Trending: Counter-Cultural, TKNY

If the Gospel Allies have this much trouble interpreting their council members, how reliable are they on matters more important?

Dan Olson (thanks to our southern correspondent) tries to raise funds for The Gospel Coalition by trying to portray Tim Keller and Redeemer NYC as one of the better examples of the Benedict Option:

The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has called Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, where Tim Keller serves as senior pastor, an effective example of the Benedict Option for our twenty-first century, post-Christian context. Like other TGC-inspired communities, Redeemer aims to blend countercultural biblical faithfulness with a Christ-exalting, city-embracing vision.

See what he did there? He took one trending subject, the Benedict Option, and added another trending subject to it.

But this doesn’t sound very counter-cultural:

“I think one of our biggest problems as a denomination or as Reformed people and evangelicals is that we don’t really know how to talk to late modern culture. When I hear the average PCA pastor, it is very clear to me that they are preaching to the person who feels like they ought to be in church somewhere. Most of us have been conditioned to speak to people who don’t have one foot out the door. … You’re not used to preaching to people who do have one foot out the door, and when they do leave, they’ll never come back to any kind of church at all. … The relativism, the individualism, the pragmatism which is late modern culture — most pastors don’t have that in mind.”

That’s why we need to grow and strengthen groups such as Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), he explained.

According to Keller, if you’re on a college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. It is, he says, our best leadership development pipeline. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.

Similarly, Keller pointed out that we as a denomination can grow in helping people better integrate their private life and their public work.

“We have to make sure people aren’t sealing off their faith from their work, only being Christians inside the church. Reformed people have more resources for that than any other group,” he says. “But the ways to support people out there right now are pretty weak. We need to be better about supporting nonclergy in their work. We need to be commissioning them and praying over them, and not just over pastors and missionaries.”

Lastly, if the PCA really wants to have a cultural impact, we can’t ignore the good work of other Gospel-spreading movements, Keller added.

“As Reformed people, we tend to be dismissive of the charismatic movement,” Keller said. He pointed out that there’s a lot of “unfortunate and bad theology there,” including the “prosperity gospel,” which is often integrated into charismatic teaching. But Keller points out that Pentecostalism is the most vital, fastest growing, and most multiracial, multiethnic movement in the world.

If TGC wanted an example of counter-cultural Christianity, they might have chosen the pastor of the RPCNA congregation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Or you could keep your culturally engaged celebrity pastor and simply ignore the Benedict Option or point out where it’s flawed.

But when you live in the world of cultural trends and celebrity, you sometimes lose your way.

P.S. I hope Rod is paying attention. A sure way to discredit the substance of the Benedict Option is to turn it into a fad.

P.P.S. Here is how truly counter-cultural Protestants worry about relevance and isolation:

Today, “missional,” liberal and evangelical Mennonites all seek it. A Mennonite Church USA Executive Board resolution encourages delegates to this summer’s convention to get over the “matters that divide us and to focus attention on the missional vision that unites us.” The busier we get, the better we will fix the world and the less we will worry about our own brokenness, boundaries and baggage.

Today’s Mennonite north stars are just as privileged as Leaman’s white Protestantism but more numerous. There is the fiction of an Anabaptist essence without the tribal baggage. There is church-management literature and the amorphous “missional” vernacular. There is the restless cycle of new causes for justice, celebrity activism or evangelical “revival.”

We think of these impulses as playing on a progressive-versus- evangelical divide, but their posture is fundamentally the same: the pressure to use religious and cultural privilege to lecture the world, along with the wish to never be tribal and broken again.

Many find it virtually impossible to imagine a life-giving Anabaptist spirituality without stressing activism and unity. Mainstream Mennonites now mostly function like the culturally white Protestants Leaman once admired — neither tribal nor marginal. Other Christians, we hope, will see us as active, opinionated — and pretty impressive.

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45 thoughts on “Trending: Counter-Cultural, TKNY

  1. Benedict is really about monasticism, right? What will the Redeemer monks & monkesses produce with such culturo-redemptive artisanal earnestness? Bagels? Bikes? Denim?

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  2. I was out to lunch with church members of another church in our presbytery (PCA). Unrelated to monasticsim, but there were a few shocked faces when I “outed” myself as a non-Kellerite.

    A few sighs of relief too.

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  3. Chorts,

    Benedict is really about monasticism, right? What will the Redeemer monks & monkesses produce with such culturo-redemptive artisanal earnestness? Bagels? Bikes? Denim?

    If the Redeermerites go all neo-trappist on us, remember it’s all about merchandizing.

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  4. “According to Keller, if you’re on a college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. It is, he says, our best leadership development pipeline.”

    Nope. You’re actually on a sub-culture’s dull edge. Herein is part of the problem. Higher education really produces very little culture-wise. It does produce a grammar, but for most this is pretty quickly absorbed by the market. Very little creativity in the academy. If you want real creative cultural influence best to appropriate leadership from other subcultures–e.g. hip-hop; LGBT, farmers, reality television, survivalists, etc.

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  5. Like other TGC-inspired communities…Redeemer…” This author is clueless. Redeemer came first. TKNY (in all his glory) before that. But TGC came after. Unless there was just this pre-existent, gospel-centered truth out there called “TGC” that we have only lately discovered. The hubris! The myopia! And these (along with Rome?) are the guardians of Western Civ. Well, at least future generations will know the importance of bistros, art walks, and organic community gardens. And the importance of catering to under-employed, sensitive urbanites. That’s some consolation.

    And ponder this KELLERISREDEEMERISTGCISTHENEWSBCISNEOCALVINISMISTHEGOSPELFORTHECITYKELLERISREDEEMERIS…

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  6. @cw – Benedict may have been, but the Benedict Option that Rod has been advocating is something else entirely. I think Rod has been pretty shook up by the demise of nominal Christianity (a nominal Christianity that he came out of) and see the culture increasingly antagonistic to any expression of Christianity (not just those mouth-breathing, Jesus-freak, puritanical, fundamentalists). I think what he is advocating is a lot like what conservative prots have been about for some time in various ways – recognizing that mainstream culture is opposed to our values, we’ve set up parallel institutions (shadow institutions) to reinforce our values against the prevailing culture. While it is easy to make fun of “Christian” financial planning, “Christian” Rock, “Christian” camps, etc… (and a lot, perhaps most of, this stuff does deserve all the ridicule it gets), conservative prots have been doing something right if one measures it by retaining the young. Of course, there once was a time when RC schools were distinctively RC and there really was an RC counterculture, but that isn’t broadly true anymore (though I’m sure there are exceptions).

    Whatever the case, even though “evangelicals” aren’t doing as poorly as mainliners and catholics at retaining their young, we aren’t doing great. I seem to recall dgh pointing out something to that effect about the OPC anyway. The question is what, if anything, should we do different? I’m not sure more catechism is the answer. Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s important, but it isn’t enough. There is really strong evidence that social networks play a disproportionate role in whether we stay in the faith or not. While Zrim may remain skeptical of the conclusions Caplan draws from twin studies, I haven’t seen a good criticism of that work yet. While Caplan’s focus was parenting, I think there are useful lessons for churches as well. One of those is that if you want our kids to stay in the faith, a peer group who reinforces that faith increases the likelihood they will remain adherents (doesn’t mean that a big youth group provides 100% guarantee or that no one who grows up without any friends that share their faith stay). The lesson I take from this is that while 5,000 member megachurches aren’t ideal – either are 50 member splinter groups. And while regional activities that bring kids together weekly are nice, that isn’t the same thing as having your friends you see at school at church on Sunday Morning too.

    This is what I see to be a really important part of the Benedict Option – organizing our churches, where we live, and where we work so that we more effectively pass on our faith to our kids. That might mean getting really small reformed churches to merge so that they have the resources to more effectively minister, choosing a neighborhood less based on the test scores at the local high school and more on the proximity of a healthy church, etc…

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  7. still smacks of asimov to (all about) me:

    Called forth to stand trial on Trantor for allegations of treason (for foreshadowing the decline of the Galactic Empire), Seldon explains that his science of psychohistory foresees many alternatives, all of which result in the Galactic Empire eventually falling. If humanity follows its current path, the Empire will fall and 30 thousand years of turmoil will overcome humanity before a second Empire arises. However, an alternative path allows for the intervening years to be only one thousand, if Seldon is allowed to collect the most intelligent minds and create a compendium of all human knowledge, entitled Encyclopedia Galactica. The board is still wary but allows Seldon to assemble whomever he needs, provided he and the “Encyclopedists” be exiled to a remote planet, Terminus. Seldon agrees to set up his own collection of Encyclopedists, and also secretly implements a contingency plan—a second Foundation—at the “opposite end” of the galaxy.

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  8. “We have to make sure people aren’t sealing off their faith from their work” “We need to be commissioning them”

    Every boss and co-worker just groaned. Including the confessional protestants. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched my pagan co-workers flinch when they find out some evangelical is excited about their faith at work. It’s an entire segment of the american life(work) that is a burnt-over district. The rest of have to pass through a trial period to make sure, as committed christians, we still know how to work AND adequately compartmentalize our lives.

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  9. we aren’t doing great

    depends where you look (duh)

    The question is what, if anything, should we do different? I’m not sure more catechism is the answer.

    hmm..

    while 5,000 member megachurches aren’t ideal – either are 50 member splinter groups.

    my answer is a 50 member splinter group on sunday morning, and then partner with eco presbys, atheist soccer coaches, and (gulp) baptist schooling during the week. doesn’t work for everyone, works for (all about) me.

    plenty to chew on there, sdb, thx.

    next

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  10. According to Keller, if you’re on a college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. It is, he says, our best leadership development pipeline. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.

    This is B.S. whether college campuses are on the culture’s cutting edge or not (Stanford maybe, Southwest Missouri State absolutely not). College grads are still going to church. Maybe we can thank Cru, Navs, RUF, etc… for that. But non-college grads are dropping out of church at prodigious rates. You want to talk to non-Christians (or at least non-church goers)? Go to Waffle House, the Dollar Tree, Wal-Mart, or walk around a flea market and you’ll get to deal with a much higher concentration of non-Christians. Or maybe start a “campus” ministry at the county technical community college for students looking for certification in truck driving, welding, day care teacher, nursing, etc… Of course, these people aren’t beautiful, fashion-conscious, creatives on society’s cutting edge – planting a church that brings in the WaffleHouse set isn’t so good for building your jet-set bonafides and getting that book deal on transforming culture.

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  11. sdb, sometimes youth strays no matter what secret formula anybody uses, theological or psychological. Here’s a novel thought: not all born to believers are elect. Jacob and Esau, anyone?

    Sean, ding. Maybe he shows his hand with “commissioning.” You commission church officers for ecclesiastical work, but equip laity for worldly vocation. To speak of commissioning laity to work sounds like another subtle form of takeover.

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  12. I suppose the NYC equivalent of living in the catacombs is the Subway tunnels.

    I’ll stick to my countercultural van down by the river.

    You really can’t be hip and countercultural at the same time – choose one.

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  13. wjw – Nope. You’re actually on a sub-culture’s dull edge. Herein is part of the problem. Higher education really produces very little culture-wise. It does produce a grammar, but for most this is pretty quickly absorbed by the market. Very little creativity in the academy. If you want real creative cultural influence best to appropriate leadership from other subcultures–e.g. hip-hop; LGBT, farmers, reality television, survivalists, etc.

    Erik – Exactly. Politically correct orthodoxy dictates that college campuses are the farthest thing from cutting edge. You can’t be cutting edge where free thought is consistently stifled. If you want cutting edge, go to the hood:

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  14. sdb – You want to talk to non-Christians (or at least non-church goers)? Go to Waffle House, the Dollar Tree, Wal-Mart, or walk around a flea market and you’ll get to deal with a much higher concentration of non-Christians.

    Erik – Speedy Mart? Sean, what does your ethnographic work tell you?

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  15. Zrim,

    Yep, I agree. My claim isn’t that there is something we can do that will guarantee 100% of kids born to a believing parent will die in the faith. There is significant evidence that there are things we can do that positively affect intergenerational rates of religious adherence, and one of those is providing a peer-group for kids that reinforces the family’s religious commitments.

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  16. The trick to ministering to the Waffle House set is that they have real life, practical problems — like holding down a job that earns enough money to pay the rent. With the current conservative P&R urban church model where all the members drive in from the suburbs like Charles Washington used to (allegedly) fly in for games, it’s really hard to connect with these blue collar people on a meaningful level.

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  17. Here’s a good strategy for getting your kid to stay in the faith (and stay close geographically): Don’t smother them the whole time they’re in your house. Have reasonable boundaries, but don’t dictate every aspect of their spiritual lives.

    I’ve seen families where church engagement was enforced with an iron fist. The kids profess faith, head off to college, and then, once they graduate, they’re out of there. Still in P&R churches, thankfully, but several states away from mom & dad.

    If you chill a bit while they’re growing, they won’t feel the need to be so far away when they’re adults.

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  18. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.

    You can get all the exposure you want at UCSD – they’re clearly on the cutting-edge of exposure. Any future pastors and lay leaders should enroll in the Visual Arts Department.

    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/may/12/ucsd-naked-final-exam/

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  19. sdb, just in case I’ve conveyed something different, that does make sense as far as it goes. My own allergy is in how we moderns talk about these things, as if life can be easily and successfully managed with the right techniques, etc. Something tells me you get it.

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  20. The Gourds have a song about a Speedy Mart-type area of Austin. Redeem this.

    Down on the tex-mex and tattoo Pakistani package mile
    They got a thing down there that makes an angry young man mild
    And if you go down there and smoke out yer gonna leave with a smile
    Down on that tex-mex and tattoo pakastani package mile

    A reliable OL source (rhymes with ‘fawn”) tells me this is an ethnographically-perceptive and culturally-senstive portrayal of ecclesially-under served population. And there is an OPC in Austin…

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  21. Good comments.

    When I look in the archives of OLTS, the comments section looked like ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ these 31 comments ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑ right there.

    Note that, to any newbies.

    Next comment please.

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  22. Churches and their para-church affiliates and enablers talking about “relevance” and being “being counter-cultural” is tedious. The Gospel of Christ is always and everywhere relevant and counter-cultural. It is, in fact, a reproach to the world. One problem – among many – is that those seeking to become relevant to [Fill In The Blank – seekers, millennials, nones, etc] want to do so by adopting marketing techniques instead of just ministering Word and sacrament.

    The Benedict Option? How about just making the sure the Church, starting with the local church, fulfills its responsibilities – the ministry of Word and Sacrament and discipline would be a good start.

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  23. sdb and Erik Charter:

    For what it’s worth, I was involved in Cru and InterVarsity. Theologically vapid thinking in the name of unity doesn’t work in college campuses. I’ve seen lots of apostasy. Only those who became Presbyterian (or at least Calvinist-ic) stayed in the Church.

    And ya, college is boring. I grew up with poor people and surrounded by hip hop. College folk are too clean for me, and I’m getting an MA right now. I’d rather be with the lower class. They’re my people.

    Also, TKNY being the Benedict Option? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    >_>

    Honestly if folk wanna be counter cultural, they should stop trying so hard to be counter cultural. That goes for Christians. Luther’s doctrine of vocation applies here, I’m sure of it.

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  24. Second comment:

    I’ve decided that universities are a foreign country. They have their own culture, rulers, and norms. They have their own dreams and fears. All of this different from the average person.

    Seriously, the average person could care less about the Hegelian Dialectic or Trans rights. They wanna know how to be a decent human being or how to raise their kids.

    Law and Gospel applies here. They can’t be decent human beings according to God’s standard.

    P.S.

    Ironically I care about those things, but that’s because I’m a NEEEEERD.

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  25. Darryl’s onto something with the notion that we’re countercultural on Sundays. Be cultural the other days, just don’t embrace sin. This isn’t that hard. Not every interaction is Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Most of life is routine drudgery and the liberals are right there in the trenches beside us.

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  26. How about just making the sure the Church, starting with the local church, fulfills its responsibilities – the ministry of Word and Sacrament and discipline would be a good start

    Ding ding!

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  27. Honestly if folk wanna be counter cultural, they should stop trying so hard to be counter cultural. That goes for Christians. Luther’s doctrine of vocation applies here, I’m sure of it.

    Ding ding!

    Like

  28. SJG –

    “Honestly if folk wanna be counter cultural, they should stop trying so hard to be counter cultural. That goes for Christians. Luther’s doctrine of vocation applies here, I’m sure of it.”

    Yep.

    Like

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