Thursday, October 1, 2009

I’m not sure I buy the whole ‘theology of city’ thing

As I’ve got back into Keller’s church planting manual, I’ve been reminded of just how big a deal he makes about ‘the city’ (not just his beloved NY but ‘the city’ as a concept). And I’m not sure I buy it.

Some of the significance he attaches to it is for pragmatic reasons; he highlighting Paul’s strategy for reaching the empire via its urban centres and that’s all good, sensible stuff. He highlights the globally strategic position occupied by his city NY and it’s barrenness with regards to the gospel. Sure.

But he also argues that cities (by which he seems to mean inner cities not suburbs) are important because that is where the cultural elites live. That might be true of his city NY, but is it true of my city Sydney? Do the academics and business leaders and politicians and artists and intellectuals live in the inner city in Sydney? I would have thought you were more likely to find them in the inner west or the leafy eastern suburbs or the north shore or near a beach somewhere else. Do we count those places as ‘the city’? Are Newtown and Balmain ‘the city’? It is not clear to me that Sydney works or is set up the same way NY is. I don’t think, as Keller suggests of NY, that new migrants concentrate in the inner city of Sydney (although overseas students might). They’re more likely to end up in the south western suburbs. Is an inner city church really the strategic place to reach out to the elites and 'culture shapers' in the context of Sydney?

He also speaks of the city as ‘the place of spiritual searching and temple building’ and asserts that ‘the city’s intensity makes people religious seekers’. I’m not sure that we have that intensity in Sydney; it certainly doesn’t resonate with my experience. Don’t we associate rural places like Byron Bay and Nimbin with spiritual seeking in our part of the world?

And I’m not sure the theological significance of the great city that Revelation speaks of in terms so vivid it sometimes makes me ache for it, spills over in a more generic way imbuing earthly cities with the theological significance that Keller seems to attach to them.

I guess, in the light of Keller’s objective to focus on the opinion makers and culture shapers, it is not obvious to me that St Andrew’s Cathedral is more strategically located than somewhere like St Mark’s Darling Point, St Stephen’s at Newtown or St Whatever’s at Manly.

And clearly none of them are as strategically located as St Mark’s Pennant Hills!

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