I first began to see the beauty of the city when I attended the Crowns of Beauty Conference in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. For hours men and women stood on the stage and held my attention as they spoke of global urbanization and the spread of the gospel among these urban areas. I began to see glimpses of Gods call on my life as I breathed and had my being in the City of Angels. Surely it’s easy to see the need for the gospel in a city like Los Angeles, but what works in L.A. may not work in New York or St. Louis. What works in L.A. may not even work 120 miles down the freeway in San Diego. So what do we do when issues of context and contextualization lay before us? How do we forge a way not only into our finite cities on Earth, but to the final city?
How do we get there?
How do we begin “seeking the city” so that urban areas become the most prolific centers of gospel-centered cultural engagement?, has become a prime question since Augustine first penned The City of God. In Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty, and Political Economy in Christian Perspective Chad Brand & Tom Pratt light the torches which will get us started on the path towards, in the end, a city which has Gods glory as its center.
Our plan has been to search out first the biblical basis for an ethical economic life (part 1). This is followed by a historical-theological examination of the attempts in the world of Western civilization, Christendom in its broadest sense, to work out the conclusions of biblical study in their political and economic applications through the various eras of the history of the West (part 2). The third section of the book is designed to engage the present state of affairs from the standpoint of what has been developed in the first two sections (part 3). In the process we have assayed to come to some conclusions that will guide a new generation of biblically informed and theologically engaged Christians in being on mission in the global community.
After creating a very workable outline for the rest of the text, the introduction opens the way for us to begin down the road to a great and glorious city. Chapters 1-9 provide an economic and theological framework which stem from the glimpses of creation in Genesis to the consummation of all things at the end of Revelation.
This final book and the entire biblical record are overwhelmingly a call for the faithful to get their own house in order, not seek to get the world’s twisted caricatures and dreamy, vaporous hopes in line with God’s revelation. Thus, the King’s promise to “make all things new” assures of us his sovereign intention and our subordinate role. Just how people of faith should relate to this promise is the stuff of aspirations for the “city which hath foundations”.
Now that we know the way to the city, we have to see cities in various contexts in order to come away with a complete view of how to fight for those cities. This section comprises, by far, the most technical and diverse section of this volume. It is here we visit places like Rome and Germany, France and England, all the way across the pond to a place called Woodstock. The reader confronts issues such as wealth, Mercantilist Economics, the French Revolution, and Pearl Harbor. This section is far-ranging in its reach and deep in its probing. The ideas of men like Luther and Calvin fill these pages with more history than most care to take on in one sitting. The authors are clearly well-read and well researched but this section may put many off by sheer immensity of topics covered. I found myself struggling through this section which is twice as long as the sections it is sandwiched between which may have led to its trailing off at times, though the off-shoots have little impact on the overall content of this second section.
Margaret Thatcher leads off the final section by describing the essential character of America with a section of her book Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World.
America is more than a nation or state or a superpower; it is an idea-and one which has transformed and continues to transform us all. America is unique-in its power, its wealth, its outlook on the world. But its uniqueness has roots, and those roots are essentially English….[I]t was from our Locke and Sidney, our Harrington and Coke, that your Henry and your Jefferson, your Madison and Hamilton took their bearings.
This quote from Thatcher and ones following from Dinesh D’Souza and David Landes characterize America and the Western conception of the world as, “producing the most prosperous and dynamic period in the history of human activity on the planet”. This final section turns our attention on how we should live en route past the American dream to the streets of gold that await all who find themselves in Christ. The authors turn our eyes to the moral context which we live in, the plight of the poor, and the environmental mandates found in Scripture.
We end our journey on a note of “perpetual winter” and civil disobedience. Pratt and Brand, drawing upon the great mind of C.S. Lewis, almost prophetically speak of our 21st-Century context and of that great eternal century which we find ourselves standing before.
C.S. Lewis years ago seemed to be warning of a terrible time and place where perpetual winter prevailed at the behest of the White Witch, Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia (or so she imagined herself), who deplored Christmas and was defeated only when the sacrificial Aslan returned from among the dead to defeat her. In our opinion, if the real world of ruling-class, czarist fantasies continues to set the agenda, a long winter threatens the political economy and constitutional liberties of an enervated and supposedly secure populace with no Christmas in sight. Lewis was prescient: “Of all the tyrannies, tyranny sincerely expressed for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies” We must concur.
The image of a triumphant Lion rising from the grave to dispel a powerful evil has presented itself strongly before a watching world. There are those who see America as the Lion who has died and is rising from the ashes of smoldering dreams and there are others who see the Lion as the image of a slaughtered lamb, a sacrifice, whose blood has cleansed the very depths of human depravity.
This volume is immensely helpful yet covers a huge array of topics. Its scholarly precision is enough to scare away even the boldest reader yet its practical applications to life in the present and in our context, carries the weight needed to apply its truth to our lives today. I appreciated the authors taking me on a journey through the Scriptures to the heavenly city while constantly allowing me to sit along the road and rest in the truth of Gods word. I have not read a volume on the city this helpful since Conn and Ortiz gave me a glimpse into Urban Ministry, I commend this volume to those in the church who wish to be a bridge between the sacred and the secular.
Seeking the City: Wealth, Poverty, and Political Economy in Christian Perspective Chad Brand & Tom Pratt/Kregel Publications, 2013 Review Copy Courtesy of Kregel Publications