Urban theology is the special focus of the October issue of The Expository Times (vol. 125, no. 1), and contributors were asked to “map the contemporary landscape” of it. In the UK, urban theology looks back “to the Church of England’s 1985 report Faith in the City as a highpoint,” according to the editorial which opens this issue. The first article, “Current Themes and Challenges in Urban Theology” by Chris Baker, “proposes that current urban theology can be categorized by reference to two types, namely arborescent and rhizomatic.” Arborescent (or tree-like) urban theology is “institutionally focused and hierarchically produced. It also tends to operate with normative assumptions about the nature of the world, and assume the world functions essentially according to predictable means.” Its interest is in the church relating to other churches, to the government, charities, NGOs, the academic and public sectors and so on. Rhizomatic urban theology (as the term implies) has no center of control, can send out both shoots and roots from a horizontal stem, with the possibility of connecting indefinitely at every point. Philosophically and politically the metaphor has been associated with postmodernism and destruction of meta-narratives. Rhizomatic urban theology
emerges in cracks and crevices beyond the purview of both institutional church and theology. It tends to start with the giveness of the city in its increasingly material and spatial complexity. It experiments with different forms and discourses and is often prepared to take the risk of working alongside others, creating nodes and joining networks in a spirit of pragmatism—in short helping to create new assemblages of events, discourses and practices. It is less concerned with institutional church and far more interested in fluid church (or even churchless church). It tends to eschew grand narratives or normative explanation, choosing instead to inhabit the liminal, third space between the binary opposite usually favoured by arborescent theology.
The other articles in the issue are:
- “The Canaanite Woman and Urban Liberation Theology” by Chris Shannahan
- “Postsecular Prospects: A View from Ministry” by Margaret Jones
- Anthony Harvey’s “Concluding Comment: Theology of the City, or Theology from the City?”