What I’m Reading: City on a Hill

Ryken City on a HillI’ve profited from reading several books on the local church in recent years. I’m thankful for all of them, especially because those I’ve read have focused on what the Bible says the church should be and not on some too-clever strategy for church growth. This is a welcome correction, following an era in which (it seems from my limited perspective) the titles of church books too often started with How to and ended with some variation on the theme of Get Really Big Really Fast. That’s not what Ryken offers in this book, thankfully.

Now, my favorite two books on the local church are Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church. If you haven’t read them, start there. But if you have, consider reading through Philip Graham Ryken’s City on a Hill the next time you want to be challenged on the importance and function of the church. (Aside: Pastors, I’d recommend reading at least one book on the church each year, preferably at the start of the new year. Unless, of course, you’ve got it all figured out.)

Ryken focuses his book on helping churches minister in the 21st century—a time dominated by two pernicious isms: relativism and narcissism. Each of his chapters deals with a facet of local church ministry, and Ryken faithfully (as promised in the first chapter) relates each of them to our truth-denying (relativistic), self-loving (narcissistic) world. It’s refreshing to read an author who tells you what he intends to do, then does it, and I found myself looking for his helpful thoughts on these two ideologies in each chapter. He didn’t disappoint.

The topics covered in each chapter aren’t surprising, but Ryken offers fresh insights for church leaders on expository preaching, corporate worship, fellowship, pastoral care, discipleship, missions and evangelism, mercy ministry, and the gospel. The chapters on worship (which I believe is a specialty for those associated with 10th Pres.), fellowship (in which he commends the importance of small groups), and pastoral care were particularly helpful to me.

As non-Presbyterians might expect, there are a couple bones, or at least idiosyncrasies with which not all MTC readers will agree:

1. Ryken’s view of the Lord’s Table is loftier than mine:

 “It is much more than a remembrance of Christ’s atoning death; by the presence of his Holy Spirit it is also a participation in His resurrection life…By eating the bread and drinking the cup Christians are separated from the world and set apart as the community of God’s people.” (p. 27)

2.  In the chapter on missions and evangelism, Ryken takes the position that Christ cannot return until we reach every people group with the gospel, based on Matthew 24:14:

“Jesus has promised to come back to the earth in power and glory, but not until we complete His mission to the world…The implication is that in some way the work of missions serves to speed the coming of Christ.” (p. 138)

Now, Ryken later seems to contradict that statement, making me wonder exactly what his understanding of the question really is:

“Of course Christ can come at any time; the timing is up to God.” (p. 14o)

3. In the chapter on ministries of mercy, Ryken writes that “Every Christian and every church should be active in some form of mercy ministry.” (p. 160) While no one will argue against mercy, there are many who refute the idea that the church (as a body) has a social mandate. (See th3 discussion after this post, for example.)

Differences aside, Ryken has done the church and local churches a favor by writing this book. I thank the Lord for a renewed interest in biblical ecclesiology and its application to the local church, and I commend this new and helpful contribution to that discussion.


Note: I also addressed this book here


One Response

  1. I read “City on a Hill” a couple of years ago. I agree, it is hands down one of the best books written on the church in a long time.

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