In this book, the forward speaks about how too often we see the church as a what. It is an object outside ourselves, a building we go to, a vending machine basically. “Seeing the church as a what resulted in a church-centric approach to our understanding of mission. That has in turn created our perspective on how the church fits into our culture.” We see the church as just another thing to fit into our culture along with business, government, arts/media, social sector, education, and health care. This is not a healthy view. “In the New Testament, the church is not a what; it’s a who. Jesus is identified as the head not of a corporation but of a body. He is not a senior partner in a corporation; he is a spouse in a marriage. In other words, the church is people. Missional followers of Jesus see themselves as the church…The missional church sees itself as the people of God (a who) already deployed across all domains of culture. These life-place assignments have been made by a God who desires to plant the incarnational presence of his Son everywhere, because God so loves the world, not just the church. Whereas ‘doing church’ builds the church silo (a what)… ‘being church’ (as a who)… releases the church to impact the world—right where God’s people are.”
The City Matters
This book takes that missionally-driven approach and applies it to the city. They begin their book with their own personal journey of doing missional works in the city. The city a few years back became the place where most the world’s population dwells for the first time in all of humanity. There are now more people living in cities than in rural areas. The book is about understanding the vital part of the city in God’s redemptive plan. French philosopher Jacque Ellul wrote a book called “The Meaning of the City”. In it, Mr. Ellul talks about how the city was born out of rebellion with Cain. Cain was told to go wonder, but Scripture says he started a city instead. The city is born out of death, murder, and evil. But throughout Scripture we see God’s attempts to reconcile the city to Himself and to redeem it. We also see that eschatologically that God’s final redemption of all humanity and creation will come through a new city, a city of peace, The New Jerusalem. Understanding the city’s important role in the salvific process is key to missiology. Jacque Ellul said in “The Meaning of the City”, “The city dweller becomes someone else because of the city. And the city can become something else because of God’s presence and the results in the life of a man who has met God. And so a complex cacophony raises its blaring voice, and only God can see and make harmony of it.” Will we be a part of this cacophony lending ourselves to God’s plan for the city or not?
A Definition for City
Instead of walking through all the complex sociological definitions for city Eric Swanson and Sam Williams give us this: “[Tim] Keller defined a city…as ‘a walkable, shared, mixed-us, diverse area. It is a place of commerce, residence, culture, and politics.’ We like that definition because it defines a city by utility and function rather than the size of the population. It is a definition that is both scalable and culturally transferable.”
The Good the City Needs
Eric and Sam write, “In defining cities, it will also be important for us to think about what cities have needed in order to thrive and grow throughout different stages of human history.” The city is not something that is simply defined, but we must not simply leave it at coming up with a working definition. In “The City: A Global History” writer Joel Kotkin writes, “Since the earliest origins, urban areas have performed three separate critical functions—the creation of sacred space, the provision of basic security, and the host for a commercial market. Cites have possessed these characteristics to greater or lesser degrees. Generally speaking, a glaring weakness in these three aspects of urbanity has undermined life and led to their eventual decline.” These three functions–creating a sacred space, security, and a commercial market—are deeply vital to the well-being of a city. As missional Christians it is key to our Lord’s mission that we wade deeply into all three of these and bring to it redemptive qualities if we want to seek the peace of the city.
Six Reasons We Need to Engage with Cities
We must come to realize that cities shape and impact culture in more ways than rural areas. Being here in Knoxville for five years, I have seen how Postmodernism is very much in full swing here. I grew up in rural areas, and I can see how Postmodernism has not made that deep of an impact in these areas just yet. We can see the influence of Hollywood and media, which is consumed by hard Postmodernism and Liberalism. These things are due to cities I believe. The authors write that we need to engage cities for these 6 reasons:
- Cities have a transforming effect on people.
- Cities form a creative center.
- Cities create fertile ground for thinking and receptivity.
- Cities can help people live more efficiently and productively.
- Cities are valued by God.
- The early Christian movement was primarily urban.
It would take many pages to talk about all this book. They explore so many things in-depth. I have really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to all.