Religious life in New York City is booming, even while it shrinks in the rest of the country, according to a report by the Barna Group. Christian college professors in the Big Apple not only agree, but argue that the faith boom will inspire a revival across America.
"I think New York is ahead of the curve," Ronald Walborn, dean of Alliance Theological Seminary at Nyack College in New York City, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. He predicts a great revival of faith, and Christianity in particular, throughout the nation.
"Residents of the New York City media market are spiritually more active today than they were in the late 1990s – and more so than they were in 2001," the Barna study reported. Church attendance in the city hit its low in 1999-2000 at 31 percent, but has grown to 46 percent today. Similarly, Bible reading has risen from 29 to 35 percent, and adults with an "active faith" have increased from 17 to 24 percent.
Walborn argued that this uptick of faith in New York will translate into a national revival. "I think that the coasts lead on cultural shifts," and "tend to experience things more quickly," he said.
Gregory Alan Thornbury, the 6th president of The King's College, agreed. "I do think it's a national trend – every national trend begins in either New York or Los Angeles," Thornbury proclaimed, tracing the uptick of faith back to 1989 with the founding of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
"The notion of having an urbane, intelligent Christian message from someone like Tim Keller that contextualized the message for New York City," has taken that city, and will take America, by storm, The King's College president contended. "You could come and listen to Tim Keller and you would be happy to bring any non-Christian friend to church, even if they went to the Ivy Leagues – there was no 'cringe moment,'" Thornbury explained.
The King's College president compared the advent of preachers like Tim Keller to Jeremiah Lancier, a businessman who started a prayer meeting in the financial district of NYC after the stock market crash of 1857. "In about half-a-year's time, you had 10,000 businessmen in New York praying. I think you're seeing something like that happen again," he said.
While historians will call it a revival, Thornbury said he prefers to call it a "spiritual renaissance." But he also warned "that's a prayer, not a scientific conclusion."
But Robert D. Carle, professor of Theology at The King's College, disagreed with the prediction that NYC's faith boom could be a harbinger of a national revival. He emphasized the uniqueness of "The Big Apple," mentioning the high percentage of immigrant groups, with an estimated 900 Korean Christian churches in Queens alone.
Nevertheless, Carle did attest to a revival in New York "in the last twenty years," also pointing to preachers like Tim Keller, and highlighting the social work which church groups have been able to accomplish. His book, Signs of Hope in the City: Ministries of Community Renewal, highlights the increasing ability of New York churches to set up preschools and charter schools, and to build thousands of units of lower-income housing.
Ronald Walborn of Nyack College listed four reasons why faith is on the upswing in the Big Apple and will grow across America.
1. Hunger for God
Walborn pointed to "a growing hunger among postmoderns for transcendence, for connection with God." After trying New Age spirituality in the 1990s, people have found it insufficient, but they still want a connection with the supernatural or the "spiritual." He said that Nyack professors see "a real hunger for God" in their students.
2. Transience of Culture
Walborn also emphasized the transience of modern culture – short careers that require constant travel, families separated due to jobs, and the increasing rate of divorce – as a reason people are hungry for community. "In Psalms, we read that God sets the lonely in families," the dean explained. "The church has always been known as the family of God and I think it's become that," in New York and increasingly across America.
3. September 11, 2001
Tertullian said "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church," Walborn noted. "I think that when 9/11 took place, New York City became a symbol for the taking of innocent life." When innocent life is taken, the dean argued, God redeems the evil for good.
4. God's Particular Grace
"God is just up to something in New York City," the dean said. God's particular love for New York is not unique, however, and Walborn said that he is hopeful God will spread this special grace across America.