So, what sorts of idols might we face in urban contexts? I asked this question on twitter and got a question back in return “Do you mean those living in urban contexts or those ministering in urban contexts?”
My response was that we need to think about both, not least because they link and overlap. This is true in every mission context. Think about how much damage has been done around the world by missionaries bringing their own traditions and cultural idols with them.
I would suggest that there are four different ways that planters and pastors can risk falling into idolatry.
1. Those of us who are planting in our communities/cultural contexts risk continuing to be ensnared by idols that we just see as part of our culture and identity.
2. Similarly, those of us who come in from outside in a desire to fit in and contextualise may over-contextualise. We may end up being afraid to challenge idolatry because we want to respect a culture. We may end up both falling into that idolatry ourselves and encouraging others to continue in it.
3. As suggested above, those who come in from outside may risk bringing their own cultural assumptions and traditions with them which cause idolatry. This means both that the planter is never really challenged about their own idolatry and draw the indigenous population into new idolatry instead of replacing idols with Christ.
4. In the same way, the outsider coming in may mirror and endorse the insider’s idolatry, so the insider may mirror and endorse imported idols from outside. So, an indigenous planter may buy into culture, traditions and practices from outside of the community. This is a particular danger where the indigenous culture sees itself as inferior to the external cultures, especially where the church has bought into the belief that the dominant culture is superior and merged culture with Gospel. Another danger in working class contexts is for those of us who grew up in working class communities before leaving to go to University and work. The risk is that we can return to our roots assuming that we are still part of that culture but in fact bringing back in our middle-class assumptions
Can you think of any specific examples of urban idolatry both in the communities we are trying to reach and among the planters?