Monday, March 09, 2009

God and the city

I've already admitted that strategically it's hard to ignore the influence and impact of cities (however you define them) but that's very different from creating a Biblical mandate which in effect prioritises cities over anywhere else, which is what I understand men like Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll to be advocating.

Their biblical argument (I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong) is as follows:
  • Man began in a garden but ended in a city (Revelation) and that's as God intended it
  • The early church succeeded in winning whole regions because like Paul they concentrated their mission on cities
  • Cities are the cultural centres and when God told Adam and Eve to work the garden that is a mandate to create culture and so logic says Christians must prioritise cities.
Those are the main ones I think, simplistically put. By contrast I guess you could argue
  • God created people in a garden and sin expelled them where they built cities.
  • Jesus' mission and strategy virtually ignored cities for the whole of his three years of public ministry
  • Cities are not independent. I know this is a shock to a lot of city dwellers but food needs growing and not just picking from a supermarket.
I'm not sure the Bible is neutral on the subject of cities, I think it has positive and negative things to say but the issue is whether there is a reasonable biblical imperative for mission to cities over other places.

Positives would be God's concern for Ninevah (Jonah 4:11), His love for Zion (Ps 48:2) and of course the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2). Jesus said his disciples should be light, like a city on a hill.

But God does seem to spend a lot of his time judging cities such as Babel (Gen 11:8), Jerusalem (Is 1:21 e.g.).

True Heb 11:16 says God has prepared a city for us, the city of God but that's why on earth we don't have a city (Heb 13:14).

Some cities are like Jerusalem and others are like Sodom. Choose carefully would be my advice. I guess I'm unconvinced by Keller's thesis on this one. He argued that to culturally win a region you first needed to win the city. Militarily of course the opposite is also true. Capture the countryside and the cities will starve. Biblically, cities are important but then so are places like Nazareth.


Blue, with a hint of amber on 9 March 2009 at 11:21 said...

Even basic history suggests some of the claims made about cities are overstated.

From the civil war to the growth of methodism, you see rural communities rising up and shaping the nation.

Within the church from the puritans to the welsh revival you see huge moves of God amongst rural populations.

Within economics smaller towns can have huge impact, such as mobile phones in Newbury or before them, the industrial development of coalbrookdale in Shropshire.

I don't doubt that cities are important, but what percentage of MPs don't represent a city? They each have a vote too.

And what does "reaching a city" actually mean, when many of the key decisionmakers and lawmakers live in leafy towns an hour by train away.

One problem I see is that Christian culture so often falls into the trap of "They have a big church, they must be right". But all things being equal, many churches in cities should be bigger then their rural equivalent, as they are fishing in a bigger pond.

Kevin Gill on 9 March 2009 at 14:11 said...

Hiya Phil,
This is a really helpful post. At Church in the Peak we are living with a vision to plant churches across the Peak District and beyond with promises of revival (note where many of them have started!) that will impact the cities around us. It's possible to feel that such a call is marginalised by the strategists.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Bril post. I've been very concerned about the way some have treated the preaches about cities as if it is a prophetic word. I live in a town and know God has called me to influence society.

Just a Disciple on 11 March 2009 at 23:11 said...

I don't get the problem.

If you're called to anything but a city, be glad that you are doing what God has asked of you.

If you're called to the city, be glad that you are doing what God has asked of you.

Does God want to save those in the city, yes.
Does God want to save those in the villages, yes.

Seems to me the distinction is unhelpful.

Seems to me "Townies", don't understand "villagers", and "villagers" don't get cities at all.

So why are you het up about what one City dweller says? - Are you not aware of what God has said to you? Was it not one small boy that faced the mighty Goliath?

Let us not be concerned with whether Cities or towns or villages or even houses are more influential. Let us be more concerned with being influenced by the Spirit of God.

What did Mark Driscoll remind us of? "Despite how it might seem, Most churches in the USA are 50 people or less.... (I suspect that's the same for the UK)"

It's typical of men to be concerned about size. It's not how big His church is, it's what we do in it.

Rob Mason

Phil on 12 March 2009 at 08:53 said...

Hi Rob, well I guess I'm 'het up' about this city dweller because he was invited to speak to the leaders of a movement and if our movement becomes increasingly about 'cities' I think that will make it harder for us to hear the Spirit calling people to towns and villages.

What I'm trying to do is engage with the biblical narrative behind it, because Keller argued there is a biblical imperative/bias to cities. If that's the case we should take that into account.

Blue, with a hint of amber on 12 March 2009 at 09:41 said...

Hi Rob, I am not sure you've got the point of what Phil is saying.

Seems to me the distinction is unhelpful.

Exactly. Which is why a teaching series which makes the distinction, makes it from scripture, and has the potential to shape the future of our movement, is well worth discussing.

Are you not aware of what God has said to you? Was it not one small boy that faced the mighty Goliath?

Yes, exactly. If "God is wanting the cities" is the only message: where does that leave those in towns?

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