Yesterday I told you that not all New Yorkers sleep in on Sunday mornings. Increasing numbers of them can be found in the churches popping up all over the city.
But Christian outreach to what I call “the next unreached people group” isn't limited to Sunday mornings: Christian ideas and worldview are also getting a hearing here, too.
One example is “Socrates in the City,” which I have the privilege of hosting. Our goal is to provide a setting in which busy and successful professionals can think about life’s most important questions.
About once a month, writers and other thinkers speak about what we jokingly call “life, God, and other small topics.” Speakers have included N.T. Wright, Francis Collins, Os Guinness, and our own Chuck Colson. The topics have included “Making Sense out of Suffering,” “The Concept of Evil after 9-11,” and “Can a Scientist Pray?”
Another great example is the New Canaan Society (NCS) started by my friend Jim Lane, and me sort of. His goal is to help men in the marketplace with the issues he had encountered as a Goldman Sachs executive: “over-achievement stress, relationship failures at home, addictions, personal struggles,” and difficulties in genuinely caring for other people.
NCS has grown from a handful of men meeting in Jim’s home to more than 800 at our most recent retreat. The combination of “trustworthy friendship, allegiance to Jesus, and safety among their peers” has led to transformed lives and transformed workplaces.
Using words like “successful professionals” and “cultural elites” around some Christians can invoke suspicion. While I understand the misgivings, I also understand that the kind of cultural change we aspire to can’t be achieved without reaching out to these elites.
After all, God is no respecter or persons. That works both ways. For good or for ill, it is the cultural elites who determine much of what goes on in the rest of the culture, who can set the tone and content of the cultural conversation. Changing the tone of that conversation requires a concerted outreach to cultural elites.
William Wilberforce understood this: If anything, the situation in late 18th century England was worse than the situation in our day. Cultural elites, while nominally Christian, were every bit as hostile to Christian ideas as ours are.
Yet Wilberforce knew that without these elites, ending the slave trade was impossible. So, instead of disdaining them or turning up their noses at the debaucheries of figures like Charles Fox, Wilberforce and his friends befriended them. They viewed themselves as God’s ambassadors and missionaries within the elite culture of their day.
This missionary effort was helped by the fact that people like Wilberforce, Edward James Eliot, and Hannah More were themselves elites. They were a veritable pantheon of big shots, and without their societal stature, the causes they championed simply could not have succeeded.
Of course, this pantheon only existed because someone had reached out to them. In Wilberforce’s case it was John Newton, best-known for the hymn “Amazing Grace.” This one conversion set in motion a process that eventually changed the world.
That’s the goal of efforts like “Socrates in the City.” Because who knows? Perhaps the next Wilberforce is a member of the next unreached people group living in places like New York. I, for one, intend to keep looking for him or her.