City Transformed

Is this what Tim Keller and the redeemers of culture had in mind?

Grand Rapids, Michigan, was one of the first cities to go in for the complete redevelopment of its downtown area using Title III money from the 1949 Housing Act as amended in 1954. In 1959, Grand Rapids invited to town John Paul Jones, a planning consultant from the New York firm of Ebasco. He blew in with lots of energy and big ideas for the complete reconstruction of downtowns using federal funds to cover two thirds of the cost. In July of that year, he proposed more than a million square feet of government office space and 13,500 new parking ramp spaces. Retail and residential uses were no longer part of the picture. They were separated out. In August of 1960, the citizens of Grand Rapid were sold on the plan to revitalize the downtown. They approved a 1.75 mill property tax hike to the pay the city’s share of the redevelopment costs. In September of that year, Jones was appointed the new planning director of Grand Rapids, and soon the wrecking balls and bulldozers went to work, taking down all the buildings in a forty-acre, twenty- two-block area. The Richardsonian Romanesque city hall andKent County buildings were reduced to rubble. Sleek office towers were built on huge superblocks, creating a sterile urban environment that few would visit unless they worked for a bank, were called for jury duty, or wanted to contest a utility bill. The promised revitalization of the downtown did not happen. After 6 pm, the place is a ghost town.

Sometimes architecture does matter more than words.

The Grand Rapids Option

It’s been a while but Tommie Kidd wrote a post about whether historians need a literary agent to get published. The short answer is yes, if you want to publish with a New York City house.

It depends on what type of publishing you wish to do. For most academic publishing, you don’t need a literary agent, because academic publishers are not generally engaged in “trade” publishing, meaning the kinds of books that end up on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. Strictly academic publishing is largely directed toward an academic audience of other scholars in the field, or perhaps graduate or even undergraduate students. Many academic books are priced in such a way ($50+) that the publisher plans to sell relatively few copies, maybe a couple hundred, to academic libraries and a handful of specialists.

For trade publishing, however, you generally do need a literary agent. The large, New York-based trade publishers prefer not to interact with authors directly about contracts, not even established trade authors. For these publishing houses, literary agents are gatekeepers and filters – they let the agents go find and develop promising projects, and trusted agents can typically secure contracts for most of the projects they propose.

Surprising here is that Kidd, who is one of the younger evangelical historians with an interest in writing for people in the pew, neglected to mention religious publishers as an option for historians. Once upon a time the evangelical historical mafiosa (Noll, Marsden, Stout, Hatch) regularly worked with Grand Rapids publishers such as Eerdmans, Baker, Zondervan and (further away) InterVarsity. In fact, you could argue that the Grand Rapids publishers were partly responsible for the renaissance of writing about the history of evangelicalism from which folks like Kidd and me benefit. And yet, for Kidd (and his generation of evangelical historians) these publishers do not seem to be on the radar.

As I say, this is odd because of Kidd’s admirable interest in reaching a non-academic and believing audience, which was one of the reasons he wrote his biography of Whitefield the way he did:

Fans of Whitefield know that the chasm between the academic and evangelical approaches to Whitefield is best exemplified by the differences between Arnold Dallimore’s 2-volume Whitefield biography, and Harry Stout’s The Divine Dramatist. Dallimore’s is an explicitly Christian biography, and while Dallimore certainly criticized Whitefield at certain points, it was written primarily for a Christian audience and focused on the ways that God used Whitefield in the Great Awakening. Yale historian Stout (who, for full disclosure, is a friend and a mentor to me) placed Whitefield in the context of England’s theater culture, and focused much more on Whitefield’s worldly context and motivations. To many readers, Stout’s approach seemed overly cynical; indeed, John Piper has said that Stout’s biography is “the most sustained piece of historical cynicism I have ever read.”

I find myself in the strange position of being an admirer of both John Piper and Harry Stout, and a fan of Dallimore’s biography, to boot! In fact, I think that Dallimore’s biography has been one of the best choices for general readers who want to know the amazing story of Whitefield’s ministry, and many evangelical readers will understandably find Dallimore more congenial than Stout. But Stout, and other academic writers like Frank Lambert and Jerome Mahaffey, add a dynamic missing in approaches like Dallimore’s: a broader understanding of the culture and economy that formed Whitefield and made his ministry possible, in an earthly sense.

If Kidd wants to reach a middle ground, and I have no doubt that he does, I suggest that Grand Rapids rather than New York City (sorry TKNY) is the place to go to access it.

Ministering Moses in the Michigan Mitten

The Christian Reformed Church has had a historic presence in western Michigan. But according to a recent story in Christianity Today, the Grand Rapidians are turning their cosmological gaze eastward toward Detroit.

First, there’s the Detroit Kingdom Enterprise Zone (KEZ), a church planting and community development effort empowered by the CRC and RCA’s Church Multiplication Initiative. Led by pastors Dan Jongsma from Dearborn Christian Fellowship and Jon Beyers from Crosswinds Church in Canton, the KEZ brings together 10 Detroit CRC and RCA congregations to evaluate, empower, equip, and expand ministry partnerships in the city.

Through the KEZ, local leaders are receiving funding and assistance from Grand Rapids as they begin the process of developing collaborative efforts to invest in the city and raise up local leaders to establish new Reformed communities of faith within in the city. The hope is that these church plants—which KEZ leaders hope include a Reformed campus ministry at Wayne State University, a city center church in the style of Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and City Church in San Francisco, a Reformed African American church, and a more contemporary community church—will be able to reach out to Detroit with a new message of hope, redemption, and renewal; a vision that is thoroughly Reformed and thoroughly local.

Part of the theological rationale for this initiative is a commitment to shalom:

Reformed theology also includes the call for Christians to seek shalom. Mark Van Andel, pastor of discipleship at Citadel of Faith, is working with the CRC and RCA leaders to help them understand what it means to work for justice in Detroit. He points out that the comprehensive vision for shalom and commitment to justice, righteousness, reconciliation, and working for the common good that flows out of Reformed theology are key strengths of the KEZ.

Van Andel, whose first job in Detroit was working with Lisa Johanon at Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation, sees all of this as being a major part in how Reformed theology can speak to the Motor City. “Reformed theology belongs in a city like Detroit,” says Van Andel, “precisely because it offers this powerful message of shalom to the poor, destitute, and depressed.”

Somehow the author of this piece missed the work of Rabbi Brett who ministers in a CRC congregation almost halfway between Grand Rapids and Detroit, in the small town of Charlotte. He also actively promotes Old Testament teaching:

Jesus was theonomic. Paul was theonomic. Augustine was theonomic. Centuries later the Magisterial Reformers were theonomic (look at all the quotes on Iron Ink from them on theonomy), the Puritans were theonomic (look at all the quotes on Iron Ink from them on theonomy). Some R2K defenders have pointed out theonomy in the Kuyperian tradition accusing our Kuyperian brethren as being “soft theonomists.” (Oh the horror of it all.) Hence my pedestrian contention that the Reformed faith is indeed theonomic. Now, naturally, different theonomic men interpreting God’s law-word had different wrinkles regarding their theonomy and it is doubtful that the Church will ever be universal in how it understands that God’s law should be applied, but the Church throughout history — and especially the Reformed Church — has always been theonomic, and that is simply because that is what Biblical (i.e. — Reformed) Christianity is.

How the folks in Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Charlotte work this out is almost as mysterious as the NCAA Division I’s scholar-athletes.