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In the City, For the City
by Tom Goodman
November 12, 2010

There's a phrase being adopted by a lot of Austin-area churches across denominational lines.  It's a phrase that captures a vision of what we are meant to be -- all of us in every congregation -- as the Body of Christ in Austin.

"In the City, For the City."

I spent Thursday with about 150 church leaders who hope to make a "Greater Impact for Greater Austin" through the combined effort of believers in the city.  I'll tell you more about how Hillcrest can join in these efforts in the months ahead.

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."

Some recommend we interact with our culture primarily through politics and protests.  Others say that culture is changed one heart at a time, through personal evangelism.  Others call for certain degrees of accommodation to the surrounding culture, sometimes at the expense of biblical faithfulness.  Keller says that there's a better approach.

First, he says, more Christians should make a commitment to 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.  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.

We are in the city, for the city.


To learn more about the alliance of churches wanting to make a "Greater Impact for Greater Austin," click here.

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