Forget the Optics, Try the Acoustics

Why is it when reading Tim Keller you (okay I) get the sense that he is above it all. This interview in 2008 in First Things (Oldlife.org did not begin until 2009) captures Keller’s sense of his own exceptionalism. When asked if Redeemer is a megachurch, well, no, it’s better than that:

I found that if you define megachurch as anything over two thousand people, then yes, then we are. But here’s four ways in which we’re not a megachurch, or we don’t do things people associate with megachurches. One is, we do no advertising or publicity of any sort, except I’m trying to get the book out there so people read it and have their lives changed by it, but Redeemer’s never advertised or publicized. And the reason is, if a person walks in off the street just because they’ve heard about Redeemer through advertising, and they have questions or they want to get involved, there’s almost no way to do it unless you have all kinds of complicated programs, places where they can go. But if they come with a friend who already goes there, their questions are answered naturally, the next steps happen organically, the connections they want to make happen naturally . . . We do not want a crowd of spectators. We want a community.

Secondly, we do almost no technology. We don’t have laser-light shows, we don’t have Jumbotrons, we don’t have overheard projectors, we don’t have screens. We don’t have anything like that. Thirdly, we have a lot of classical music, chamber music¯we are not hip at all. We don’t go out of our way to be hip.

There’s praise music in the evening services.

Yeah, but it’s jazz. It’s toned down. It’s much more New York. It’s certainly not your typical evangelical contemporary music. We actually pound into people that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city. So we pound that into them, that we’re not a consumer place, that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city.

Not an ordinary megachurch, but one with class. No CCM but Jazz. No Jumbotrons but ballet.

And what about being Presbyterian? Again, that’s a tad confining for Redeemer’s grander efforts:

Do you ever see a point at which Redeemer’s mission, which is transdenominational, if not nondenominational, is inhibited by being a member of a specific denomination? Would it be easier to do what you do if you were not connected to the Presbyterian Church in America?

Maybe a little. Because, when you’re part of a denomination, you’ve got to have some constitution, some structure, that you hold with everybody else. The larger a church gets, the more unique it gets, and it would always be a little easier, I suppose, if we didn’t have any¯like, for example, how we do elections. We have to get a quorum of our members. When our constitution was built, no one was thinking about a church that held five services on a Sunday, at three locations. So the problem is to get a quorum of our congregation, we don’t actually have a quorum of our congregation at any one service. So where do we hold an election for our services? And the answer is, we choose the largest one and we just hope people come. So it’s a bit of a struggle to get a quorum, because our constitution is set up for a traditional church in a small town. Its not set up for multi-site churches, it’s not set up for churches that don’t have their own buildings. And if we were an independent church, we’d just do it our own way. But we think it’s very very important to be part of the connection. We think for accountability it’s important, for tradition it’s important. So we just put up with it.

Even though you’re helping to plant non-Presbyterian churches?

Yes, because I don’t believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who’ll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn’t appeal to them. Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics. I mean, I know that sounds¯I’m not talking about that certain cultures reach certain people. It’s much more complicated than that. Even though there’s something to that. We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others, but I wouldn’t want to reduce it to that at all. I would just say that I only know that God seems to use all these kinds of churches to reach the whole breadth of humanity, and so that’s why we give money to start churches of other denominations, and give free training to it. And we’ve done about a hundred in the New York area, where we’ve helped people. It’s very important to us.

Presbyterianism is a brand that’s distinct from Baptist and Pentecostal. Then again, Redeemer is a brand unto itself. If I were in the PCA I wouldn’t take much heart from having the NYC congregation in the denomination because it is the Lebron James of contemporary Protestantism.

I wonder if Keller considers how he comes across. It sure sounds like none of the rules, contemporary church, Presbyterianism, celebrity, marketing, apply to Keller and Redeemer. They are bigger and better.

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11 thoughts on “Forget the Optics, Try the Acoustics

  1. First of all, it seems like there’s lots of pounding going on. Second, this line is interesting for two reasons:

    “So we pound that into them, that we’re not a consumer place, that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city.”

    I believe they try to meet people’s (seeming) need to serve the city — that seems like a popular concept, ya know — U2 religion. There are needs and there are needs, apparently. People need to do good deeds. Also, Redeemer considers their diaconal ministry to be the tip of their ministry spear. It is so indispensable that they have felt the need to innovate in a number of diaconal ways. That also seems like needs meeting.

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  2. “Secondly, we do almost no technology. We don’t have laser-light shows, we don’t have Jumbotrons, we don’t have overheard projectors, we don’t have screens. We don’t have anything like that.”
    ***Is this really a thing??? Jumbotron?

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  3. Just a point: Perhaps they need to take a look at the origins of “jazz music.” While the genre has morphed over the decades from “traditional” (some say Dixieland), to swing, to “straight ahead,” to bebop, to post-bop, to free-jazz, to avant-garde, to whatever combination now exists or comes next, the music took its original form from the blues, derived from a Southern afro-american influence that included all kinds of references to gambling, sex (or the lack thereof), murder, revenge, general infidelity, and an exceptional motivation to get ahold of money in copious quantities. Sure, it’s been toned down in recent years as so-called “smooth jazz,” but the roots of all of it are the same. Is that something you want your congregation listening to on a Sunday evening, whether in NYC, Juneau, or North Platte? Just curious, as usual.

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  4. Jazz and skinny jeans and 45 year old pastors with ear piercings. But here’s the thing: the service I attended on May did not use projection screens. That’s gotta be worth a few points.

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  5. George, seems like fundamentalist reasoning (if the ensemble plays jazz backwards do they hear secret messages from the devil?). Why not go with just the RPW?

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  6. But the same rules don’t apply to Lebron.

    On Dec. 25, 1749, Finnish-Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in Philadelphia. “Christmas Day…. The Quakers did not regard this day any more remarkable than other days. Stores were open, and anyone might sell or purchase what he wanted…. There was no more baking of bread for the Christmas festival than for other days; and no Christmas porridge on Christmas Eve!…..One did not seem to know what it meant to wish anyone a merry Christmas…. first the Presbyterians did not care much for celebrating Christmas, but when they saw most of their members going to the English (Anglican) church on that day, they also started to have services.”

    https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/articles/should-christians-abandon-christmas

    Sounding like John Knox sounds Presbyterian not Lutheran.

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