In 2007 there was a colossal shift in world demographics: the city became the home of the majority of the world population. Urbanization has been a trend in the west for a century and has steadily increased. However, what brought the world city population over the tipping point so quickly were 2nd and 3rd world countries where the speed of urbanization has been tenfold. Obviously this all means that we need to be thinking about the city and all it entails for societies, church, and the Kingdom of God.
Where to start? How about with a look at our understanding of the city.
Does the city have a bad rep? In looking at the writings of both Christian and secular scholars over the course of human history, there is a polarization of how good or bad the city is perceived. It would seem logical to conclude that with the increasing amount of city population today, negativity has increased. However, this is not the case. It seems that throughout history this polarization of views has been ever present. “…writers have revealed the madness of crowds, while others have tried to show how wise the collective can be.” (Hollis 2013; 31)
Cities Are Good For You, written by Leo Hollis, begins with some of the negative and skeptical views that have consistently demeaned the worth of the city:
“The city has long been considered the destroyer of men and, worse, their souls. Literature is littered with stories of the virtuous traveller brought low by temptations. When Dante wrote of Hell, he had Renaissance Florence in mind. The romantic philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau saw the city not as a place of liberty but rather ‘a pit where almost the whole nation will lose its manners, its laws, its courage and its freedom.'” (Hollis 2013; 4)
Hollis proceeds not to deny the negative sides of the city, but challenges some of the popular misconceptions that people have as well as brings to light many of the positive aspects which are so often neglected. He succinctly states: I want to develop a new argument for urbanism, to rewrite the story of the past, and provide hope for the future.
Why should we be positive towards the city? Are there hidden gems to be found that are available to us if we take a careful look? In Christian circles the consensus seems to be that as a church we have been unprepared to engage urban challenges and unaware of its possibilities. In places like Australia Peter Kaldor writes: “The Christian heritage has for so long been based on rural life there that the emergent pattern is ‘a village church in an urban prison’.” (Conn & Ortiz 2001; 234). What is the relevance of the church today in the city? Are we a small group of people feeling caged and looking on the city as an evil to fear? Where lies our perspective, there lies our engagement in the complex pattern of the urban world.
Whether we are negative or positive in our stance towards cities, one thing is for certain: cities are here to stay.
This blog post is the first of many that will seek to discuss the city and the need as the church to engage new ways of not only understanding the city, but being relevant both in answering to its challenges as well enjoying its fruit.
What do you think?