Why we need urban theology and urban theologians

I am usually cautious about adding prefixes to the word theology apart from  the normal classifications: biblical, systematic, historical and pastoral. That’s because theology is simply about knowing God through his own revelation and so there is the risk that if I add a prefix based on class, culture or gender I imply that those things will lead me to a different knowledge of Him and his revelation. Certainly, that is what is implicit when people talk about feminist or LBGT theology. The risk is also that I look to God, revelation and theology as something I can employ for my own ends in the particular battle I am fighting.[1]

However, I think There is a place for this type of prefix in cultural contexts  not because we assume that theology is itself subjective but that it’s application to life is contextual. We should keep clear of such labels in the world’s of systematics and Biblical studies   However they are very relevant in applied theology. Indeed, I guess what I am going to talk about in our next post will be no fee to do with missiology and apologetics as an application of systematic theology.

So, exactly because we want to apply theology to urban contexts, especially to inner cities and estates, we need an urban theology to do it. And here is the good news, it is happening. It may not happen  in our academies and lecture theatres yet and there may not be thick tomes adorning our libraries and studies but all the same, urban theology is happening.

It happens wherever people working in urban contexts think Biblically and deep about what they are doing. It happens when inner city pastors preach, when we write our blogs and when we start and training and equipping future leaders, elders, pastors and church planters for the work.

This leaves me with four important things to say

  1. Because we are thinking don’t be surprised if we don’t always agree.  There has to be room for disagreement among “urban theologians” even those who share the same core beliefs.  Infact be ready for more and sharper disagreement, providing it is done with grace, humility and love this is no bad thing and may well reflect a growing maturity in the field as we think harder and deeper, challenging each other as iron sharpens iron.
  2. Be careful with your biases. Because some of us care passionately about the urban mission field and are frustrated at how often it has been neglected, we could too quickly jump on anything that labels itself “urban.” Just like any other theology, you will find good theology and bad. Indeed, I have already come across my fair share of bad urban theology and in fact, I would dare to say that the worst has come from those who most want to sound “theological” ( I hope I am not setting myself up for a fall now!)
  3. So, it is also worth saying that there is some really good stuff out there and in case you haven’t found it yet, where to do so. So. if you are looking, apart from faithroots.net, I recommend


Stephen Kneale

Graham Miller and London City Mission

Duncan Forbes

Mez MConnell and 20 Schemes


  1. Exactly because this is applied theology, there should not be a dichotomy between deep reflection and urgent action.  As we constantly say on faithroots.net, “what we believe affects how we live.”

[1] NB reference to liberal or Reformed theology does come with a specific and intentional claim that those who hold to a particular view are either right or wrong on it.