It is cause for concern whenever the appeal is to cultural trends as to why the church should do anything, as in we should be pro-urban “because the culture is becoming more pro-urban, because the trend for the next fifty years is going to be pro-urban.”
But even more curious, at least to me, is how being pro-any place finally coincides with any notion of cultural transformationism. Doesn’t transforming a place (urban or rural) sort of assume there is something fundamentally wrong with it such that it needs to go from this to that? Pro-urbanism may think the problem with the rural is that it isn’t urban and vice versa, and those Hatfield-McCoy kinds of squabbles can be part of what makes America interesting. But transformationism seems to go in another direction and cast doubt on the essential very goodness of whatever place. I know that if Redeemer Traverse City broadcast a vision statement to change my rural northern lower Michigan hometown it would be very unsettling. I likeTraverse City the way it is. I wouldn’t change a thing. It seems to me that anyone who counts Manhattan as his beloved hometown might think the same thing.
Ironically, I can’t help but think the original and abiding mission of something like RNYC (“To build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, to the world”) carried with it the very naive Americanism borne of a few too many novels and movies Keller evidently now wants to deconstruct: the City is mean and dirty and we the church are going to change all that. If so, that’s laudable. Whatever else it signals, it might be evidence of moving in the direction of an affirmation of place and away from a mentality that sees any place as a target for re-packaging. Still, I do wonder how easy it will be to move from the mindset of transformation to cultivation. If cultural trends are indeed driving us, as the good pastor suggests, then to the extent that the American trend is to transform and improve instead of cultivate and maintain this may be easier said than done.