The Bible Thumper in MmmmmeeeeeeEEEE

So it turns out that Tim Keller has recommended to his pastors in the Big Apple that they use a Canadian Roman Catholic philosopher as part of their preparation for reaching Manhattanites:

Dr. Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian has built his ministry very much on confronting the challenge. His books include “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.” He periodically teaches an adult-ed class titled “Questioning Christianity” and sometimes holds question-and-answer sessions with attendees after Redeemer’s Sunday worship services.

His decision to open a branch of Redeemer on West 83rd Street in 2012 — the first new church built in the neighborhood in decades — was a brick-and-mortar way of meeting nonbelievers where they live. And he prepared his young ministers and staff members for the Upper West Side by studying together such books as the philosopher Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age.”

Imagine how hard it would have been to plant a church in Ephesus. Imagine also if Paul had recommended Lucretius to Timothy:

Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:2-5 ESV)

As wise as 700-page tomes may be, sometimes you need to dance with the date that brought you. That goes double for Protestants who minister God’s word.

Haven't I Seen These Ruins Before?

Out for my Sabbath stroll yesterday, I got a little lost though the statues atop the Basilica of St. John Lateran worked as my compass, I found my way to the Palatine Hill, which made the German Reformed side of me feel a little at home (though I now know “Palatine” has little to do with Germany and lots to do with an official’s status within the empire). As I progressed to the Foro Romano (Roman Forum for those mentally challenged) and looked out over the ruins to the Colosseum all I could think of was Ephesus. The temperature was as torridly hot as last year’s trip to Turkey, the sun as bright, the air as dry, my throat as parched, and the tourists as numerous.

The big difference is that Ephesus died. The city that was there — it was only second to Constantinople in the Byzantine Era — dried up as the harbor filled with silt and thereby cut of commercial access to the Aegean Sea. An earthquake in 614 did not do Ephesus great favors either. But to my untrained archaeological eye, the Turks have done a better job at restoring Ephesus’ ruins than the Romans have with the Roman Forum and its surroundings.

But that is not a knock on the Romans (as if I’m siding with Muslims over Roman Catholics) since they had matters to keep them preoccupied other than ruins and how to preserve them (and how to attract tourists to them). They had a major European capital city to build and maintain. So for all the money that may have gone into preserving the Colosseum in a way that would make it scaffolding-free for ME during MY trip, Rome’s citizens and officials also needed to worry about roads, a metro system, modern art, and pizza.

This means (at least for today) that the ruins in Rome are a lot more ho hum than in Turkey. Even though the Roman ruins are even more Roman than the Roman ruins in Turkey, they have a lot more to compete with in contemporary Rome. Thus far on this journey into one of the world’s ancient cities, I enjoy the competition.

What A Turkey! Part II: Was Paul a Failure?

Tourists in Turkey cannot help but be amazed by the collected remains of Ephesus. It is of course a place haunted by the apostle Paul who stirred up much opposition from the idol makers who worked for the temple of Demetrius. It is also the place where Timothy received two letters from Paul. Our group was even privileged to visit a cave (according to legend) where Paul lived, possibly to avoid the antagonism of the Ephesians. Ephesus is also the largest archaeological site featuring Greek and Roman remains in Turkey (I think). The reason has something to do with Ephesus being the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire at the time of Paul’s ministry.

What is striking today is how much Ephesus has changed and how little Christian presence is evident. Thoughts about the remains of New York City in 3500 AD come to mind. Will any of the foundations, facades, subways, sewers, or beams remain of the city’s structures for future archaeologists? What happens if global warming floods Manhattan and leaves Harlem as the only point above water? And will the inhabitants of the area we now call New York live there? Will they have moved to Buffalo? And will they be Christian?

The transformationalists don’t seem to think about cultural decay, archaeological ruins, or shifting populations. They seem to think that establishing the kingdom of God here and now means that what they do in the name of Christ in changing a city’s culture will last. But if Paul is any example, the work that he did lasted only to the extent that he proclaimed the gospel and established a pattern for the churches to proclaim that message and disciple believers. Chances are most transformationalists would judge Paul a success. If they ever visited Ephesus they’d likely have a different opinion, unless they changed their minds about the nature of transformation and how the kingdom really grows.