Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Is this compassionate? Conservative? Crunchy?

Rev. Timothy Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, part of this socially conservative evangelical denomination, writes about a "new kind of urban Christian." Christians, he argues, should live in cities (rather than fleeing them for the allegedly family-friendly suburbs and exurbs), form a "dynamic counterculture" "to show how sex, money, and power can be used in nondestructive ways," and "be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole."

Given what she has to say about socially conservative evangelicals, I wonder if Keller’s vision would make
Michelle Goldberg’s head explode. (Yes, I’ve finished reading her book, from which the column on which I commented earlier was drawn. I’ll have more to say in a formal review published somewhere.)

What distinguishes Keller’s "countercultural" vision from that offered by Rod Dreher is its focus on work, rather than home. Dreher seems to encourage a certain kind of withdrawal, Keller a kind of engagement. Whatever one ultimately thinks of Dreher’s book, he’s at least drawing on a tradition that offers a wealth of intellectual resources to support the kind of resistance he proposes. I’m not sure, on the other hand, whether Keller and his people will transform the world or be transformed by it.

Update: I missed this post by Acton’s Jordan Ballor.

Discussions - 11 Comments

I read both articles -- Keller’s and Dreher’s. I’m struck by a sad sense ... at times I wish that "Christians" would focus less on the things outlined in articles like these, and just be true followers of Christ. I’ve seen lots of people who claim to be Christians who reflect very little of Christ’s glory. But I’ve also on occasion seen the true disciple -- humble yet strong; gracious and caring; wearing their faith not as a badge or a slogan, but simply as a natural expression of their real submission to the living God. Give me 10 like that and I promise they’ll make more of a difference than 100 of the other.

And no ... sadly, I’m not one of the 10. To be honest, I long to see more like that so I might learn from them.

My point was that "program Christianity" never seems to work. But being a living example of Christ at work in a person always does. They don’t need to explicitely evangelize, or necessarily do some good works. Simply being a reflection of Christ on this earth will touch hearts.

Truly, such people are rare but they make a huge impact. Without trying to make an impact. They do so simply because of who they are in Christ.

That’s what we need more of.

Don, in my view that’s what Keller’s vision is about: how to live as a follower of Christ in the city, which ought to include sharing your faith.

From the Christian perspective there’s at least one advantage I see in Keller’s program rather than Dreher’s...the former is explicitly concerned with evangelism.

Whether or not you think evangelism is an essential part of Christianity is going to shape your judgment of that, to be sure.

Jordan: To put your point another way, charity is maybe the central and certainly the most distinctive Christian virtue. Dreher’s book is rather charity challenged.

Jordan, I would agree that having true Christians in the city is a good thing. What I resist -- and I’ll confess this is somewhat emotional rather than purely rational -- is the idea that we should establish a conscious "program" to "be Christians" in the city. My resistance is based on years of seeing intentional outbound programs consist of one of two extremes: (a) charity work done with no way of knowing that it was done in the name of Christ; or (b) the name of Christ used as a kind of hammer to bludgeon people. There are lots of non-Christians doing (a) and often doing it better than "Christians"; there are too many "Christians" doing (b) to the harm of His Name.

There’s a tension here -- certainly churches can’t wander aimlessly; some plans are necessary. Yet the fallen human tends to elevate their plans above Christ himself. Churches become devoted to their plans rather than Jesus. How that’s rectified I do not know. Some have it figured out -- the rare sincere Christian, humble and strong.

My original point was that I wished their were more of those, rather than some "plan" to "evangelize" the cities. I suspect in a few years’ time we see that Keller’s idea has come to not much.

Peter, you wrote: "Charity is maybe the central and certainly the most distinctive Christian virtue." I’m not so sure of that. I would argue that humility is the central virtue. Charity is a derivative of humility. Charity can be offered with improper motives. That happens all the time. I suffer from this myself. But true humility, born from submission before Christ, will be the foundation and wellspring of sincere charity.

Don, thanks for the clarification and I think you have some important and valid concerns. Keller has been at in urban ministry awhile may not be too soon to judge based on early returns.

I wrote that last comment, btw.

That’s why I said maybe. But still, the central virtue of the New Testament seems to concern what we do for others out of love of God. Charity can be for improper motives, sure. But humililty can be abused too.
Charity is a tough virtue for us professors of political science, because it is, as St. Thomas says, not natural but infused. Would charity be a virtue if it weren’t for the loving God described by revelation? Humility would be, although it would rank much loser.

To quote/paraphrase my name-saint: "Faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity." The first two will "pass away, but charity abideth." Humility’s the truth of our created (and sinful) being: wholly dependent, with some wonderful God-given natural and supernatural gifts, including free will, and a checkered use thereof by us. Charity - even this Thomist acknowledges - is the fons, origo, et corona of the Christian life. Read John’s Epistles. Thomas somewhere says its "the form of all the virtues."
Back to editing a McWilliams piece.

Well, Paul is right with our without his cool flourishes. Some conservatives think that Bush’s compassionate conservatism is really charitable conservatism and therefore suspect in a free country with a government based on natural rights and not infused virtue.

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