Is God Holding Back Urbanist Presbyterians?

For those social justicey pastors who labor for the city, what’s wrong with this picture?

Observant Presbyterians are always part of gatherings at Rutgers Presbyterian Church. But much of the time, so are Roman Catholics and Jews, as well as a smattering of people who consider themselves vaguely spiritual. Valerie Oltarsh-McCarthy, who sat among the congregation listening to a Sunday sermon on the perils of genetically modified vegetables, is, in fact, an atheist.

“It’s something I never thought would happen,” she said of the bond she has forged with the church’s community, if not the tenets of its faith. She was drawn to the church, she said, by “something in the spirit of Rutgers and something in the spirit of the outside world.”

Katharine Butler, an artist, was lured into Rutgers when she walked by a sandwich board on the street advertising its environmental activism. Soon, she was involved in more traditional aspects of the church, too.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this, singing away and all the Jesus-y stuff,” she said. “It was wonderful to find a place larger than me, that’s involved in that and in the community and being of service. It’s nice to find a real community like that.”

Typically, the connective tissue of any congregation is an embrace of a shared faith.

Yet Rutgers, a relatively small church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, has rejected that. Sharing a belief in God — any God at all — isn’t necessary. Instead, the community there has been cobbled together by a different code of convictions, pulled in by social justice efforts, activism against climate change, meal programs for the homeless and a task force to help refugee families.

Houses of worship — including Christian churches from a range of denominations, as well as synagogues — have positioned themselves as potent forces on progressive issues, promoting activism on social justice causes and inviting in the L.G.B.T.Q. community. But religious scholars said that Rutgers was reaching a new frontier where its social agenda in some ways overshadowed its religious one.

“Rutgers has periodically reinvented itself as the Upper West Side has gone through changes like this,” said James Hudnut-Beumler, a professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University. “This isn’t the first reinvention. It is one of their more interesting ones.”

The approach at Rutgers reflects how spirituality has shifted in fundamental ways. Those who enter the unassuming brick-and-limestone sanctuary on West 73rd Street find a place for pancake breakfasts, fund-raisers, activism and developing ties to a neighborhood.

“People who otherwise feel marginalized or pushed out by regular congregations, more thoughtful people, say, or those who like to ask questions about faith, started to gather around our congregation,” said the Rev. Andrew Stehlik, the senior pastor at Rutgers.

“Not all of them are deeply interested in becoming yet another member of a denomination,” he added. “They are still coming and worshiping with us. We call them friends of the church. Often, they’re a substantial part of the worshiping community here.”

It seems that the worshiping community could use an injection of people. Mainline Protestant denominations like Presbyterianism have seen their followings diminish in recent years. (Leaders of the Presbyterian Church put out a news release in April announcing that fewer followers were leaving, declaring that they were “encouraged by the slowing trend downward.”)

To address shrinking congregations, some pastors are searching for new ways to use their churches and redefine what fellowship means. Churches have the space and the good will, after all, to commit to community works, social justice or arts and educational projects. And opening their doors in this way can bring in those looking for more than a Bible study class.

Some progressive Reformed and evangelicals are wont to insist that you can’t have the gospel without social justice.

But at churches like Rutgers Presbyterian, you do have social justice without the gospel. And this is not the Democratic Party. It’s a church.

So, where do you draw the line? At what point do you have too much God to be effectively social justice in your church’s orientation? If Rutgers’ pastors came on with the Westminster Confession, they might see unbelievers less inclined to participate in church activities. Or, when does social justice begin to impede God? If Rutgers’ pastors pastors came on with the Westminster Confession, they might see Presbyterians object to a broad church held together by left-wing activism.

Whatever the answer, a line exists. Or you can put churches on a spectrum. Either way, the gospel is not identical to social justice. Mainline Protestantism is example number one.

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The Missional Church in Free Fall?

It started well seemingly with Tim Keller:

what makes a small group missional? A missional small group is not necessarily one that is doing some kind of specific evangelism program (though that is to be encouraged). Rather, (1) if its members love and talk positively about the city/neighborhood, (2) if they speak in language that is not filled with pious tribal or technical terms and phrases, nor with disdainful and embattled verbiage, (3) if in their Bible study they apply the gospel to the core concerns and stories of the people of the culture, (4) if they are obviously interested in and engaged with the literature, art and thought of the surrounding culture and can discuss it both appreciatively and critically, (5) if they exhibit deep concern for the poor, generosity with their money, purity and respect with regard to the opposite sex, and humility toward people of other races and cultures, and (6) if they do not bash other Christians and churches—then seekers and nonbelieving people will be invited and will come and stay as they explore spiritual issues.

That was 2001.

Then Kevin DeYoung raised objections even while trying not to offend the missionally minded:

(1) I am concerned that good behaviors are sometimes commended using the wrong categories. For example, many good deeds are promoted under the term “social justice” when I think “love your neighbor” is often a better category. Or, folks will talk about transforming the world, when I think being “a faithful presence in the world” is a better way to describe what we are trying to do and actually can do. Or, sometimes well meaning Christians talk about “building the kingdom” when actually the verbs associated with the kingdom are almost always passive (enter, receive, inherit). We’d do better to speak of living as citizens of the kingdom, rather than telling our people they build the kingdom.

(2) I am concerned that in our new found missional zeal we sometimes put hard “oughts” on Christians where there should be inviting “cans.” You ought to do something about human trafficking. You ought to do something about AIDS. You ought to do something about lack of good public education. When you say “ought” you imply that if the church does not tackle these problems we are being disobedient. It would be better to invite individual Christians in keeping with their gifts and calling to try to solve these problems rather than indicting the church for “not caring.”

(3) I am concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely, making disciples of Jesus Christ.

That was 2010.

Now comes Mark Galli with even more criticism (the fourth column in a series):

But it turns out that the church is not a very efficient institution for making a difference in the world. If you are passionate about feeding the hungry, for example, churches can help here and there. But if you really want to make a difference, really cut the numbers of the hungry and malnourished, it’s better to give your time to a government or nonprofit agency that specializes in such things.

The same is true whether we’re talking about sex trafficking, drug abuse, exploitation of labor, environmental degradation, and so forth. The church as church can make a donation, organize a committee, sponsor a food pantry, but it cannot really make a significant, lasting impact. It is not set up to do that. In fact, it has many other really important jobs to do.

It is called, for example, more than anything, to provide a time and place for the public worship of God and for people to participate in the sacraments/ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper—to meet God as we glorify him. It is also called to teach children, youth, and adults about who God is, as well as the shape and nature of the Christian life. It is a place where Christians gather to receive mutual encouragement and prayer. It’s the place where we learn to live into our destiny, to be holy and blameless in love, to the praise of God’s glory.

Galli adds that it is harder for a church to be simply a church than it is to be missional (even if the former is likely a lot less expensive):

But if you want to do something that is really hard, and if you want to push yourself to the limits, if you want to be constantly tested by love, if you want to live into your ultimate destiny—if you want to learn to be holy and blameless in love before God—there is no better place to do that than in the local church.

Many of us today rightly note the great defects in the church, most of which boil down to its superficiality. Because the church thinks it has to be missional, that it has to be a place where the world feels comfortable, it has dumbed down the preaching and the worship, so that in many quarters we have ended up with a common-denominator Christianity. It goes down easy, which is why it attracts so many and why many churches are growing. But it is a meal designed to stunt the growth of the people of God. And it is a way of church life that eventually burns people out, where people become exhausted trying to make the world a better place.

What if instead the church was a sanctuary, a place of rest and healing and life, where the fellowship of believers lived together in love, where we just learn to be holy and blameless in love before God? And what if, having encountered afresh some sort of beatific vision, we go out from church in our vocations and ministries, serving the unchurched neighbor and, by God’s grace, make a difference in their world?

You’d have thought Galli read Machen. You might have also thought that someone who taught at Westminster Theological Seminary had read Machen.

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You Don’t Have to Untuck Your Shirt (partially) to Follow the OPC

First, it was Christianity Today taking a page from the spirituality of the church.

Second, it was the PCA opening the way to be Presbyterian and not evangelical by leaving the National Association of Evangelicals.

Now comes a review of Jake Meador’s new book which seems to stress aspects of Reformed piety that have long been hallmarks of Orthodox Presbyterian expectations. Meador’s case is for ordinary piety (with no reference to shirt-tails apparently):

Meador argues for a Christian culture in which the faithful desire “a simple life of work and prayer in a particular place among a beloved people” (22). They delight in the created gifts of God and the ordinary means of grace in the church, the preached Word of God, and the blessed sacrament. For readers familiar with the arguments for good work, community, and the practice of Sabbath, Meador adds to the conversation a rich archive of Reformed theology, in particular excerpts from John Calvin’s Bible commentaries. According to philosopher Charles Taylor, one of the themes that arose during the Reformation was “the affirmation of ordinary life.” Meador draws from this theme to make his case for ordinary piety.

He even promotes observing the Lord’s Day:

Meador is interested in the teachings and practices that help us journey toward the Eternal City. For example, he suggests we practice Sabbath: on Sunday we can rest from exploitive economies we don’t admire but in which we are inevitably complicit. Preparing for the week ahead, we seek to return to the rhythms of a world sustained by divine love rather than human effort. For Meador, Sabbath also means attending public worship and perhaps going back to the two-service model in which the evening service would function as a time for theological rigor and catechesis. Churches tend to use the morning sermon to invigorate rather than instruct in the faith. The evening service could help Christians recover traditions of theology that would give them the confidence to understand and practice their religion in the world. In this and other instances, Meador strikes a balance between countercultural practices and recovering the traditional patterns of church life.

Holy moly.

The worry from here is an apparently ecumenical approach which could well turn into eclectic piety:

Even among Anabaptists who argue for a strong separation from the state, there is an emphasis on a life shared in common that runs “with the grain of the universe,” the phrase Hauerwas draws from Yoder for the title of his published Gifford lectures. Meador believes that these Protestant sources, coupled with the social ethics of the Catholic church, can help American evangelicals reorient the church: rather than just being an institution for individual fulfillment, the church ought to act as Christ’s body and minister to the wounds in American society at large, including those inflicted by economic inequality and racial injustice.

From my perspective, evangelicals have for so long lacked any rigor or discipline (which usually comes with confessions, church polity, and liturgy) that recommending other sources will only contribute to the phenomenon of boutique congregationalism. Some will be Hybelsian, others Hauerwasian, and still other’s sacramentalian.

Maybe lacking awareness of one’s shirt-tails has its advantages.

If You Go From Progressive to Backward, Can You Still Be Ahead of Your Time?

The quotation from Francis Schaeffer (from 1968 even!!) has been circulating among those who want to listen to make the world safe for the sorts of discussions that went into the Revoice Conference. Jake Meador invoked Schaeffer four years ago to defend Karen Swallow Prior:

…consider the great American evangelist Francis Schaeffer whose writing on homosexuality (available in his collected letters) anticipated many of today’s debates.

Schaeffer, writing in 1968 (!) made the now-common distinction between what he called “homophiles” and homosexuals, arguing that it is possible to be same-sex attracted without falling into sin and that it is the acting on that attraction which is sinful. (Again, he wrote this in 1968.)

In one of his letters he refers to “the mistake that the orthodox people have made” and defines that as saying that “homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”

Then Scott Sauls chimed in on the eve of the PCA’s General Assembly:

Former PCA minister, Francis Schaeffer, offers a helpful perspective on this. Schaeffer wrote, “The mistake…that the orthodox people have made…is [to say] that homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore, the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”

I read both pieces scratching my head because by 1980 Schaeffer was the inspiration behind the Moral Majority and his critique of American decadence during the so-called culture wars was hardly so polite about challenges to the family and public standards of decency. Take for instance this quotation that Michael Brown used to notice how prophetic Schaeffer was:

Sadly, many did suppose that this trend towards humanism would not affect “our own little projects, lives, and churches.” Now that we are in a pitched battle with the secular gods of the age, we have realized that our complacency is not only threatening our generation but also the generations to come. Is it too late to affect a positive change?

Even in 1984, long before the vast majority of Christian leaders were considering gay and lesbian issues, he asked, “When a San Francisco Orthodox Presbyterian congregation can be dragged into court for breaking the law against discrimination because it dismissed an avowed, practicing homosexual as an organist, can we be so deaf as not to hear all the warning bells?”

Brown also found this, even from as early as 1968:

Consider this insight from his book The God Who Is There, published in 1968.

He wrote, “But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished.”

Yes, Schaeffer saw this 50 years ago, one year before the Stonewall Riots and the rise of the militant gay revolution, and long before the push for same-sex “marriage.”

Schaeffer may be wrong. He may be right. But quoting him should not resemble the way Roman Catholics pick and choose among papal assertions. I mean, remember when Barack Obama said he was opposed to gay marriage?

Church as Start-Up or Farm?

He who has eyes, let him see. She who has ears, let her hear.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.[b] 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds[c] among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[d] of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

In contrast:

Because if you start a ministry at a university, for example, that group will need money forever. If you start a ministry to help the homeless, it too will need money annually as long as it exists. But if you start a church, it only needs start-up capital; then it becomes self-funding.

If it’s done right, the start-up period (in America) is only about two years. So, you’re putting money into the church for two years, and then it gets to the place where it is supporting itself. And as that church grows it will start giving money to other good works. There aren’t many philanthropy projects that multiply like that. It took about $200,000 to start Redeemer Church. Now it gives away millions of dollars outside of the congregation annually. It attracts many new followers who become important volunteers and workers for the rest of their lives. There was a man in the Midwest who gave $50,000 as part of starting Redeemer. How many times have his philanthropic dollars been multiplied?

In the U.K., it takes about three years for a new church to become self-funding. It’s about three to five years in northern and western Europe, and seven to ten years in eastern and southern Europe. If the church is in China, it can be very fast. You could start a church in a village in Thailand with a few hundred American dollars, while it might cost you $500,000 to start a church in Paris. You have to be careful about all of this, though. If you simply calculate bang for your buck, what you’re really saying is that a soul in Paris is too expensive, so I only want to win souls in a village in Thailand.

But neveh eveh be conformed to this modern world:

It is a mistake to think that faithful believers in our time are not profoundly shaped by the narratives of modernity. We certainly are, and so when you unveil these narratives and interact with them in the ordinary course of preaching the Word, you help them see where they themselves may be more influenced by their society than by the Scripture, and you give them important ways of communicating their faith to others.

Luxury Denominations

Paul Helm took time to review/respond to On Being Reformed, the public debate between some Baptists (and others who aspire to be Reformed) Reformed Protestants who still hold either to the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Standards (yes, with revisions about the magistrate ALREADY!). Along the way, Helm makes an observation that has something to do with differences between the US and the UK.

This debate has smothered a different approach, that of verstehen, of ‘smelling the coffee’. It is one thing to argue the (false) claim that our confessions of faith have remained unchanged since the Reformation, another wonderful thing to live by their gracious doctrines. With others, to rejoice in the privilege of being ‘in Christ’. As already stated, it is a singular, remarkable providence that three of our English confessions are word for word almost identical in Reformed soteriology, including the classic catholic trinitarian and incarnational positions. We could therefore unite here, and encourage each other thereby, even strengthening our grasp of our respective confessions, like ironing sharpening iron. Is that not a distinctive form of Reformed religion, whether or not we are credobaptist or paedobaptist, even if different in our ecclesiology and in the administration of baptism. At a time when the faith is increasingly under threat, and our family life as Christians is being undermined, and as there are various popular distortions as well as ancient heresies freely peddled, to have the strengthening of distinctive Christian fellowship is a traditional activity that should outweigh our marginal confessional differences. Perhaps fostering such fellowship requires a little more social ostracism, and perhaps that will come.

As I understand it, in the UK, Calvinistic Protestants don’t have the luxury of forming separate denominations the way American Protestants do. Whether it stems from laws having to do with the established church and dissenting groups, or the small number of serious minded Protestants who regard John Calvin, John Knox, and John Owen highly, British Protestantism has fewer possibilities and resources than Protestants in the land of the free and home of the brave. Here, despite the OPC’s tiny size (don’t snicker), the United States has made Christians (and other believers) wealthier and has provided structures (or lack of them) that makes easier the challenge of establishing new institutions (congregations, denominations, schools, colleges, seminaries).

That may not make America great, but it does indicate that the US is different from the UK and the old world.

The difference that the United States makes for religion is even evident among American Jews. The Pew Research Forum conducted a survey of Jews in the US and Israel that indicates some of the differences that place and nation make for religion. Consider the following:

American Jews are a highly educated and, on the whole, warmly regarded religious minority in a very large, Christian-majority country. Jews represent about 2% of the U.S. adult population of roughly 300 million people. Only about one-third of American Jews say that either “all” (5%) or “most” (27%) of their close friends are Jewish. A substantial proportion (44%) of U.S. Jews who are married say their spouse is not Jewish – including a majority of those who have gotten married since 2000.

By contrast, Jews make up about 80% of Israel’s adult population of 8 million. The vast majority of Israeli Jews say that either all (67%) or most (31%) of their close friends are Jewish, and nearly all married Jews in Israel have Jewish spouses. There’s also very little conversion between major religious groups in Israel, while in the United States, religious switching is remarkably common, including many U.S. adults who have drifted away from organized religion altogether. In our 2013 survey, one out of every five Jewish Americans said they do not identify with any religion, even though they also said they had at least one Jewish parent or were raised Jewish, and they consider themselves Jewish in other ways aside from religion (such as culturally or ethnically). In Israel, by contrast, nearly all Jews say their religion is Judaism.

Or this:

Most American Jews are part of organized Jewish denominations or “streams,” which include the relatively large Reform and Conservative movements as well as Orthodox Judaism. In Israel, only about 5% of Jews identify as either Reform or Conservative. Instead, Jews in Israel generally place themselves into one of four informal categories of Jewish religious identity. These labels – Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Dati (religious), Masorti (traditional) and Hiloni (secular) – are not connected to formal Jewish organizations or denominations, but instead are loose identity groups (similar, for example, to an American Christian calling herself an “evangelical” rather than a “Southern Baptist”).

Even better, watch part of the short interview with the Israeli woman who married an American Orthodox rabbi.

America is weird and that means we have the luxury of reading the confessions in ways that other Protestants do not or cannot.

Birthright Sport

With all the recent talk about birthright citizenship, one that has bearings on infant baptism, I am at a loss about basketball. Is it Canadian, Presbyterian, or American? It depends on how we categorize the game’s creator.

But do you know that the inventor of basketball was a Presbyterian?

His name was James Naismith. Born in Canada on November 6, 1861 in a town no longer in existence, James and his four brothers and sisters grew up in difficult circumstances. His Scotch parents had emigrated from Scotland to Canada, but died after a few years in their new country, leaving James and his brothers and sisters to be reared by a strict uncle. They moved a few times, with James always being involved in sports, like rugby, soccer, football, lacrosse and gymnastics. He would graduate from McGill University in Montreal as well as earning a diploma from the Presbyterian seminary in Montreal in 1890. While never did he become ordained, he did minister in the pulpits of Canadian Presbyterian Churches.

It was while he was working at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts that James Naismith was given the task by his employer to “come up with” an indoor game which would help the youths of the district to mature into young adults. The assignment, which was given a fourteen day limit, resulted in what we know as basketball.

Granted the ten rules which he wrote down were changed as the new sport developed. For example, the first basket at either end was a peach basket! When the soccer ball, which was first used, would be shot into it, it stayed there until someone climber a ladder at either end of the court to remove it. Time was lost in that exercise until a net and a “basketball” was used.

James and his wife moved to the United States and became citizens. Eventually, he was hired by the University of Kansas to be its basketball coach. Interestingly, he had more losses than wins in the university at Lawrence, Kansas. But others, including some he had trained, became more proficient in the sport, and today . . . it is found the world over.

Here’s the problem. Naismith invented the game when he was 30 years old. He did not become a citizen of the U.S. until he was 55.

That means basketball started on U.S. soil — good news for the birthright folks. But the man inventing the game was still Canadian.

If citizenship matters, basketball is Canadian.

When Covenant, Reformed, and Westminster Don’t Measure Up

The folks at Redeemer do not seem to see the need to cooperate in church planting with existing denominational structures or even with the existing seminaries. Apparently, a special kind of minister is necessary for urban churches.

Philanthropy: You mentioned earlier that another very serious bottleneck is not having enough trained leaders. Could you also envision some kind of philanthropic effort to expand and improve seminary training?

Keller: Seminary scholarships ought to be very appealing to donors, because it’s a relatively small investment with the potential to have very powerful results for decades after. Our big problem today is that ministry in a complex society takes graduate training, yet, unlike law and medicine and business, the prospects of higher salaries to pay off student debt are not there. So, candidates who would love to enroll can’t bear the expense. And the seminaries don’t have wealthy alumni to turn to for support, like other graduate schools.

I have to tell you, churches don’t partner very well with seminaries. Some say to seminaries, “Minister training is your job, not ours,” and wash their hands of any responsibility. Others say, “Today’s seminaries are stupid, they’re terrible, we’ll do it ourselves,” which isn’t a full solution. I could see a donor investing in partnerships where one or two large churches, or a group of smaller churches, partner with a seminary to create excellent, affordable instruction. The seminary would be responsible for the many academic pieces that go into training a minister. And the churches could oversee formulation of better, more practical, more hands-on training.

I was on a call recently with leaders of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and they are talking with their donors about more partnerships with churches. Their idea is that the seminary would send faculty right out to local church organizations to teach classes, maybe instruct over video, teach at night, reach more students. The traditional model is that you have 20 professors on campus and all the students have to live there. That’s great for faculty—no night courses, no weekends, no travel. But it is extraordinarily expensive now to do it that way. And it eliminates candidates who have a day job or a family to support. Distributed instruction would also benefit lay leaders, Sunday School teachers, unconventional ministry candidates, and others.

The irony is that this was the same sort of mindset that fed the formation of Bible schools and colleges.

Church Planting the Keller (not the PCA) Way

This sounds like a separate denomination. Actually, it sounds a lot like the kind of start-up featured in Gimlet Media’s series on church planting (as the spiritual equivalent of tech start ups). Would you ever hear something about the PCA, the denomination that gave Redeemer its support at the beginning? And which presbyters or bishops are overseeing this work of planting churches?

Philanthropy: How has Redeemer Presbyterian Church raised the funds necessary for its operations?

Keller: For our first three years of establishing the church from scratch, it was outside gifts that kept us afloat. I could name at least 100 people over the last 30 years who gave large gifts ranging from $20,000 to $2 million and above at crucial turning points in the life of our church.

Once the church was established, we primarily raised funds from inside the congregation through regular giving. We’ve always encouraged the tithe as a good rule of thumb for where to start in Christian generosity. I encourage giving in a planned and incremental way, stretching to give a bit more and then a bit more, not in an impulsive way.

Redeemer is almost two thirds single people, and most are young and don’t have deep pockets. So disciplined, sacrificial, small gifts have been our lifeblood. On the basis of that giving, we’ve made ends meet.

The problem is that as a church gets bigger there is a higher percentage of people who don’t give. In smaller churches people give all the way down. In bigger churches there’s a tendency to think, “This is their church, not my church, I just come.”

Two or three years ago we had a campaign to divide Redeemer into three churches. The plan was for me to step down as senior pastor and each of the three churches would get their own senior pastor. That has happened.

Over the next ten years we want each of the three churches to plant three daughter churches, making nine churches total. Redeemer City to City, the nonprofit where I am stationed now, has partnered with Redeemer Presbyterian on a strategy called the New York Project to come alongside many denominations to help plant churches all over the city. The goal is a total of 250 churches planted here in the next ten years.

We had a campaign inside Redeemer to raise money for this new strategy. And since we are also going to support churches of other denominations we felt we could make a call to the wider world. So, we went outside the congregation and asked for money.

The ten-year project is broken down into three phases, and right now we are raising funds for the first phase. So far we’ve raised about $70 million in pledges. About $33 million of that came from the three Redeemer congregations. About $37 million has come from outside. Our goal is to raise a total of $80 million for this first phase (2016 to 2019).

Philanthropy: How is the church planting going so far?

Keller: Since 2001, Redeemer City to City has helped plant nearly 400 churches in over 50 cities around the globe. For the New York Project, we’re two years into phase one and hoping that it accumulates like an investment. In the first phase we’re hoping to help plant more than 80 new churches of various denominations. We’re trying to create enough leadership that the number of churches explodes. We are trying to get a lot of young people out of grinding professional jobs and into ministry training and then starting churches, with our encouragement and aid.

We have partnerships with 16 outside networks that are focused on church planting. We go to those networks, and other potential allies, and ask, “What do you need? Do you need money? What’s your plan for the next three years?” A leader might say, “I’m aiming to do a church a year.” And we might answer, “Is there any way you could make that two churches if we help?”

It’s not easy. Sometimes we hear, “You’re Presbyterian, and I’m charismatic—you’ll probably squash my charismatic side.” We’re working to overcome that. Because we’ve learned a lot over the last couple decades, and a leader’s chances of failure are much higher if he or she doesn’t take advantage of the training and assistance we offer through Redeemer City to City.

But if you are a successful pastor in North American, you are a free agent and can set up a separate communion network.

If Tim Keller is A Great Apologist, Why Does He Sound Like A Sociologist?

Tim Keller explained to people who write about charities and philanthropy the contribution that churches make to “human flourishing”:

Philanthropy: How does a healthy church benefit the community at large beyond its own members? On the flip side, when a neighborhood doesn’t have a flourishing church, what is it missing out on?

Keller: Churches promote cooperation between individuals and the kind of associational life that is necessary for human happiness and social success. Without informal shared trust, things are more litigious and combative. Life is much better when neighbors pull for each other, help each other, collaborate together. But this kind of “social capital” is very difficult to generate through public policy. Governments cannot duplicate the effect of religion as a source of shared values.

Family ties and religious ties are the two biggest sources of social capital. And religion can be fed and bolstered as a source of valuable shared experience. I, as an older white American man, can connect quite sincerely to a single poor African woman in Soweto because we are both evangelical Christians. There’s a powerful bond because we’ve had the same experience of spiritual rebirth. There’s a trust I have that would not exist if I was a non-Christian white man.

Anywhere you’ve got a church, social capital is being created. Especially when the church is attended by people from the surrounding neighborhood. And it’s a big benefit to the community.

Also, church buildings in big cities are a kind of public utility. We bought a parking garage in upper Manhattan and converted it into a church and all the homeowners on the block who were not believers said, “Thank you, you’re improving the whole block.” The city council asked if various local groups could use the building, saying, “We’re starved for space.” Our building became a community center. Organizations can meet there, people can have weddings and other celebrations there. On a Sunday, urban churches create the foot traffic all the restaurant owners and shop owners want. So in all kinds of ways an urban church has huge benefits, as long as it doesn’t have a fortress mentality.

For a fellow with the reputation of presenting the gospel to secular Americans in ways that make it accessible and also clear, Keller comes up short and resorts to language that would actually wind up supporting Roman Catholic parishes, synagogues, and mosques as religious places that increase social capital.