To quote my good friend, and that great theologian — Tim Keller. (okay, we are not good friends…)
“…there is no better place for Christians to live, work, serve, and spend their lives and resources than in the city.”
I could not have said that better myself !!! oh, how I love this city of Los Angeles. Yes, it is filled with smog (see the picture), crime, people everywher, traffic (again everywhere!), the homeless everywhere, but it is also filled with beauty everywhere – if you look for it. And there are needs everywhere — that, even in a small way — maybe my family and I are able to meet.
Here is a much, much longer quote from Keller about the city:
“The gospel originally grew in and through the city. The Pax Romana (27BC-180AD) led to the growth of the first multi-ethnic, global cities. Travel was easier than it ever had been and ever would be again until the 19th century. Nationalities that had been at war with one another were now at ‘peace’ under the iron rule of Rome. Cities became multi-cultural and the hub of international networks of capital and information—
essentially, city-states. For example, Antioch was really a United Nations, with a Asian, African, Jewish, Greek, and Roman sections. Capital and culture flowed back and forth from Antioch to three continents through urban-based networks.
The missionary strategy of the early church was extremely ‘urban-centric.’ 1 Acts 16 shows the pattern. Paul is called by God to reach Macedonia, so he automatically chooses to go to the largest city of the region (v.16). Over and over in both the book of Acts and the history of the local church, we see Christian missionaries doing urban church planting in the largest city of the region and then leaving the area altogether. Why? They knew that once they reached the city, they had reached the society and culture. Yale scholar Wayne Meeks explains why it was so brilliant to target cities:
a) City dwellers are confronted daily with new experiences, people and situations, and are therefore more open to new ideas than more insulated (and conservative) rural people.
b) City dwellers are more connected and mobile so that when one of them is converted, the chance of the gospel spreading far and wide is much greater. In the multi-ethnic cities, the gospel can be preached in the lingua franca of the city, yet reach back (through cultural, international networks) into dozens of nations.
c) City dwellers have a great deal of ‘cultural clout.’ If you go to the village, you may win the lawyer in town for Christ, but if you want to have an impact on the legal profession, you go to the cities where the law schools and legal networks are based.
d) Cities have many social problems and tensions. Historian Rodney Stark says early Christianity spread so rapidly because the love and service of Christians amidst urban problems was so striking.
“To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as real hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with widows and orphans, Christianity offered a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity…I am not saying the misery of the ancient world caused the advent of Christianity…people had been enduring for centuries without the aid of Christian theology or social structures. I am arguing that once Christianity did appear, its superior capacity for meeting human problems soon became evident and played a major role in its ultimate triumph…for what Christianity brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture. (Stark, The Rise of Christianity, p.161)
By 300 A.D. 50% of the city populations were Christian while the countryside was still pagan (the word paganus probably meant ‘rural dweller’). But as the city went so (eventually) went all of society. So it is today. If a Christian can live in the city, it is (overall) the most strategic place to be.
–Two books that document the urban-centric nature of early Christian mission are Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians and Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity. Richard Fletcher’s The Barbarian Conversion shows that the same pattern occurred during the evangelization of Europe. Christianity first dominated the cities and only secondarily spread to the countryside. Philip Jenkins’s The Next Christendom reveals that much of the explosive growth of Christianity today in Africa, Latin America, and Asia is happening through cities. Rural tribes are finding Christ when they immigrate to urban areas.