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Beyond The Secular City: Towards a Globalized, Post-Modern, Urban

Theology
By Clinton Stockwell

1988

Augustine’s ‘The City of God’

Most of the Christian interpretations of the city are built upon the Old Testament image of
the city as capital of a commonwealth, or the city as a new society of the righteous. St. Augustine's
The City of God contrasted the human city with its laws, and the redeemed city of the faithful. For
Augustine, the City had no earthly significance, but represented two humanities, one devoted to
God, the other devoted to this-worldly matters. Augustine was clearly with the former and saw
nothing of significance in this worldly empires or cities. What Augustine advocated for in The
City of God is in some respects the opposite of what one finds in Plato’s The Republic, or in
Athens or Atlantis and other ancient cities, real or imagined. Augustine critiqued “social living,’
as idealized in Roman times, which was often fraught with worries and conflict.

All human relationships are fraught with such misunderstandings. Not even the pure-
hearted affection of friends is free from them. All history is a tale of slights and fights
and spirits vexed, and we must expect such unpleasantness as an assured thing, whereas
peace is a good unguaranteed—dependent upon the unknowable interior dispositions of
our friends (The City of God, Book 19, chapter 5).

This is not promising or hopeful. Augustine would argue that the tight ordering of Plato’s
Republic or the virtues of Atlantis or Athens would not bring peace. Augustine has little hope
for the merely human city.

“The bigger the city is, the fuller it is of legal battles, civil and criminal, and the more
frequent are wild and bloody seditions or civil wars. Even when the frays are over, there is never
any freedom from fear. I find this a remarkable statement, and as Augustine goes on: “Even
when a city is enjoying the profoundest peace, some men must be sitting in judgment on their
fellow man. Even at their best, what misery and grief they cause. No human judge can read the
conscience of the man before him. That is why so many innocent witnesses are tortured to find
out the truth….” One could go on and on for pages regarding the evils of the city (City of God,
chapters 7-28 of Book XIX). Augustine believed that the bigger the empire, the greater the
problems for assuring or maintaining any semblance of peace or stability. A big problem is
communication and language barriers, and then there is the problem of having enough force and
will to control order, and therefore to insure the peace. Augustine defines a just war as
resistance to an aggressor and the injustice of misused power, the very thing that the Empire
expressed in maintaining its fragile peace. More generally, even if one could maintain a
political peace, Augustine argues that there is no escaping human misery, for one’s loved ones
die, even as each self does as well. Augustine seems to have more in common here with
Ecclesiastes than with Plato’s Republic and the possibilities of an ordered city and society.
Augustinian hermeneutics employs symbolism and eschews any hope for a this-worldly
peace. Jerusalem may be the city of peace, but that is for eternity, not for any human present. It
is better, therefore, to speak of eternal life, rather than peace, since peace on earth is always
evasive. Earthly peace, in contrast, seems only possible as an end to the waging of war, and
then the prince’s understanding and promise of peace is generally only possible by imposing
one’s will on another. Peace is therefore a peace for those in power, but never for those
oppressed. The Mubarek regime in Egypt was a good example of this, for Mubarek, if you
support his regime, there is peace, otherwise only chaos. So the choice is really between
oppression versus chaos, with the former being labeled or sold as “the peace.” The victor
imposes his will on his subjects, and then calls it peace. The so-called Arab Spring is now (as
of summer 2013) in its second moment of chaos. Hopefully, genuine peace may be found in a
reconstituted government. A great summary of peace for Augustine is found in his chapter 13.
Peace there is defined as the “ordered equilibrium of all of its component parts. The peace of a
political community is an ordered harmony of authority and obedience between citizens.”
However, not all societies give rights to its citizens, and then, even if there is peace and order,
does this result in happiness or the good life? To this I suspect Augustine would be skeptical!

Of course, Augustine compares the earthly city, with an elusive earthly peace, and the
heavenly city, with the hope of eternal peace. As a result, the Christian is a wayfarer, or a
pilgrim, and awaits a heavenly peace in eternity, but has little confidence of finding peace in the
temporal realm. Still, the Christian does find oneself in “common cause” with the welfare of
both earthly and heavenly cities. However, the Christian sees himself as an alien, and a captive,
and often finds himself either as a dissenter, or as one who ignores earthly quests for peace as at
best, a nuisance. For the pilgrim, we have peace on earth by faith, but peace in the world to
come by vision. It seems to me that Augustine’s politics is a barely tolerable politics of the
earthly life. The wisdom of his experience or understanding compelled Augustine to look for a
peace, not on earth, but of one coming about by faith in eternity. While one must live in the
body, and in a city or empire on earth, for Augustine is was enough to look for a coming city,
and to prepare for it rather than the diversion of seeking peace in the temporal realm.

The Medieval City

In the Medieval city, this view moderated a bit, as the Church sought to recapture its place in
the temporal sphere. Great Gothic Cathedrals were built as spatial symbols of God's presence. The
assumption was that the Cathedrals influenced also other spheres of human existence, as they
spatially, were the most impressive of architectures, more so than most of the castles of the kings.
In medieval England, there were two kinds of Cathedrals, secular and religious ones, with the
former having jurisdiction over secular society representing the ideal of Medieval Christendom.1
In this context, the Reformation exploded onto the scene as an urban event.2 The Reformers
1
"Cathedral," in Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. by F. L. Cross (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1958), 248-249; and E.S. Prior, Cathedral Builders in England (1905).
2
See, for example, Brend Moeller, Imperial Cities and the Reformation: Three Essays (Durham:
Labyrinth Press, 1982); and Stephen E. Ozment, The Reformation in the Cities: The Appeal of
Protestantism to Sixteenth-Century Germany and Switzerland (New Haven: Yale, 1975).
succeeded because they had the support of the cities. Calvin's Geneva was the archetypical
reformed city, for it represented the city as controlled by the church of the reformers.3 Those in
power politically had the sanction of those in power religiously. Geneva was to be a model
community, for Calvin received government approval for the practice of the Lord's Supper, and the
city government appointed persons to work in each quarter of the city, to note who might be subject
to discipline of the church, and who might need to be expelled from the city. Calvin and Farel also
managed to require that each citizen ascribe to a creed. By 1548, the older families were in revolt
against Calvin, against his prescribed creed, and in reaction to the large numbers of refugees and
foreigners who had flocked to the city. Calvin managed to hold off the opposition, but with much
difficulty. His victory over Servetus had political as well as religious significance, as the whole
town seemed united behind Calvin's reforms after Servetus' execution for heresy October 27, 1553.4
Calvin's model theocracy was short lived, but had influence for centuries, including the puritan
vision of John Winthrop's "City on a Hill" (1630) just 66 years after Calvin's death (1564).

However, philosophers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries sought to separate the
city from religious influence. With increased secularization, the city became more and more ruled
by law, as the product of the enlightenment, and less and less ruled by creeds of the churches. The
Renaissance began the movement of rediscovery of the classics, and among them political
philosophies that were more secular in nature in reaction to the reign of the church, Catholic or
Protestant, in civil affairs. The enlightenment championed the use of reason apart from revelation
or divine law as a way to conceive and order society. Society thus became construed not as
covenant, but as civil contract, and not as the reign of divine law, but of laws produced by secular
society in the age of reason. In this respect, the reformation was the last great reform movement of
the Middle Ages, but also opened up the door for the enlightenment.

For Will and Ariel Durant, "the central feature of medieval politics was the unifying
supremacy of the papacy over the kings; the outstanding aspect of modern political history is the
conflict of national states freed from papal power...."5 For the Durants, the enlightenment freed
politicians from religion, and also freed religion from superstition. The enlightenment, and the
emergence of secular society were thus, potentially, paths of liberation for both church and state.

To the eighteenth-century thinkers- and to the perhaps profound philosophers of the


seventeenth- we owe the relative freedom that we enjoy in our thought and speech and
creeds; we own the multiplication of schools, libraries, and universities; we owe a
hundred humane reforms in law and government, in the treatment of crime, sickness, and

3
See, for example, Andre Bieler, The Social Humanism of Calvin (Richmond: John Knox Press,
1964); W. Fred Graham, The Constructive Revolutionary: His Socio-Economic Impact (Atlanta:
John Knox Press, 1978); and E. William Monter, Calvin's Geneva (New York: John Wiley and
Sons, 1967).
4
Williston Walker, A History of the Christian Church. Third Edition (New York: Charles
Scribners Sons, 1970), 348-357.
5
Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Reason Begins. The Story of Civilization. Vol. VII (New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), 626.
insanity. To them... we owe the immense stimulation of mind that produced the
literature, science, philosophy, and statesmanship of the nineteenth century. Because of
them our religions can free themselves more and more from a dulling superstition and a
sadistic theology, can turn their backs upon obscurantism and persecution, and can
recognize the need for mutual sympathy in the diverse tentatives of our ignorance and
hope.6

The Secular City, Harvey Cox’s take on the New Urban Reality

Harvey Cox's The Secular City is an attempt to come to grips with this new reality.7 For
Cox, the secular city is the age where religion no longer dominates society. It is "an age of 'no
religion at all.'"8 For Cox, urbanization is the "structure of common life in which diversity and the
disintegration of tradition are paramount."9 The secular society means that freedom and diversity
replace the conformity and uniformity of traditional society. Cox believes that secularization should
be celebrated, as providing new forms of freedom for men and women in a society that "has come
of age" (following Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Secularization was "the liberation of man from religious
and metaphysical tutelage, the turning of his attention away from other worlds and toward this
one."10 The process of secularization Cox linked to the rise of modern science, the rise of
democratic institutions, and cultural pluralism. In short, the enlightenment, and the "age of reason"
marginalized the effects of religion, allowing new secular paradigms to emerge. For Cox, this is a
good thing, for secularization demolished both superstition and idolatry in Western culture.

However, in true modern dress, Cox suggests that secularization has paved the way to
several new developments, including the disenchantment with nature, the desacralization of politics,
and the deconstruction of values.11 This is in contradiction to the current rise of "new age"
spirituality, and the postmodern critique of secular society, a point to be returned to later. The final
section of this paper will look at possibilities of a new urban theology in the post-modern city.
Nevertheless, Cox helps to set the tone for a theology of the city that is influenced by the age of
reason, and a "technopolis," the city as creation of science. For Cox, the secular city is to be
celebrated, for it opens up the possibility of thinking theologically about the city of this world, not a

6
Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Voltaire. The Story of Civilization, Vol. IX. (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1965), 786.
7
Harvey Cox, The Secular City: A Celebration of its Liberties and an Invitation to its Discipline
(New York: MacMillan, 1965); and Harvey Cox, The Secular City: Twenty-fifth Anniversary
Edition with a New Introduction by the Author (New York: MacMillan, 1990).
8
Cox (1965), 3.
9
Ibid., 4.
10
Ibid., 17.
11
Ibid.
coming city. For Cox, we need a theology that will deal with the realities of urbanization, and not a
theology that focuses on an "otherworldly" city. For, God can be found in the secular world, as well
as the religious one.

Secularization implies a deliverance from religious control, and a freedom from "closed
metaphysical world views."12 This is basically a liberating development. It suggests that neither the
creation, a politics, or a city should be construed as having the embodiment of truth. Truth can be
found in other spheres as well. The exodus, for example, is construed to be an example of the
desacralization of politics, a movement towards a this worldly religion and ethic. For the Exodus,
the voice of God is not found in nature, or in natural phenomena, but in a historical event, the
liberation of Israel from her captors. This act of liberation from a historical situation is an example
of the secularization of religion.

In the Secular City, it is important to make a distinction between primary and secondary
relationships, and between private and public relationships. Urban people are required to interact
with professionals in society who are familiar because of the roles they play, rather than their family
names. Most transactions in urban society are with role players, with strangers, with those persons
in a secondary realm of experience. Primary relationships, such as family and kinship ties, are
reserved for private life. In urban society, most contacts are in the public realm, or are within the
realm of strangers. Nonetheless, urban life demands that we treat the strangers as persons as well.
This is a relatively new problem, as it pushes ones understanding of community outward, just as it
forces definition of which people constitute primary and secondary relationships.

Unlike rural environments, urban ones seek to have a clear demarcation between private and
public relationships. Urban people have to distinguish which people they will allow in a small
closed circle of primary relationships, while seeking to find ways to make relationships with the
wider public more human.

Urban anonymity need not be heartless. Village sociability can mask [the] murderous
hostility.... Urbanization can be seen as liberation from some of the cloying bondages of
pre-urban society. It is a chance to be free. Urban man's deliverance from enforced
conventions makes it necessary to choose for himself. His being anonymous to most people
permits him to have a face and a name for others.13

Urban life is characterized by public relationships. In such a society, it is important to humanize


relationships with strangers, without jeopardizing the quality of personal, private social relations.
An authentic corporate existence with strangers is necessary in urban society, an existence that
values and respects the cultures of others, without overextending the private domain.

Another characteristic of urban society is mobility. There is both geographical and social
mobility. People today move geographically, and change jobs once every two to three years. Such
mobility makes it impossible to develop any permanent sense of community, and certainly not the

12
Ibid., 20.
13
Ibid., 45, 47.
sense of community that people expected in pre-urban society, where the same families ruled a town
or county for generations. When one adds to this the numbers of migrants and immigrants flooding
our cities, one begins to appreciate, that in the secular city, no one ideology, theology, or culture can
dominate. The secular city is a society in which all people are minorities. It is a society noted by
radical pluralism and diversity. It is a society noted by multicultural realities. The world is found in
today's secular city, and the secular city has become the global city.

This is all okay with Cox. For Yahweh in the Bible is not a God limited to space, or to
nature. God is the Lord of history, the God of change and surprise. The old traditions do not hold
sway with the God of the Bible. Yahweh is always up to creating the new world, moving beyond
tradition to liberating people and creation. For Cox, Yahweh reveals the Self in history, in liberating
events, not in nature or tradition. God speaks to events of social change, such as the Exodus and the
Captivity.14 Jesus too challenged the spatial and tribal limitation of an understanding of God. God
is present in the spirit of a people, not in their temples or synagogues. For Jesus, God is not found
in either Jerusalem or at Mount Gerizim (John 4), but in the hearts and minds of the worshipping
community.

Just as God speaks in history, so also does God speak in the profane, outside the sphere of
the "religious" or "traditional." Cox would later write in Religion in the Secular City15 that God was
now revealing the Self "from the bottom and edges of society." That is, God was doing a new thing
in religions and cultures once perceived to be outside the mainstream of truth and history. The new
movements of truth and freedom seem to no longer come to us from Euro-American churches, but
from Pentecostals and charismatics, from Central America, and from the third world. Cox in the
latter book observed that theologies of liberation began to emerge as subject and oppressed people
began to discover that God was with them is a special way. In the secular city, God is found not just
in the cathedrals, but in storefronts, in homes, and in offices. God is found not just in the shrines of
the holy, but in the marketplaces of the secular city.

Cox acknowledges that urban-secular people are profane and pragmatic. By profane, Cox
means committed to this world, and by pragmatic, he means committed to what is useful and
workable in the world as it is. Cox moves from an "ontological" to a "functional" understanding of
ministry in urbanized society. What matters is not what is speculative or theoretical. What matters
is what makes a difference in the world as it is. States Cox, "we are concerned with thinking rather
than with thought, with acting justly rather than with justice, with the 'art of loving' rather than with
love."16 Identity in urban society has moved in the same direction. In a world of secondary
relationships, people are known by what the do, by their social role, not by their family
relationships. In urbanized society, people respond to the question of identity, by describing what
they do. "Thus the question of identity is identified with the question of purpose, of

14
Ibid., 56.
15
Harvey Cox, Religion in the Secular City: Toward a Post-Modern Theology (New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1984).
16
Cox, Secular City (1965), 65.
serviceability."17

Cox accepted some of the new directions of theology in the 1960s. For example, he follows
Tillich in the search of the "God beyond the God of traditional Theism," and with Karl Barth, Cox
believes that the Gospel has to be separated from the practice of religion. Religion moves in one
direction as human effort, human strivings and traditional formulations; whereas the Gospel breaks
new ground. Moving towards a "religionless Christianity" not unlike the prophets' call for justice
and compassion that counters ritualism, Cox moves towards a reformulation of the Gospel that is
profane, outside the gates of traditional religion.

Theology is a living enterprise. The Gospel does not call man18 (and woman) to return to a
previous stage of his development. It does not summon man back to dependency, awe,
and religiousness. Rather, it is a call to imaginative urbanity and mature secularity. It is
not a call to man (and woman) to abandon his interest in the problems of this world,
but an invitation to accept the full weight of this world's problems as the gift of the
Maker.19

For Cox, secularization is a liberating process, that "dislodges ancient oppressions and
overturns stultifying conventions."20 Cox was later cognizant that he his theology was a precursor
to the variety of liberation theologies (discussed briefly in the next section). He knew that
Christianity as practiced was often the legitimator of the status quo. It had fostered the crusades, the
inquisition, heresy trials and executions, imperialism and the conquest of native peoples. In the
hands of many, it has fostered slavery and some of the worst forms of racism including apartheid,
Nazi socialism, reservations for the Indians, and internment camps for Japanese-Americans. In the
Secular City, native peoples have to be respected as equals. Understandings of God can be derived
outside the gates of mainstream denominationalisms. Secularization is needed in an urban world
where non-protestants have been second class citizens. Secularization has "brought about the much
needed emancipation of Catholics, Jews and others from an enforced Protestant cultural religion."21

Cox questioned the function of traditional religious positions in urbanized society. Much
like H. Richard Niebuhr, who's five typologies have influenced much discussion regarding the
relationship of religion and culture in modern times,22 Cox too notes the promise and problems that

17
Ibid., 67.
18
Cox admits in the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition of The Secular City that he missed gender
inclusivity in the earlier (1965) edition. "Since 1965 I have learned, often from my own students,
that we can no longer read the Bible without realizing that it comes to us already severely tampered
with... edited with an eye to perpetuating the authority of men" (In The Secular City (1990), xvii).
19
Cox, Secular City (1965), 83-84.
20
Ibid., 86.
21
Ibid., 99.
22
See, for example, H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (1951). Niebuhr postulated five views
traditional theological formulations have in addressing secular society. For Cox, Lutheranism too
often sanctioned the status quo; Anabaptism retreated from the world; and Reformers or Liberals
often thought their model was the only right one. Meanwhile, fundamentalists point to an other
worldly utopia, and Catholics traditionally believed that their church should have control over
politics and culture, not just religion. These theologies have their strengths, but for Cox, miss the
challenge and the opportunity of the secular city. In the secular city, God is found in places and
with peoples that were presumed by traditional theologies to be outside and without the truth.
Today, the Gospel is often coming to the church from the margins, not from the centers of power.

Cox pointed the way to a revolutionary theology, a theology that deals with issues of power
and oppression, of community and alienation, of justice and peace in a world in conflict. In
anticipation of the coming of post-industrial society, Cox noted that "we are entering an era in
which power is based on not on property but on technical knowledge and intellectual skills."23 Cox
understood that society was moving towards the information age, when the computer, leisure, and
automation would replace an industrial labor-intensive society.

However, Cox assumed that the problem, as it was in the 1960s, was not the availability or
scarcity of resources, but the problem was more that of unjust distribution. Cox acknowledged that
there would be fewer jobs in manufacturing or production, and more in service delivery systems.
However, we now see in the 1990s that the service society has not replaced the jobs, income
potential or standard of living that the older industrial society created. We now see the serious
problems created by the globalization of multinational corporations, and their lack of accountability
to nations and states. In 1965, Cox believed that "we can make enough to allow everyone to share
in the goods of the earth, but the system we have to connect the supply of goods is breaking
down."24 In the 1990s, we now have serious questions about the assumption of the supply of goods,
and look for an economic system that is at once just, and is yet sustainable over time, with the
pretext that the goods of the earth are limited, not abundant.

Cox was a bit more farsighted on other topics, however. He lamented what others today call
"privatism."25 He noted that in his native Boston, the middle class had fled to the periphery of the
city. This for Cox, like Gibson Winter,'s The Suburban Captivity of the Churches,26 flight from the
city represented a "civic abdication of the middle classes and their withdrawal into a parasitic

of Christ and culture; Christ Against Culture (Anabaptism); Christ and Culture in Paradox
(Lutheranism); Christ Above Culture (Catholicism); Christ of Culture (Liberalism); and Christ the
Transformer of Culture (Reformed Protestantism).
23
Cox, Secular City (1965), 115.
24
Ibid., 184.
25
Such as Robert N. Bellah, etal. The Good Society (New York: Alfred E. Knopf, 1991), 60-62,
etc.
26
Gibson Winter, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches (New York: MacMillan, 1962).
preserve."27 For Cox, it was not enough to "study" issues in emerging industrial society. Rather, it
was important for faith communities to act on what they know and believe. Instead of abdicating
the public realm, "the gospel summons man to frame with his neighbor a common life suitable to
the secular city."28 Rather than a tribalized gospel, Cox believed that preaching today needs to
address the realities of an urban, secular world, in an effort to recover the gospel's relevance and
meaning for the modern world.

For Cox, Jesus announced the coming of a new age, the kingdom of God. It was a gospel
for the captives, the oppressed, the poor, the diseased, and the outcasts of society. It was good news
to those marginalized from traditional religions. As Christ's "continuing incarnation," Cox believed
that the church should continue the proclamation, and manifestation, of the kingdom in the world.
In this respect, the church should become God's "Avant Garde," presenting a new reality, the
"cutting edge" of a radical faith in critique of the older wineskins. This meant that the church not
only needed to reformulate its message for the outcasts, but also needed to figure out how to address
the principalities and the powers as well. For Cox, the "principalities and powers" represent "all the
forces in a culture that cripple and corrupt human freedom."29 Yet, the principalities have been
defeated. Rightly understood they no longer should have the power to determine human destiny.
Cox believes that the church's role in society is to "tame the powers."30

The kerygma comes to a people when they stop blaming economic forces or psychological
pressures for social injustice and family strife and begin to do battle against the causes of
woe. The taming of the powers means that man is invited to make the whole universe over
into a human place. He is challenged to push forward the disenchantment and
desacralization which have expelled the demons from nature and politics.31

As God's avant garde, the church has the responsibility to be liberator and healer in the city.
Cox notes that in the city there are tremendous cleavages, conflicts, and chasms. These include
chasms of race, class, political persuasion, and social geography (city versus suburbs). In the 1990s,
we would add the conflicts between religions, and the exploitation of women and and the growing
"feminization of poverty." The church must carry its healing message to a world of dissension and
strife. For Cox, the problems of urban society are the problems of the whole society.

Often, it is society as a whole that has pushed the poor to the cities, just as it has pushed

27
Cox, Secular City (1965), 97.
28
Ibid., 121.
29
Ibid., 128.
30
This has been picked up recently by Walter Wink in his Naming the Powers: The Language of
Power in the New Testament (Fortress, 1984); and Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces
that Determine Human Existence (Fortress, 1986). A third volume, Engaging the Powers, is
forthcoming.
31
Secular City (1965), 130.
Indians to reservations. Just as many unemployed people have been pushed off the farm to find jobs
in the city, so also are welfare dependent populations pushed and pulled to the city to find needed
services. But, the poor don't need services, they need liberation, and the hope of self-determination
in society. The church, as God's new community, has a role in reversing these trends, and bridging
the chasms and wounds that divide the people. For Cox, attention to structural issues and systemic
causes of pain must be taken. "The wreckage and castoffs of ruthless competitiveness find
themselves bunched together with the old, the infirm, the mentally deficient, the victims of racial
and ethnic persecution. Only structural changes in the larger society will ever enable East Harlem
(for example) to deal with these problems.32

Further, programs where liberal whites go into cities to rebuild homes, while needed, are not
enough. On the one hand, such fosters dependency, and attitudes of condescension on the part of
the middle class dogooders. On the other, the practices and attitudes of landlords or bank-sponsored
efforts of redlining, that is systemic questions, are not addressed. The poor need less the help of the
middle class, and need more ways to act on their own behalf, in "protest and action."
Empowerment strategies and policy changes are needed, not just the bandaids of social service or
advocacy programs. Cox goes on to note the importance of community organizations and city
mission societies that seek to give skills to the poor, rather than resources to the middle class to act
for the poor.33 "Inner city people represent the oppressed to whom Jesus said he had come to give
not warm words, but liberty."34 What the poor need is not "help" that keeps the poor helpless, but
resources so that the poor can help themselves. This would be not just freedom from oppression,
but freedom to act, to "drink from our own wells" (Gustavo Guitierrez).

Jesus for Cox was a "cultural exorcist." He went about naming and casting out demons and
forces of wickedness that were exploiting and oppressing others. In a sense, the demons represented
the principalities and the powers when they acted on their own authority, to maintain their own
power, status, wealth and privilege, inevitably at the expense of others, those exploited and
marginalized by powerful. Cox defines what he means by cultural exorcism as a ministry of the
church in the following:

The ministry of exorcism in the secular city requires a community of persons who,
individually and collectively, are not burdened by the constrictions of an archaic heritage.
It requires a community which, if not fully liberated, is in the process of liberation from
compulsive patterns of behavior based on mistaken images of the world.... The church
should be ready to expose the fallaciousness of the social myths by which the injustices of
a society are perpetuated and to suggest ways of action which demonstrate the wrongness of
such fantasies.35

32
Ibid., 137.
33
Ibid., 141-144.
34
Ibid., 143.
35
Harvey Cox, The Secular City: Secularization and Urbanization in Theological Perspective. The
Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (New York: Collier, 1990), 135.
Against myths like American individualism, as in the lore of Horatio Alger, or the Gospel of
Wealth, as in the writings and actions of such "robber barons" as Andrew Carnegie, Cox calls for an
unmasking of such myths, which assumes falsely that the poverty of the poor is their fault, without
reference to the social and economic structures, or the racial and prejudicial attitudes that exploit
people, especially people of color, women and children.36

Cox calls the church to participate in a social revolution. Yet, anticipating perhaps the fall
of communism as a bankrupt ideology, Cox distinguished between communism and a revolutionary
Christianity. "We espouse a different kind of revolution, a revolution that makes the fruits of the
earth available to all people without depriving them of the benefits of political and cultural
freedom."37 If Cox did not anticipate the concerns in the 1990s for ecological justice, he was
certainly attuned to the issue of distributive justice. The writer agrees with Cox's sense of justice for
people, but also insists that we move beyond distributive justice to a sustainable sense of justice that
respects the limits of the ecosphere.

In addressing issues of urban-secular society, Cox pushed his readers not just to accept new
propositions, but to accept new methodologies of "doing theology." A new way of thinking
theologically is needed. Rather than abstract thinking, or in the formulation of timeless truths, Cox
followed Gibson Winter in insisting on "theological reflection."38 Winter was influenced at the time
by the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission in Chicago, as trainees were attempting to
wrestle theologically with the meaning of the city through the data of the encounter with and
experience of the city. Reflection was thus predicated on action, as one tried to correlate theological
meanings with the facts of city life. "Reflection is that act by which the church scrutinizes the
issues society confronts in light of those decisive events of the past- Exodus and Easter."39

Second, Cox suggests that the new paradigm for theology is not philosophical speculation or
abstract argument, but politics. The Creeds of the church were formulated in response to the major
philosophical questions of the time. In the secular city, the actions of the church must address and
respond to issues as they are in society, urban-secular-global society. This is the methodological
shift from ontological thinking to action-reflection.

Theology today must be that reflection-in-action by which the church finds out what this
politician-God is up to and moves in to work along with (this God). In the epoch of the secular
40
city, politics replaces metaphysics as the language of theology.

36
Ibid., 136-137.
37
Ibid., 157.
38
ibid., 222-223.
39
Ibid., 222.
40
Ibid., 223.
Finally, we need a new way to speak of God in "a world come of age." Rather than the God
of the gaps, or the God of metaphysical speculation, we need a way to speak of the God who is at
work in the world. God continues to surprise us by showing up in places we thought not. God
shocks us by showing that the actions of the divine or not limited to the "box" of any particular
theology. God is showing up on the margins of human existence, from the periphery, not just in
what we once thought was the center, "our" center of life. More and more, in secular society, God
confronts us from the standpoint of the other, and those of us who were once in the center discover
that we are the audience, not the speaker. For Cox, this is very close to the God of the Bible. While
saddled with various names, the name God used to describe the SELF, was "I am that I am," or "I
will be what I will be." This is not a God who sits in place, but a God on the move, not a limited
God, but a God found even in secular society. The God of the Exodus was not one to be found in
the abstract, but one encountered in history, not a God of metaphysics, but a God in action, a God of
praxis, a living God.

The Limits of the "Secular City”


Post Modern Interpretations

Harvey Cox was aware that the secular city had its limits. In a post-modern world, the
language of secularism and modernism is passe. It is gone with the wind of enlightenment
humanism. Cox noted in the Introduction to the 1990 edition of The Secular City that an "illegible"
post-modern city had replaced the city of reason and science. In pointing to this new direction,
perhaps beyond the secular city, Cox noted that he was speaking of a God who is "Someone Else,
the mysterious and elusive Other of the prophets and Jesus, who like Jacques Brel, was very much
alive and well, although living in unexpected quarters."41

Much has happened since 1965. And we must move beyond the secular city of Harvey Cox,
building on the foundations, but developing a theology that addresses issues of the post modern city.
Since 1965, we have experienced the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the demise of what was
once the Civil Rights Movement. We have seen the emergence not just of black power, but of
liberation theologies, from Latin America, from African Americans, from women, and from Asians.
We have witnessed the emergence of the global city, and the realization of our own
interconnectedness with other parts of the globe, especially the Middle East. We have witnessed
U.S. military failure in Vietnam, and "success" in Panama and in Iraq. Most significantly in the past
decade, we have witnessed the demise of the Communist Eastern Block countries, and the rise of
pro-democracy movements in Europe and other places. In a sense, the U.S. is the only superpower
left, yet no longer has the capacity to control events in the world, and is in danger of collapsing
economically with the largest financial indebtedness in human history. What then is needed for a
theology for the postmodern age?

For Cox, "liberation theology is the legitimate, though unanticipated, heir of The Secular
42
City." Cox rightly points to the reality of theological reflection that has been occurring among the

41
Ibid., xiii.
42
Ibid., xv.
marginal of society for the past two decades. The current city is not a city defined by white
dominance. In Chicago, as one example, there are perhaps "five cities," five ethnic and cultural
communities that define their world differently due to their very different histories. Euro-
Americans must figure out how to live in a world where they are no longer dominant.

These "five cities" include Euro-American "nativists," the old immigration of Europeans,
such as those Yankee Protestants from Northern and Western Europe, of English extraction.
Secondly, it includes still sizeable numbers of immigrants, mostly of Roman Catholic, Lutheran or
Jewish descent, including in particular the Irish and the Germans. Third, it includes those brought
forcibly from their homeland, African-Americans. Fourth, it includes Hispanic-Americans of every
variety. Finally, the new city includes "new immigrants" from all over the globe, who add to the
complexity and diversity of the global city. These include refugees from Southeast Asia, the Middle
East, Central America, Korea, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Philippines; as well as newer groups
from former "communist block nations," Southern and Eastern Europeans such as Poles Romanians,
Latvians, and or Yugoslavians. Hence, it is no longer possible to speak of America as "Protestant,
Catholic and Jew" (Will Herberg), but also Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu. The Global City is the
city of unprecedented pluralism.

The gospel was never owned or completely understood by Euro-American descendants of


Luther or Calvin. The American religious landscape is no longer dominated by Presbyterians,
Methodists or Baptists. Rather, there are Black Pentecostals, Korean Presbyterians, and Filipino
Catholics. Also, the cities of North America are no longer necessarily Judeo-Christian. In the
recent past, shrines to Zoroaster, Mahivira, and Buddha have also emerged. There are more
Muslims in, for example, the Chicago metro area (300,000) than Jews (275,000); and Muslims are
growing at a phenomenal rate. In short, accompanying cultural diversity is a diversity of religious
persuasion unprecedented since the days of the Mayflower.

Cities are now international. New York City may be euphemistically called the "capital of
Puerto Rico." Miami, in addition to its beaches, and Yankee vacationers, now has sizable numbers
of Cubans, and its Haitian population is growing. Houston, San Antonio and Los Angeles have
sizeable Mexican populations. In addition, cities like Chicago and Detroit have large Polish
populations. In Chicago, there are said to be 40,000 Iraqis and 40-50,000 Central Americans.
Greeks are said to own over 400 stores in the city's African-American neighborhoods, and local
Vietnamese, Pakistani, and Korean business associations speak of the vibrancy of these populations.
Indeed, the secular city has become a global city, as its Judeo-Christian foundations are shaken to
the core.

In addition to the "five cities" of the post-modern city, there are the "five new publics" that
are dawning the doors of the church. These include once designated minorities, (African, Hispanic
and Asian-Americans), second career persons, internationals, women, and people seeking to
enhance their skills for the new world. Our theological schools have built a curriculum for the
young, bright white male, ministers-to-be; but have not adjusted their curriculum for the new
publics knocking at the door. Also, many of society's wounded have joined those wounded by
traditions inadequate for the task of preparing leaders for the global city. These include divorced
people, gays and lesbians, and those at the end of their first career. These have joined the five
publics noted above who are seeking training to address issues of the emerging global city. A new
church and a new pedagogy is needed, not just for the secular city, but for the global post-modern
city.

In the post-modern city, cities are not just growing in the once industrialized northern
hemisphere. Rather, they are mushrooming in the less developed world, what some more accurately
refer to as the "two-thirds world." By the year 2000, 7 of the top ten largest cities will be in the less
developed world. At the top will be Mexico City with almost 30 million people. Other cities will
over ten million, three-four times the size of Chicago, will include Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Sao
Paulo, New York, Bombay, Calcutta, Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, Cairo, Madras, Buenos Aires,
Los Angeles, Karachi, Delhi, Teheran, Baghdad, Istanbul, Manila, Paris, Dacca, and Bangkok.
Notice the numbers of large cities in countries such a Brazil, India, China, Africa, and Indonesia.

But this is only part of the picture. In 1950, there were only seven cities in the world that
had a population of five million or more, only New York City in the United States. Today, there are
thirty-five such cities, most of them (22 of 35) in the less developed world. Further, by the year
2020, there will be 93 such cities, with 80 of them in the so-called "two thirds" or less-developed
world.43 With the destroying of the small farms, in this country and overseas, we can no longer
dismiss the fact that we live now in an urban world, and urbanization is developing the fastest in
countries like Africa, as Lagos, Nairobi, or Addis Abada, cities of at least one million in the once
"dark continent." It is no longer possible to conceive of "missions" exclusively to rural hinterlands,
remote tribes or enchanting forests. What has emerged is an enchanted city, a global city
interconnected with the rest of world, a city that includes the tribal religiosity of the developed
world, as well as the secular sophistication of the computer age.

Theology for the Global City

What are the elements of a theology for the post modern city? The following typologies of
urban theologies help us to a point. Ellul's critique in the Meaning of the City correctly notes that
cities are often connected with evil. One need only mention the woeful practice of prostitution in
Manila or in Tokyo, or the killing of thousands of homeless children in South America cities. These
are only some of the scourges that seem concentrated in cities. Cities often are proud, and see
themselves as standing alone, by their own power and might, rather than existing in humility to the
Creator. The legacies of Babylon, and Rome, speak of this arrogance, an arrogance rightly judged
by the prophets in biblical history. However, against Ellul, cities are not evil in and of themselves.
They are neutral places, places where evil people sometimes rule, and where injustice is too often
practiced. Cities are the victims of the rule of the principalities and the powers, and cannot be
identified necessarily with those powers.

Harvey Cox rightly prepared us for addressing issues of urban, secular, multicultural, global
society. Cox reminded us of the legacy of traditionalism and colonialism. The former containers,
he noted, were no longer adequate for a "world come of age." However, he was wrong when he
considered that the world would remain a "secular world," as movements in Iran and Central

43
Robert W. Fox, "The World's Urban Explosion," National Geographic 166 (August, 1984), 179-
185.
America have underscored. The modernist assumptions of the secular city need to be transcended.
We now live in a post-industrial, post- modern city, a city that has to wrestle again with the meaning
of the sacred.

Cox noted the limits of a theology that refused to deal with difference, with the stranger, and
with the world and its issues as they are. He pointed us in the direction of developing a theology
that would forthrightly address issues of the emerging global city. However, Cox did not go far
enough. We must now transcend the secular city with its assumptions informed by reason, by
technology, by secularity and the resultant marginalization of the church. We now live in a post
modern world, in a global city, a city connected also with he ecosphere. Cox's Secular City points
us to the promised land of the enchanting soft city of post- modernism, but he did not enter the now
present reality of the global city. The post-modern city requires that we consider some of the things
that Cox rejected. We must move beyond the disenchantment of the world, the desacralization of
society, and the transcending of values to another reality, a theology of the post-modern global city.

Towards a Post Modern Urban Theology

In the post-modern city, we can no longer accept a world that has lost its enchantment. It is
this world that has in it the elements to create and sustain life. It is the modernist assumption of the
impersonality of nature that has led scientists and technicians to devise ways to rape the earth and its
resources, to deny the world as the creation of the Sacred. The result is the destruction of the Ozone
layer, the rape of the Brazilian forests, and the deforestation of the planet. The result of modernism,
and with it the positivism and poverty of a scientific worldview, is that most of the current actors in
the political economy consider the resources of the planet something to be exploited and wasted.
The assumptions of a modernist society is that resources are either plentiful, or that human beings
are adaptable enough to find another fuel source once gas, coal, or wood is used up. The result of
modernism has been the pollution of the planet, including acid rain, soil erosion, the extinction of
numerous forms of wildlife, and toxic waste-dumping that will take millennia to become reabsorbed
or modified by the earth's natural processes.

In the post-modern city, we need a view of the world that returns to it a certain level of
enchantment. In a recent book by the deceased anthropologist, The Power of Myth44, Joseph
Campbell decried the loss of myth, and the loss of the sense of awe and humility regarding the
planet, and of life in general. The result of the loss of a coherent myth regarding the planet has
resulted in the escalating danger to the life of the human species, not to mention the survival of
every other species. The impending danger to the Ozone layer is a threat to all of us, and is the
product of the technological society.45 The collapse of the Ozone layer is a symptom of the secular
city, and with it the loss of enchantment, a sense of the holy when we consider the marvel of our
fragile eco-system. We need a new myth that recognizes that human beings including their cities
are but one species on an endangered planet.

44
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers (New York: Doubleday, 1988).
45
Michael D. Lemonick, "The Ozone Vanishes," Time (February 17, 1992): 60-63.
The weakness of Cox's Secular City is that is assumes that human beings are at the center of
the solar system. It assumes an anthropological-centered universe. In the global city, we need a
new paradigm, a new myth, that sees, the city as part of the global ecosystem. We need to recover a
theology of creation, and we need to rediscover our enchantment with the world. Human beings
and the cities do not stand in isolation in the cosmos, but are part of the new global reality. Racial,
economic, and social injustice must be joined to a concern for eco-justice as the rightful center for
all our justice and peacemaking activities.

In addition to an urban theology, we need also a recovery of a theology of creation, and a


public theology. A public theology recognizes that all religious traditions have legitimate
differences that they should continue to explore and propagate on some level. Yet, there are also
concerns that transcend religions and denominations. These are concerns for the common good, for
the welfare not just of individuals, or even of cities, but also the welfare of the globe. In such a
theology, cities must become administers and conservators of global justice, not just consumers of
the world's scarce goods. A public theology recognizes that there are certain truths, certain values,
certain commitments, that all religions share, and that all people must work to preserve. This
includes life on the planet, and the life of the planet itself.

Has Kung, in a recent book, Global Responsibility46, has noted the imperative of developing
a theology that seeks as its focus the preservation of the globe. He outlines several considerations
that are also imperatives in the global city. They include the following:

1. Not just freedom, but also justice.


2. Not just equality, but also plurality.
3. Not just brotherhood, but also sisterhood.
4. Not just coexistence, but peace.
5. Not just productivity, but solidarity with the environment.
6. Not just toleration, but ecumenism.

These for Kung, are requirements for a post modern society. "It has become abundantly clear why
we need a global ethic. For there can be no survival without a world ethic."47 What we need in the
global city is social justice, a discovery of the contribution of other cultures and heritages, a
discovery of partnership between genders, a world order that furthers peace, not war, a world order
that is friendly to nature, and a world order that is ecumenical, that seeks to learn from and respect
other faiths, while maintaining our own evangelical integrity.

For Kung, we have prided in our freedom and independence, but we have lost a sense of the
public good. We have lost the sense of global interdependence, and our responsibility to each other,
regardless of ideological and cultural differences. Second, while equality is important, especially in
a world where the former Soviet Union has collapsed, and democracy on some level is being
rediscovered, equality is not enough. A respect for diversity, and a toleration at a deep level of

46
Hans Kung, Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic (New York: Crossroads,
1991).
47
Ibid., 67, 69.
those that believe differently is an imperative. We run the risk of a world that threatens the welfare
of people on two levels, political-religious fundamentalism and globalism that requires a uniformity
and conformity of culture, both of which pose a threat to democracy, and to the planet.48

One of the most striking developments of the post-modern age is the ascendency of the
voice of women. If the industrial age was hard, industrial and male, the post-industrial age is softer,
more aesthetic, and potentially more communal. It is women who are pointing the way to new
directions, in theology, as well as in the sciences. Peace is important, not just for the welfare
between nations and states and her peoples. We understand now that our warlike efficiency versus
Iraq, in the first Gulf War, had devastating consequences for the Iraqi people, resulting in the deaths
of 80,000 civilians, mostly women and children, after the war had officially ended. War is a threat
also to the survival of the planet, and must be contained. We can no longer tolerate the "growth
ideology" of the recent past. Productivity can no longer be the standard for manufacturers and
industries. Rather, the new standard must be sustainability. How can we live within the resources
of the planet that is sustainable over time? The notion of unlimited resources and inevitable
economic growth poses a serious danger to the life of the planet. We must now work in solidarity
with the environment, as wise stewards of the creation, not as master the world's master exploiters.
Finally, there are values regarding human kind and the fragile ecosystem among the world's faiths
that transcend the peculiarities of our faith. These differences are important, but toleration of
difference is not enough. We must learn to work together on issues of common concern, while
respecting the importance of our differences.

Kung notes that a paradigm shift has occurred in protestant theology. With the rise of the
global city, and the interconnectedness of all people with the future of the planet, it is impossible to
hold the former paradigm of enlightenment rationalism. There are some things that are not
reducible to reason, or even experience. The earth remains our great mystery, our great reminder
that life and the preservation of life is of ultimate importance. No longer can we accept the former
paradigm that reduces all things to matter, and all human beings to things. As the recent NASA
film reminds us, in the Blue Planet, the difference between life and death on the planet is very thin
line of oxygen and other gases that protect us from the radiation of the Sun, and the hostile forces of
outer space. Cities too impact this reality, as any measure of smog, air pollution, and dangers to the
Ozone layer indicates. Yet, cities are also places of community and of human habitat. However,
the question now is how to create cities that do not pose a threat to the ecosystem, how to recognize
that cities are part of the global ecology. Cities are not independent entities acting in isolation from
these realities.

A post-modern theology of the city is needed that recognizes that, in an urban world, human
beings and their creations are but part of a very fragile ecosystem. Cities are neither good nor bad,
but often exacerbate the problems now facing our environment, especially the human environment.
As a consequence of the faltering industrial revolution, we invented smoke stacks, chemical plants,
automobiles, pesticides, and products that we now know are harmful not only to life in the cities, but
to life on the planet as well. The former theology of protestant individualism has contributed to the

48
This is captured well by Benjamin R. Barber, "Jihad vs. McWorld: The Two Axial Principles of
our Age- tribalism and globalism- clash at every point except one, they may both be threatening to
democracy," The Atlantic (March 1992): 53-65.
problem, as it was assumed that the virtuous would not only become prosperous, but would have the
right to exploit the earth and its resources, as misguided "stewards" (read "exploiters") of the world's
goods. We have accepted an ideology of privatism, that has viewed that neither the city nor the
globe is the responsible domain of every resident of the cosmos. This is no longer tenable.

Rather, we need a theology that recognizes the public role of the church. Individualism is
no longer the model for global society. We need a theology that appreciates that all living things
share the goods and the limitations of the planet, and that it is our collective role to develop policies
and practices that respect the gift of the planet as God's creation. We need a theology that
appreciates the integral connection of the human species, with each other, and also with other living
species that share the earth. Considering the fragile nature of the ecosystem, and the fact that living
species become extinct at every moment, this theology is at once urgent and timely. In this respect,
the expectation of New Jerusalem is more than just an expectation of a coming ideal city, it is the
coming of a new creation, a creation that recognizes that the whole of nature is sacred, belonging to
God. This is a call for a theology of the global city, an enchanting city understood in the context of
the cosmos, but no longer its apex, for the light of the coming city exudes from God, not from the
city itself.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed
away. Also, there was no more sea. Then, I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne
of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of the street, and on either side of the river, was the
tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. And the
leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.... And there shall be no night there:
They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they
shall reign forever and ever.49

49
Revelation 21:1-2; 22: 1-2, 5.