Book Review: Why Cities Matter (Um & Buzzard)

“What will be remembered about the twenty-first century … is the great, and final, shift of human populations out of rural, agricultural life and into cities. We will end this century as a wholly urban species.” ~ Doug Saunders

There has been a lot of buzz around the “city” these days. Everywhere I look it seems that someone is providing their opinion on the city and why it must be focused on. Maybe I’m just looking in all the right places to come across it, but I think they are all on to something. Tim Keller opens with a foreword detailing the power and potential that cities hold in shaping our future as a society; “the future of the world will be forged there (p.9). From experts in business, finance, economics, culture, politics, and even the church, leading voices in every field seem to be focusing on the importance of cities. “As cities go, so goes the world.”

Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard seek to not only examine a view of how the Bible calls us to contribute to the peace (flourishing, shalom) of the city (see Jeremiah 29), but also outlines the importance and characteristics of cities as well. Um & Buzzard lay out the framework that we, as Christians, stand in a unique crossroads historically, and that we have the potential to be a part of an amazing move of God by investing in the city and culture around us:

“We live in a unique moment in history. At no other time in history has our world looked so similar to the setting of the early church. Read the book of Acts and you read about a world that looks much like our own — an urban, pluralistic, cosmopolitan, diverse, dynamic, rapidly changing, and fast-developing world. Two thousand years ago, God built His church through cities. The book of Acts is a story about the geographic expansion of the Gospel through cities. Jerusalem, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome represent where the Gospel was preached, disciples were made, and churches were established. These cities became healthier ¬†communities because Christians were there.” (p.18)

To close, I thought it might be fitting to provide a brief snapshot of the book’s layout. For chapter 1, they tackle the general importance of cities (some of which, put briefly, is outlined above). Chapter 2 examines common characteristics of a city (after all, we ought to be in agreement as to what is and is not a city if we are to be invested in it, right?). Chapter 3 serves as a bridge, examining what the Bible has to say about cities. Chapter 4 examines contextualization of the Gospel in our cities. Chapter 5 examines how we ought to relate to our city’s dominant story line. And finally Chapter 6 wrestles through how we develop a ministerial vision for our city.

This book provides a practical, relevant, and (most importantly) biblical foundation for how we ought to view and approach cities, and what it will take to rightly contextualize the Gospel to urban centers. They do not handle the material lightly and understand that it is quite a task to take up, but the rewards are worth it. God is capable of moving today just as He did in the days of the early church; Um & Buzzard argue that the potential is even greater.

I think this book is precise, weighty, and well worth your time to read and reflect on the implications of reaching our cities with the Gospel. Pray, consider, and go forth.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

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