Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church

by Stephen T. Um and Justin Buzzard

Crossway Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, IL 60187, 176 pages, 2013, $15.99.

Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee, Latin America Mission, Mexico City.

It is difficult to dispute the importance of cities now that more than fifty percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard, therefore, don’t title their book “Do Cities Matter?” but answer the questions of why they do and to whom. Their book is an accessible introduction as a theology of the city.

Um and Buzzard structure their book like many other urban ministry books. They point to the statistics and realities of urban globalization, demonstrating its extensive growth. Naturally, the authors include a chapter, “The Bible and the City,” to ground their city theology biblically. And moving toward more practical application of their theories, they discuss contextualization and history, finally proposing a vision for ministry within the city.

By and large, the work is conventional; however, what they might lack in originality, they do make up for in passion and ability. Um and Buzzard truly capture the vision for urban ministry.  If the city matters to God, it should matter to the Church. And as the subtitle suggests, the city matters to culture, and therefore also must matter to the Church.

Perhaps lacking from Um and Buzzard’s book is diversity. They write from a position influenced in the Reformed tradition, relying heavily on Reformed pastor Tim Keller. As such, the book reads as an apologetic of the city to Reformed ministers. I would have liked a more inclusive perspective, including Pentecostalism growth in urban areas. It would also have done them well to mention how diverse evangelical traditions can distinctively contribute, as well as partner in urban ministry.

Particularly lacking, for me, is a global perspective.  Both Um and Buzzard work hard to relate their book to the Global Church; however, they write from two historically powerful cities within the United States. The book feels very North American and does not provide much on-the-ground perspective of what urban ministry looks like in newly sprung megacities or a contextualized theological perspective from other global regions. This would have expanded the focus of the book, and also would have amplified its global impact.

Why Cities Matter is a quick and easy-to-read, yet rich book, which I recommend as a precursor or introductory book for any church or ministry that wants to move its posture toward city ministry.

Check these titles:
Fujino, Gary, Timothy R. Sisk, and Tereso C. Castiño. 2012. Reaching the City: Reflections on Urban Mission for the Twenty-first Century. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Wingeier-Rayo, Philip D. 2011. Where are the Poor? A Comparison of the Ecclesial Base Communities and Pentecostalism—A Case Study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Theological Press.


EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 125. Copyright  © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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