Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

A Theology as Big as the City – A Review


Ever since Ray Bakke moved to Chicago in 1965 he has been a pursuit to find a theology that is as big as the City. He is a learner as seen by his many degrees – BA from Seattle Pacific College, MDiv from Trinity Evangelical and DMin from McCormick Theological Seminary.  He is a practioner who has spent his life in the cities of the world, an entrepreneur who founded International Urban Associates (IUA). He is also a teacher and author. 

In A Theology as Big as the City, Bakke contends that if we are going to be faithful to the God of Scripture we must recognize the urbanization of the world and read the Bible with urban eyes so that we might discover a theology that meets the holistic needs of the city.


Bakke gives us a tour from Genesis to Revelation with urban eyes. Bakke starts with the Torah where we see Abraham praying for the city. He uses Moses and his mother to describe urban leadership. He examines the writings and the prophets from an urban perspective as well. He shows how proverbs and the Song of Solomon can be helpful to inner-city youth and how Ezra and Nehemiah are good examples of people concerned for the social welfare and buildings of the city. He shows the need for urban poets like the psalmist and the laments of Jeremiah as well as what cities should look like through Isaiah’s vision (81-83). He talks about the major message of the Minor Prophets, Jeremiah’s letter to urban families and thinking biblically about the family with the help of the prophet Ezekiel. In the last part of the book he looks at Jesus’ heart for the city, the church at the city center in Antioch and Paul on his urban church- planting journey. He helps us see God’s heart for the people and place of the city from Genesis to Revelation.


What I appreciate most about this book is the passion that oozes out on every page from a practitioner who loves the city.  One line that is mentioned in a couple of different chapters that I will adopt into my own vocabulary is where he says, “Personally, I am committed to the vision of a local church and its pastors with two basic functions: pastor to the faithful and chaplain to the whole community” (80,81).  I love this idea and have been partnering with God to see it embodied in my life.  I also appreciate his wholistic approach to the Scripture, where he says, “God’s agenda seeks the personal salvation of all persons and the social transformation of all places” (66), for this is indeed the whole church, the whole gospel for the whole city (66).

There are many wonderful biblical lessons throughout the book, but I really appreciated the last chapter when he reflected on all he has learned by sharing his ten values, which I want to remember and practice, so I will give a summary of each of them. 1) Creation and redemption. Spiritual transformation of people and social transformation of places. 2) Truth and love. Balancing the prophetic with grace and forgiveness. 3) Individuality and community. Balancing the individual with the community. 4) Local and global.  Balancing the incarnation of Christ to a specific place and the cosmic Christ with the universal mandate. 5) Unity and diversity. Holding to the historic unity of the church while creating a climate for diverse worship and cultures. 6) Power and powerlessness. Balancing the voluntary setting aside of privilege while gaining things to help the poor.  7) Certainty and mystery. Seeking the Spirit to stay orthodox while recognizing the need for mystery. 8) Commission and commandment. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment. 9) Past and Future. Appreciating the past while looking toward the future. 10) Work and rest. A sustainable ministry requires a rhythm of work and rest (204-205). I plan to carry these simple ideas with me on my journey of life.

3 Responses to A Theology as Big as the City – A Review

  1. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

  2. Lon says:

    good blog rewind post – I loved this book – old but still timely

  3. JR Woodward says:

    You are right. It is old, but has some rich stuff to offer. Glad you liked it.

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