What do we (not) know?

What do we (not) know? November 25, 2013

Anthony Bradley’s essay at Acton is worth your reading. His case is that one Joy Allmond speaks about Christianity, even evangelical Christianity, in NYC as if the resurgence of folks like Timothy Keller is the whole story.

We need to learn what we know and what we don’t know and then learn quickly that what we think we know is always only part of the story when it comes to the big story of Christianity. Apart from folks like Mark Noll and his likes, most of us know only a snippet of the church’s story in the world and only a little more than a snippet in our own nation … and how many of know much about the story of the church in our communities? or cities? What comes our way is only part of the story, and it would be good for us to see that what Bradley says here is so important.

One of the profound realities of theology and ecclesiastical enclaves in which American Christians live is each tribal subculture views the world as if Christianity begins and ends with their tribe. Evangelicals are a great example of this trend. Some evangelicals write as if they are the only Christians doing God’s work in the world.

For example, Joy Allmond recently wrote a perplexing article about New York City asking “Is New York City on the Brink of a Great Awakening?” Allmond, a web writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, lives in Charlotte, NC, and after reading her article one is left wondering if Ms. Allmond is at all familiar with the religious and Christian landscape of New York City. The narrative she constructs for readers is that change is coming to New York City because evangelicals have arrived. The article begins with a factual impossibility:

20 years ago, Eric Metaxas knew practically every born again believer in Manhattan. “It was like a spiritual ghost town,” the cultural commentator, thought leader and author recalled. Yet, over the recent decades—particularly this last one—New York has seen a surge in evangelicalism. Some cultural experts believe the Big Apple to be on the brink of another ‘Great Awakening.’..,

After reading Allmond’s article one might get the sense only evangelical Christians are thriving in the city. But what about the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mainline Protestant, traditional Black Church, Latino/Hispanic, and Asian/Asian-American congregations? Many of those churches have been far more active in New York since World War II than evangelicals have been. It seems to be if God was going to ‘awaken’ New York, or any major city west of the Mississippi River, he would do so by using a coalition of Christians across the traditions who are already there to bear witness to work and person of Christ. It seems that this is what Jesus hoped for in his high priestly prayer in John 17:20-23

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