether to give Tim Keller's new book, "King's Cross," 4 or 5 stars and finally settled on 4. It's a compelling book that supplies a fresh reading of the Gospel of Mark, but in some places it's also a little mundane.
What Keller does best is to take the Gospel of Mark and present its major themes in a new light, while maintaining a fidelity to the Bible as the Word of God and accurate record of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Keller's book fills a much-needed niche: it's not as detailed or as technical as a commentary and it's not as personal as a devotional work but it helps the reader understand the Gospel of Mark by presenting it through a series of compelling ideas or images. While "King's Cross" doesn't elaborate on every passage, Keller gives his reader the big picture that is so often lacking in works on the Bible and in modern Christianity in general. He thus avoids the error of many devotional works that take random verses out of context while at the same time retaining a personal style and touch.
"King's Cross" will help the reader understand the Gospel of Mark and the good news of Jesus Christ in a new, imaginative way that will be of great value to many readers. Hopefully, it will entice new disciples of Jesus Christ to Him and will help those familiar with Jesus Christ and the gospel to see them both in a new light. Maybe, by providing a slightly new perspective, it will wake many of us out of our complacency and take us from seeing the good news of Jesus Christ as merely advice and return it to being fantastic, life-changing news!
Essentially, Keller takes the life of Christ, as told by Mark in the Gospel of Mark and presents it in terms of 2 main themes: "The King" and "The Cross," from which Keller gets the title of his book.
By using a succession of images to capture the meaning of Mark's Gospel (and the life of Jesus Christ), Keller has given us an imaginative approach to God and His Word that will be welcomed by many readers. For example, in Chapter 1, "The Dance," Keller portrays the coming of Christ in flesh as the result of the interpersonal, giving love of the Holy Trinity. Keller thus portrays the life of the Christian as a dance involving God and contrasts it to a life that is merely going through the motions. The temptation of Christ is portrayed by Keller as an attempt to get Jesus to stop the dance with God. In this way, even the spiritual battles we have, as Christ had, are seen within the ultimate reality of The Dance. He also provides good background to many chapters, such as Mark's inclusion of the Holy Spirit as being like a dove in Mark 1.
In Chapter 2, Keller portrays the gospel as "The Call" and again begins by situating it the historical use of the word (as he did with the image of the Spirit as a dove in Chapter 1). He explains, for example, that "Gospel" means "history-changing, life-shaping news. Unlike other religions or no religion, which are just advice, Christianity is primarily "news"! The difference is that Christianity and the call of Christ are based on what Christ has done, and not on what we do. Repentance and the call of the gospel to Christ are intended to take us out of ourselves and bring us true freedom and life. Unlike other religions, in which we choose who to follow, Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him.
In a similar way, in Part One, Keller takes on other topics associated with Christ as the King. Keller doesn't always relate them in an obvious way to Christ as King, and so sometimes the overall theme is lost. But each chapter is an engaging and helpful look at one aspect of Christ and His ministry. Not all of the chapters are as provocative or interesting (hence the 4 star rating), but there's something of value in each of them.
In Chapter 9, "The Turn," Keller addresses Mark 8, in which the Gospel turns from the King to the Cross. It's in Mark 8 that Jesus begins to teach that He, the King, will end up on the Cross. In this chapter, Keller also addresses the need for Christ to go the Cross and frames it in terms of the debt we owed which Jesus paid.
In the first half of the book, Keller deals with Mark 1-8 and Christ the King. But as soon as Peter makes his confession, the book, like the Gospel, deals with the purpose of Christ's coming. While the first half of Mark presents the call of Christ on us to follow Him, the second half of Mark presents a picture of all that this following Christ entails. In Chapter 11, for example, Keller deals with "The Trap" of riches and why Christianity always seems to migrate away from wealth and power (as witnessed, for example, by the growth of Christianity in Africa in the 20th century). I found Chapter 14 also particularly appealing, as Keller presents his chapter on "The Feast." In this chapter, Keller paints a compelling picture of the meaning of the Last Supper as a meal.
You might think that a more narrative or imaginative reading of the Gospel of Mark would lead to a downplaying of the seriousness of sin. But Keller manages to maintain a biblical view of sin while at the same time helping us to understand why it's such a big problem and how we must get out of ourselves to access God's salvation from it.
Throughout, Keller uses illustrations from many other works of literature, such as Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," George MacDonald's "The Princess and the Goblin," and C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. He also draws illustrations from non-fiction writers, as well as from movies and personal anecdotes. These all help drive home the point he is making and make the book a pleasure to read.
In spite of some more pedestrian parts, overall I highly recommend this book to Christian readers.
Here's an outline of the book:
Part One - The King - The Identity of Jesus
1. The Dance
2. The Call
3. The Healing
4. The Rest
5. The Power
6. The Waiting
7. The Stain
8. The Approach
9. The Turn
Part Two - The Cross - The Purpose of Jesus
10. The Mountain
11. The Trap
12. The Ransom
13. The Temple
14. The Feast
15. The Cup
16. The Sword
17. The End
18. The Beginning