Great article: ‘Urban Paradox’

Today I have the pleasure of pointing you to an excellent summation of what we’re hoping to accomplish here at The Good City.

This article, called “Urban Paradox: Reconnecting Church and the City,” was published in byFaith magazine and written to a more general Christian audience, so it starts with a bedrock Biblical foundation:

Biblical Christianity is about land, about subways, cars, and high rises. It affirms God as Creator, and as sovereign over every bit of creation. Therefore our responsibility as stewards, as those who have been given dominion, is to safeguard God’s work, and His pleasure in it. Our concern is that God be pleased when He looks to our cities.

The authors of the article, Michael Van Pelt and Rob Joustra of the Work Research Foundation, discuss New Urbanism and how it’s difficult to encapsulate what it actually is. But still, it’s principles aren’t really new at all:

The concern of New Urbanism for community, whole development, and human flourishing is not merely the concern of the institutional church; it forms the matrix of what we Christians call “good news.” In many ways what is striking is not why municipal leaders and New Urbanists should look at churches as allies, but rather, why church leaders have been conspicuously absent from this dialogue. Can community be built from within the physical form of traditional towns without under-girding social structures? What part can churches play in New Urbanism and the revitalization of urban spaces?

Van Pelt and Joustra give the church three ways to answer those questions:

  • Befriend the stranger in the city
  • Help create human comfort in the city
  • Create sacred spaces that relate to the city

And in conclusion:

Urban renewal requires the kind of vision and action that churches and people of faith possess. It is an urban vision firmly entrenched in the knowledge of the creator God, acted out faithfully in response to His Word, with contextual reflection. There is almost no limit to the imaginative manifestations that such a church can take. But churches and Christians must begin to take this kind of earthy Christianity, which bespeaks such pertinence to architecture, community, and transit more seriously if they are to realize a vision of urban centers built and sustained for human flourishing and the glory of God.

Be sure to read the whole article.

Photo by Christine (bpc) on Flickr

The four saddest words

What are the four saddest words you might hear after church on Sunday?

“See you next week!”

What a depressing sentiment! We saints gather together every Sunday under one roof. We enter the very sanctuary of God together, we praise Him together, we receive the Word together and share Christ’s body and blood together. We are, in fact, knitted together as One Bride, as the very Body of Christ Himself.

Then, so often, we make no effort to reinforce our solidarity and community with one another between Sunday mornings.

“See you next week!”

That means I won’t invite you over for supper and you won’t try to find any common activity that we can share. I won’t see you at the store or at a coffeehouse. In fact, it means it’s our intention to live completely separate lives from one another, lives that touch for only a few hours a week out of the hundred hours a week we spend awake.

“See you next week!”

Don’t let those four words be the last ones you say to your brothers and sisters tomorrow. Try these instead:

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Come over for lunch!”

“Let’s get together soon.”

These sound so simple as to be too obvious. But we can build each other up only if we see each other more than once a week. Let’s clear our schedules for each other.

Welcome visitors

Nancy didn’t know how to label us. We don’t really know, either.

We’re not just evangelicals, although we believe the Bible wholeheartedly. We’re not just conservatives, because we’re not sold-out Republicans at all. We’re both confessional, we both love cities and we both long for authentic community.

Maybe we’re just Kuyper Christians.

It was the Dutch politician and theologian Abraham Kuyper who said:

“Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

The fallacy of survey-driven theology

unchristianbook.jpgIs the American church judgmental, hypocritical, and too political? That’s what most young non-Christians think.

What should your church do about it?

Local blogger Charles Langley asked me to read his post on the book “unChristian” and let him know what I think. I’m grateful he asked. I recommend you go there and read his post yourself, and come back.

The point of the book is that young non-Christians have a low view of Christians, and the church should recognize this view and endeavor to address it. From Charles’ blog:

Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) — representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians.

But these negative perceptions of Christians aren’t limited to non-Christians:

Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

In one large sense, I agree. Many American Christians have been judgmental in a way that leaves no avenue for forgiveness. Many have been and are hypocritical, for example, in its treatment of homosexuality as a greater sin than any else, including divorce. Many have been political in ways that have placed shame on the church. Spend enough time in evangelical churches, as I have, and you will see everything from pettiness to outright racism.

In another sense, though, I’m skeptical, for two rather snarky reasons:

  • If you get most of your theological training from “The Daily Show” and the occasional news magazine, aren’t you going to have a skewed view of Christianity?
  • If you call a group of people you don’t know judgmental, aren’t you being judgmental yourself? And isn’t that hypocritical?

But let me set all of that aside and get to the nut of my disagreement with survey-driven theology.

First, Americans always distrust the faraway and vague more than the close-up and local. Notice how Americans give Congress incredibly low approval ratings, but still usually vote in their own incumbents. It’s similar to what Mrs. Winifred Banks sings in “Mary Poppins”: “Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid.” That’s funny because there’s a kernel of truth to it. People tend to distrust distant organizations more than they distrust local groups.

Second, and more importantly, Americans love these quantitative surveys way too much. Maybe we kiss up to these numbers because we fear them, and we fear them because we’re not that good at math. So we erroneously take what is at best a snapshot from an altitude of 20,000 feet and try to apply it without care to our local neighborhood.

But Christians don’t belong to Christianity. Christians belong to churches. And once we try to apply the survey to particular neighborhoods and churches, even in our small city, we begin to see the limitations of the survey.

What is the relationship of the unchurched of Aboite to The Chapel? Is it the same as the relationship between the unchurched of West Central to Emmanuel Lutheran? Is it the same as the relationship between the unchurched of the East Rudisill Boulevard neighborhood to Southern Heights Baptist Church?

This book states the problem in an unhelpful manner. Because if you say, “How do we solve the problem of Americans distrusting Christianity?” the answer is going to trend toward mass communication and marketing. That’s fine for McDonald’s, but not fitting for the church.

But if you say, “How do we solve the problem of your non-Christian neighbor distrusting you as a Christian?” the answer is much more focused, more human and, dare I add, more Biblical.

I can seek forgiveness from you for real particular sins. My church can even seek forgiveness for its corporate sins. But “Christianity” cannot seek forgiveness for the poor perception that “young non-christian Americans” have of it.

Sin, forgiveness and love apply to particular people, not to statistical groupings. If local churches truly love their local neighbors, books like “unChristian” will no longer be sold.

How to disagree agreeably

Last night’s blogger and politics conference was everything I had hoped for: An opportunity to meet with local bloggers and politicians and to get to know them better, especially while hanging out afterward at J.K. O’Donnell’s.

But the evening had its low point. Moderator Nathan Gotsch played gotcha with a local blogger during Gotsch’s 40-minute opening speech.

The blogger, Dan Turkette, had been invited to participate in the evening’s panel discussion because of his involvement with the recent election. But first, Gotsch treated Turkette and the audience to a surprising amount of direct criticism of Turkette’s blog. The audience did not universally consider the speech to be classy.

Turkette left in the middle of Gotsch’s speech.

What should we remember in these situations where we meet opponents face-to-face? Here are a few things to consider:

Don’t sandbag your opponent. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

to “sandbag” is to intentionally understate one’s strength, with the intention of deceiving one’s opponents into overreaching. The sandbagger can then reveal a hidden strength to take the opponent by surprise.

If you have a strong argument, you don’t have to set up your opponent unfairly like Gotsch did to Turkette. Giving your opponent an opportunity to respond also shows that you have a modicum of respect for him.

Don’t bait and switch. Not every problem requires one of those big secret set-up interventions. Don’t turn a party into a venue to win that argument with your uncle. If you must disagree with someone, try straight talking first, without the fake set-up.

Don’t be anonymous. I understand some people have a desire to use a pseudonym, but Biblically, anonymous accusations have zero weight. Use your name if you want to be taken seriously.

Don’t assume you have more friends than you do. This error encourages you to take a battle to a public setting, who may not appreciate being dragged into it.

Don’t assume you have more enemies than you do. This only causes you to lash out at possible allies, alienating those who may actually agree with you.

Don’t take private sins public. A lot of people love to see celebrity secrets dished for all to see. And there’s a temptation to bring that philosophy down to the local level. Don’t. Go to the person first, as Matthew 18 instructs us.

If we’re going to be neighbors on the blogosphere — and in real life, too — then we need to much more carefully weigh our words. Being professional online means nothing if we can’t be professional in person.

photo by Marlon Hammes on Flickr