What If Redeemer NYC Were Big Enough?

Some big changes at the most influential PCA congregation IN THE WORLD!

Here is the text of yesterday’s announcement:

The Center for Faith & Work (CFW) is pleased to announce the newest phase of its fifteen-year history as its staff joins Redeemer City to City (CTC) and continues to serve the Redeemer churches and New York City, while over time broadening its reach to global cities.

“Redeemer is changing with CFW because Redeemer is now not one church, it’s a family of three churches, which means it’s immediately looking outward to bless the whole city,” says Redeemer’s founding pastor Tim Keller. “Redeemer has become centrifugal; that is, it’s starting to push out to start new churches and help others start new churches. And so Redeemer is actually looking outwards, just like CFW will be looking outward, beyond Redeemer. They’re both making the same change at the same time. If CFW stays locked in Redeemer alone, then I don’t think a lot of its wisdom will be as available to the world. This is why now is the optimal time to do this.”

So apparently, Redeemer NYC is too New York to be of use to the rest of the world, unlike Redeemer CTC which is apparently global in orientation and structure. Do the folks who are New York Presbyterians really mean to imply that understandings of vocation in New York are parochial and cannot work in other parts of the world, unless integrated into a global organization? Since Tim Keller recently explained his worries about nationalism, what must he make of metropolitanism, something like the hyping of the Big Apple above the needs and realities of the rest of the world?

As the announcement explains:

Throughout its existence, CFW has encountered New Yorkers of all backgrounds facing a decidedly more global vocational culture. In our quickly changing world, the need for new tools, curriculum, and communities that help Christians wisely and meaningfully bring their faith to bear at work, across all spheres, is paramount.

City to City provides a developed network and infrastructure to strengthen CFW in its three-fold aim of equipping, connecting, and mobilizing Christians around the world in faith and work integration. City to City ensures a centralized effort towards that global expansion, while continuing a close and collaborative relationship with the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches.

So being a Christian banker in Beijing is decidedly different from banking on Wall Street?

Aside from vocation, this announcement raises questions about organizational footprint of Redeemer’s operations and Keller’s alliances. Are we really supposed to believe that Redeemer NYC — whichever congregation — was too inflexible a platform for the Center for Faith & Work? When did ecclesiology or administrative restrictions prevent Redeemer NYC from expanding its reach, or starting new programs? Heck, I suspect the PCA’s Mission to the World could have incorporated the work that the Center does if New York’s administrators had decided to work with PCA missionaries and their offices in different parts of the world? Is the Center’s activity really so special that the PCA’s structures can’t handle it? After all, the reading list available at the Center’s website is very, oh so very neo-Calvinist, with Al Wolter’s Creation Regained occupying the “advanced” understanding of vocation:

Few contemporary books have been cited as often by those who are writing about taking up callings and vocations faithfully. This this serious little book walks us through the key Biblical themes of the goodness of creation, the seriousness of the fall into sin, the decisive redemption gained by Christ, and the implications of working out the promised hope for a creation-wide restoration. With the keen eye of a philosopher and the passion of a Bible scholar, Wolter’s offers one of the definitive, concise books about a Christian worldview. One of the most important books for those of us in CFW and highly recommended to understand a uniquely Christian view of cultural and vocational engagement.

Granted, the neo-Calvinists never took root in NYC after the English displaced the Dutch colonists about two-thirds into the seventeenth century. But what is distinctly global about a set of readings that come largely from Christian Reformed writers living in North America and published Dutch-American editors in Grand Rapids?

And what about The Gospel Coalition? Is it parachurch chopped liver? Don’t the Allies have branches all over the world? If Redeemer can partner with TGC on The New City Catechism (TGC has a link at it’s menu page), why can’t the Center for Faith & Work collaborate with the Coalition in it’s own Faith & Work work?

The word that comes to mind is marvelous. But the marvel experienced here is that anyone in Presbyterian ministry has time for all of these structural niceties even when the bells and whistles of Presbyterian polity don’t seem to be all that important.

Advertisements

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.

Identity Economics

I thought that neo-Calvinism was supposed to do away with the sacred-secular distinction that led fundamentalists to produce the Christian Yellow Pages — you know, the phone book that allowed Christian consumers to buy goods and services from Christian providers of goods and services. Well, even in the hipster land of urban Protestantism, the logic of every square inch only extends to redeemed businesses. Bethany explains:

But we also believe that God is working in areas beyond literature, academia, and journalism. In fact, as our Theological Vision for Ministry makes clear, we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do everything—from teaching to plumbing to accounting. “Such a church will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions.”

This Christmas, our faith and work channel—Every Square Inch—wants to celebrate products made by companies founded by Christian entrepreneurs. As entrepreneurs, they created something from nothing and, along the way, have given people jobs, contributed to the economy, engaged in ethical business practices, been generous with their neighbors, and expressed the creativity of God.

This guide isn’t comprehensive. There are thousands of outstanding Christian-led companies, and I welcome your suggestions in the comments. Also, each company featured makes many products, not just the ones below, so I encourage you to explore. These items are simply “my favorite things.” I hope you that enjoy the guide and—even if you don’t find anything in it—that you’re encouraged to see God at work.

Aside from projecting a kind of insularity that conflicts with Redeemer NYC’s cosmopolitanism, Bethany fails to explain how exactly non-Christians fail to give people jobs, contribute to the economy, engage in ethical business practices, be generous to neighbors, and express the creativity of God. That sacred-secular distinction might come in handy and let Christians recognize the creational norms that govern not just sanctified but all human existence.

Maybe the explanation for Christians’ superiority is that only Christians can create “something from nothing.” If so, Bethany doesn’t understand ex nihilo or the omnipotence of God (where are TGC’s theological editors?). She also does not seem to agree with President Obama. Bethany appears to have us believe that Christian entrepreneurs “did build that.”

How Red State.

Do Celebrity Pastors (like TKNY) Have Authority?

Or is fame the primary aspect of aspect of celebrity? And if a celebrity actually tries to use his fame or influence to restrain someone, does he lose his celebrity?

I generated these questions when reading a response to City Church‘s (San Francisco) decision not to discriminate on the basis of sexual identity and behavior:

It’s also untenable to say that God has not made His will plain in the Word. Look at the extreme candor and clarity of the scripture about intimacy. The bible is very blunt and clear about sex. Going on to ignore all of that is kind of like saying “Not only am I not liking this air stuff, I’ve had it with gravity too.” The irrational position of this letter is another part of the growing fallout.

Someone might respond and say I’m wrong to lump City Church into Romans 1, that it’s obvious your church still believes in God. Of course they do, and there are many earnest and sincere believers in your community. That’s abundantly clear. That isn’t what I’m claiming. What I’m saying is this – in this particular letter it simply isn’t the God of our ancient writings, our ancient witnesses, and our ancient creeds anymore. This isn’t the God of Romans. And my fear is now this. Where there is a new god, there must always be a new gospel.

I think Keller put it well: a god you create, where you pick and choose what you think is “flourishing,” is just a Stepford god. Like the robot women in the old sci fi B-movie The Stepford Wives, where husbands are quietly getting rid of their wives and replacing them with obedient, pretty, and servile android spouses. It’s just a god who does what pleases you, can never offend you, and in the end can never save you.

Imagine if Tim Keller wrote that letter. Imagine even if he called on the phone pastors who either worked with or were inspired by him. Imagine if he spent some of his considerable capital. Might the Gospel Coalition then actually do something more than inspire or impress?

And then Kathy Keller’s B-S detector goes off . . .

How Did the Reformation Ever Happen . . .

without The Bible: Faith and Work Edition?

The constant and everyday relevance of the Bible is why David Kim, Executive Director of the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and I—along with the editors of Christianity Today and Zondervan—are working on a new Bible. We want something with staying power.

The Bible: Faith and Work Edition will be a unique and engaging combination of doctrine, application, and community that can find its home not only on your nightstand at home, but also on your desktop at work. Its goal is to equip Christians to meaningfully engage various aspects of their work—even those we might not even think could be relevant—with a renewed sense of the power and relevance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With over 20 years of experience pastoring people in communities that wrestle with questions about faith and work, Kim says,

What you will learn in the pages of this Bible is not a list of do’s and don’ts at work, but a theology that will hopefully rewire the way you understand the gospel and how it has everything to do with your work. Once you see the connection between faith and work, the work of Christ will become more beautiful, comprehensive, and necessary. I hope this Bible will bring to you an excitement to engage not only your work, but also the world around you, with a renewed sense of purpose grounded in the unique hope of the gospel.

Well, I for one haven’t read this edition of the Bible and already recognized how the gospel does and doesn’t apply. The gospel has provoked this post of sheer disbelief that Christians can be so full of themselves. I also know that the gospel has little to do with making split pea soup in the crock pot for this evening’s meal. I double dare Bethany Jenkins to tell me how justification by faith, sanctification, union with Christ EVEN, applies to dinner.

Apparently as well, the folks responsible for this Bible don’t understand that the gospel, properly understood as good news for what’s coming on judgment day, might actually yield second thoughts about this proposed edition of holy writ. (Where is Kathy Keller’s b-s detector when we need it?) But when you are in the bubble of Redeemerland and have the TKNY brand, you really do think your ideas can “impact” the church and the world more than anyone else (which so far mainly means selling more stuff than John Piper and Desiring God). I am sure that plenty of church officers at churches in small cities and suburbia come up with ideas about how their devotional gadget or technique will change the lives of everyone in the congregation and region. The problem for the Redeemerites is that their bubble of NYC and their ties to TKNY allow them to take silly notions and sell them to business executives (like book publishers) and magazine editors who want more readers.

Would anyone at Zondervan have taken this Bible proposal seriously if it had come from church staff, say, in Montgomery, Alabama?

Celebrity Wives of Pastors

More ruminations of celebrity pastors by Tom Chantry has Carl Trueman commenting on the danger of ministers becoming too big to fail. He even thinks it plausible for a pastor in a celebrity context to do things that are otherwise unjustifiable:

It is always interesting to speculate as to why otherwise good, intelligent and thoughtful people end up doing crazy things, even breaking the law or justifying wickedness. Often it can occur in a corporate context when the needs of the whole organization are seen to outweigh and even negate the needs of the individual. Churches with powerful brand names at the helm, or churches which are simply powerful brand names (if not in the wider Christian world then at least within the chosen constituency) can prove remarkably vulnerable to such because there you do not simply have the power of corporate branding reinforced by community, you also have the rhetoric of piety and forgiveness to cover a multitude of sins.

What I continue to find remarkable about the phenomenon of celebrity pastors and the teflon they enjoy is that most of these fellows are married. And if married, where are their wives? I mean, more wives have done more good to domesticate and train husbands than any mother has. (Which reminds me of the Stan Evans’ joke: “behind every successful man is a surprised mother-in-law.”) In other words, wives generally don’t let their husbands get away with much. I know conservative Protestants believe in wifely submission and all that. But the b-s detector in most homes is the wife.

So if celebrity makes pastors unaccountable to regular ecclesiastical oversight, what happened to the accountability that should be happening at home? Could it be that celebrity is an elixir that also damages celebrity pastors’ wives? Kathy Keller’s interview with the co-allies makes me think it does:

As Redeemer has transitioned from being a church plant to being an established church, how has your role and work as co-founder changed?

At first, Tim preached, and I was the staff. I typed and made sure the bulletin was printed, bought the hospitality groceries, kept the nursery, hired the musicians, and more. As we grew and added staff, though, I gratefully let go of piece after piece, until there were no pieces left. I then had to ask, What do I want to do? What do I feel called to do? The typical (if there is such a thing) pastor’s wife role did not apply, as most people had no idea who I was. (This was a plus, especially for our kids.) Words are my best thing, so I chose to oversee Redeemer’s communications and media. When that became more digitized, though, I found myself out of my depth. So I hired a director to take my position and became the assistant director of communications and media. Unofficially, I am the Keeper of the Memory and the Quality Control Officer.

Here’s the problem. It looks like celebrity pastors’ wives become part of the ministry and therefore part of the brand. And once this happens, wives lose their capacity to detect b-s. I mean, if the missus were an editor of Old Life, a research assistant on my book on Mencken, graded papers for the courses I teach, my success and stature would be a big part of what defines Mrs. Hart’s success and stature. As it is, though, she has a life and can look on at the blog, writing, speaking, and teaching as so much background noise for trying to pay the bills, be active in the local church, feed the cat, and get her own work done. Sometimes what I do is clever or notable to the missus. But she’s hardly hanging on to every square inch of every word.

Postscript: having a person who works in the Redeemer Church network of agencies interview TKNY’s wife is not exactly Katie Couric putting Sarah Palin on the spot. Some might call it puffery, at best it belongs in the feature section of the newspaper. But it is hardly all the news that’s fit to print. Do the co-allies never see how much their alliance resembles the Chamber of Commerce? Talk about accountability.

When Churches Build Cities, Where Do the Non-Christians Live?

Thanks to the Allies, I went to discover what Austin Stone is. It turns out it has a lot less to do with Austin, Texas than with TKNY:

The Austin Stone is a Church for the City. We’re much more than a church to attend, but a community centered on the person and mission of Jesus Christ. We’re actively working to build a great Austin, renewed and redeemed by the gospel.

It could be that Austin Stone inspired Keller and Redeemer NYC, but if I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Yankees influencing the Don’t-Mess-with-Texas-Texans.

Of course, the website reveals nothing all that shocking after two decades of TKNY. But I do have to wonder why Christians who say they want to build cities to be great don’t seem to think about Jews and Muslims and Roman Catholics, not to mention skeptics and jazz musicians, who may also be living in a particular city and also want to promote the town but not on evangelical Protestant grounds.

This is a classic case of theonomy-lite. It sounds inspiring. It may even sound hip, though urbanism is hardly cutting edge these days. But this vision has no awareness of how believers and unbelievers might live together for a common good that is not explicitly Christian.