In his book, A Theology as Big as the City,[1] the author Ray Bakke challenges the reader to think theologically about cities. Spanning 25 brief chapters, Bakke tells stories from his 40-years of inner-city ministry experience as well as from cities in the Bible. We are facing challenges as never seen before: in numbers (50% of the world population is urban), in global migration, in institutionalized church structures, and in the high price tag for urban missions. Rather than retreating further from the city, Bakke encourages the church to engage and develop a theology that is big as the city.

Through reading this book, I became aware of the rural blinders I had been wearing when reading and preaching the Word. I could easily relate to Bakke’s personal story, having made the move myself from rural to urban. Yet, my 18 years of living and serving in Amsterdam and Hanoi, I had never studied Scripture to understand God’s perspective on the city.

God’s story starts in a garden and ends in a city. Cities are an integral part of God’s design: they are not evil, as some Christians fear, and they are not places to “conquer” or “take” for Christ. A city is “an organic, dynamic series of relationships” (p. 63). God loves cities and God loves the people that make up the cities.

One story that particularly struck me was that of Jerusalem and her sister cities Sodom and Samaria. Jerusalem had all the advantages to be a model city centered on her relationship with God. Instead, the morality of the city degraded while the outward forms of religion remained propped up. The Lord could not stand the hypocrisy and confronted the people of Jerusalem, stating that her ways were more depraved than that of Samaria and Sodom. As a result, the “city of God” was laid in ruins and her citizens taken to Babylon. They were instructed to seek the welfare and pray for the city (Neh. 28:7)–a lesson learned the hard way.

The church runs the same risk of running a religious show that is disconnected from God’s heart and concern for the cities of the world. Bakke challenged me to not only develop a theology of the city, but also for the people of the city. My Biblical perspective must be big enough to answer the questions that cities and citizens raise.

Inspired by Bakke, I developed a 10-week sermon series titled “God of the City,” which we did in the Spring of 2008. I explored the origin, intention, rise, and fall of cities throughout the Bible, focused on the stories of urban characters, and encouraged our congregation to adopt the early church’s global urban missional strategy. We also printed promotional products with “I ? Hanoi.” This year, we are launching an initiative called “Love ? Hanoi.” We pray this will create a movement to love the people of this city unconditionally by meeting real-felt needs. I hope you will join us!

By Jacob Bloemberg

[1] Bakke, Raymond J. A Theology as Big as the City. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

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