Long before last fall’s national elections, before the terms "red state" and "blue state" saw their most recent heyday, Michael Wolff wrote this:
We are at the fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant … morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation … and there’s the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented, white-centric other America [with] … its diminishing cultural and economic force.
—New York Magazine, February 26, 2001, p. 19
It’s interesting because it’s true. I know, because I’ve lived on both sides of the schism. I grew up on the small-town, nuclear-family, religiously oriented side of the fence. Since college, I feel like I’ve been living smack in the middle of the quicker-growing, culturally adventuresome nation. For the purposes of clarity, I’ll refer to the first nation Wolff mentioned—the quicker-growing, more diverse one as the Metro nation, and the second as the Micro nation. Neither term should place any implications upon how I view these nations; I use both to refer to exactly what Wolff originally cited about each.
I should point out some important exceptions to my personal experience. On both sides. While I don’t need to harp on the exceptions to the Micro nation I was reared in—for example, the ethnic diversity present in California that I was exposed to or the large-city feel where we lived—I would be remiss if I didn’t note the exceptions to the Metro nation I now reside in. While I have lived in and among the morally relativistic and sexually polymorphous, God’s grace has guided me away from such persuasions. Yet, living in this vibrant Metro nation, one has no choice but to be acutely aware of their perpetual and very loud existence. On the other hand, different fingers: the economic vibrance, the urban orientation and cultural adventuresome nature of the Metro nation are all things that I’ve very much enjoyed delving into.
With such qualifications in place, I offer a comparison. In the days of the earliest church, the mission field before the apostles was quite the same as the two nations we see now here in America. There was a fundamental schism in the world (namely in Asia Minor and modern-day Europe) that presented interesting quandaries to the furtherance of the Gospel. Thankfully, God provided wise men to deal with such a breach, two cultures existing in limbo appearing to move in opposite directions. Looking back, if we are indeed seeing the same in our nation today, we must speculate whether much movement is actually taking place.
Take cities like Rome, Corinth, Thessalonica, Athens, Ephesus and Antioch. All were cities for the same reason that American cities are what they are today. Location, location, location. Some were key ports for ocean-going vessels (like New York, San Francisco, Boston); others were situated at the crossroads of major shipping and travel routes (like St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City); and still others were central to entire realms for purely political reasons (we have one of those in particular in America, too, and we built it on a swamp, for some reason).
And large cities, whether of the first century A.D. or of this century, present by their very nature the characteristics of the Metro nation Wolff described. In one way or another, they become the cultural melting pots, and what naturally emerges from the stew of mankind seems to be no different today than it was in the first century. The cities of old were economically vibrant, morally relativistic, sexually polymorphous, ethnically diverse and so on.
With such a comparison, I have to ask: Will God yet again raise up wise men to face the schism head-on? Men ready to "stand in the gap" before Him and deal with the two nations? And if so, what will they look like?
I believe they would look like Paul. Paul saw the ministry opportunities before him, and he didn’t head to the Micro nation. Paul headed straight to the places least likely to accept what he preached. His ministry was almost entirely aimed at the Metro nation. He realized that these cities, while diverse and very often morally base, would be the first-adaptors, the launch pad for the church to come. Paul knew that cultural change throughout the land would begin in the cultural centers, and so he acted accordingly.
He knew that, as one man, he could see only so many small churches in the countryside, and that while every soul was just as valuable, he would be most effective in the long run by focusing on the Metro nation. He sought to not remain culturally centric, family-driven or even religiously oriented. And we should remember that such jumps were much larger for Paul in his day than they would be in ours—he lived in a time of brutal cultural opposition, a day when the family structure was the only norm and, in fact, a very means of survival. Religions certainly abounded then as they do now, but the interesting thing about Christianity is that it continues to exist as more than a religion, just as it did in Paul’s day.
Will God raise up men willing to run head-first into the arenas that would ultimately exile or even kill them? He did before. I believe He will continue to do so. I hope in my life to find such men and to learn a Metro nation approach to the furtherance of the Gospel from them—one that does not fear the Metro nation movement, but accepts it for what it is, sees where it is going and simply acts accordingly to bring the relevance of the Gospel to bear upon it.