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Mission to Metropolis

"Mission to Metropolis" Continued...

Issue: "The Obama era," Feb. 14, 2009

Metaxas has learned over the years that many non-evangelicals are "open to presentations on faith issues" but are part of "unreached people groups" such as natives on some Pacific islands or in South American jungles: "As brave and diligent souls have over the last two millennia risked their lives and lost their lives, and have studied obscure grammars and translated the Gospel of John into the dialects of vanishing tribes, so too we today ought to humbly set ourselves to the noble task of bringing the gospel to these elites."

That may seems strange to those who walk Manhattan's streets and see church buildings on many corners, but many of the churches have become liberal social clubs where sophisticated savages talk about foreign hearts of darkness without examining the condition of their own hearts. Metaxas nails a second point: "We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that, simply because they live in America and speak English, these cultural elites have heard the gospel already and have rejected it. If the gospel has not been translated into a language that they understand, and if it has not been brought to them by people with whom they have some cultural affinity, they have not heard it."

Metaxas notes that "these people do not speak the same language as thatched-haired evangelists on TV, nor do they know anyone who knows anyone who speaks that language. It is a foreign tongue, and they are deaf to it. . . . Surely a God who would have us humble ourselves and pray for demon-worshipping cannibals would have us humble ourselves and reach out to pro-choice television anchors, too."

By reaching out to those anchors, Metaxas suggests, evangelicals are also defending their own families and cultural values: "For good or for ill, it is the cultural elites who determine much of what goes on in the rest of the culture, who can . . . determine what we sneer at and what we ooh at and ahh at. . . . They tend to have the TV pulpits and the Conde Nast photo spreads. And the folks in Topeka who watch them . . . don't. You've heard of trickle-down economics? Let me introduce you to trickle-down culture."

So Socrates in the City has a nationally significant task, and it's not alone in ministering to middle-aged urban professionals. Muppies also race to meetings of the New Canaan Society (NCS), founded in 1995 by Goldman Sachs partner Jim Lane as a small men's group in one of New York's Connecticut suburbs. NCS now has expanded into Manhattan, New Jersey, and other parts of the metropolis.

Young urban professionals, meanwhile, often head to Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a 20-year-old institution that has five meeting times on Sunday in uptown venues, including auditoria of Hunter College (east side) and the Ethical Culture Society (west side), neither of which shares Redeemer's values. The average Redeemer attendee is barely older than the church; 20-somethings also attend Redeemer church plants in Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and other New York environs. Redeemer also sponsors a Reformed University Fellowship chapter for New York colleges and a Gotham Fellowship program that shows young professionals how to live and work as Christians.

Other theologically conservative churches are also emerging in Manhattan, and evangelical educational groups are also layering the gospel; for example, The King's College has classrooms and offices in the Empire State Building, and The Geneva School takes students from pre-K to grade 8. Metaxas sees the synergy between and among such institutions beginning to approach one of the most famous networks in British history, the Clapham network that 200 years ago led the London battle against slave trading and then slavery itself.

Metaxas notes that the Claphamites "fought hard to win souls to Christ, and just as hard to fight suffering and poverty and injustice in Christ's name. And they realized that to be successful in either of these, they needed to be deeply devoted to Christ as well as fully engaged in the culture around them." One common evangelical goal these days is to be "in the world, but not of it," and the Claphamites were both: "While they spent much time together and prayed much, they knew God had not called them only to fellowship and endless prayer meetings, but to go out and to do His work outside those meetings, in the marketplace."

Wilberforce is a role model for Metaxas because he was both deeply religious and delightfully witty-"ardently evangelistic, always thinking of ways to bring those he knew to think about the state of their souls . . . but he never came across as a dour moralist; all who met him thought him winsome and full of joy." Metaxas insists that Wilberforce and his friends "were not mere culture warriors, trying to climb over the ramparts to take control, but rather were already insiders who knew how to behave like insiders, and who would do their best to change things from within. They knew how to move in their high circles of influence; knew the unspoken language of those circles; and knew when to push and when not to push and whom to ask about this or that, and whom not to ask."

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