“Should I not be concerned about that great city?” asks God of the prophet Jonah about Nineveh, which “has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.”
God is rebuking the recalcitrant prophet, who only carried out his assigned proclamation in Nineveh after a rather harrowing adventure on the high seas. After Jonah delivered his message, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned,” the Bible tells us that “Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”
If Jonah embodies the spirit of withdrawal and the desire for God’s wrathful judgment on sinful human society, think of Tim Keller as the anti-Jonah. As he’s introduced in a piece he wrote for a recent issue of Christianity Today, “For 17 years, he has been preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, distilling biblical teaching into arrestingly simple phrases that convey the radical surprise and gracious truth of Christian faith.”
Keller’s ministry is vital and engaged: “Keller’s vision of a church keenly committed to the welfare of its city attracts 5,000 worshipers each week to Redeemer’s four rented locations, sends them out into many forms of charitable service through the church’s ministry Hope for New York, and fuels a church-planting effort that embraces Baptists and Pentecostals as well as Presbyterians, immigrant neighborhoods as well as Manhattan.”
Keller writes in the piece, “A New Kind of Urban Christian,” that for the Christian church to properly and effectively engage culture, “We need Christian tradition, Christians in politics, and effective evangelism.” But these alone or combined are not enough. Keller believes that “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.” Large cities tend to attract young and vibrant people, who influence the course of the broader culture.
The sad fact is that the Jonah phenomenon has had an impact on evangelical Christianity in America. “Do I mean that all Christians must live in cities? No. We need Christians and churches everywhere there are people! But I have taken up the call of the late James Montgomery Boice, an urban pastor (at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church) who knew that evangelical Christians have been particularly unwilling to live in cities,” he says. (more…)