Matthew R. Perry

You Belong to the City — Don’t You? (Part I)

In Culture, Missions on June 20, 2007 at 1:43 pm

Most of us when we think of the cities, we seldom think of it with any positive thoughts at all. In fact, most of us avoid the city. We think of the cities in the Bible such as Sodom and Gomorrah, the city of Jericho, Nineveh, Tyre, Sidon, Athens, Corinth, Rome — they were centers of culture, learning, and refinement. Yet they also carried great idol worship and debauchery.

Yet, we see the city playing a great role in the work of God. Abraham in Hebrews 11:10 shows how he was longing for a city ‘whose builder and maker was God.’ When God told Adam and Eve to have dominion over the earth, he expected them to build a civilization which honored their Creator.

What does the city provide for our culture? Three things: people, power and influence. First the people. Recently, Albert Mohler directed my attention to an article from The Economist called “The World Goes to Town.” In that article, he mentions that in 1900, 13% of all the world’s population lived in the city. Within the next few months, over half of the world’s population will live in the cities. Consider this:

Within ten years the world will have nearly 500 cities of more than 1m people. Most of the newcomers will be absorbed in a metropolis of up to 5m people. But some will live in a megacity, defined as home to 10m or more inhabitants. In 1950 only New York and Tokyo could claim to be as big, but by 2020, says the UN, nine cities–Delhi, Dhaka, Jakarta, Lagos, Mexico City, Mumbai, New York, São Paulo and Tokyo–will have more than 20m inhabitants. Greater Tokyo already has 35m, more than the entire population of Canada.

The sheer scale and speed of the current urban expansion make it unlike any of the big changes that have punctuated urban history. It mostly consists of poor people migrating in unprecedented numbers, and then producing babies on a similarly unprecedented scale. It is thus largely a phenomenon of poor and middle-income countries; the rich world has put most of its urbanisation behind it.

In poor countries, though, the trend is set to continue. The United Nations forecasts that today’s urban population of 3.2 billion will rise to nearly 5 billion by 2030, when three out of five people will live in cities. The increase will be most dramatic in the poorest and least-urbanised continents, Asia and Africa. They are the ones least able to cope. Already over 90% of the urban population of Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda, three of the world’s most rural countries, live in slums.

The second item, power. The direction of the military, education, finance, and business (just to mention a few) come from the cities — especially the capitals of our states and countries. The cities allow for more diversity in education, backgrounds, race relations, and finance — which leads to the third: influence. Consider how much the cities influence the direction of the culture. New York, Hollywood/Los Angeles, and Chicago drive the machine of what is popular. Consider the top five most populated cities in the United States: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. They make up 20,000,000 people, or 6% of the population — in five cities! Before, it would take months, sometimes years to get through. Now with cable and the internet, people in Fargo, North Dakota, Peoria, IL, and even in Brazil, Hungary, or Japan find themselves influenced by American pop culture from New York, LA, and Chicago.

What are some negatives? Crime, for one. With the pluses of diversity come the negatives. Racism, violence, and corruption plague many of our cities. Our major cities have a much larger crime rate than do those in the suburbs or in rural farming areas. Drug use, rampant homelessness, noise and air pollution are other reasons why some do not feel safe in the cities and long for the quiet, orderly, peaceful life of the suburbs and rural areas. This has often been referred to as “white flight” where many whites leave the cities.

Here’s the question: given all the ways the city steers the direction of our culture in government, the fine arts, commerce, education, is it right for us to leave the city? I’m not simply talking about geographically but also leave it to those who could care less about anything with a biblical worldview?

(Tomorrow, Part II: Are You Running Away from the City?”)

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