Van Engen, Charles and Tiersma, Jude editors. God So Loves the City. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1994.
Charles Van Engen tells us the essence of this book: it is “to explore ways to integrate theology, urban studies, and contextualization in a theologically informed, holistic, and transformational theology of mission.” This book is a collection composed of the writings of a group of doctoral students in the School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary. In composing this book, the authors reflected upon their personal experiences. By doing this they were able to create a theology of mission for the city. Another thing that we should note is that out of the attempt to create an urban theology of mission, the authors espoused a particular methodology for doing theology of mission in the city.
One aspect of this book that was rather insightful was Charles Van Engen’s development of the method for doing theology of mission in the city. In chapter eleven he elaborates upon the methods which were used throughout the book. He outlines the following steps: 1-approach the city, 2-use a story, 3-examine the context in which the story occurs, 4-re-read the scriptures in light of what we now know, 5-re-examine mission in light of these discoveries, 6-integrate these insights into a practical method, 7-retell the story in light of all that has been done. I believe that this method enables us to create a truly contextualized theology of mission in whatever setting we might find ourselves.
One negative aspect of this book that stands out is that the book does not spend enough space developing an urban theology of mission. Rather the majority of the book consists of stories and contexts of ministry done in urban settings. I understand that this is part of the methodology espoused in the book; however for a book that claims that its aim is to create a theology for urban mission it comes short in accomplishing its goals. I believe this problem could have been solved by spending more time on the last three steps that Van Engen outlined in chapter eleven.
As someone who is interested in theology and contextualization I am seeing how important it is to be able to contextualize our theology while staying faithful to the scriptures. This book provides a practical and easy method for doing this. Since this book was read in a Biblical Theology of Mission course, seeing how scholars create a contextualized theology of mission is particularly helpful since I am learning to do this as well. This book provides a framework for theologizing in an academic setting and out on the mission field. The insights given by this book are easy to apply in urban settings, as well as any other setting in which a person doing mission might find themselves.
Overall this book was enjoyable and insightful. The inclusion of stories which come from the author’s lives and ministries added a personal element to the book. The stories prevented the book from becoming a pedantic academic exercise and allowed this book to become an interesting and applicable exploration of doing mission out in the real world. One chapter which stood out in my eyes was Mary Thiessen’s chapter “When we are dying in the city: Three sources of life.” In this chapter she tells the story of a ministry which is falling apart from the inside. In the section on context she examines the way these types of ministries end up dying. Her rereading of scripture shows us how the Holy Spirit brings vitality to those who are carrying out His mission. She then takes these insights and applies them to the story given in the beginning. It is chapters like these which are so practical and theologically informed that show that the method Charles Van Engen outlines in chapter eleven is a useful method for creating a theology of mission in the city.