We’re called not to mere soul-winning, but to distinctive discipleship: heralding a worldly gospel of a fleshly Christ who humbly accommodates human culture and understands the human condition.
Reflecting on the emergence of Christian theology in the Early Church and its interaction with the Mediterranean world of ideas, Andrew Walls writes:
Not only were new social situations constantly arising; an intellectual environment that combined the influences of Greek philosophy, Roman law, Eastern mysticism and spirituality, and astral science [sound familiar?] was giving rise to questions that no believers had found it necessary to ask before. That intellectual environment was the highway to a great outworking of creative theological activity, but it must have often seemed to old-style Jewish believers to be dangerous a, unchartered territory. Had the Jesus community retained the proselyte model, Christians would almost inevitably have been taken out of the intellectual mainstream and shut up to their own sacred books.
All too often Christians do their theology on islands, intellectually marooned from the rest of society and culture. Many academics build ivory towers on these islands, distancing themselves from the world beyond the waters even further. Meanwhile, the common Christians uncritically participate in the marketplace of the city–culturally, fiscally, philosophically—becoming indistinguishable from the rest of society.
The model of the early Christians calls the academic out of his tower and into the boat, to traverse the waters to the city, where theology can live. These early disciples of Jesus also call common Christians out of syncretistic, thoughtless participation in Babylon to fruitfully engage their intellectual environment, producing new cultural forms and combating old ones, renewing the city spiritually and socially with a living faith and active theology.
In the recent Mars Hill Audio Journal, Ken Myers interviews Philip Bess, architect and author, who has reflected theologically and architecturally on the implications modern urban planning. In Till We Have Built Jerusalem, he articulates the goodness of urban dwelling based on natural law. He points out that New Urbanists tend to avoid the idea that there is any metaphysical basis for urban communities.
If there is not metaphysical/theological basis for urban dwelling, why should we even care about cities? If there is a biblical theological rationale for urban life, what they is our responsiblity in an age of urban decline and sprawl? Without this urban ontology, city life and culture are rendered haphazzard and purposeless. However, Christian tradition and theology offers a purposeful, even doxological basis for urban life. See my article, “Hate the City, Love the City.”
Strikingly, Bess shows how modern urbanism has displaced former function of the city. Instead of being a moral center that fosters education, citizenry, creation it has become an entertainment center. Suburbia has followed suit, resulting in a massive decline in community, purpose and society. How should we respond? What is our responsibility to the cities we live in? How can we act locally to improve urban life?
I will be taking a break from blogging this week. Among other things, I will try to finish up The Mission of God, by Chris Wright.
Check out good discussion on the terms missionary, mission, and missional from here.