Tim Keller on Churches and Race
Timothy Keller is an American author, speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, New York. Timothy is the author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God.
He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. However, he learned the most from his nine years as a pastor of West Hopewell Presbyterian Church in the small blue-collar town of Hopewell, Virginia. The congregation there loved him, suffered through his earliest days as a pastor, and taught an intellectual northerner to be clear. His second church was Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which he started in 1989 with his wife, Kathy, and three young sons.
Question: What do we lose with racially homogenous churches?
Keller: I actually do think the African-American Churches have more to lose then we white churches do. Now, if you go in the Redeemer, you’re going to find that Redeemer is about 45% Anglo, about 45% Asian and about 10% Black and Hispanic. A lot of the churches in the middle or in the middle or lower Manhattan that are more Evangelical Orthodox Charismatic will have that same kind of mixtures. There are very few white churches around. I’d say the ethnic churches which will be the African-American churches or Latino churches, the Asian churches, it is more difficult for them to become multi-aspect, because in some ways their community centers for their people and they could lose some of their power in a sense as representing their people to the broader culture. It could be that in post-Obama, there are big questions about the old models for how you do ethnic empowerment, but that’s not something for me to speak to, I don’t think. I mean, I actually counsel all churches, [this] I say, “You should be as multi-ethnic or more multi-ethnic than your neighborhood.” So, if you live in a neighborhood that is so many African-Americans, so many black, Latinos, so many white, you should try, your church should look like your neighborhood. And if you are, you actually do better than the neighborhood because usually out of the neighborhood those groups people don’t mix all that well. They usually alongside of each other maybe friendly but they don’t really work together. So if you could be a church that shows how the groups work together, you get, in a sense, be more multi-ethnic than your neighborhood. But, basically, we say be as multi-ethnic as your geography, so I push that pretty heavily. And so, yeah, I would love to see a multi-ethnic future church, but I realize the ethnic churches have a lot to lose, so I’m careful when I say that. I don’t want to make them feel that somehow they’re doing wrong to stay more mono-ethnic. I still see a role for that. I don’t see much of a role for a purely white church anymore, but I do see a role for the ethnic churches.
Question: How does an urban influx benefit Redeemer’s congregation?
Keller: When I got here in the ‘80s, in the late ‘80s, nobody thought that that was the case. Again, that’s one of the ways in which New York City has been a big, a very big help to me not so much my theological training. I got here and recognized that potential of cities, I think, and began to say churches have got to become more pro-urban, because the culture is getting more pro-urban and it really is. The negativity of Americans towards the city has really turned around. We don’t quite know why. Some people say it was “Friends” and “Seinfeld.” But in the early ‘90s, you had these great sitcoms that showed people in cities being very attractive and I don’t know what it is, but I sense the change in the early ‘90s and suddenly there was a change in the culture. So, I say to churches be pro-urban, don’t be anti-urban, because the trend at least for the next 50 years is going to be very pro-urban.
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