New York City: How it matters... and how Christians matter to it
If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere . . . So go the lyrics of Fred Ebb and John Kander's anthem to "the city that never sleeps"—New York City. New Yorker Katherine Leary offers a wake-up call for Christians about how this city in shapes culture, and how Christians can shape the shaper.
The biblical journey begins in the garden, moves to the city of Jerusalem, spreads from city to city, and culminates in the vision of the Holy City shining with the glory of God. Despite our common North American vision of God's restoring our souls "in green pastures . . . beside still waters," the glimpse we're given in Revelation 21 and 22 of the climax of history, when we see that the ultimate fruit of Christ's life, death, resurrection, and return is a city! This is paradise restored. God's future world is urban, with all its multi-ethnic diversity, population density, and cultural richness, but purged of all the flaws of today's cities, due to human sinfulness.
At Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, led by Dr. Timothy Keller, we believe that the city—in particular, this city—is the most strategic place for Christians to be. The early church increased in influence and relevance because it was urban. The rise of Christianity in the first three centuries after Christ has been attributed to the commitment of Christians to the needs of the sick and the poor in the cities of the Roman Empire. But over the past several generations, the North American church has largely abandoned its cities, even nurturing an anti-city value system, fleeing the ungodly, corrupting influences of our cities today.
The prophet Hananiah felt the same way. When King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah in 586 B.C. and took the people of the northern kingdom of Israel captive, Hananiah tried to persuade the Israelites to remain outside the pagan city of Babylon in their own enclave. But God spoke to his people through Jeremiah and gave them the opposite mandate: to move into the city of Babylon and "build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters . . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile" (Jeremiah 29:5-7, NIV).
Nevertheless, God wanted them to maintain their righteousness as God's people, and to live distinctively according to God's law. And that is what happened. The same would be true for today's Christians in New York City. We are called to seek the peace and prosperity of the city and yet remain true to our identity as sons and daughters of Christ. We're to be in the city and "for" the city, but not "of" the city.
New York City matters. Christians need to be here for the city's sake, for the sake of our broader culture, and for the sake of the Church. Christians matter to New York City.