The seminary program I’m in is one focused on urban centers, and to that end we end up reading writings by a crew of pastors and theologians and who want to give a theological emphasis to cities. I’m currently in a course in which we’re reading people like Tim Keller and Harvie Conn.
I bought in to all of this for a long time, but now I’m having some reservations (some of which I’ve mentioned before), which I want to offer up to you all and get your thoughts.
Urban “versus” Rural?
Ever since moving into cities, I’ve fallen in love with them. After hearing Tim Keller talk about them for the first time while in college, I totally bought into the centrality of cities into God’s ongoing mission.
And then….I met my girlfriend who grew up Mennonite on a 300-acre dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania. And it threw all my thoughts on this issue upside down.
It’s been too long since we’ve had a political post hasn’t it? Last week, as part of my “Urban Lessons” mini-series, I wrote on how cities are perhaps the fountainheads of everything that ends up in suburban and rural areas. The things that take place in cities, it seems, always ends up flowing outward into the rest of the country, even if it takes decades or generations to do so.
I had that on my mind when watching this segment of The Rachel Maddow Show from Monday night’s episode. The segment is based off an excellent piece by Alexander Burns in Politico called “GOP big-city mayors vanish”. In it, Burns writes:
Largely unnoticed in Washington, urban Republican politicians have emerged over the last year as perhaps the nation’s most severely endangered political species, as the party has either failed to compete for high-profile mayor’s offices or has been soundly rebuffed by voters. It’s a significant setback that some Republicans view as an ominous sign for the GOP in a country growing steadily more urban and diverse.
Yesterday I started a brief little series going through some lessons I have learned from my first semester back in seminary. I first talked about how (at least in my mind) cities had to be taken off their pedestal. There are desires and needs of the human soul that can’t be met in cities. We need other types of livable environments as well.
And yet, through this semester I was re-grounded in my belief in the essential importance and centrality of urban settings. Above, you’ll find a video reflection I had to make in which I give my perspective on this question: Why should Christians engage in cities? In it, I speak about some of these dynamics that are in greater detail below. (Sorry for the poor video quality.)
I just completed my first trimester of seminary (round 2). I took a class class on Urban Christianity that, while it may not sound like a difficult and comprehensive graduate course, really was demanding at every level. So much so, in fact, it has really changed a lot of the ways I’ve thought about the city and how humans relate to it (especially Christians).
The class really caught me at just the right time. To a certain extent, even before coming to this class, I “got” it. I had imbibed enough Tim Keller and Church Planting material to understand the centrality of the city in the story of the Bible. Further, my church is now my fourth urban church plant, I go to church and live, literally, in “Center City” Philadelphia, and I work in the midst of the brokenness of the city, seeing the extremes of its beauty and brokenness in ways that few people do in their everyday lives.
And yet, especially due to the rural roots of “certain people” extremely close to me (haha), I felt I needed to engage in this class to develop a far more nuanced view of the city. And I think I got that. Over a few posts over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned through this time. I think some of these things are lessons that all of us cool urban twentysomethings could do well to internalize.