Are sounds of doubt and uncertainty beginning to echo out of the Big Apple?
First, Tim Keller writes a book notice on Matthew Bowman’s The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism. Although he sounds confident that New York City now has churches who teach “historic orthodox doctrine” and are “also intellectually robust and socially engaged,” he also seems worried.
There are at least 100 churches that we can discern that have been begun over the last 20 years in center city New York (and some older churches renewed) that are closer to the older kind of Christianity that used to flourish here. However, we too face the issue of a culture that is not interested in what we have to say. How do we reach them?
Add to that the recent reflections of an Englishman, Andrew Wilson, about Christianity and the churches in New York and you begin to wonder if all the money spent on Redeemer PCA is going to amount to much (aside from pastoral celebrity):
One of the pastors at Redeemer Presbyterian Church was interviewed on his/their ways of doing youth ministry. His first comment was that, because it is hard to believe in New York City – only around 3% of Manhattan is made up of evangelical Christians, although it is closer to 8-9% in the other boroughs – they affirm doubt. They acknowledge the force of objections to Christianity, and encourage people simply for being in the city and remaining Christian, because they recognise how hard it is. . . .
although the Christian world has mostly heard of Tim Keller and Redeemer, they are tiny in the city. (One of their assistant pastors said that Dimas Salaberrios, an Ethiopian pastor from the Bronx who spoke at the conference, is more well known in the city itself than Keller, even though most Christians outside the city have never heard of him.) A church of six thousand in eight million is a drop in the ocean. But another pastor mentioned the disproportionate influence they have had, simply by demystifying and detoxifying the city for evangelicals. “If they weren’t there, we could never do what we’re doing,” he said. . . .
New York seems both incredibly exciting and incredibly difficult as a place to live, and to plant and lead churches. The energy, creativity and diversity of the city are unparalleled, but the city is less Christian than the rest of the nation (in contrast to London, which is more Christian than the rest of the UK), and the pressures on price and space are even more intense in Manhattan than they are in other global cities. The fact that Manhattan is a separate island makes a big difference here: in London, you can lead a church in the West End, live in Brixton and have your offices in Fulham – and some previous contributors to this blog do – but in New York the equivalent is virtually impossible, because it would mean living, working and leading on three different islands. I’ve just mentioned the six-person family in a two-bedroom flat, and church premises are just as extortionate: many churches share their buildings with (at least) one other congregation, and the one recent building purchase I heard about cost $50 million. (By way of comparison, Kings Church London just opened their newly refurbished building in Lee, which used to be a school, and it cost them around £6 million.) All of which makes church planting here spiritually demanding, financially challenging and emotionally draining, but also exhilarating and rewarding.
If these comments reflect a trend, then they may signal that if you can affirm doubts about Christianity to show you are not a Stepford Christian, you are also allowed to have second thoughts about TKNY and Redeemer PCA.