Urban Theology (10) Jesus and the city

Chapter 7 of David Smith’s book, Seeking a City with Foundations:  theology for an urban world is called ‘From Jesus to John of Patmos’

This is a key chapter of the book in terms of a NT theology of the city. I’m sketching and highlighting here over a couple of posts because it is another big chapter.

The shadow of empire (Brueggemann), so prevalent in the OT, deepens and darkens in the NT.

Smith has a nice section on ‘Jesus and the city’ arguing how big political and urban themes are everywhere behind the apparent rural simple Galilean setting of Jesus’s ministry. Lots of good stuff here for contextualising Jesus’ ministry:

– political oppression, colonial rule

– Debt

– unemployment

–  ethnic, cultural, political and religious diversity

– clashing worldviews

– city building (Sepphoris, Tiberias, Caesarea, the 2nd Temple etc

– the conflict of the kingdom of God with empire

“In contrast to the dualism of modern, Western culture (a dualism that has profoundly shaped Christianity in Europe and North America and results in serious misreading of the biblical texts), Jesus’ ministry integrated religious, political and economic concerns, placing all of them within the sphere of the reign of God. This was bound to precipitate a clash with an empire which made idolatrous claims for itself and operated on the basis of a  worldview which justified a form of domination based on the use of violence, and then used its power in ways that created widening socio-economic divisions as large numbers of people were driven into poverty and despair.” 184

This is not to read Jesus purely politically as if the kingdom of God is socio-economic freedom and justice alone. But neither is it to spiritualise his teaching. Jesus held these two things together.

And of Jesus’ methodology? Smith proposes Jesus’ kingdom teaching is subversive of empire – challenging its overwhelming power from within – within the city, within existing culture – a theology of infiltration (Sawicki). A theology of salt and light that would allow others to ‘see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matt 5:13-16). And this is no soft option – but likely a call to suffering, opposition and persecution as it challenges the imagined status quo of the dominant urban theology of the day.

Again, there is much here that reading this chapter you want to say how does this connect to our ‘empire’ of 21st Western capitalism? How is the church to be subversive and challenging the dominant urban theology of the financial markets that increasingly rule governments rather than the other way around? I’m looking forward to what he has to say about these sorts of things in the next chapter.

Comments, as ever, welcome.


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