Written by Kyuboem Lee
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:00
[The following is the Foreword I wrote for The Urbanity of the Bible: Rediscovering the Urban Nature of the Bible and What it Means for Today, by Sean Benesh, an upcoming publication from Wipf & Stock Publishers. Used by permission.]
The writer of Hebrews pictures God as the builder and architect of the city that he has prepared for his people (11:10, 16)—God is the Urban Planner par excellence. The corresponding portrait of New Jerusalem is the culmination of God’s redemptive and creative work—a place of beauty, human flourishing, and joyous community where men and women eternally live in righteousness, justice, and peace with each other, as well as in worship, love, and obedience under the rule of their God and King; a place where God dwells forever with his people finally redeemed from sin and death; the place where the hopes and dreams of all creation are realized at last. This city is “the joy of the whole earth” (Ps 48:2). Through his urban planning and building activities, God himself has prepared the habitation, garden, and tabernacle that he always had in mind for us his creatures. It awaits those who seek God’s country—they will one day arrive at their destination, and finally say, “We are home.”
As God’s image bearers, the children of Adam and Eve have been planning and building cities from the very beginnings of the biblical story. Because of human sin and the resulting fall from shalom, however, the cities that we have built experience and promulgate corruption, unbelief, injustice, and death. On the other hand, because of God’s good urban plan, the city also gives refuge, nurtures creativity, enhances human flourishing, grants a more abundant life, and glorifies the divine Urban Planner after whose image we engage in city-building.
But I am getting ahead of the action. In the following pages, author Sean Benesh will be your able guide to this ages-old, ongoing story of the city. He will narrate the urban story of the Bible. He will make a convincing case that today’s astounding urbanization around the globe is part of the outworking of God’s urban mandate for his image bearers. He will connect the everyday work of the citizens for the common urban good to God’s desire to create an urban society that is just and compassionate, a city that is a refuge to those who are strangers and aliens. He will argue that the missio dei finds its context squarely within the divine urban design.
His voice is a welcome one. Christians in North America have long failed to see the city as a good place. Many joined the flight out of dirty, crime-ridden, impoverished and impersonal gothams that they deemed irredeemable. Those who did choose to serve in cities thought of rescuing the city dwellers out of urban conditions. Missing was a biblical vision of God’s good design for the city.
Now, in the early twenty-first century, the tide has turned on the public perception of the city. For young gentrifiers and hipsters moving into lofts in post-industrial neighborhoods, the city has become a desirable locale to live in. Churches, seeking to court them, have also moved into formerly struggling inner-city communities. But, often out of the newcomers’ sight, former residents who were unable to join the former flight out of cities because of their socioeconomic standing are being displaced, making room for coffeeshops and quirky eateries. Globalization and its attendant migration patterns have also brought floods of new immigrants from every corner of the world into the cities—endowing the urban communities transnational identities. Zooming out, we also note that we have recently crossed a vital milestone; there is now more people living in the cities around the globe than there are people living in rural areas. We live in an urban world.
In the midst of these great urban transitions, we wonder whether God’s people have developed a robust urban theology that will sufficiently shape and invigorate their witness among the nations in the city. There is much to catch up on and learn about how the Lord is moving his mission forward in our global, urban world, and how his church is called to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our new urban context. Sean Benesh will help us to do just that. As a minister of the gospel living, working, and learning in a rapidly transitioning community in Portland, Oregon, his is a unique vantage point to perceive the ongoing missio dei. My prayer is that the Lord who has prepared a city for his people will use this book to edify and direct their conversation and ministry in the cities around the world today and into the future, until the culmination of history when we will at long last reach the city that is the joy of the whole earth. May the urban communities of our day reflect more and more that city of joy, and may the church seek that city in our urban neighborhoods today with more and more of all that the Lord has given us, to God’s glory.
Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as Adjunct Faculty at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission.