Wednesday, August 05, 2009

"Waiting 'til the shine wears off"

(Reading Time: 2.5 minutes)

CT's June cover story caught my interest, mainly because of its subtitle: "How Tim Keller Found Manhattan: The pastor of Redeemer Church is becoming an international figure because he's a local one." It caught my attention because it supported an idea that I've suggested before: When we speak to and from a particular context, we often find a universal audience.

The CT article doesn't make a strong case to support their subtitle, but that argument isn't really their point. They're focusing on Tim Keller, the man. But his influence is expanding, and the article brings that out at the end.

Indeed, one reason Keller's influence is growing is that he's in one of the most influential cities in the world: New York City. It is a fountainhead of culture, fashion, economy, art, and beliefs. New York often leads the U.S. and the world, and eventually they both follow in all these areas. It makes sense then that a man who speaks to people out front will eventually be relevant to the people who come after. (I think Paul grasped this in his desire to go to Rome, and CT alludes to this.)

But for Keller, relevance isn't a matter of trying to be relevant really. Sure he targets his audience, but not the way you'd expect. CT writes,

Redeemer's worship is seemly and traditional. Instead of using video monitors, casually dressed worshipers follow a 20-page bulletin that includes hymns, prayers, and Bible texts. Organ and a brass quartet lead the music. For evening services, jazz musicians play contemporary Christian songs.
Standing 6'4", with a bald head, glasses, and a coat and tie, Keller, 58, does not look hip. Nor is his sermon funny, charming, or daring. He preaches from the first chapter of Genesis, on the doctrine of Creation.

This is not the relevant format that we often hear advocated. In my opinion, the reason this format has worked is that it doesn't attempt to compete with culture. Megachurches can have the best programmed service with the most entertainment of any megachurch out there, but "the secular world has the means and motivation to make your operation look rinky-dink." ("You might be a big fish in a little pond. Doesn't mean you've won, because along may come a bigger one," sings Coldplay.) The attempt to compete by being more like doesn't make sense. The Gospel isn't in competition. It would rather lose if that meant it would transform its enemies. Placing the church and the Gospel in competition with mass culture by trying to be superficially relevant sends the opposite message, that winning brings transformation.

The beauty of the Cross is that when all is lost, everything changes. ("Just because I'm losing doesn't mean I'm lost," sings Coldplay.) Then, we understand that our measures for "win" and "lose" are defined by the wrong yardsticks. That Jesus wasn't using those dimensions at all. I think that's why we so often can't make sense of his kingdom. We're using the wrong yardstick.

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