Jesus for Midtown

City Life Church aims to meld evangelical Christianity with an urban sensibility

Pastor Marc Holland would be right at home in an acid-jazz group—or a Bible study.

Pastor Marc Holland would be right at home in an acid-jazz group—or a Bible study.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Pastor Marc Holland has answered the call to plant a traditional evangelical church in what is arguably Sacramento’s most progressive neighborhood: Midtown. But then again, City Life Church, which Holland founded in 2007, isn’t your crazy uncle’s evangelical church. Instead, City Life seeks to tread lightly through the theological, intellectual and social minefield that lies between conservative and progressive Christianity.

Holland is aware of the challenges he faces, especially the perception that evangelical Christianity comes with a particular political affiliation. “The way the political dialogue has become so polarized makes me sick,” Holland told SN&R. “It just makes me want to throw up.”

That’s Holland’s style: He doesn’t talk the way you’d imagine an evangelical pastor to talk. And his take on the Bible is decidedly nontraditional. “This idea that the Bible is a giant code book, or rule book that has to be absolutely applied to our lives, doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said. “Nobody reads ancient literature like that. That’s ridiculous.”

With a buzzed head, square-rimmed glasses and a scraggly red goatee, Holland could easily be mistaken for a bassist in an acid-jazz group. But his style fits with part of his message: It’s possible to be a believing Christian and still be, you know, cool.

City Life has taken a questioning, exploratory approach to Christian theology. “We’re interested in a good, intellectually solid worldview and theology,” Holland explained. That will work in Midtown, he said, “because people here are smart.”

“My goal is to create an intellectually credible place of faith in this city,” Holland said. That’s one of the reasons for City Life’s biweekly Open Forum for skeptics, which centers on the PBS series The Question of God.

On a recent Sunday morning, some 40 worshippers gathered in the former Eastern Star Temple on K Street, where Holland’s message was about God’s desire to heal the brokenness of this world. He avoids using the word “sin,” as it “doesn’t track well with people.”

“You know that spirit being, that power, that being that sees everything?” Holland asked as he walked back and forth on the creaky wooden floor. “That being desperately wants to dwell in you.”

Holland’s approach seems to resonate with the Midtown crowd: Worshippers were mostly young, dressed in skinny jeans, fleece and hoodies. City Life also appeals to the socially conscious. The program announced, “We are going green! Bring along your favorite coffee mug for Sunday morning coffee or use one of ours!”

Despite his success, Holland may face an obstacle in the official positions of his parent church, Christian Reformed Church in North America, which takes a conservative stance on issues including homosexuality and gay rights, divorce, abortion and evolution.

It’s not clear how Holland plans to address those issues within City Life, considering his more moderate approach. “A lot of those statements have been penned in small-town rural America,” he said. While Holland did refer to homosexuality as a kind of “brokenness,” he also took issue with the language used in those official statements. “I wonder how many of the people who wrote that statement actually know homosexuals.”

But that’s all part of the challenge of making a 2,000-year-old message relevant in an urban, progressive setting. An honest evaluation of those questions is the key for Holland.

“We are a church that wants to help people explore the Christian faith in a safe environment,” he said.