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WHERE ARE WE GOING?
What is the city but the people?
They desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God ... has prepared for them a city.
The urban generation has arrived. The city is not just here to stay — it's here to swell.
The experts agree: the human condition, which has become increasingly urban in recent decades, will only grow more so in decades to come, everywhere around the world.
Picture it: at some point in the past five years, a particular moment came when you and I and our fellow earth-inhabitants reached an epic milestone. In that instant — with the cry of a newborn child in Beijing, or when the feet of some migrant stepped over a boundary into Mumbai to start searching for a new home in the city — urban dwellers became a majority of the earth's population for the first time in this planet's long history.
According to UN calculations and estimates, just forty years ago urbanites accounted for less than a third of the world's people. And in only forty more years they'll be over two-thirds — with the rate still rising.
Where is our world going?
A GRIPPING QUESTION
A number of years ago, Rebekah was animated for months by that same question, scaled down personally: where am I going? And it eventually changed the trajectory of her life.
For her, the question was more specifically, "Is God calling me to the city? Is he asking my husband and me to move with our children to join in his urban movement?" The question wouldn't release its grip on them.
Rebekah had lived in cities before — New York and Chicago. Even her current location could have been called a city. But she wondered, "Why move to a much larger city now, leaving friends, when the kids had good schools ahead of them?" Sure, there was a romantic appeal of adventure about the idea. And yes, there were others joining a core group to plant a new church in a large city. But the question for Rebekah was more personal, more critical: "Is God doing something here? Is this his idea?" So Rebekah and her husband searched — praying, asking, probing: "God, is this you?"
One Sunday evening, hearing a message from the book of Jonah seemed to seal the deal, letting her know that yes, she was called to go. Turning away from that calling would be too costly. She and her husband were to give their lives as Christ-following adventurers, seeking the awakening of the urban generation.
It's a question worth asking for all of us. Where are we headed? And what, if anything, does the city have to do with it?
It's also a worthy question to ask about our culture, in an age that manifests an overarching sense of aimlessness. Many people sense a loss of direction and purpose. For all their hustle and busyness, they wonder, "Are we really going somewhere?" The question confronts them in their relationships and their careers, as well as in those moments when they look up and wonder about history itself. What exact destination is it all moving toward?
THE RISE OF URBAN INFLUENCE
On a practical level at least, it's hard to ignore the urban aspect of that future destination. For while urban areas keep claiming an increasingly greater percentage of the population, urban influence and power is expected to grow at an even faster rate. "The age of nations is over," announces international relations expert Parag Khanna; "the new urban age has begun." In an article in Foreign Policy magazine, Khanna writes this:
The 21st century will be dominated not by America or China, Brazil or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built.
Khanna (whose latest book is boldly titled How to Run the World) sees the urban scene as the arena where our planet's destiny is being decided:
Cities ... are the true daily test of whether we can build a better future or are heading toward a dystopian nightmare....
What happens in our cities, simply put, matters more than what happens anywhere else.
PROGRESS OR DECLINE?
So where will our cities lead us? Some are pessimistic about our urban future; others hold an idealistic view.
Take urban theorist and author Mike Davis. In his recent book Planet of Slums, he notes that in much of the world the expansion rate of slums is far greater than the overall urban growth rate, leaving a less-than-pretty picture:
Thus, the cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay.
With the inhabitants of these places possessing little or no hope for productive, uplifting jobs as they struggle to survive, Davis sees these vast, polluted, crime-filled slums as seething volcanoes waiting to erupt in mob violence — "the distinctive battlespace of the twenty-first century."
Others, however, prefer to see the vast swelling cities as not only our future's biggest reality but also our future's greatest hope.
To catch a high-spirited plug for city life, it's hard to beat Ed Glaeser's The Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. In this upbeat and popular 2011 book, Glaeser — born and raised in Manhattan, and now an urban economist at Harvard — views cities past and present as being "engines of innovation" and "the places where their nation's genius is most fully expressed":
The great prosperity of contemporary London and Bangalore and Tokyo comes from their ability to produce new thinking. Wandering these cities — whether down cobblestone sidewalks or grid-cutting cross streets, around roundabouts or under freeways — is to study nothing less than human progress.
Glaeser acknowledges that such "urban splendor" coexists with "urban squalor":
As many of us know from personal experience, sometimes city roads are paved to hell. The city may win, but too often its citizens seem to lose. ... For every Fifth Avenue, there's a Mumbai slum; for every Sorbonne, there's a D.C. high school guarded by metal detectors.
But Glaeser also observes that "cities don't make people poor; they attract poor people. The flow of less advantaged people into cities from Rio to Rotterdam demonstrates urban strength, not weakness."
It's that urban strength, he says, that's bringing together all kinds of people into a heightened experience of productivity and prosperity: "Cities ... are proximity, density, closeness. They enable us to work and play together, and their success depends on the demand for physical connection." Glaeser speaks of "the knowledge that is best produced by people in close proximity to other people," and observes how "cities speed innovation by connecting their smart inhabitants to each other" while also serving as "gateways between markets and cultures."
OUR TRUE DESTINATION
So, what are we to make of this urban trajectory?
Perhaps what's needed, first of all, is the profound and foundational understanding from God that yes, we are indeed going somewhere. That's what the Scriptures inform us. It's a destination that informs all UN projections as well as all personal life callings; it embraces the cry of the newborn urbanite and the journey of the migrant worker.
It's an eschatological reality, a final and ultimate destination, heavenly and everlasting — yet inescapably connected with everything in the here and now.
This linked reality was reflected in the classic ancient work The City of God by Augustine, where he so effectively contrasted the earthly and the heavenly, while also noting that both "are in this present world commingled, and as it were entangled together."
To help us begin thinking about the intersection between Christ and city — particularly to reorient ourselves to see Christ positioned as central to the city and all things — there's one place that makes the most sense to begin: John's final vision of all things, a vision we see in the book of Revelation. As we meditate there on where we're going, perhaps we should orient ourselves now by where we are going then. As Thomas Merton writes in a twentieth-century introduction to The City of God,
This eschatological view of history contemplates with joy the running out of the sands of time and looks forward with gladness to the Last Day that will make manifest the full glory of the "Whole Christ."
A VISION FOR PEOPLE UNDER TRIAL
The book we know as Revelation was written to first-century Christians struggling under tremendous persecution. Their particular trials were inflicted most likely by Domitian, the Roman ruler who followed Nero. Nero's persecutions were notoriously vicious and capricious — the burning alive of followers of Christ, and crass sporting events in which Christians dressed in animal pelts had to face wild predators — but Domitian's torments were more systematic and widespread.
To these followers of Jesus near the end of the first century, John wrote his letter. The message is a transcendent vision of the risen and ruling Christ at the center of heaven, who will bring not only the judgment of Satan and the fall of "Babylon the Great" but also the arrival of an entirely new reality.
For modern readers, Revelation can feel a bit bizarre. It's a unique mix of apocalyptic-prophetic literature similar to portions of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezekiel, but it also takes the form of an epistle, a kind of personal letter. Penned by Jesus' beloved but exiled disciple John from the island of Patmos, Revelation is intended to provide hope for the suffering church.
The lessons of Revelation on following God with faithfulness are just as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago. Our urban generation needs an enduring picture that transcends the here and now — that we might live faithfully within the here and now. Like ancient sailors who would often set their sights on a star to help guide their ship, John's vision of a new city in Revelation 21 tells us where all history is going.
From his island on Patmos, John writes,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (Rev. 21:1–2)
One of the first things John's vision calls us to realize is that where we live now, compared to heaven, is a mere wisp.
A mistake we all make — no matter where we live — is to sacralize our homes. Removed as most of us are in this technological modern generation in the West from the severe suffering of the first century, we can become overly content with this world. Our "iEverythings" soften us. But John reminds us that all our devices and cities, all our rural farmlands, and all we treasure in them, will pass away. The vast cornfields of Iowa; the extensive vineyards along the California coast; Washington, DC's monuments and memorials — all will one day be no more. The lights on the Eiffel Tower in Paris will one day be permanently extinguished. My little neighborhood joint called Pizza Capri will be gone. No more. The urbanite's tiny backyard patch of grass, the suburbanite's large garden, and the farmer's acres of fields and pastures will all be swept away. John even says that the "sea" — a place that in Revelation symbolizes chaos and disorder and even rebellion — will be "no more."
Right at the beginning of our journey into understanding what it means to be awakened urbanites, finding our way to the permanent city — as we commit ourselves to follow God more radically — John reminds us: it will all be gone one day.
This means that no earthly city is final. Our cities are temporary. This is critical for awakened urbanites to grasp, because while it's right that we should work for our city's good (as we'll see), we're to hold on loosely, knowing that "the world is passing away" (1 John 2:17). God's Word reminds us that the kingdom of God — although already — is not yet. To use Augustine's language, we live now in the City of Man while seeking the City of God, knowing that only cataclysmic change will bring us home.
THE PERMANENT CITY
But comfortingly, all reality will be replaced with a new city.
John writes, "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (Rev. 21:2). The description of the city is precise — it will be a new Jerusalem. John uses biblical imagery of Jerusalem, the famous city of David from the Old Testament, but calls it new.
Throughout the historical books, on into the Psalms, and then in the prophetic writings, the city of David symbolized the place of God's presence and favor. The psalmist calls Jerusalem, often referred to as Zion, the "joy of all the earth" (Ps. 48:2). It's the place David initially captured and where he then reigned for thirty-three years (2 Sam. 5:5). It's also the place where the Messiah, God's Son, is pictured as reigning over all people (Ps. 2:6; 9:11).
Destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century BC, and later rebuilt to a shadow of its previous glory by Nehemiah and others, the picture of Jerusalem in the prophets grows increasingly important and eternal — as well as urgent. In Isaiah we read of a trumpet blowing and of people once "lost in the land of Assyria" now returning to worship in Jerusalem (Isa. 27:13). We see Jerusalem portrayed as a place to dwell without weeping (30:19), and as an "immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up" (33:20).
Isaiah envisions this beautiful new Jerusalem as awaking from a deep slumber:
put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion. (Isa. 52:1–2)
Once awake, Jerusalem should burst with joy:
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem. (52:9)
Then this awakened and joyful city, freshly created along with a new heavens and earth, will become the place where God himself will rejoice:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
and her people to be a gladness.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. (Isa. 65:17–19)
For a suffering and afflicted ancient Christian — as well as a technologically dazzled modern one — the new Jerusalem is to be a source of joy.
Drawing upon the rich biblical imagery of a new Jerusalem as the place of God's unfettered blessing and joy, John's vision in Revelation speaks of when comfort will come.
In a sense, this City of God follows the trajectory of the person of Jesus himself. Our Savior did not simply create a new humanity out of existing humanity. He was crucified, dead, and risen. His earthly body was transformed through a resurrection reality. And so, even as Christ has died, so the present heavens and earth will pass away, to be replaced by a new heaven and earth. It's as if the entire cosmos follows the Son of God through death and into resurrection. And when the new "resurrection" body of the heavens and the earth appears, a new city is born, cascading down out of heaven.
WHAT WE LONG FOR
Jean-Paul Sartre once expressed well the dilemma of conflicted modern man: "That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget." If we are honest, we do cry out for God. John's Apocalypse presents the arrival of this God we long for. God, who is undeniably existent, invites us to an intimacy that is unsurpassed. John sees "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God"; then, with a carefully chosen image, he adds this description: "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev. 21:2).
You see, throughout the Scriptures, God speaks of his relationship with his people as marital. Why? Because it's the deepest human intimacy possible.
John is again drawing on a rich Old Testament history when he speaks of the city as a bride. The prophets — in Ezekiel 16, for instance — often spoke of Jerusalem as a young girl, seen at a marriageable age as one whom God clothed and with whom he made a covenant. In the Old Testament imagery, however, God's bride turns away, commits adultery, and spurns her husband's love.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Christ + City"
Copyright © 2013 Jon M. Dennis.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Awakening the Urban Generation 11
Part 1 Foundations of City Understanding-Our Direction
1 Where Are We Going? 19
2 Ambition and the First City 35
Part 2 God's Heart for the City-How Cities Change
3 Prayer and the City 53
4 The City Transformed 65
5 Faithfulness in the City 79
Part 3 Issues in City Living-Learning to Thrive in the City
6 Sex and the City 97
7 Ethnicity and the City 115
8 Children in the City 131
Part 4 Strategic Principles and Actions-Reaching the City
9 The City within a City 147
10 Global City Gospel Movements 161
Conclusion: Cities and the Future of the World 173
General Index 195
Scripture Index 201
What People are Saying About This
“Thoroughly biblical in its scope and treatment, Jon Dennis has gifted the people of God with a manifesto that will inspire the reader to be a part of what God is doing in cities. Incredibly timely, astoundingly pertinent, and convincingly prophetic, this is a book you will want to come back to over and over again.”
Bryan Loritts, Pastor for Preaching and Mission, Trinity Grace Church, New York City; Founder and President, The Kainos Movement; Editor, Letters to a Birmingham Jail
“Jon Dennis provides a pastorally sound and culturally engaged response to questions the church is now asking in the face of rapid global urbanization. More commendably, he answers these questions with an eye toward the application of the gospel to the heart of the ‘urban generation.’ No matter the geographic locationcity or suburb, high-rise or homesteadChrist + City will serve those hoping to broaden their perspective while deepening their commitment to the gospel.”
Stephen T. Um, Senior Minister, Citylife Presbyterian Church of Boston; author, Micah For You
“Jon’s book will equip Christian urbanites to reach cities for the gospel. He covers a broad spectrum of topics ranging from ambition and sex to ethnicity and children with twenty-first-century relevance and biblical insight. My prayer is that it will lead to gospel clarity, encourage gospel living, fuel gospel prayers, and fire up gospel proclamation across the world from Chicago to Christchurch.”
Denesh Divyanathan, Founding Pastor, The Crossing Church, Singapore; President, Project Timothy
“Jon Dennis is a pastor, mentor, and visionary leader who has embraced Christ’s call to the city. His dynamic ministry in Chicago and his outreach to other global cities across several continents give him a deep understanding of the opportunity that today’s urban generation has to reach the city for Christ. In this pervasively gospel-centered book, Dennis combines the faithful exposition of central biblical texts with wise pastoral guidance to help people who live, work, serve, and worship in urban communities to honor God’s redemptive purposes for the city.”
Philip Graham Ryken, President, Wheaton College
“Is our view of the city simplistic? Is it overly positive, overly negative? Will our proclamation of King Jesus rise to the challenge of our cities? With evident love for the Lord and His Word, Jon Dennis skillfully helps us answer these questions with clear biblical exposition and straightforward applications, which spur on godly aspirations and zeal for the Gospel. This book is well informed theologically and sociologically, yet practical and compelling. Wholeheartedly recommended.”
Paul Harrison, Pastor, Rue de Sèvres, Rue des Ternes, Paris, France
“Jon Dennis has crafted a compelling vision for reaching and restoring our cities. He writes from scripture, he writes from his heart, and he writes from his life. He and his family were already blessing our city day-in and day-out while so many of us were still just thinking about it. Read Christ + City and you will be inspired, equipped, and challenged to follow his lead.”
Jon Ferguson, Founding Pastor, Chicago Network Leader, Community Christian Church; author, The Big Idea, Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement, and Discover Your Mission Now
“Jon Dennis loves Chicago and the cities of the worldbecause such are what Christ loves. And in Christ + City he calls the church not to an Exodus, but a gospel-driven Eisodus back into the city. Pastor Dennis’s years of experience since founding Holy Trinity Church and it’s numerous congregations and ministries; his profound theological understanding of the church and its ‘ultimate urban future;’ and his knowledge of the modern city and the writings of the urban philosophers and theorists, have given us a book that is radically biblical and, therefore, prophetic and visionary. Between these covers lie nothing less than the essential strategy for world evangelization.”
R. Kent Hughes,Senior Pastor Emeritus, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois
“Jon has done a remarkable job of weaving the blessing and benefits of ministry in the city. He hits many of the difficulties head on with honesty and integrity. This is a great book for all Christians.”
Wayne L. Gordon, Founding Pastor, Lawndale Community Church; President, Christian Community Development Association