It’s funny how a seemingly innocent photo can reveal a cultural fault line.
This photo of a sign on Taylor Street in Fort Wayne posted on Fort Wayne Observed was greeted with this response:
I think it’s on “This is Why Young People Want To Leave Fort Wayne” Street.
That is: Christianity, or a certain brand of it, contributes to Fort Wayne’s brain drain.
Let me answer the implicit challenge directly.
There is a certain kind of Christian who believes “Turn or Burn” is the entire Gospel, remembers Hell but forgets Heaven and Earth, and reduces the welcome of a gracious Father to a wagging finger.
But there is another kind of Christian who knows that the goal is not escaping Hell; it’s defeating it. And to do that, this Christian loves his spouse, his children and his neighbors with vigor and joy. This Christian knows cities are rebuilt person by person, with love and patience, and does not shrink from doing a task that will have to be completed by his children and grandchildren and will need to be guarded as long as this earth lasts.
Some will be attracted to a group of such Christians. But there is a certain kind of young person who would see such a faithful church and leave town all the faster.
— Photo courtesy of Mitch Harper of Fort Wayne Observed
Here is how Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, answers the question, emphasizing the importance of cities:
I’m throwing in with Jim Boice on this one (cf. his Two Cities: Two Loves.)
The evangelical church must stay true to its biblical foundations, and it must maintain and enhance the effectiveness of its expository preaching, the holiness of its members, the ‘thickness’ of its counter-cultural community, the fervor of its evangelism. But if it doesn’t learn how to do this in our biggest cities then we don’t have much hope for our culture.
If our cities are largely pagan while our countryside is largely Christian, then our society and culture will continue to slide into paganism. And that is exactly what is happening. Christians strengthen somewhat away from the cities and they have made some political gains, but that is not effecting cultural products much. It is because in the center cities (NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington DC) the percentages of people living and working there who are Christians are minuscule.
Jim Boice proposed that evangelical Christians need to live in the major cities at a higher percentage than the population at large (See Two Cities, p.163ff.) Currently 50% of the U.S. population live in urban areas (and 25% lives in just the 10 largest urban areas.) Boice proposes that evangelicals should be living in cities in at least the same percentages or more. As confirmation of Boice’s belief consider how much impact both the Jewish and the gay communities have had on our culture. Why? Though neither is more than 3-4% of the total population, they each comprise over 20% of the population of Manhattan (and in other center cities. )
So we have two problems. First, evangelicals (especially Anglos) in general are quite negative about U.S. cities and city living. Second, you can’t ‘do church’ in exactly the same way in a city as you do it elsewhere, not if you want to actually convert hard-core secular people to Christianity. There are churches that set up in cities without adapting to their environment. Ironically, they can grow rather well anyway in cities by just gathering in the young already-evangelicals who are temporarily living in the city after college. But that is not the way to make the cities heavily Christian-which is the crying need today.
— Hat tip: Justin Taylor. Photo by Francois Schnell
Sometime in the early 20th century, American Christians forgot the importance of the earth.
The reasons are complex, but they boil down to a pessimistic view of the future and a vaguely Gnostic distrust of the physical. This view led not only to prohibitions on good things like alcohol, but also to an overemphasis of the spiritual and Heaven versus the physical and Earth.
In a recent sermon (PDF), Doug Wilson encapsulated why Christians should care about creating a good city:
Many Christians believe the cosmos has an upper and lower story, with earth as the lower and heaven as the upper. You live the first chapters of your life here. Then you die, and you move upstairs to live with the nice people in part two. There might be some kind of sequel after that, but it is all kind of hazy. The basic movement in this thinking is from Philippi “below” to Rome “above.”
But what Paul teaches us here is quite different. We are establishing the colonies of heaven here, now. When we die, we get the privilege of visiting the heavenly motherland, which is quite different than moving there permanently. After this brief visit, the Lord will bring us all back here for the final and great transformation of the colonists (and the colonies). In short, our time in heaven is the intermediate state. It is not the case that our time here is the intermediate state. There is an old folk song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” This captures the mistake almost perfectly. But as the saints gather in heaven, which is the real intermediate state, the growing question is, “When do we get to go back home?” And so this means that heaven is the place that we are just “passing through.”
Or as Paul Marshall puts it: “Heaven Is Not My Home.”
Hat tip: The Native Tourist. Photo by laffy4k
An article over on Comment magazine by Calvin College professor James K.A. Smith nicely encapsulates much of what we hope for in Fort Wayne.
Below are lots of quotes from Loving our neighbour(hood)s: The architecture of altruism. It’s full of good stuff:
The culture of “automobility” engenders a residential architecture where the three-car garage swallows almost the entire front elevation, leaving a small gap for a front door—but eliminating any room for an expansive front porch. Instead, houses are set back from the street, guarded by the fortress-like wall of garage doors, leaving us to retreat to the privacy of fenced backyards on sprawling decks—once again, insulated by pressure-treated lumber from any contact with our neighbours. Thus, our suburban “neighbourhoods” are all too often collections of privatized, insulated pods that secure us from any contact with “neighbours.” In such a world, Jesus’ command sounds a tad anachronistic and strange.
Christian exhortations to love our neighbours usually amount to encouragements to muster the will-power to care about others—a call to a resolute interiority and attitude. But what if Christian neighbour-love had a structural, material concern at its base: that we care about the very physical shape of our residential dwelling and critically consider how the material conditions of our built environment foster or detract from love of neighbour? In a world where the built environment threatens to squelch the very category of “neighbour,” might not we heed Jesus’ command precisely by being concerned to build communities that encourage encounters with neighbours? Could there be an architecture of neighbour-love?
A construction of the world that finds us sequestered in insulated pods—emerging only into smaller, mobile, insulated pods—must make an impact on how we see ourselves and our relations to (largely invisible) others. Could there not be a link between the increased narcissism and polarity of North American culture and that many adults spend two hours a day by themselves in maddening commuter traffic, with the inanities of talk radio as a soundtrack?
Loving our neighbour means more than mustering kind feelings toward anonymous others. It might require, here and now, that we commit ourselves to building (or better, recovering and redeeming) built environments in which neighbours actually show up to be loved.
Today I have the pleasure of pointing you to an excellent summation of what we’re hoping to accomplish here at The Good City.
This article, called “Urban Paradox: Reconnecting Church and the City,” was published in byFaith magazine and written to a more general Christian audience, so it starts with a bedrock Biblical foundation:
Biblical Christianity is about land, about subways, cars, and high rises. It affirms God as Creator, and as sovereign over every bit of creation. Therefore our responsibility as stewards, as those who have been given dominion, is to safeguard God’s work, and His pleasure in it. Our concern is that God be pleased when He looks to our cities.
The authors of the article, Michael Van Pelt and Rob Joustra of the Work Research Foundation, discuss New Urbanism and how it’s difficult to encapsulate what it actually is. But still, it’s principles aren’t really new at all:
The concern of New Urbanism for community, whole development, and human flourishing is not merely the concern of the institutional church; it forms the matrix of what we Christians call “good news.” In many ways what is striking is not why municipal leaders and New Urbanists should look at churches as allies, but rather, why church leaders have been conspicuously absent from this dialogue. Can community be built from within the physical form of traditional towns without under-girding social structures? What part can churches play in New Urbanism and the revitalization of urban spaces?
Van Pelt and Joustra give the church three ways to answer those questions:
- Befriend the stranger in the city
- Help create human comfort in the city
- Create sacred spaces that relate to the city
And in conclusion:
Urban renewal requires the kind of vision and action that churches and people of faith possess. It is an urban vision firmly entrenched in the knowledge of the creator God, acted out faithfully in response to His Word, with contextual reflection. There is almost no limit to the imaginative manifestations that such a church can take. But churches and Christians must begin to take this kind of earthy Christianity, which bespeaks such pertinence to architecture, community, and transit more seriously if they are to realize a vision of urban centers built and sustained for human flourishing and the glory of God.
Be sure to read the whole article.
Photo by Christine (bpc) on Flickr