Assigning Morality

Yesterday I posted about a trend I have noticed in the last few years of the major influencers in evangelical Christianity today sounding a call to return to the city and give yourself to its service and betterment.  In arguing against an idolatry of the city for the sake of its inherent bigness I committed the logical fallacy of moralizing two amoral positions.  The argument works like this;  if Proposition A is undesirable then its opposite, Proposition B is not only superior but morally upright as well.  I see this fallacy all over the place. 

For instance, when it comes to educational choices, I've seen some argue in favor of public schooling because of the missional impact it can have.  In demonstrating the superiority of their position they moralize the discussion and in so doing make everyone who doesn't send their kids to public school to be people who don't care about the lost.  The home-schoolers do the exact same thing.  In showing how much better it is to homeschool your children the issue becomes a moral one (usually centered around a misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 6), and anyone who doesn't homeschool their children is "feeding them to the wolves", or so the argument goes. 

How does this apply to my post yesterday? Well, I realized about 2:45pm yesterday that I had played the ultimate trump card in my attempt to illuminate the idol of urban ministry being better ministry.  I moralized the issue in Jesus' name.  Basically I argued that because Jesus didn't predominately hang out in the cities the implication that I brought to out is that our missional strategy should reflect that.  Jesus didn't start there, neither should we.  

However this is silly and wrong on my part.  We need both.  We need strong, robust urban ministry and a deep influx of church planters and churches in the heart of the urban core.  Many missiologist are right, the Bible ends in a city, the City of God.  However we need the same strong, robust rural and suburban ministry as well.  We need a movement of church planters and gospel-centered churches in the small towns, villages and outskirts of the cities.  Much of the Bible takes place in the little places.  Simply put we need both, and we can't and shouldn't make villains out of the other side.  Those who have an idolatry of the big city and think that God only (or most powerfully) works in the city need to repent and recognize God's grace in the little places.  Those who have an idolatry of the small town and think that purity and holiness are preserved only in them need to repent and rejoin their brothers' efforts at the advance of the gospel in the city.  In either case we cannot reject the other.  

I'm not going to redact my post yesterday.  I think it is still helpful for us to be careful not to forget the little places and hopefully that post will serve as a reminder of that.  I do, however, want to call your attention to how you logically argue for a position that is amoral, or without inherent morality assigned to it.  If it is not an issue of right and wrong, do not make it one that is.  Educational choice, music styles, what you wear to church, or issues like urban vs. rural in no way need to be argued from a position of "moral rightness."  Why?  Because they are all right, and they can all be wrong too.  Grow in wisdom and you'll be able to figure out which is which.  

The River Flows the Other Way

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There has been a lot of talk these days about the church being influential in the midst of a large urban core.  Instead of evangelicals abandoning the city centers and moving out to the suburban and rural areas of our country the predominate thinking is that the river should flow the other way.  Plunge into the city — that is where the people are.  Dive into the heart of a city — that is where the cultural influencers are.  All for the city! That is where the artist who will make it all beautiful live. Run into the city! Everything else runs the other way. 

Now, in no way am I against the city and the efforts of many today to go into the hearts of the city and reach the lost with the gospel.  I am grateful that actually there is a renewed interest in urban mission.  While I lived in inner-city Chicago I knew there was a place and people that desperately needed the gospel.  The elite rich lived to the east of me.  The destitute, ghetto poor lived directly to the west of me.  The cities need a gospel advance in a deep way. 

However there seems to be a growing idolatry of the city.  Maybe it has to do with American value of "big equals success" and therefore big churches equals big success and the sure-fire way to get that influence, prominence and notoriety is to be around a city.  But was that Jesus' methodology?  As I read the Gospels this week I'm noticing something about Jesus.  Unless he absolutely had to, he avoided the cities.  Jerusalem was the primary city in his region and it seems like He couldn't stand to be there.  If you look up the places where Jesus ministered they were the rural villages and towns of the Northern country.  Places of agrarian and pastoral life.  Nazareth probably wasn't more than a couple hundred people.  Capernaum, the largest town in Galilee and the regional base of Jesus' ministry was by best estimates no more than a thousand folks.  In fact most of Jesus' three and a half years of ministry was not spent in the cities hanging out with the influencers and financiers while reaching the artist and "culture-makers."  The bulk of Jesus ministry was spent with fishermen, shepherds, towns people in small and seemingly insignificant places.

The city wasn't a refuge or strategic center for Jesus.  His strategy wasn't to reach the wise, strong, rich, proud, or famous.  He lived amongst the forgotten, weak, marginalized, poor, every-day-man.  Instead of the river flowing from city to village, Jesus turned it backward.  He worked through the little and river flowed the other way.  By influencing the small and powerless the river went upstream and the large and influential cities of Jerusalem and Corinth and Rome were impacted by the gospel.  Shouldn't our mission strategy reflect the same?  My recollection of the book of Acts tells me the apostles continued working from the small up to the city.  Maybe the river flows the other way?  Maybe we've forgotten.