How do we learn to love and hate the city effectively, redemptively? Left to ourselves, we will swing one of two directions—liberal left (all love and no hate) or fundy right (all hate and no love). Those of us that lean left easily justify uncritical participation in urban culture, making allowances we shouldn’t, condoning messages we can’t. In the name of love, we “relate” to the city. We blunt the scandal of the cross and sell out to the culture. Our love is cheap, more of a love affair than a life-denying, Christ-exalting, people-loving, culture-renewing, city-serving devotion. Perhaps we need more hate in our love.
Those that lean right quickly back into a fight or flight mentality, judging and withdrawing from the city, refusing to dine with sinners and flocking to worship with saints. In the name of truth, we trounce the city, crushing anyone and anything that doesn’t measure up to the truth. We cleanse the cross of its blood, denying Christ the power of redemption and delivering God the Father’s condemnation. Our hate is hollow. It is not outpaced by love, unrelenting in the face of atonement, of the redemption of peoples and cultures. Perhaps we need more love in our hate.
Redoubling our efforts to hate what is despicable and love what loveable will not bring about a biblical, Christlike response to the city. Living in and learning from the city can be done by worldly citizens, people who, to a significant degree, appropriately love and hate the city. Were this not the case, courts and charities could not exist. In order to avoid ascending the moral ladder of self-determined, well-timed urban love and hate, we need some other power. We need the gospel.
The gospel affirms a dual, paradoxical response to the city, but at the same time provides the power of redemption to effect eternal change. Remember, the city is not the problem. We are the problem. Thus, the gospel deals with the citizen first and the city second. Urban culture is the varied expression of its citizens attempting to be truly human. However, they—we—are fallen humans, in glorious ruin requiring the gospel of Jesus Christ to repair the devastating damage of sin. Only after the human heart is broken over its rejection of the Creator-Redeemer, over seeking personal fortune and fame instead of the riches of God’s eternal glory, can it receive redemption.
The power of redemption, in turn, changes the heart of man who can change his culture and his city. Liberated from the power and penalty of sin, the redeemed are released into true humanity. In turn, we devote ourselves to living, learning, and loving redemptively. We hate the presence of sin and love the presence of righteousness. We offer the city a future as bright as the promises of God, a “city of blinding lights.” We point to the luminescent Zion and join Bono in the song of Yahweh: “Take this city; city should be shining all night long. Take this city if it be your will. Take this heart and make it break.”
The shimmering skyscrapers may sometimes be motivated by pride and greed, but they can also stimulate the urban economy and contribute constructively to human culture. The city certainly needs the gospel, but a whole one at that. In the end, the city can also be a monument to God, especially when it is constructed by citizens that love, hate and redeem the city.
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