Christianity,  Theology/Bible

Carl Trueman Takes a Shot at City Theology

Carl Trueman has a brief but trenchant critique of “city” theology at Reformation 21. He writes:

“One thing… I did discuss was the current nonsense about cities being special which so dominates the popular evangelical imagination. Not that cities are not important: as areas where there are the highest concentrations of human beings, they are inevitably significant as mission fields. Rather, we were thinking of the `from a Garden to a City’ hermeneutic which jumps from scripture to giving modern urban sprawl some kind of special eschatological significance. Was there ever a thinner hermeneutical foundation upon which so much has been built? OK, there probably has been, but this is still a whopper.”

Read the rest here.


  • Ray Van Neste

    Spot on, Carl. I have found myself wondering about this huge emphasis and in my own little way seeking to champion the place of the rural church and pastorate. we need to be careful about trying to state the importance of one thing by affirming its preeminence over others.

  • Chris Taylor

    So glad he mentions his conversation with Dick Lucas in this piece, since many of the urbanites look to Lucas to fuel their enthusiasm.

    I have tremendous respect for Lucas. His international influence is justified and to be rejoiced in. His success in the city is certainly an encouragement to those who look to pursue such ministries, and he may very well have a good pattern to follow, but I think we go overboard to emphasize the importance of the city to the neglect of the suburban and even rural settings.

    Where this gets particularly troublesome is when ministers encourage pastors of rural communities to take up the same methods that are used in urban centers.

  • Judd Rumley


    This is one of the things I wrestled with before coming to Eagle, CO with a whopping 6,600 residents and some of those second home owners.

    I am glad CT wrote this.

    The key – Go where God leads and the Gospel needs to be preached! (Rom 15).

  • Timothy

    There is a book by Jacques Ellul The Meaning of the City in which he argues, if my memory serves me right, that the city is basically bad.

  • Lynn

    Some food for thought from the United Nations Population Fund and UN-Habitat:-

    ? As of 2008, for the first time in recorded history, more than half of the world’s population (which is approximately 6.85 million people in 2011) is living in cities or towns
    ? By 2030, this number will grow to almost 5 billion people with new urban growth concentrated in Africa and Asia. Most of the new growth will occur in cities of less than 1 million people. These settlements will typically have the fewest resources to respond to the magnitude of the change.
    ? One billion people currently live in urban slums (think of Dharavi slum in Mumbai, which was featured in the movie Slumdog Millionaire; Kibera slum in Kenya was featured in the movie The Constant Gardener)
    ? UN-Habitat defines a mega-region as a city with a population of more than 20 million people. The population of China’s Hong Kong-Shenzen-Guangzhou mega-region, for example, is about 120 million, and it is estimated that Japan’s Tokyo- Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe mega-region is likely to host 60 million by 2015. In Brazil, the mega-region that stretches from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro is home to 43 million people.

    Thus, given these unprecedented changes in human settlement patterns, it is not surprising that we are in a season of some pastors and theologians drawing our attention to the importance of considering cities in current and future ministry strategies. Further, it is not surprising that, given this lively focus recently on cities, others, such as Mr Trueman, are trying to renegotiate a way back to the centre.

  • rastis

    It would be helpful if he would be more specific as to who is doing that. Most of secular urban sociology is rather pessimistic and most of urban missiology is optimistic. I am having trouble seeing that missiologists are somehow in secular sociologists’ pockets.

  • JR Lester

    I have no desire to elevate “city” above rural or suburban as living space or mission field. However, I do believe that as a super-structure and its relationship to biblical community, the city seems superior to suburban America. I have many issues with the unbiblical trajectory of suburban sprawl and negative impact it has had on white collar families and their relationship to their local churches. I won’t go into all the issues nad concerns here. However, it would seem that while ‘cities’ may not be entitled to special status, certainly there ought to be a measured conviction over the motivations and implications of American favoritism toward suburbanization.

  • Chris Taylor


    My experience with urban theology, is that it tends to be US centric. The focus is on planting more churches in the home city, rather than focusing on international cities or foreign missions. In this light, the stats that are more revealing are from the latest US census. I think I heard NPR report that those numbers show a pretty sharp decline in our major cities. Families are leaving for the suburban and rural settings. if I heard that report wrong, then I need to be corrected.

  • JR Lester

    One more comment. I just read Trueman’s article and noticed that he doesn’t seem to distinguish between suburban and rural. I believe this a particular weakness of the article, since suburbanism is really neither garden nor city.

  • Casey

    Its hard not to hear Keller’s words, “In the city you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world,” and not see the massive missiological significance of city theology. We shouldn’t forget that folks like Keller and other “city-ists” are the openly encouraging/pushing young pastors to rural pulpits.

  • Kyle Barrett

    Cities worldwide are under served by the church so it is right that city churches and the massive populations they serve get some attention. 1 in 300 people worldwide live less than 50 miles from Times Square yet Manhattan only has a 3% evangelical presence. There are “reached” and “unreached” people everywhere but there aren’t churches everywhere. I think Trueman’s article misses that point. He seems to confuse a critique of ‘city’ theology with a gripe about what he sees as an over emphasis on the city.

    That being said his critique is fair in that too often focus on the city centers on the glitz and not the need.

  • Lynn

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for that.

    I am not a theologian and I’m not sure I understand all the details of “city theology.” Nonetheless, an explicit focus on the city is taking root here in my home country South Africa, as is clear from my own church network, which has also hosted Tim Keller and Tim Sutherland of Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL.


  • rastis

    I think it is dangerous to assert that cities have missiological significance but not theological significance as this bifurcates (yet again) missiology and theology. Perhaps their theological importance is missiological and not eschatological.

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