thinking out loud

…things that are on my mind, heart, and soul

Grace in the City


Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC presented a compelling biblical, theological and practical vision for the city. He was direct: people who want to be culture makers should be living in the city. This presentation helped me put some things together personally and clarified why I feel so strongly about the place in which I live. I am looking to flesh that our more fully with my leadership team in the days ahead.

What is a city? Typically we think of a high population center. While that may be true, the number of people is not the defining mark of a city. I loved how Keller defined the city as “a mixed use, walkable settlement that is both dense and diverse” (does anyone know where this came from – is this Tim’s definition or someone else’s work?) Tim message was all about grace (love the take-off from the HBO series with a similar title) and he spoke about grace OF the city, grace IN the city and grace FOR the city.

The Grace OF the City
The city of a gift from God for humanity.

Both the Greeks and the Romans thought highly of the city. It was the place where the cultured, polished, polite and civilized people dwelt. God has a high regard for the city as well. Psalm 107, Jeremiah 29, Paul’s missional strategy in the book of Acts and the closing vision of the Scriptures in Revelation makes it clear – God is all about building the city to bring blessing to humankind.

The Grace IN the City
Keller talked about human settlements having four orders – economic, cultural, residential, political/legal. A city is all about structure and organization of these orders. And because the city is a walkable settlement that is both dense and diverse, these orders are organically connected. He used a great pizza illustration: in the city you have a pizza in its wholeness: the crust, sauce, cheese and all the extras working together. Not so much in the suburbs – while you might have all the essential ingredients the suburban ethos separates them from each other. Because of the density and diversity factors being at play, the city has typically been the incubator for culture and culture connects people.

Keller described the work of culture making as gardening. I was all over this. I love to look at leadership and community in environmental terms and this resonated with me bigtime. When someone gardens they take the raw materials and use them to create something that helps humans flourish like fruit for food or flowers for beauty. In the same way people take sounds and work the raw materials into music or take colors and create beautiful art or leverage words in prose or poetry to tell powerful stories. Love this.

Grace FOR the City
Often people use the city to make a name for themselves; consider the story of Babel. People come to the city to build their reputation or resume and then they leave. Keller said if you want to live in the city as God’s person you will need the grace of God to stay. It’s challenging, it’s expensive, it’s competitive, it’s hostile.

Jesus was killed outside the city – this is a significant cultural and theological statement. Jesus, in His death, lost the city that was in order that we might become citizens of the city that is to come.

Keller’s final words: “I want to confront people on these things. Consider it done.”

Stay connected…

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have the peace that passes understanding at the heart of yourself, but do not be at peace with the world. for the world is more malleable than we think and we must wrestle it from fools. (bono)
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