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Ray Bakke’s winsome theological vision for the city

bakkeThe world is moving to the city.

The tipping point came in 2010 when 52% of the world’s population lived in cities. Estimates are that by 2050, 2/3 of planet Earth’s human beings will be urban dwellers.

Ray Bakke is a prominent Chicago pastor and professor who has wrestled with the implications of rapid urbanization for the church. In A Theology as Big as the City (IVP, 1997) – a follow-up to his acclaimed The Urban Christian (IVP, 1988) – Bakke emphatically answers the mistaken notion that the Bible views cities uniformly in a negative light. Instead, he systematically surveys both Old and New Testaments, painting a picture of cities that are the object of divine love and concern. The implication is clear: If God loves cities and the people who live in them, can the church do any less?

While there are many themes raised in Theology as Big as the City, let’s take a look at three key ideas advanced by Bakke:

1) God’s hands are in the mud;

2) Jesus as an agent of personal and social transformation;

3) The role of an urban pastor.

God’s hands are in the mud

Ray Bakke begins his biblical survey of urban themes by looking at the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 2 depicts God as one down in the dirt, using his hands to form Adam from the “dust” of the earth (2:7).

Urban ministry is not aloof but engaged. It acknowledges hard realities yet works toward change. Bakke (p. 37) affirms:

We acknowledge that inner-city neighborhoods are often ugly, and the systems are broken. We all know a healthy person needs a healthy family, and a healthy family needs a healthy community…Yet there’s a sense that if Christ is with me in the midst of the slum, the neighborhood is a slum no longer. For Christ lives in me, and his kingdom agendas confront the neighborhood.

Our motive to work alongside God in “the mud” is not the need that exists. Rather, ministry in cities is fueled because “God has done a work of grace in my life that compels me to share. It overflows”(p. 36).

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