Two Urban Manifestos for Evangelical Christians
"The city," says Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, "is humanity's greatest invention."
Not everybody agrees with Glaeser's glowing assessment, but judging by recent population trends, most do. Every day 180,000 people move into cities, and in 2011, for the first time in world history, the majority of the world's population became urban. It's estimated that in 2050, 86.2 percent of the population of developed countries will reside in cities. As magnets for talent, engines of innovation, and centers of culture, cities have eclipsed the nation-state as the primary sculptors of modern life.
Following tightly on the heels of urbanologists like Edward Glaeser, Richard Florida, and Joel Kotkin, evangelicals have recognized a golden opportunity. Two new books—Stephen T. Um and Justin Buzzard's Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church (Crossway) and Jon M. Dennis's Christ and City: Why the Greatest Need of the City Is the Greatest News of All (Crossway)—herald both the unprecedented importance and unmistakable biblical significance of the city. But only Why Cities Matter strikes the right balance between social analysis and ministry focus, encouraging readers not just to live in the city but also to engage its people and culture with the gospel.
An Unlikely Duo
Um and Buzzard are an unlikely duo. Though both are pastors, one (Um) is an academic from Boston, the other (Buzzard) a church planter from Silicon Valley. Um is Asian, in his 40s, and wears suits; Buzzard is white, in his 30s, and wears T-shirts. But perhaps it is just such a diverse relationship—a theme they explore in the book under the heading "connective diversity"—that makes Why Cities Matter a success.
Cities are dense clusters of people as well as centers of power, culture, and worship. For example, the top ten urban regions, home to just 6.5 percent of the world's population, churn out 43 percent of the world's economic output. Cities spawn global culture through movies (Los Angeles, Mumbai), fashion (Paris, Milan), finance (New York, London) law (Washington, D.C, Beijing), and, of course, religion. To those who call cities "secular," the authors retort, "Cities are centers of worship because they are filled to the brim with worshipers—people giving their lives away to realities they believe will fulfill them." There are no urban atheists, they assert; everybody worships something.