Below is an attempt to sketch out an approach to urban theology and urban missiology. I’m hoping to pick up and flesh out some of these points in more detail. Particularly over the next few weeks I want to talk a little bit more about what I mean by urban theology what it is and what it isn’t and why we need it. The other one is the question the church and its idols. Feel free to pitch in by sending comments via our contact form. No doubt there’ll be some conversations on Twitter.
Apologies as well in advance that this is essentially a brain dump in note form.
- The challenge of urban mission
Two parts to this both interconnected. The first part is the challenge of the context. What are the specific challenges of reaching our urban contexts with the Gospel. What are the challenges that people living in urban Britain face, why agree these places seen as hard places to reach? This will come down to idolatry – what are the idols in urban cultures and why do they have such a hold?
The second part is the challenge of the church – the charge that we prefer our leafy suburbs, why is it hard to get urban mission on the agenda. This may well also be about idols too? This includes asking “What are the idols of middle class church and how do they affection urban mission?
- Urban Theology what it is and what it is not.
Note the tendency to think in terms of theologies being about shaping beliefs or creating a Gospel to fit a niche group for example feminist or gay theology, primarily about attempting to reinterpret Scripture and develop a hermeneutic to enable a different doctrine that does not challenge sin in those areas.
However, note as well the move to encourage theologians from majority world contexts. This is recognising that theology is understood in context. So, we are talking applied theology, missiology and pastoral theology.
That’s what I mean by the need for urban theology and theologians – those who can apply unchanging truths to specific contexts.
A suggested methodology would be based on JH Bavinck/ Hendrik Kraemer/ Dan Strange and the concept of Subversive fulfilment. Strange breaks this down in to step in, search out, show up, show off ( nb he has chosen different wordings in Their Rock is not our Rock).
Step in and search out because of the points of contact with a culture – the desire for something good – fulfilment.
Show up and show off because of the subversive bit – the problem of idolatry which comes when we believe lies about God, Creation, Humanity and New Creation.
Remember this is true of urban working class but also suburban middle class
- Understanding the Urban Context
There are multiple urban contexts
Nb Urban Regeneration plus the growth of University Education means we may often be talking in terms of aspirational and prosperous contexts within the city. This is distinct itself
Urban, white Working class/Estate -& often the sense of underclass/ left behind
But also, some meeting points and melting pots where diff cultures share space and an intentional desire to be multi-cultural
Discussion and analysis of culture, hopes and fears, points of contact, idolatry.
Seeking collectivist solutions – think in terms of the Labour Movement and when that was felt to have failed/ deserted alt and far right populism Brexit
Suspicion of the outsider and those different
Strong male and female role models
How the class system is perceived, perception of being passive, things are done for or to you
Other contexts – pluralism especially in the diverse areas – tolerance as solution
Desire to help (saviour -activists) – to what extent is this about personal fulfilment
Things to explore here – the failure of idols
The problem of humanism – lies we believe about God …God as distant – talk about near idols and far idols? We put our trust in things near, hence the collectivist solutions .. also superstitions.
Humanity lies …. both about human potential the promise we can fix things and human threat- the other look for protection
The offer of other religions e.g Islamist radicalization, Far Right ideology …
The idols of Christendom inc cults, prosperity Gospel etc
Our idols fail us and our idols expose us to other dangerous idols
So think in terms of
- Gang culture
- Drugs, alcohol
- Debt, loan sharks
- Abusive relationships
Nb each of these you could cycle through the subversive fulfilment cycle individually
Other things to draw in here …
Guilt and shame
Abusers, victims and faithful servants
This is where we show that the Gospel both subverts idolatry and fulfils hopes dreams ..
A new name in Christ identity, justification
Alternative Community – includes possibility of bringing down barriers and crossing boundaries Trinity, unity and diversity….
The urban missionary’s idols
- The cross-cultural missionary
Identifying self as hero/saviour
The social gospel distraction
Confusing class/ Culture with Gospel – likely to include individualism as idol
2. The indigenous missionary
Temptation to over identity with and to excuse idols as culture and so miss dangers and root causes mentioned above so that symptoms are treated not causes
3. The returnee
Temptation to identify with the cross cultural missionary’ idols bringing back their solutions
Seeing self as saviour especially the “I know it because I’m from here” mindset when actually things have changed and you have forgotten.
The need to execute our own hearts is huge here and this will mean a form of subversive fulfilment on myself … when did God last disagree with me.
The church’s idols
The reasons we don’t go
- Comfort – it is too hard, accept a maintenance mode
- Hierarchies, there target of specific groups, in the last century it was public school and now is students and grads, hope that you get the influencers in society
- The hero/ saviour – we look for specific often mavericks to go in for us. They often are quirky and we may see these quirks as necessary for the mission when they are not