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Faith and Urban Culture
Photo: Rich Stern
Tim Keller is not well known. Yet he may well be the most successful evangelist in New York City. He is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church which holds services in four different locations in Manhattan each weekend with an average of 4,400 in attendance, mostly young professionalsand creative types.

The Sunday New York Times (Feb. 26) noted that Keller’s sermon was “compelling” and “literary,” quoting from such wide sources as C.S. Lewis and The Village Voice. He is not well known, in part, because he has avoided the usual path to Christian stardom–speaking appointments around the country and overseas. He is winning young adults to Christ in a context where no one else seems to have much impact.

Five years ago, Keller started a training center for church planters and since that time has seen more than 50 new congregations started across the New York City metropolitan area. Only a handful of these are affiliated with his denomination, representing a wide range of Christian groups. Keller has demonstrated that the city can be a successful venue for evangelical faith. He has done so by embracing urban culture and bringing the Bible into the life experience of the young adults who flock to cities seeking education, career sand creative opportunities.

Community Life

Robert Darken is typical of the young people who attend Keller’s training center. He leads a small congregation called City Life which worships on Saturdays–because it is from the Seventh-day Adventist tradition–in the rented library of a Quaker school. Some 25 to 50 people will gather for worship, while smaller numbers are involved in City Life’s small groups.

It co-sponsors an open discussion group on Tuesday evenings which meets in a coffee house in the West Village neighborhood. Attendance is largely from local people with no religious affiliation, and the topics range widely over politics, the arts, and contemporary culture. City Life also organizes a wide range of community service projects, visits to important cultural events, and recreational outings for its attenders and their friends.

This is typical of what is happening in many cities around the world. It is unheralded, small, local and can be quirky. Keller is a hero to many of the young leaders starting these congregations, even if they’ve never met him or heard him speak. He has shown that Christianity can be faithful to Scripture and re-invent itself for the urban context and for the new generations that flock to the cities.

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