Ministry Inside the Bubble

Redeemer NYC has been in existence for almost twenty years and by this point it may be worth asking whether Tim Keller and company have transformed or been transformed by the bubble. Consider, for starters, that Redeemer spawned churches that cover Brooklyn — bubble central — about as well as Verizon. Notice as well that Keller speaks of the dangers of white nationalism the way many in the academy, Hollywood, Washington, and the Times do (though he also worries about secularism).

More substantive than these atmospheric impressions are the way that the Kellers promote the big city and its culture. Does anyone remember how Kathy Keller lauded the benefits of living in the city?

Lifestyle Benefits

simplicity more possible—you collect less stuff in small apartments

immediate family is closer physically, harder for kids to isolate themselves; meals together more likely

apt cleaning/care is easier, less time-consuming than a house

you don’t spend all your free time on house/yard chores

no scraping off your car in icy weather—enjoy walking in the snow instead

no school snow days—the subway is always working

sense of community, bonding, in your immediate neighborhood

for new parents, especially stay-at-home moms, you don’t experience the isolation and despair of being stuck at home all day, unable to go out or even see another adult person—just a trip to the laundry room gives you someone to talk to, and a stroll outside brings you to the world

many large American cities have something like Fresh Direct: order your groceries online and have them delivered the next day, boxed, to your kitchen; great if you are sick or time pressured

fresh fruit and cheap flowers at corner stands rival expensive shops elsewhere

great food in every restaurant—no bad meals . . .


airline prices are cheaper to/from larger cities; fewer transfers

closer to ministry opportunities, especially diverse groups, the poor, ethnic communities (instead of traveling many miles to reach a people group); virtually all people groups are in the city, especially Africans, Russians, and South Americans

less expensive for getaways; can travel by subway to a new neighborhood or a cultural enclave for a change of pace; so many unique experiences close at hand

wealthy people in cities are always happy to lend their vacation homes to ministry families for weekends and getaways, as long as you are flexible; since ministry happens on weekends, mid-week getaways don’t generally conflict with the owners’ desire to use it on weekends

easier to reach the suburbs from the city center than to reach the city center from the suburbs

access to the best of the best in: professional sports, cultural interests (museums, lectures), entertainment (theatre, music, improv), educational opportunities/options, shopping, influencers in every field, restaurants, medical care

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of cities for many of these reasons. But Ms. Keller doesn’t seem to understand that urbanism separates her from lots of other Americans, while signalling to urban dwellers that she and her husband’s ministry “get” — nay, love — the city (even if the big steeple PCA churches in the South or the social justice warriors in St. Louis do not: “bless their hearts for being urban, but they don’t know NYC the way we do” – read they aren’t bubblicious). How do you then challenge the bubble when you’re on the same side as the bubble?

Tim Keller himself earlier this year showed that he was not as comfortable with urban artistic life as many might assume given Redeemer’s Faith & Work Center:

Contemporary art is dominated by either critical theory or commercialism. Much art is aimed at transgressing and debunking all social norms in order to liberate the individual. Or it is designed to provoke in such a way that attracts eyeballs and income. It’s possible that gospel-changed Christians in the arts would bring far more hope and less nihilism, and could express visions of community and shared values.

Isn’t that all the more reason to wonder whether Redeemer’s ministry did anything to prepare New Yorkers for what happened on election day. Or, were they part of the constituency that Saturday Night Live mocked?

They pride themselves on being open-minded, but they actually close themselves off to contrary arguments; The Bubble is a “community of like-minded free-thinkers—and no one else.” They think they’re more thoughtful and intellectual, but they’re really just confirming each other’s biases; a “wide array of diverse viewpoints” is two people doing nothing but agreeing with each other. They think they’re well-informed and cultured, but they draw from a very narrow range of trendy lifestyle fads and “only the good websites.” They think of their lifestyle as simple and accessible, but only the well off can afford it. (“Anybody is welcome to join us,” the ad proclaims, but a one-bedroom apartment starts at $1.9 million—not far off from reality in Manhattan or San Francisco.)

They say they are above racial division, but they’re the ones obsessing over it. (“We don’t see color here—but we celebrate it.”) Then there’s the preening, condescending race-consciousness of the privileged white “progressive”—who, in this sketch, ostentatiously points to the “black power” button on his lapel and gets a subtly exasperated roll of the eyes from his black co-star.

Most important: They depend on the support and protection of blue-collar workers who don’t share their values and culture.

Can’t Presbyterians ask what happens to Presbyterian frogs in the New York City kettle? Isn’t that what Presbyterian polity is about? Or are we supposed to be awed by Redeemer exceptionalism?

11 thoughts on “Ministry Inside the Bubble

  1. When Kathy Keller talks about The City she’s not talking about Newark, Detroit, Compton, or Baltimore. She’s talking about places like Manhattan, Cobble Hill, Cambridge, Seattle, or Portland. And in Manhattan its neighborhoods like Chelsea, Tribeca, and the Upper West Side. There are neighborhoods in lovely Manhattan where both Kathy and Tim would be wise to avoid after dark – but they don’t have Whole Foods, museums, fusion restaurants, faux-French bistros and coffeehouses so no great loss. Not too many “influencers” live in those places either.

    Tim Keller’s appeal to “influencers” like David Brooks and Nicholas Kristof is that he sounds just like them on Social Justice, Racial Justice, Poverty, Tolerance, Diversity, Multiculturalism, etc. They sense a kindred soul. He likes Broadway, Bach, Starbucks, the New Yorker, Annie Dillard, foreign films, gourmet foods, and Democrats – attributes not shared by John Hagee, Jerry Falwell, and Ralph Reed. Alas! He still has icky beliefs about Heaven, Hell, and Sin. He embraces evolution and rejects both Creationism and Intelligent Design but still holds on to unscientific beliefs like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.

    The city’s “influencers” knows that Keller’s embrace of Diversity, Multiculturalism, and Tolerance stops dead cold at Salvation. And Redeemer will never perform a gay marriage – the holy sacrament of secular Democrats. They know that on the really important Bible stuff he’s no different than Jerry Falwell, Michelle Bachmann, or Sarah Palin. The mask comes off and to paraphrase Richard Dawkins: A fundamentalist in a cheap tuxedo is still a fundamentalist.

    Unrequited love is the most painful love of all. Give me back my Ol’ Timey Religion, Please.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Certainly one must ask about what is happening to urban frogs in an urban kettle. But we have to remember that all of us are subject being conformed by whatever world we are living in rather than being transformed. All of us face those dangers and so if we are going to ask about urban frogs, should we act like the Pharisee from the parable of the two men praying or should we ask about ourselves as we are asking about the urban frogs?


  3. Umm, maybe I missed it or it’ll show up later but the parade in the bubble is really really white. And they’re doubling down on the whiteness with their dancing. #racist. Wait the Somoans showed up #mormonsredeemparade


  4. If you’re up going to the city
    You better have some cash
    And when you get up get to the city
    You better lock your door
    You know they take what you got, boy

    “In spite of the rich, jazzy, Southern blues sound embedded in his piano playing and vocals, Mose Allison was white, not African-American. Two: in spite of his name, he was not a member of the tribe of Moses. Allison, who died on November 15, 2016, at the age of 89, grew up on his grandfather’s farm outside Tippo, a small village inside the eastern rim of the Mississippi Delta, 30 miles southeast of Clarksdale. He began playing piano at age five, and absorbed the sounds of local blues players as well as the recordings of Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Louis Jordan and Nat King Cole. Those influences can be heard throughout Allison’s work, albeit filtered through his own idiosyncratic style which effortlessly combines blues phrasing and jazz swing…”


  5. my reservations about critical theory is that it seems that American kids who can afford to go to private liberal arts schools really believe that if they just read enough Adorno and Walter Benjamin they get exempted from being part of the privileged classes that can go get liberal arts degrees at expensive private universities.

    But then it’s become apparent this kind of exempting yourself from recognizing you’re part of a ruling caste has been prominent in Christian scenes, too.

    And I’m trying to hold my tongue (for now) about how Francis Schaeffer’s been turned into a kind of one-man Frankfurt school by evangelicals over the last half century.


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