Reaching the City: Reflections on Urban Mission for the Twenty-First Century. Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 2012. 284 pp. $11.23., eds.
This book is a collection of 14 essays, each by a different author, which seek to respond to the “contemporary paucity of research and writing on how missional urban Christians are engaging their cities around the world today” (xi) and to offer new perspectives and strategies to reach the earth’s cities for Christ. Although each author writes independently of the others, a common thesis, summed up in a quote from the 1987 Urbana Student Missions Conference, unites the various perspectives offered in the book: “The mission field is moving to the city, and Christians need to respond to the opportunity” (xii).
Reaching the City is broken into four parts. Part one is titled “Today’s Emerging Megacities in Global Perspective,” and its three essays provide helpful, big-picture information on urbanization and call on mission practitioners to turn their attention, efforts, and resources to urban ministry. Part two, “Historical and Theological Perspectives on the City,” includes two essays on Basil of Caesarea and Jacques Ellul. The chapter on Basil is primarily an exposition of his life and approach to ministry in the city, concluding with four areas in which Christians can learn from Basil. In the chapter on Ellul, Stephen Strauss summarizes Ellul’s theology of the city while also providing a substantial critique of this theology and trying to build upon it.
Finally, the subjects of parts three and four are exactly what their titles suggest: “Theological Education and Training for Ministry in Today’s Cities” and “Contemporary Case Studies on Today’s Cities.” Rather than survey every chapter, I would like to commend two chapters in particular to interested readers. First, Larry Caldwell and Enoch Wan’s essay, “Riots in the City,” is an engaging piece that offers interesting proposals for radically reworking current ministerial training programs so that they might better prepare Christian workers to serve in the urban context. They suggest changes to curricula, courses, and faculty of these training institutions and give a case study of Asian Theological Seminary in the Philippines, which has already instituted these changes in its Center for Transformational Urban Leadership. Although these authors underestimate the importance of shaping ministers to have a robust historical consciousness and theological understanding of the Christian tradition, their proposals are worthy of consideration for any undergraduate or graduate program that seeks to train ministers for service in urban contexts.
The second essay, written by Larry Poston, is one that I would recommend especially to mission agencies or churches with large budgets. His proposal is for mission organizations to pour at least half of their urban resources into developing retreat centers far away from cities that allow certain classes or categories of newborn Christians, especially those with major addictions, to exit the city in order to grow and develop as the “new creations” they have become. Poston provides strong warrants for this proposal and offers his suggestions for what such retreats might look like.
Like any collection of essays by multiple authors, the chapters of Reaching the City are unbalanced with regard to their quality and are occasionally repetitive (e.g., nearly half the essays highlight the interesting fact that in 2008, for the first time in human history, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lived in cities). Besides some of the case studies in Part four, which suffer from a lack of a clear thesis or constructive proposals, this book is a solid collection of essays that accomplishes its purpose. I would recommend it to students, scholars, and missionaries who are interested in the study of urban ministry, though I would suggest that the reader select a few individual chapters to read, depending on one’s area of interest, rather than reading the book as a whole.
Garrett Matthew East