The Book Of The City

The Book Of The City

URBAN THEOLOGY

Giving serious attention to a respectful theological agenda that reinvigorates an awareness of the urbanism ubiquitous throughout the Christian Scriptures is, I think, long overdue. We might turn to any one of many and varied biblical emphases to discover this, but perhaps none does so as flagrantly and deliberately as the prophet Isaiah, whom Alec Motyer refers to as “the chief propagandist of [this] city-based royal eschatology.” He goes further to suggest that, “The Isaianic literature could accurately be described as the book of the city.”

As we study the texts of Isaiah in detail, it soon becomes apparent that the prophet resorts to the language of Jerusalem, Zion, Mount and Mountain, and City as broadly interchangeable terms, all of which reinforce the centrality of the city in the divine thought and plan. Isaiah, in fact, invokes the city motif in what we might call a tale of two cities: one which assumes a communal order without God, and the other (that is not eschatologically distant, but is, rather, contemporaneous) with God himself at the centre, bearing the fruits of justice, righteousness and peace that impacts the whole cosmos.

Overarching it all is the grand design of nothing less than God’s shalom purposes for the world and, indeed, for the whole of the created order. This necessarily takes us back to a number of these hallmark passages in Isaiah, amongst others, but also points ahead to what now is undoubtedly an eschatological city, a truly new urbanism, called the New Jerusalem, envisioned by John at the end of the his astounding Apocalypse.

In the good tradition of Biblical narrative, it is left to us to flesh-out what this means in our current contexts. If nothing else, it leaves us, I think, with two critical questions: What does it mean for my city if it aspires to be a city of shalom? How does my involvement in my city serve as a harbinger of the New Jerusalem?

Wes White
Co-ordinator
Neopolis: the Scottish Centre for Theology and Ministry in an Urban World