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