By Scott Fowler
I am now a veteran of two Socrates in the City events. (I was there for John Lennox—Oxford scholar and professor and former student of C. S. Lewis!—earlier this year, and last Thursday night for Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, founder of the Discovery Institute and who some are calling the father of the modern Intelligent Design movement.) If you have never heard of Socrates in the City, don’t panic. I will tell you enough here to aide you in getting your Socrates on for the next go round.
What is it?
Socrates in the City (which could be shortened to SITC but won’t be here because I like saying Socrates in the City) is at the very least a forum where important authors dealing with important subjects can come and promote (and sell) their important books, or “move product” as Eric Metaxas, the founder, jokingly says. But lest I hack the description, let me give it to you as it is found on the Socrates in the City website:
The Greek philosopher Socrates famously said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Taking this as a starting point, Eric Metaxas thought it would be valuable to create a forum that might encourage busy and successful professionals in thinking about the bigger questions in life. Thus Socrates In The City: Conversations on the Examined Life was born.
Every month or so Socrates In The City sponsors an event in which people can begin a dialogue on “Life, God, and other small topics” by hearing a notable thinker and writer such as Dr. Francis Collins, Sir John Polkinghorne, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, N.T. Wright, Os Guinness, Peter Kreeft, or George Weigel. Topics have included “Making Sense Out of Suffering,” “The Concept of Evil after 9-11,” and “Can a Scientist Pray?” No question is too big—in fact, the bigger the better. These events are meant to be both thought-provoking and entertaining, because nowhere is it written that finding answers to life’s biggest questions shouldn’t be exciting and even, perhaps, fun.1
And fun it is! Metaxas sees to that. If you have had no exposure to him, you are in for a treat. He is funny and hilariously so, particularly in moments when he is not supposed to be. He was so witty last Thursday that, at one point, Dr. Meyer lost his train of thought! At the end of the evening Meyer was heard to say “I enjoyed playing the straight man!” At one point, Metaxas, whose delivery is normally dry and dead pan, said something (I forget the line) that even he couldn’t help but laugh about after the moment had passed! But lest I leave the impression that it is all fun and games at Socrates in the City, rest assured it is not.
Though the night is certainly fun, enjoyable, classy, and sophisticated, an important agenda is being put forward. Metaxas is serious about what he is doing. I get the sense that he runs a tight ship and that he is as passionate about worldview as “the next Chuck Colson” (as some are calling him) should be! He is a man of Christian faith and values which, as far as I can tell, he makes no effort to hide. (The reader should note that I have never had a conversation with Mr. Metaxas, nor have I studied him in any great detail. I am simply sharing the impressions I have gained through two Socrates in the City events, his Bonhoeffer Tour, and some research). Yet, he is no “Falwell-style” Evangelical either. In fact, many average Evangelicals would be uncomfortable with some of the people Metaxas has conversations with, not because he is in some way compromising his faith or that the names of those whom he is in contact with would suggest compromise (except maybe for Woody Allen), but because he is willing to have conversations that require an open mind and the ability to critically reflect on information, and because Evangelicals aren’t necessarily known for wanting to have conversations. (The two events I attended would raise eyebrows for Creationists, at least ones who have closed up shop and are no longer willing to consider other hermeneutical approaches.) Frequently, Christians who are broad minded, interdenominational, and intellectual get branded by Evangelicals as liberal. I think that description would miss its mark here. Metaxas is conservative in his beliefs, though he does not appear to operate within typical evangelical boundary lines.
The Socrates in the City (New York) event itself is delightful. Held at the Union League Club of New York, at 38 E 37th Street, the atmosphere is appropriately intimidating. The evening places a common person like me in an atmosphere surrounded by people whose collective social status is far different than his or her own. There are plenty of big hairdos and strings of pearls to gawk at (and that’s just the men!), and people who are comfortable in a high society kind of atmosphere. But as I sit there, I do not feel out of place. I feel perfectly comfortable knowing that I “belong” there because one does not have to be wealthy or socially elite to think, read, and appreciate the value of what is shared by Mr. Metaxas and his guests.
When you arrive (in business attire) you can check your hats and bags, (and perhaps your baggage) at the door, enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres (not an event designed for the Bible Belt obviously), in a historic venue, peruse and purchase the important books pertaining to the evening at the resource table, and then settle in for an evening rich in content, and humor, all for the low, low price of $35!
All joking aside, the event is particularly well done, the Socrates in the City personnel are friendly and helpful (my only contact with them has been at check in and around the resource tables). Now That I have discovered it, Socrates in the City is a priority for me.
The Next Event
The only legitimate complaint someone could have about Socrates in the City, other than that the evening does not last long enough, is that there is no real calendar to speak of on the website; no way to tell what is coming next. You have to watch the website, get on the email list in order to stay abreast of what is going on. (The website is a great resource though, for video, etc. of past events!) So, while I can’t tell you when the next event will be or who will be the guest, I can guarantee that, if you are interested in the next guest, it will be well worth your while to attend! And I will very likely see you there!
Scott Fowler is the founder of the Christ and Culture Initiative. He is a pastor/theologian living in New York. You can learn more about him at Scottythinks.com.