Goods and God
There’s also an emphasis on beauty. Keller was influenced by the unlikely trio of Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O’Connor. The 18th-century American revivalist, the 20th-century British apologist, and the early 20th-century Catholic Southern Gothic writer all share an emphasis on the beauty of God.
For Keller, Jesus is not just a psychological salve to fill a hole in an empty heart. Jesus is beautiful. All people should want to contemplate God’s beauty forever. Aesthetics is a very old theme in Christian theology with new popularity in the academy -- but it’s not one often sounded by evangelicals.
“Happiness is the life-shaping certainty of something you don’t have yet,” Keller preached.
One can see this emphasis on aesthetics clearly in any worship service. At an early service on the Upper West Side, sans Keller (he preaches at Hunter), the Rev. Abraham Cho, an assistant pastor, prays to the “God of radiant joy.” As he introduces the prayer of confession he says his listeners are “enthralled by the beauty of things that are good, but not ultimate.”
This emphasis on goods and God is almost dogmatic at Redeemer. It inspired Keller’s recent book, “Counterfeit Gods.” The money, power and status that New Yorkers seek are not evil (as Redeemer’s fundamentalist forebears would have said). They’re good. They’re just not God. As pointers to God they can be enjoyed, but worshipped in God’s stead they enslave.
“They’re signposts,” Keller said, drawing on his hero Lewis. “Silver and gold signs that point the way for the pilgrim to get to Jerusalem.”
Combining goods and God is a central focus, too, at the Entrepreneurship Forum, where you can see Keller’s other genius: an ability to gather like-minded others, and not just those who won the church’s annual business plan competition or whom the Forum has invited to speak.
Participants include representatives from Rising Tide Capital, a micro-credit and business training initiative in Jersey City, N.J., founded by an Ethiopian native and one of her Harvard University classmates in 2004. The organization has been recognized by President Obama.
I also met a young man who sells crepes out of a stand in Flint, Mich. “It’s surprising,” he said. “I have a proper job running a landscaping company. If anything, you’d think that was entrepreneurial. But it’s this crepe-selling thing that I get media attention for.” He paused and reflected. “It’s weird, so it gets noticed. It makes you think about how the gospel has to be weird to get noticed.”
Weird. Noticeable. Like a passionate evangelical church in Manhattan, a nonprofit that caught the president’s attention and a crepe seller. Like a professorial gospel preacher to day traders and homeless people. Like an entrepreneurial God.