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"Being God’s Community for Our Community"
by Tom Goodman
June 22, 2006

In “A New Kind of Urban Christian,” the remarkable church leader, Tim Keller, says, “The relationship of Christians to culture is the singular current crisis point for the church.  Evangelicals are deeply divided over how to interact with a social order that is growing increasingly post-Christian.”

While some stress tradition and reject any direct attempt to influence society as a whole, others try to change the culture through aggressive action, often of a political sort.  Still others believe that you change culture one heart at a time through personal evangelism.  Finally, he says, many are attracted to the new culture and want to reengineer the church to modify its adversarial relationship with culture, sometimes making biblical faithfulness secondary.

While acknowledging the valuable contributions that each of these approaches have made to the Great Commission, Keller says that there’s a better approach.

First, he says, more Christians should live long-term in cities.  Why?  “As the city goes, so goes the culture.  Cultural trends tend to be generated in the city and flow outward to the rest of society.  People who live in large urban cultural centers, occupying jobs in the arts, business, academia, publishing, the helping professions, and the media, tend to have a disproportionate impact on how things are done in our culture.”

Second, once in cities, Christians should be a dynamic counterculture.  “It is not enough for Christians to simply live as individuals in the city.  They must live as a particular kind of community.”

Third, Christians should be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole.  We should especially pay attention to the needs of the poor as we look for ways to serve the city.

Fourth, Christians should be a people who integrate their faith with their work.  Keller says, “If Christians live in major cultural centers in great numbers, doing their work in an excellent but distinctive manner, that alone will produce a different kind of culture than the one in which we live now.”

Keller has refined and applied his strategy through nearly two decades of ministry in New York City.  Our church’s context is a little different:  The campus is located in the suburbs eight miles north of downtown Austin, and many of our members live ten to twelve miles from downtown in what could be called the exurbs.  Still, I think there’s merit in his challenge for the church to have a dual focus:  We need to be a vital alternative community determined to serve the good of the city.

Augustine said the same thing 1600 years ago in The City of God.  He said that Christians live in two “cities” and we're to faithfully serve them both.  We are citizens of the city of God called to serve the city of Man.

We are a community within a community—but more than that:  We are a community for a community.


You’ll find this article and other entries at my blog, “Anchored,” hosted on MySpace.  There you’ll find reaction to the election of “dark horse” candidate, Frank Page, to the SBC presidency.  You’ll also learn the advantages of “convergent” Christianity, and research that shows that those who marry in their mid-20s have the best shot at a lasting marriage.  Subscribe today!

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