City of God, City of Satan: A Biblical Theology of the Urban City

City of God, City of Satan: A Biblical Theology of the Urban City

by Robert C. Linthicum

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Why is the city a battleground of hostile principalities and powers? What is the mission of the church in the city? How can the church be supported in accomplishing that mission? These are the questions that Robert Linthicum treats in his comprehensive and probing biblical theology of the city. In the Bible the city is depicted both as a dwelling place of God and


Why is the city a battleground of hostile principalities and powers? What is the mission of the church in the city? How can the church be supported in accomplishing that mission? These are the questions that Robert Linthicum treats in his comprehensive and probing biblical theology of the city. In the Bible the city is depicted both as a dwelling place of God and his people and as a center of power for Satan and his minions. The city is one primary stage on which the drama of salvation is played out. And that is no less the case at the end of this pivotal century as megacities become the focal point of most human activity and aspirations around the world. This is a timely theology of the city that weaves the theological images of the Bible and the social realities of the contemporary world into a revealing tapestry of truths about the urban experience. Its purpose is to define clearly the mission of the church in the midst of the urban realities and to support well the work of the church in the urban world.

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City of God, City of Satan

A Biblical Theology of the Urban City
By Robert Linthicum


Copyright © 1991 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-53141-1

Chapter One


He has set his foundation on the holy mountain;
the Lord loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you, O city of God:
"I will record [Egypt] and Babylon
among those who acknowledge me-
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush-
and will say, 'This one was born in Zion.'"
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
"This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High himself will establish her."
The Lord will write in the register of the peoples:
"This one was born in Zion."
As they make music they will sing,
"All my fountains are in you" (Psalm 87).


In about 19 years, the world will undergo a momentous change: for the first time in recorded history a majority of the world's people will live in cities-primarily the cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America. These cities will be of enormous size and will be plagued by unemployment, overcrowding and disease, where services such as power, water, sanitation or refuse disposal will be strained to the breaking point.

So said Rafael Salas, the late executive director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, when he spoke in Madras in 1986.

Cities all over the world are facing an unprecedented growth explosion. As Salas has indicated, sometime close to the turn of the century there will be more people living in cities than will be living in towns or villages, on farms, in tribes, or in any other human habitation. For the first time in its history, the world will be more urban than rural. Countries in the northern hemisphere will appear more urbanized than southern countries. By C.E. 2000, 94 percent of the population of Canada and the United States will live in cities, as will 82 percent of all Europeans and 80 percent of all Russians. In contrast, only 36 percent of all Asians and 45 percent of all Africans will live in cities (Latin America provides the one third world exception-73 percent of its people will live in its cities).

Such statistics are misleading, however. They do not reflect the tremendous number of people already concentrated in southern hemisphere cities or the tremendous growth occurring in those cities. The 36 percent of the population gathered in Asia's cities, for example, is numerically greater than the entire combined urban population of the developed countries.

Growth in third world cities is phenomenal. It is estimated that in the years between 1975 and 2000 the increase in the urban population of Latin America will be 216 percent, of China 224 percent, of the rest of Asia 269 percent, of the Middle East 302 percent, and of Africa 347 percent.

Cities in the third world are not the only ones growing. Although the cities in the developed world are growing more slowly than in the third world, their metropolitan areas continue to expand. The greater Los Angeles metropolis, for example, numbered 4,000,000 in 1950 and is now 9,500,000. By the turn of the century, its population will be nearly 14,000,000. Paris, at 5,500,000 in 1950, is projected to reach 10,000,000 by the year 2000. Although economically it appears a part of the first world, Tokyo's growth compares with any third world metropolis. In 1950 the population was 6,700,000; by 2000 it will grow to be 23,800,000.

We can best see the growth in the world's cities in this simple fact. In 1950 only seven cities in the world had a population of more than 5,000,000. Thirty-five years later, the number of such giant cities had swollen to thirty-four. In another thirty-five years, there will be ninety-three cities on our globe with populations in excess of 5,000,000.

Even more obvious is the growth in third world giant cities. Of the seven cities in 1950 with populations exceeding 5,000,000, only two were located in Asia, Africa, or Latin America. By 1985, twenty-two of the thirty-four giant cities were in the third world. By 2020 it is projected that the third world will be home to eighty of the ninety-three cities.

Cities in Crisis

But what's wrong with growth? People who have lived their lives in the first world have grown up believing in growth. But in the third world-and among the first world's poor-growth is terrible news. Even a healthy city's infrastructure cannot cope with a significant increase in population. And when a city like Mexico City receives more than half a million new people each year (as it presently does), its sanitation system, refuse disposal, provision of power and water, and capacity to house, feed, and employ these people is overwhelmed.

The results of such rapid and worldwide growth are evident everywhere. Fifty thousand homeless people live on New York City streets. Another 27,000 people live in temporary shelters, and an estimated 100,000 households are doubled up in apartments of friends and relatives. Sixty percent of the entire population of Guayaquil, Ecuador, lives in shantytowns amid garbage-strewn mud flats and polluted water. In Bombay, India, 1,000,000 people live in a slum built on a giant garbage dump.

In Detroit, seventy-two percent of all the young employable adults in that city's poorest census tract can't find work-and will probably never find it. Seventy-five percent of the families who live in Lagos, Nigeria; live in one-room shacks. Half a million people will live their entire lives on the streets of Calcutta and will never have a roof over their heads. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, 700,000 children have been abandoned by their parents to live by their wits on its streets.

This is the city-for God's sake! This is the city God loves and for which Christ died. And this is the city where Christ's church is and where it is called to minister.

Called to a City

It is incumbent upon Christians today to recognize and enthusiastically enter into the challenge of the new, emerging world. God is calling the church into the city. Our world is becoming an urban world-and this is an inevitable and irreversible trend. Only our Lord's return or humanity's destruction of itself in a mushroom cloud will prevent the urbanization of the world. But we are not only faced with the mind-boggling growth of the world's existing cities-even the most rural and isolated areas of the world will be exposed to urbanization. It was apparent that a new age had dawned when, for two weeks in 1988, the entire world could "sit" in the stadiums and "walk" the streets of Seoul, Korea, because television brought the city into the home during live telecasts of the Olympics. There is no doubt that this is an increasingly urban world.

No previous generation has had to face human problems of this magnitude or had to wield urban power on this scale. This means that the church has unprecedented potential for ministry and world evangelization. The world is coming to the city-and we can be there to greet it in Christ's name.

The most insightful of the church's prophetic thinkers recognize the potential of the "open door that no one can shut" (Rev. 3:8). The church is rediscovering the city-in both the developed and the developing worlds. Emerging from that rediscovery is a profoundly new methodology for doing urban ministry-a collective wisdom evolving from theologians and urban ministry practitioners alike. New words are entering the ministry vocabulary-words like networking, urban exegesis, community organization-all symbolic of the changing style of ministry adapted to an urban world.

While we are rediscovering the city's mission field and introducing an urban methodology, our biblical and theological reflection is limited. We enter the city equipped with an urban sociology and urban tools for ministry, but we carry with us the baggage of a theology designed in rural Europe. Even the very way we formulate theological questions and the frameworks we use to construct our theological thought have been forged from our rural past. What we are in need of is a theology as urban as our sociology and missiology-a theology, as Ray Bakke puts it, "as big as the city itself"!

I entered urban ministry in 1955 by working with Afro-American youth and children in a Chicago slum. I have been at it ever since. As the years passed, I became increasingly aware that my theology was inadequate for my inner-city pastorates and community organizing.

Incident after incident reminded me that I suffered from a theology gap. A theology that would be adequate for a rural world or Western culture was not adequate for the city. Manifestations of raw corporate evil, almost beyond the power even of its perpetrators to control, made nonsense of a doctrine of sin perceived as individual acts of wrongdoing. My confrontation with economic and political exploiters of the poor who were also faithful communicants in their churches made a mockery of the church as the body of Christ. My experiences increased my frustration with a theology learned in college and seminary's halls of ivy. I will share some of those experiences with you in this book in the hope that they will aid you in reflecting on comparable incidents in your own life.

As a result of this frustration, in 1969 I began an intentional search for an urban theology that would work for me. I have been caught up in biblical research on this issue ever since; for the past eleven years I have devoted one hour a day to the task. This "movable feast" has gone with me throughout the world wherever I have worked. I continue to delve into Scripture to formulate a theology that realistically and accurately understands the city in all its complexity and uncovers biblical principles for ministering within that complexity.


Excerpted from City of God, City of Satan by Robert Linthicum Copyright © 1991 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Dr. Robert C. Linthicum is director of the Office of Urban Advance, World Vision International. He has been an urban pastor in Chicago, Rockford, Milwaukee, and Detroit, and a community organizer in most of those same cities. He is currently chair of the Urban Coordinating Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for Southern California. He is the author of four previous books on church and renewal topics. He holds a doctorate from San Francisco Theological Seminary and masters from both McCormick Theological Seminary and Wheaton Graduate School of Theology.

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