Reading Guides, VOLUME 10

Ten Essential Books for Urban Christians!

I recently finished reading Richard Florida’s important book THE NEW URBAN CRISIS. While I didn’t have a chance to write my review this week (watch for it on our website in the next couple of weeks), I thought that this would be a good time to recommend books in a similar vein that should be essential reading for Christians trying to understand the urban places in which they live and/or worship.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will set readers on an excellent trajectory for understanding urban places. 

The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment

Eric Jacobsen

Baker Academic, 2012

*** Read our review.

The entire material world can be divided between the Natural Environment and the Built Environment. Over the past forty years, the Natural Environment has received more attention of the two, but that is beginning to change. With a renewed interest in “place” within various academic disciplines and the practical issues of rising fuel costs and scarcity of land, the Built Environment has emerged as a coherent and engaging subject for academic and popular consideration.

While there is a growing body of work on the Built Environment, very little approaches it from a distinctly Christian perspective. This major new work represents a comprehensive and grounded approach. Employing tools from the field of theology and culture, it demonstrates how looking at the Built Environment through a theological lens provides a unique perspective on questions of beauty, justice, and human flourishing.

 

 

Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred

Philip Bess

ISI Books, 2006.

“The city comes into existence . . . for the sake of the good life.” So wrote Aristotle nearly 2,400 years ago, articulating an idea that prevailed throughout most of Western culture and the world until the environmental consequences of the Industrial Revolution called into question the goodness of traditional urban life. Urban history ever since—from England’s early-nineteenth-century hygiene laws to mid-twentieth-century modernist architecture and planning to today’s New Urbanism—has consisted of efforts to ameliorate the consequences of the industrial city by either embracing or challenging the idealization of nature that has followed it.

Architect Philip Bess’s Till We Have Built Jerusalem puts forth fresh arguments for traditional architecture and urbanism, their relationship to human flourishing, and the kind of culture required to create and sustain traditional towns and city neighborhoods. Bess not only dissects the questionable intellectual assumptions of contemporary architecture, he also shows how the individualist ethos of modern societies finds physical expression in contemporary suburban sprawl, making traditional urbanism difficult to sustain. He concludes by considering the role of both the natural law tradition and communal religion in providing intellectual and spiritual depth to contemporary attempts to build new—and revive existing—traditional towns and cities, attempts that, at their best, help fulfill our natural human desires for order, beauty, and community.

 

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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