When a friend confided recently that she was considering leaving her current ministry position in a suburban church for a new calling in an urban area, it reminded me of a recent article by Tim Keller entitled "A New Kind of Urban Christian." Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, addresses the question of "How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?" His answer, in short: many of us need to move to the city, to urban, not suburban or exurban areas, and not for the short term but for the long term.
Part of why we move to suburbs is because we love the city with its vibrancy and anonymity, but we also hate it for its traffic, crowds, and lack of community; and we love the bucolic countryside for its peace, beauty, and community, but we also hate it for its lack of privacy and lack of "action." So, we are conflicted, and we find in the suburb the best of both, or hope we do, and the automobile has facilitated our having it both ways. I can argue for moving to suburbs just as well as I can argue for moving to cities or rural areas. But, this is not about that. Keller's article is about how we engage the culture, and his point is that people who live in our largest cities have a disproportionate impact on how things are done in our culture.
But Keller is not simply talking about individual Christians living in cities but, rather, about Christians living as an alternate culture within the culture of the city, a city within the city, a dynamic counterculture. To us is the task of showing how the big Three -- money, sex, and power -- can be used in nondestructive ways. It is not a club, another interest group, another association, but a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole. Finally, he says we must demonstrate how the Christian worldview has everything to do with how we work; the two must be fully integrated.
It's a great vision for life in the city. But it's also a great vision for life as a Christian counterculture anywhere. For those of us deeply entrenched in suburbia, we need to give some serious consideration to how a gospel community should look in the suburb and how we will live as "aliens and strangers" not just in cities but also here in suburbia.