Missiology: Urban Mission Part 5 – A Biblical Theology of the City

Over the next few days I will be posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I will start by taking a look at some of the issues brought up by the urban explosion, and I will conclude by reflecting upon how the Gospel addresses these issues.

Today we will look be taking a super brief look at what the Bible has to say about cities. This is a “mini-biblical theology of the city.”


III-Re-Reading the Scriptures: A Brief Biblical Study of the City

            So far we have looked at the rapid growth of cities and the factors contributing to that growth. Also, we have looked at the issues brought about due to the migratory nature of this growth in the cities, namely poverty and cultural heterogeneity. Now we turn to the scriptures. By turning to the scriptures we can reflect upon what God says regarding cities and their role in the life of the church.

The Bible’s attitude towards cities is rather ambivalent. Some cities in the Bible are seen as the embodiment of evil. For instance one may look at Babel, whose inhabitants tried to be equal with God.  In the New Testament, one can look to Rome as the city who persecuted Christians. When some Christians think of cities, they think of the immorality of cities like Sodom and Gomorrah. They think of the injustice and oppression caused by Babylon. They think of cities like Nineveh which is called a “city of bloodshed, utterly deceitful, full of booty, no end to the plunder” (Nahum 3:1) and are reminded that they enslave nations through their debauchery (Nahum 3:4). They point out the fact that God will destroy Nineveh and leave it in ruin. They point to the fact that humans were created and placed in a garden (Genesis 2:8), and that Israel experiences God in the wilderness (Hosea 2:14).

Others try to make the case that cities are God’s intention for humanity. They argue that cities are a place of security (Genesis 4:14, 17 and Psalm 46:1-5). They show that God has established his city forever (Psalm 48:8), and that he dwells in his city among the people (Psalm 87:1-3). They point out Revelation 21:2, the New Jerusalem of Revelation, where God dwells with his people forever. They show that God’s people are to seek out the shalom, or comprehensive well being of the city (Jeremiah 29).[1]

So the question is: are cities God’s intention or are they a corruption of human purposes? Conn notes that this is the wrong question to be asking. This question assumes a false dichotomy. He suggests that we se the city as a “center of integrative social power, capable of preserving, changing, and interpreting human culture both for and against God’s divine purpose.” [2] Understanding the city to be a formidable force for transformation as well as the location where God’s purposes can be fulfilled or challenged will result in Christians reexamining ministry to cities. Cities are where cultural transformation occurs, they are vital centers of cultures as well as the base for many movements. For instance, one can look to Paul’s missionary journeys. Paul focused on cities like Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. He saw the great potential the cities had for fulfilling God’s missionary purposes. With the rapid process of urbanization occurring in our world today, we must come to see the city’s role in God’s missionary purposes.

[1] Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez, Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 35.

[2] Conn and Ortiz, Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City, and the People of God, 233.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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