This summer, Erik Ellefsen asked if I might write a piece kicking off a new series for CACE about Christian Schools in the City. While today I work with The Gospel Coalition, a group aimed primarily at church leaders, I continue to see Christian education as strategic for the gospel’s advance in our nation’s cities.
I am not only a product of Christian education myself but I have served at two urban Christian schools in Minneapolis. First as a teacher at a leading Christian school (Minnehaha Academy) and then in senior leadership at a classical Christ-centered school for disadvantaged youth. I remain involved at both schools. The second, Hope Academy, will be one of the six schools this series will profile.
But I first want to address the question of why engaging the city is essential for the future of Christian schooling.
There are three key reasons—cultural, missiological, and visceral. All three are drawn from a wonderful address given by Dr. Tim Keller to the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization back in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.
First, culturally. We live in a more urbanized world than at any time in history, and if we have the goal of having our shared life shaped by the gospel and the kingdom, we must focus on cities. More than ever before, the economic and cultural forces that shape our world are being shaped not by nation-states, but by cities.
Second, missiologically. Cities are strategic to God’s mission because there are four kinds of people who disproportionately live in the city: young adults, unreached peoples, cultural elites, and the poor. All of them have children who will need to be educated.
- Young Adults – The younger generation all around the world, and increasingly in America, disproportionately want to live in cities.
- Unreached peoples – Unreached people around the world are much more reachable in cities. Keller notes that when people “immigrate from rural areas or from other countries, they break their kinship ties, and are in a more pluralistic environment…they are far more open to the gospel than they would have been in their previous habitat.”
- Cultural elites – Cities are where cultures are shaped. Keller stresses that “people who tend to make the films, write the books, do the business deals” live in cities.
- The poor – Here Keller cites the fact that one third of people moving into cities around the world live in shanty towns or (in developed nations) economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. God’s people have always shared God’s particular burden for the poor.
Third, viscerally. Keller here cites God’s encounter with Jonah over his reluctance to go to Ninevah. When Jonah grieves over the small plant that was giving him shade that then dies—God chastizes Jonah. God, Keller argues, loves people more than plants, and cities are where people are. In cities, he says, “you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world”.
The city is central to God’s mission culturally, missiologically, and viscerally. The Christian schools and leaders that will be profiled in this series all share Dr. Keller’s conviction that if we want human life and culture to be shaped at all by Jesus Christ, we simply must have excellent Christian schools that serve the children of the city.
Over the coming weeks, leaders of these schools will share their approach as well as lessons learned. They may prioritize different segments in their respective city, but our hope is that their stories and their schools might inspire you to see Christian schooling as a key part of God’s mission in your city.
The leaders you will hear from and their schools are: Russ Gregg, Head of School of Hope Academy (Minneapolis, MN), Jesse Kell, Executive Director of Elijah House Academy (Richmond, VA), Jake Becker, Headmaster of The City School (Philadelphia), John Booy, founder and President of The Potter’s House (Grand Rapids, MI); Ben Sciacca, Head of School at Restoration Academy in Fairfield, Alabama; Frank Guerra of Boston Trinity Academy (Boston, MA), Andrew Hart, Head of School of The Oaks Academy (Indianapolis, Indiana) and others.
Dan Olson serves as Managing Director at Anselm House, a center for Christian studies serving the University of Minnesota. He also directs the Spreading Hope Network, which serves leaders of emerging Christ-centered schools with governance, leadership and advancement strategies. Dan received his B.A. in communications and English literature at Wheaton College (IL) and an M.A. in Christian studies at Regent College (BC). He previously served in leadership with The Gospel Coalition, Baker Publishing Group, and Hope Academy, of which he now serves as board chair. Dan and his wife Lucy have four children and live in Minneapolis.