Confirming That Cities MatterApril 2012
by Tim Keller
Every week it seems I read more authors and scholars who are pointing to the increasing importance of cities. The theme in most of these articles is that cities are where the future will be forged. Jim Clifton, CEO and Chairman of Gallup, points to the vast shortfall in new job creation. What is the solution? He writes, “My answer would be… cities…[as] goes the leadership of the top 100 American cities, so goes the country’s economic future.” (Clifton, The Coming Jobs War, p.63 ) The journal Foreign Policy did a special issue on cities near the end of 2010. The lead article announced, “The 21st century will not be dominated 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.” (Parag Khanna, “Beyond City Limits,” Foreign Policy, Sept/Oct 2010.)
Several years ago The Guardian newspaper in Great Britain did a special issue entitled “the Future of Cities.” One writer opined, “Just 10 years ago, cities were seen as vital contributors to the global economy. That’s no longer true. Today, cities are the global economy…the 40 largest cities, or mega-regions, account for two-thirds of the world’s output.”(Ian Wylie, “Knowledge is Power,” The Guardian, Sept 2008.) Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, read through the 2010 Special Report—“The Future of Cities” by the Financial Times, and he responded with some strong language. “If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities.” (Al Mohler, “From Megacity to Metacity” AlbertMohler.com, April 22, 2010.)
The writers of these books and articles come from very divergent points of view. Jim Clifton’s book is intensely pro-U.S. and pro-business. His concern is American economic interests. The Guardian, Financial Times, and Foreign Policy are secular, British and international publications. Their concern is to understand the historical moment. Al Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His concern is to see people converted to Christ. Completely different people and different concerns. And yet, remarkably, they all agree on the absolutely crucial importance of cities. They all argue that “as cities go, so goes the world,” and that to go to cities is necessary for anyone who wants to have an impact on how life is lived in this world.
I recently learned that a couple of my friends—Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard—are writing a new book for Christians on Why Cities Matter. The title says it all. We still need to educate and graciously challenge believers about the importance of cities to Christian ministry. Increasingly there is consensus that ‘cities matter’ yet most American Christians refuse to live in them or even like or care about them. We need churches everywhere there are people, but the people of the world are moving into the great cities of the world much faster than the church is. And therefore we must call Christians to better understand and care for cities, and to consider living and ministering in cities.
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