Review by David Warkentin
What is the subject?
Soul of the City is a collection of essays on the intersection of Christianity/church and Canadian cities.
The book is aptly described by editor Leonard Hjalmarson “as a conversation on the rich spiritual geography of Canadian urban life today, in the hope of renewed and enriched engagement in the welfare of the peoples of Canada.”
With essays on 11 Canadian cities from coast to coast, the book offers a window into the diversity of urban Christianity in Canada today.
Who is the author?
Edited by Leonard Hjalmarson, prolific author and teacher on missional theology, the book is a series of essays from “theological practitioners” who describe the dynamic realities of the cities in which they work. Each author offers unique perspectives on the characteristics of their city, exploring contextualized Christian mission for their place.
Hjalmarson has taught and pastored in a variety of contexts with Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church congregations.
Contributors include Spurgeon Root and Nick Helliwell of Healing Hearts in Regina, a ministry supported by Parliament Community Church.
Why this book?
As Canadian culture continues to evolve in all sorts of complex ways, contextual theology will be essential to faithful Christian mission. This book models the dynamics of contextualized theology and mission needed to navigate Canadian cities today.
Although urbanization is a major global trend, no two cities are alike. Christian mission needs to attend to this diversity. What is essential for Christian mission in Vancouver may be irrelevant to Winnipeg or Montreal. This book highlights this diversity of place, and thus offers insight into diversity in Christian mission.
Comment on the book’s theological perspective in light of the MB Confession of Faith
The conversational approach of the book aids in the contextualization of an MB theology for the Mission of the Church (Article 7). With MB’s committed to holistic mission where the church “witnesses to God’s reign in the world” (Article 7), Soul of the City provides examples of engaging such mission in Canadian cities today.
In the complexity of 21st century urban mission in Canada, key to the church’s faithful witnesses is a posture of discernment, discovery, and engagement. More than just than just ideas for urban mission, Soul of the City shows the reader how God’s people are called to engage the particularities of their place as an essential quality to faithful mission.
Instead of a model for replication, the book offers examples for inspiration. As Donald Goertz concludes in the book’s forward, “Let this be an entry point for you to delve into the unfolding story of your city/neighbourhood.”
While there was a good mix of ministry contexts in the collection of authors, one downside of the book is the absence of female contributors and the limited perspective of ethnic minorities. Considering the topic of contextualized mission in diverse Canadian urban contexts, more diverse contributors would better reflect the overall purpose the book.
Who should read it?
Ministry-related resources still tend to come from an American context, making the Canadian content of Soul of the City an important contribution to understanding contextualized urban mission in Canada. With its accessible writing and inspiring stories, this book is particularly relevant for churches and pastors seeking to attend to the places in which they find themselves.
“Our bodies do not interact socially apart from the physical places [though digital technology is a new kind of mediation]. And in the nature of culture itself, our bodies participate in both a natural environment and cultural artifacts, so that the city is more than mere container, as place is more than space. The city is us.”Leonard Hjalmarson, Soul of the City
“Embracing the separation of church and state must not be allowed to foster an isolationist posture wherein we as the church cloister ourselves in the safety of our silos. How will those who govern and plan for the future of our city know of our commitment to pray for and seek the welfare of our city if we are absent from the conversation table?”William McAlpine, Soul of the City
“We need a fresh outlook to explore how our culture shapes our ideas, how numerous disciplines inform and form the people we are becoming, and how both of these realities underpin the cities we are building. Hence, this invitation to contribute to this work was as a joyful reminder that new voices are emerging to provide a fresh outlook for the future of Christ-centered mission in our cities.”Dominic Ruso, Soul of the City