Its one of those phrases that you most likely have not heard of if you didn’t spend a few years getting a Biblical Studies degree. If you were to copy and paste this term into Google you would return with keywords such as Karl Barth, paradox, mystery, and revelation. Its a concept that that tried to find meaning between two opposing ideas.
Like, free will and predestination. Or, that humanity cannot know God in an objective sense (we cannot see, touch, smell, taste, measure) but yet we are to know God through a subjective stance. Dialectical theology stated that knowing and understanding God is a mystery of life-long pursuit. There are not easy answers to the problems in life, but deeper questions. That God resided in the middle of the paradox of opposite ideas.
But we’ll get back to this theological issue later.
I have always been bothered by this idea of whether or not Christianity can make a difference in the world. Specifically, where is God in the city? There is a major push in our theological circles, our urban outreach, and our missional endeavors to start caring about the city. Churches are adopting “urban outreaches”, Christians are relocating to impoverished areas to commit to a ministry of presence, and new missional churches are relocating downtown to get the “feel” of the city.
But, in the midst of all of this, I am bothered with one question.
Can Christianity really make a difference? Specifically, can the Christian influence, being the salt of the Earth and the light into the world, actually change the darkness of the city?
The historical foundation of a city shows an oppressive nature. As technology evolved and humanity learned how to properly store their produce and agriculture, they slowly evolved away from the more egalitarian “hunter and gatherer” society (note: A People’s History of the World) and shifted towards clear distinctions between division of labor. As society shifted from a constant nomadic culture to settling down in one place, social class and division of labor entered society. Those who controlled the food, controlled the people (remember Joseph and the famine?). And so, cities evolved out of that. They are places that bridge cultures, but they are also tales of division, of conflict, of oppression.
Go to any city in the United States.
What do low-income schools look like? What people groups make up the dominant poor class? Are there clear natural borders between the “good” and “bad” parts of town? Why is there always poverty within cities?
Scripture tells a similar narrative.
The first city was not established by God, but by Cain. And this establishment, was an act of rebellion. From the story of Noah to the destruction of Babel, civilization in urban sense has been a place that led to the rejection of God.
Because there is something sinful about the concept of a city.
There is something illicit, wrong, divisive, unchangeable about the nature of what a city is and what it will always be.
What if redeeming a city is just as ludicrous as redeeming something like child pornography. Because you cannot redeem what inherently bad.
But Christianity cannot stop there. It cannot just ignore the city.
Because though the city has a sinful nature, the Christian cannot accept the sinful nature of the city.
Though it will always be oppressive, never just, and full of bloodshed, the Christian cannot sit, secluded from injustice.
And so we stand in a paradox. Tension. A dialect.
Can our actions really make a difference? We are called to change society, to be a light, to be the salt, but can we really change the structure of the city?
I am not sure that our faith can really make a macro-difference in the sociological structures of society. But I know that I can make a micro-difference in the lives of people within a neighborhood, a block, a community. Somewhere in the midst of these two tensions, faith is constantly struggling, as we hunt for God and pursue this mystery.
Matt Cummings is 29, the father of two children, married, has an undergraduate degree in Urban and Biblical studies, is working toward his Masters in Urban Studies and Community Development, he works in Higher Ed in Residence Life, and he is political, thoughtful, and theistic. The end.@obnoxiousmatt Finding Meaning