Foundational to everything we do is the gospel message that God entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation we could not achieve for ourselves. This good news is first of all grace-centered. Jesus lived the life we should be living (but rebelliously will not live), and he paid the penalty for the life we are living (so we do not have to pay it ourselves). Therefore, we are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record—as in all other religions—but through his efforts and record.
Second, this good news is kingdom-centered. Jesus is not ultimately saving individual souls by removing them from the world, but rather he is bringing the life and power of God down into the material world to eventually renew and restore it. Thus we seek not only the conversion of individuals but also the peace and prosperity of our city. The grace and kingdom emphases of the gospel compel us to be very city-centric, as God instructs in Jeremiah 29:1–7 and as Paul demonstrates in his urban-centered mission in the book of Acts. Grace-centeredness reminds us to love the city, not despise it. Kingdom-mindedness leads us, as citizens of the city of God, to be the very best citizens of our earthly city.
From this understanding of the gospel flow five ways to minister in the city. First, we are a church that seeks to be highly effective in evangelism to skeptical people. The gospel, unlike religious moralism, produces people who do not disdain those with whom they disagree. Rather than simply confront those who don’t believe, we are prompted by the gospel to sympathetically find ways to address common cultural hopes and aspirations in light of Christ and his saving work.
Even our worship is evangelistic worship. We can achieve the edification of believers and effective evangelism of non-believers in worship at the same time, because the gospel of grace is always the main thing that everyone needs. What Christians need to grow is the application of the gospel to different points of need, and this is the main thing non-believers need as well. So worship and preaching must present the gospel in a fresh way each week. Besides applying the gospel to their own needs, our worship models to Christians how to articulate the gospel coherently in a pluralistic secular culture.
Second, we are a church that seeks to provide spiritual formation primarily through community. People who get an A on a doctrinal exam can still be mired in spiritual blindness and deadness—unless the implications of the gospel are worked out practically through continual reflection, admonition, and modeling in community. Growth in grace and wisdom and character does not happen so much in classes as in deep family-type relationships and countercultural communities where the gospel’s distinct implications are lived out. A strong individualistic strain exists in Western Christianity, so that often people will drop in to church for inspiration but will not give of themselves in service to the city or in community to one another. Only a deep commitment to community will work the gospel into every part of our lives.
Third, Redeemer seeks to minister in both word and deed. The Bible’s basic narrative points to the restoration of the whole world, material and spiritual, as the aim of salvation. Christian churches, therefore, must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service, even as they call individuals to conversion. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged demonstrates a lack of understanding of grace and God’s free salvation. A church that grasps the gospel will be holistically faithful in both word (Bible teaching) and deed (acts of service).
Fourth, Redeemer seeks to help its people integrate their faith and work for the purpose of cultural renewal. Many Christians seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace instead of a transformative worldview—a comprehensive interpretation of reality that affects all we do. A rich understanding of the gospel, however, has a deep and vital impact on how we handle business transactions, perform music, lead in government, work in the media, or engage in scholarship. Therefore, Redeemer is highly committed to supporting Christians’ engagement with culture and seeks to help them work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel can be part of the work of restoring creation. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work.
Fifth, our church must be the catalyst for a major movement of new churches. As part of our mission to be a church for the city, Redeemer seeks to help start gospel-preaching churches that in turn will focus on these same five ministries of renewal. If over the next generation hundreds and thousands of new gospel-centered churches were started in the greater New York City area, it would increase the number of active Christians by ten- to twentyfold and transform the culture of New York City.
Keller mentions the “strong individualistic strain” of Western Christianity. How do you think this impulse effects the church today? Which of the five fronts do you feel like the church struggles with the most?