Wes White asks what it could mean to bring ‘peace’ to the city.
Added to the increasing range of necessary acumen demanded of urban ministry practitioners is a hermeneutical posture that is more and more defined by missional objectives. Various scholars are rightly reminding us that this is understandably dependent upon the recognition of their own sense of being sent or having been sent on the part of local communities of faith who do not believe that they arbitrarily find themselves in the ebb and flow of a particular cities’ life. They trust, in other words, that their sense of sent-ness is purposeful in accord with the ways and means of God.
Michael Barram, for example, suggests that this is far from a peripheral issue. He urges, in fact, that we frame our approach to urban ministry quite sharply, understanding that a healthy missional hermeneutic requires our commitment to what we might call the sent-ness of the interpretive community as being ‘not merely one of a number of worthwhile hermeneutical considerations; rather, in some very real sense it seems to function as the fundamental consideration.’ He further offers that the apostolic posture of the entire community ought to be self-consciously explored, rather than implicitly assumed, as it ‘must be an explicit and guiding component of any interpretive enterprise seeking to do full justice to the biblical text. (See, Michael Barram, “Reflections on the Practice of Missional Hermeneutics: ‘Streaming Philippians 1:20-30” [unpublished paper delivered at the Gospel and Our Culture Forum on Missional Hermeneutics, November 21, 2009, p.9].)
Apart from this recognition of an avowedly missional raison d’etre, the urban church quickly loses the goal of what Michael Gorman refers to as ‘anticipatory participation,’ embodying as it were ‘a guarantee that the age of justice, peace, and joy is not a pipe dream but a future reality that can be known, imperfectly and incompletely but really, in the present.’ Communally focused incarnation is in mind as churches ‘become the gospel’ and actively ‘participate in the missio dei.’ (See, Michael Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, 47.) Our concern, of course, is for how this plays out particularly in those environments that are specifically shaped by urban pressures, both good and bad, that inform and mold patterns for healthy and unhealthy living. What does becoming the gospel, in other words, look like in the context of the city?
I want to suggest that one of the ways this notion of what it means to gospelize ought to be spelled out when deliberately urban vernacular is required is in giving due attention to the Pauline emphasis on peace that is, perhaps, most noticeable in his letter to the Ephesians. It is not incidental that the letter nears its conclusion (6:15) with a summary statement as to the good news the church is to embody in the world as ‘the gospel of peace’. Gorman, again, interestingly suggests that ‘the letter’s final prayer-wish seems to turn the Pauline triad of faith, hope, and love into faith, peace and love: Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (6:23)
Peace is activated Christologically, amongst other things in the letter, as Jesus himself ‘is our peace’ in such a way that aggressively deals with the hostility between peoples. Could it be that current global realities (refugees, asylum-seekers, population migration), as they come to particularly bear upon urban centres, gives the church the opportunity, yet again, to virtually become the gospel? What does Christ-likeness collectively look like in the city if we take seriously Paul’s earlier summary, ‘For he is our peace’? (6:14)