Eric Jacobsen writes with a compelling and pragmatic heart. He is an associate pastor living in Missoula, Mont., and ministering to the city. He pleads with leaders of urban churches not to forsake their settings of ministry.
“There are implications for a church and its ministry that are wider and more far-reaching than might be seen through eyes that see parking and square-footage needs exclusively,” he says in Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith by Brazos Press.
Jacobsen emphasizes the importance of the church in the urbanized setting, sharing insights from his own ministry. He describes how the city “ministers” to his church, even as his church is ministering to his city. “There is great significance for the building up of the kingdom and the healing of our culture in the midst of ministry to our cities,” he observes.
Following the introduction and an overview of the “why, what, and how” of city living, part one of the book deals with a theological and anthropological understanding of the concept of the city. Because a city is what John describes in the Book of Revelation, Jacobsen says Christians “must take this vision seriously and not replace it with our own visions of the ideal human environment.”
He urges downtown churches to not be drawn by the lure of the suburbs. He affirms the need of the many ministries that only a committed congregation can bring to renewal, healing and even redemption of the city. He challenges the appeal of the landscape of suburbia filled with its big store boxes, miles of parking lots and too many gated communities.
In part two of the book, Jacobsen identifies six markers of the city that he says either don’t exist or, if they do, are not as rich in the suburbs: public spaces, mixed uses, beauty, local economy, the presence of strangers and critical mass. He delivers strong chapters on each, mixing his own practical experience with the writings from various classic sociologists. (He also includes a rich bibliography concerning further readings.)
The final chapter in the book beckons those from the mass-produced suburbs back into the “romance” of the city. He introduces several strategies for protecting the welfare of cities.
What makes this book so readable and compelling is the passion with which Jacobsen writes. He has seen too many neighborhoods abandoned by churches. He has seen too much deterioration of urban areas, due in part to lack of a spiritual presence. He is committed to ministry in the urban setting. He also uses a depth of Scripture to support his theses.
This is definitely a readable and worthy work. For those of us who love and appreciate our cities, you can almost feel the gentle breeze as you imagine yourself sitting in the sidewalk cafÃ©. For those who labor in urban churches, however, I fear his pleas may not be quite so romantic. We certainly need our cities, but it will take far more than just a church building to rejuvenate downtown.
Bo Prosser is coordinator for congregational life for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta.
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