Why should Christians care for the flourishing of cities? Another way to ask this question is, what convictions should drive Christians to seek the flourishing of the city?
Here at the For the City Network there are 2 core theological convictions that drive our desire to seek the good of our city. Those convictions are the Gloria Dei (Glory of God) and the Imago Dei (Image of God in man).
The Glory of God:
Since 1643 Protestants have used the Westminster Larger Catechism as a means to shape and disciple new Christians. The Catechism starts with the question, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” answer, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him forever.” (The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, P. 153) In a less liturgical way, Pastor John Piper describes Christian Hedonism as, “the conviction that God’s ultimate goal in the world (his glory) and our deepest desire (to be happy) are one and the same, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” (Christian Hedonism)
According to the Westminster Larger Catechism and Pastor John Piper, the chief end of every Christian is to bring glory to God. Every facet of the Christian life is an act of worship where we are striving to glorify God in the mundane rhythms of life. That means we can glorify God in changing diapers, in responding to emails, sitting in rush hour traffic, and everywhere in between.
Our Eternal Joy:
What the Westminster Catechism and Pastor John also point out is that God is not simply a glory hound who expects his creation to begrudgingly seek His glory at the cost of our own self-satisfaction. The reality is the exact opposite. God, knowing He is our greatest good, does the most loving thing He can. He gives us Himself in abundance. As we continually seek to glorify God we find our greatest source of joy, God himself. God’s glory is not a zero sum game in which God receives all the glory and we get nothing. Rather, seeking the glory of God is a win-win where God receives the glory He deserves, while Christians find their greatest joy and satisfaction in getting more of God Himself.
Here are three biblical passages that affirm the life of the Christian as one of joy in glorifying God.
1. Psalm 16:11 (NIV), “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
2. Romans 11:36 (NIV), “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
3. 1 Corinthians 6:20 (NIV), “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor (glorify) God with your bodies.
Now, the question must be asked, “what does the glory of God and Christian joy have to do with seeking the flourishing of cities?” Great question! The short answer is everything.
There are numerous groups and individuals who are not Christian or “faith based” that do great work in our cities. Organizations that seek to care for immigrants and refugees, abused children, fix broken systems, and engage a number of other injustices. As a culture we regularly praise the philanthropic work of people like Bill and Melinda Gates who have committed to give away vast amounts of their fortune to combat systemic suffering and inequality.
To be clear, we need groups and people like these in order to holistically care for and seek the flourishing of our cities. Where Christian nonprofits and local Churches can convictionally partner with organizations and philanthropists that are not Christian, we should. It is a core value that we should leverage what already exists so that we can reach and serve more.
However, the difference between Christian and non-Christian efforts is one of motivation. Because Christians are primarily concerned with God’s glory we are freed up to focus on the long-term well-being of our neighbors, the marginalized, and the hurting in our cities. So not only is our view long-term, it also is deep-seated, as we recognize those we serve as fellow image bearers of God.
The Imago Dei:
As Christians we believe that every human being regardless of disability, ethnicity, gender, or anything else is worthy of dignity, value, and respect because they are created in the image of God.
Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV) tells us, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Based on this Genesis passage there are at least 3 implications that should drive Christians to seek the flourishing of cities.
1. The Image of God is Universal:
Genesis 1:27 as well as Genesis 5:1-2 make clear that both Adam and Eve fully bore the image of God. As descendents, every human being is worthy of dignity, is beautiful, and bears likeness to our Creator. The universality of bearing God’s image is especially important when seeking justice on behalf of the marginalized. Millard Erickson explains, “This means, most obviously, that slavery is improper. Beyond that, however, it means that depriving someone of freedom through illegal means, manipulation, or intimidation is improper. Everyone has a right to exercise dominion, a right that ends only at the point of encroaching upon another’s right to exercise dominion.” (Christian Theology, P. 473-474) Where Christians see injustice depriving image bearers of their freedom of dominion we should step in to seek justice on behalf of our fellow image bearers.
2. Every Human is Valuable:
Every human life is sacred in the eyes of God. Even after the fall of man (Genesis 3), mankind still bears the image of God. And consider the well-known verse, John 3:16. Every life is so precious, that He sacrificed His Son to die so that we may find our way back to Him. As a result, Christians care about the flourishing of their fellow image bearers because every life is sacred and valuable.
3. Our Humanity is Realized in Relationship with God:
Because mankind was created in the image of God, we are our most fully human when in relationship with our creator God. This is important for Christians as we seek the flourishing of our cities. Not only are we as a people called to seek the glory of God through demonstrating the gospel in acts of mercy and justice. We are also a people who seek the glory of God in declaring the gospel with our words, calling all people, everywhere, to turn and put their faith in Christ.
Cities also present a unique dynamic in that they are concentrated pockets of image bearers. With the concentration of diverse people groups living in close proximity with each other is the increase of injustices caused by our sinful prejudices and tendencies. However, for the Christian we also see the opportunity for the light of Christ to shine brighter in cities as the power of the gospel transcends race, economics, and class to bring about flourishing. Christians ultimately care about the flourishing of our cities because in cities God’s glory shines brighter because it is a concentration of image bearers worthy of dignity, value, and respect.
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