Tag: urban theology

The Apologetic Power of a Missional Community

At Austin City Life we talk about the “apologetic power of a Jesus-centered missional community.” What do we mean by this? We believe that one of the greatest apologetics–arguments for the gospel–is a community that embodies the gospel in missional form, a church that invites unbelievers and skeptics into an unpretentious community of imperfect, winsome believers who are laboring to renew their communities and cities socially and spiritually in and through the gospel of Christ.

We believe that Jesus calls us to make relationships and mend the brokenness of our city as an end in itself, not merely as a way to convert someone. We are against a bait-and-switch evangelism. Rather, we are imperfectly trying to engage people and culture in a way that betters individuals, families, and cities. In Luke 4 and Isaiah 61 Jesus made a connection between the “good news” and restored cities. We are trying to live that connection out, believing that it will compel others to embrace Jesus and join us in living our this apologetic.

This is, in fact, the legacy of the early Church. Historian Rodney Stark comments on the response of the early Church to suffering and broken cities:

…religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable. The power of Christianity lay not in its promise of otherworldly compensations for suffering in this life, as has so often been proposed. The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as “Love one’s neighbor as one’s self, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor…

Stark goes on to note that Christiainity gained converts because of this kind of faith. This is not bumper sticker Christianity–pithy slogans and empty actions. Social mission was part of the very nature of the church. It is our hope and practice that Austin City Life does not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; but that we actually made life less miserable as well as more hopeful.

The Church, church buildings, and New Urbanism

A couple months ago I posted on new urbanism, mentioning a book by Philip Bess called Till We Have Built Jerusalem. New urbanism is “an American urban design movement that arose in the early 1980s intended to reform all aspects of real estate development and urban planning, from urban retrofits to suburban infill. New urbanist neighborhoods are designed to contain a diverse range of housing and jobs, and to be walkable.” One takeaway from this movement is the notion that neighborhoods can be redesigned to promote community. Urban sprawl mitigates this kind of community feel.

New York City has picked up on these ideas in an effort to beautify and re-urbanize the city. David Taylor (same Taylor who put together the Transforming Culture conference) reviews Bess’ book in “The Good City” in Books and Culture. It’s well worth the read.

I love the ideas coming out of New Urbanism and Philip Bess’ reflections. The notion that our architecture and infrastructure betrays and shapes a certain life philosophy is very important. Cities used be places where children played and people gathered for good, social interaction. Too often, urban centers are now skyscraper gardens with little social space left for anything than after hours entertainment. What would it look like for your city, your neighborhood to cultivate a more community-sensitive setting?

Then there are the architectural implications of new urbanism for churches. Should we just build buildings based on their utility or give greater considerations to aesthetics? Do more ornate and context sensitive buildings really make a difference in the quality of church communities? What about the impact of church architecture on the unchurched? A recent survey shows that unchurched folks are more inclined to visit an aesthetically pleasing church building. Hmm. What is the way forward for the evangelical Church in America given the rise of new urbanism, the insights of Bess & Taylor, and good old common sense?