Review: Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard

Why Cities Matter by Um and Buzzard

Book Review: Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture and the Church by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard (Crossway, 2013)

Acknowledgment: I would like to express my gratitude to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Why do cities matter?

This is the question that drives the book as a whole.  Both Dr. Um and Mr. Buzzard are well versed and equipped to address such a question, as they both live and minister in world-class cities (Boston and Palo Alto), and are part of church planting movements that focus on ministry in a wide variety of contexts (Acts 29 and Redeemer City to City).

What is more, this particular book is a clarion call for effective ministry in any context, not just cities.  The focus on cities is certainly present throughout the book, but filled within it’s pages is a wealth of material to help any pastor, church planter or lay leader effective engage, reach and ultimately disciple people wherever they are.  One premise that I particularly benefited from in this book though, was that ministry is not just for individuals, it’s for cities themselves.  Each city (as defined by centers of density and diversity most generally by the authors) has a personality, and if we want to minister the gospel effectively to people in cities, we must know, engage and seek to influence the structures of the city with the message of the gospel.

The authors spend a great deal of time expressing what it is that makes cities what they are.  They do emphasize that they are primarily places of density and diversity (lots of people of different backgrounds and varieties), but in addition, they talk about the ideal of the city.  A city was a place where anyone could find safety, security and promise of hope.  This was true of cities in antiquity as they were known for their fortified walls and economic prospects, and it still hold true today.  People come to cities looking to belong (safety, security) and become (hopeful of a better future).  The authors address this in a winsome and comprehensive, yet still accessible way.  They also talk about what you find inside cities; centers of power, culture and ultimately, worship.  It is because of these centers that cities often attract what the authors label the “aspirational”, the “marginal” and the “explorational.” Each group is looking for life, meaning and happiness, and cities provide the context for finding it – whether directed towards God (as Creature and Sustainer) or other false gods (the creation and psuedo-saviors). For this reason, cities matter as a strategic place to proclaim by word and deed the message of the gospel.

In addition, their chapter on Bible and the City (ch. 3) is a masterful sweep of the Biblical portrait of cities.  Every aspect of Scripture is combed for an understanding of cities – their importance, their promise and even their dangers – and what one is left with is a biblically convincing case that cities are to be places that reflect God’s will and intention for all humanity.  Cities matter to God and it is evident throughout the pages of Scripture.

I also greatly appreciated their chapters on Contextualization in the City (ch. 4) and Ministry Vision for the City (ch. 5).  Both are treasure troves for anyone looking to make an impact in their context for the gospel.  Perhaps I was drawn to these as I am an aspiring church planter, but I believe anyone could take the principles and apply them wherever they are.  Perhaps the biggest single helpful item in these chapters is the principle that in order to reach and engage people and cities with the gospel, you must first take an interest in establishing the relationship to be able to speak intelligently into their lives.  In other words, listen, then speak.  Anyone can go anywhere and just start preaching; but to preach against the false gods and psudeo-saviors of a city as well as a neighbor, one has to take the time to think through and get to know what are the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears held by those we’re talking with.  Both chapters provide plenty of helpful insights and questions for doing just that.

The one weakness of the book as I read it was the somewhat cavalier attitude towards non-cities.  Now, in all fairness, the scope of the book was focused on cities, and no author should ever be expected to say everything and everything.  They had a focus, and overall I think they did an excellent job covering that focus.  But throughout the book, mention was made of cities as opposed to suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.   I don’t like the contemporary debate about which is more important to God and therefore ministry – cities or other places – as I think it misses the point.  God cares about every place and is redeeming all things to Himself.  There’s plenty of room under that umbrella for both cities (who granted have a greater concentration of imago Dei‘s than rural areas) and rural communities.

What I would have liked to have seen though, is mention and discussion of the relationship between cities and suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.  These divisions make for great sociological studies and discussion topics, but in real life, they are more integrated and related than we might like to believe.    Are you only reaching, engaging and discipling a “city” if you are located in the “city-center” part of that city?  Or are there ways of reading, engaging and discipling a “city” if you go to where the people live, work and play?  I think that these questions might lend towards greater nuance of the relationship between cities and other aspects of cities (suburbs, exurbs, rural) and provide a more holistic approach to ministry in our cities.

Despite this one weakness, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  In fact, it would be a go-to resource to anyone wanting to minister in a city context as it distills a ton of information in a clear, straightforward way, and has plenty of applicable and helpful points for anyone in ministry.  To end the review on the note the book ended:

“Cities matter. Let’s get to it.”

Link: Paperback and Kindle versions.

Francis Schaeffer Lecture Series – Emerging Church

Darrin PatrickHere is the content for the Covenant Seminary’s Francis Schaeffer Institute Lecture Series (that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?) on the Emerging Church. This was a series of talks given by Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey and V.President of the Acts 29 Network. Darrin is a guy who neither absolutely praises or bashes the Emerging Church movement. Instead, he gives a really good inside picture of it, while also standing somewhat outside of it and gives it a good critical assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. If you’re out there and you’re the least bit curious, or cautious, of anything that bears the label “emerging”, then listen to these lectures.

Audio Content (page – you can download the lectures individually)

Written Content (abridged notes from the talks)

Tim Keller – Contextualization

timkeller.jpgThis is the best quote I have come across on contextualization, and it happens to come from…you guessed it…Tim Keller. Much thanks to Darrin Patrick for talking through this and pointing to this definition about contextualization at the FSI Lecture Series this weekend on the Emerging Church (check out http://covenantseminary.edu in a couple of days/weeks for the audio – if they post it.)

Quote on Contextualization:

Contextualization is not giving people what they want. It is giving God’s answers (which they probably do not want) to the questions they are asking and in forms they can comprehend.

CT Article on Gospel Coalition

The Gospel CoalitionColin Hansen has an article for CT about The Gospel Coalition.  Its a good excerpt, and worth reading to understand what I think is an exciting and important trend for the shaping of future ministry, particularly in the U.S.   Here are a couple of good quotes (from Keller, yes!), but do go read the rest of the article (click here).

“I want to see more churches and leaders joining hands across denominational and network lines to think out how to do effective mission based on the historic, classical understanding of the gospel as it has come down to us from the Reformation and through the Awakenings.”

“If we seek service rather than power, we may have significant cultural impact,” the statement says. “But if we seek power and social control, we will, ironically, be assimilated into the very idolatries of wealth, status, and power we seek to change.”-Tim Keller

Signs of an Unhealthy Church

Anthony BradleyAnthony Bradley has another great post over at The Institute regarding two things: 1) Some great sermon series’ from some solid, missional churches (I’ve only listened to the series from the Journey, which I highly recommend listening to, but the others look pretty good as well), 2) some thoughts ans signs of unhealthy churches.  I found them pretty interesting, what do you all think?  Here they are (click here to go to Anthony’s full post):

Here are some signs of possible immature and unhealthy churches and/or dying or dead churches:

(1) Little or no adult baptisms. That tells you A LOT about who the church is NOT engaging. (Acts 18:10) Fellas, did you know that there are actually Christians who don’t think it is odd that their church hardly ever has adult baptisms. Some don’t even at an eye at that. Shouldn’t that be kind’a embarrassing? The most I’ve ever personally been involved with, as a church employee, was when I worked at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philly). It was an amazing number.

(2) It’s mono-ethnic( except for rural churches). If the church is in or near a major city and the church represents a segregated mono-culture (by race and/or class) in leadership and membership you are right to think that is kind’a odd. It’s 2007 not 1907. And, sadly, church leaders and members avoid living in the epicenter of major cities. (Rev. 5:8-14; Eph. 4)

(3) The church has no social witness. Members and regular attenders are not personally involved in local, state, or national social issues (wherever the curse is found) at any level. It’s not a regular part of their family life. (James 1:27)

(4) Infrequent practice of the sacraments.

(5) Non-Christians are not involved in the life of the church, the personal lives of church goers, or attending worship (Lev. 19:33-34).

(6) The preaching, teaching, programs, aesthetics, music, etc. primarily appeal to 40-something women and their children. The men may be physically present but are bored and/or dead.

More good thoughs on “missional” and denominations

There’s a great post over at ‘Conn’-versation regarding the shape of younger Christian leaders and the whole “missional” conversation. I appreciate the post because it has put words to my scattered thoughts, particularly in relation to missional conversations within reformed denominations. For anyone trying to live and move in both worlds, this can be more tricky, and require a bit more awareness and discernment with the things we say or do. Anyway, here’s a great quote to wet your appetite:

“The adjective Missional will likely have its day in the sun and end dried up in the field of other helpful, but not bygone categories, but the changing ecclesiology it sought to capture will remain until and if we experience the Southern Hemisphere shape of Christendom to come (spoken of by people like Philip Jenkins) expanding into the landscape of our Post-Christian West in a culturally transforming manner.”

Check out the whole post here.

(P.S. – I have yet to read Jenkins book, but have heard great things about it, and with this post, I will most likely end up reading real soon. Anyone have any thoughts on the book itself?)

What does it mean to be “the Church”?

Anthony BradleyAnthony Bradley has got some good thoughts and a great quote over on his blog The Institute about being the church, and having more of a gospel-centered, “revolutionary” mindset regarding where and how we live as Christians in the world.  I always appreciate the way Bradley challenges me with his thoughts, but even more so, I love it when anyone draws my attention to the fact that Christianity is a “forward” religion – its meant to be lived out on the “offensive” rather than the “defensive” end (for more thoughts on this, check out The Prevailing Church by Randy Pope).

Here’s a quote from a missionary that Bradley includes in his post, and I think it sums things up quite nicely (but do go check out his blog to get the whole sha-bang!):

We need to recover the grand, cosmic significance of Jesus’ saving activity that moves the gospel out of the narrow realm of our self-preoccupation…The gospel properly understood, is much broader than our concerns for personal survival, security, significance, success, or even self-centered sanctification. The gospel presents us with a Jesus, not meek and mild, but One come to set the world on fire. It presents us with a plunderer, and it bids us to throw ourselves away in the pursuit of this new world order. –Bob Heppe, Missionary

Article about Driscoll

driscollFor anyone who isn’t really aware of who Mark Driscoll is, this is a really good article that gives you a good look at the history of his church Mars Hill, as well as some of his background as well as some recent controversies. Check it out here.

Another Conference with Tim Keller

Here’s yet another conference featuring Tim Keller. If only there was enough money (eventimkeller.jpg though early registration is only $99) and time to skip school and go to both this and the Resurgence: Text and Context conference. Tisk, tisk…

Here’s some info about Exponential: The DNA of Reproducing Churches:

Session #1 with Ed Stetzer: The Characteristics of Reproducing Churches – Our plenary sessions will start with a panel of leading Reproducing Church leaders introducing their own perspective on what it takes to multiply churches in a powerful, God-honoring way. We will then analyze DNA traits.

Session #2 with Andy Stanley: Apostolic Vision – The Apostle Paul is passing along the vision of a reproducing church to a young church planter named Timothy. The DNA of reproducing churches contains an apostolic vision of going and sending. As leaders of reproducing churches we must clearly communicate the vision of what it means to be a reproducing church.

Session #3a with Steve Andrews: Radical Disciple Making – What Paul is doing with Timothy is disciple making. What Paul is asking this young church planter Timothy to do is disciple making. Disciple making is essential to leadership making which is essential to church making which is essential for being a reproducing church.

Session #3b with Dave Ferguson: Genuine Community – The pattern that Paul had left for Timothy to follow was the creation of eternal communities called the church. The result of an apostolic vision and radical disciple-making is always a community of people who will get each other through anything and offer hope to those outside the community in this life and the next.

Session #4 with Alan Hirsch: Missional Movement – From Paul to Timothy to “many witnesses” to “reliable men” to “others” shows us four generations of reproduction. The DNA of reproducing churches contains a missional impulse to multiply. As a part of a movement of reproducing churches we must continually insist that we see reproduction in every part of the mission.

Session #5 with Tim Keller: The Gospel – What Paul passed along to Timothy and ultimately to generations of reproduction was the good news of the hope we find in Jesus. The DNA of reproducing the church of Jesus Christ always carries with it the hope found in the person of Jesus. This is what the vision and movement are all about; offering people the hope found in Jesus and His community.

Keller excerpt from The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern WorldThis is a quote from Tim Keller’s chapter in the upcoming book The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, from Crossway publishing. It’s being compiled from the sessions of this past Desiring God conference, and just this quote alone is enough to guarantee that I’m buying and reading it. Excellent topic, great thinkers and men who love Jesus and His world – what more could you ask for!

Here’s the quote, but know that over at the Desiring God blog, you can read a larger excerpt from Keller’s chapter: On Gospel Humiliation

“…unless something comes into your life that breaks you of your self-righteousness and pride, you may say you believe the gospel of grace but, as we said above, the penny hasn’t dropped. You aren’t a sign of the gospel yourself. You don’t have the Jonah principle working in you. You aren’t a strength-out-of-weakness person. God will have to bring you low if he is going to use you in evangelism.”