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Genevieve James Highlights Pressing Challenge of Applying God’s Kingdom to Today’s Cities

November 8, 2019

If any delegates at the World Evangelical Alliance’s General Assembly needed a reminder that praying “Your kingdom come” is a serious and costly matter, they certainly received one from Genevieve James, head of community engagement and outreach at the University of South Africa, as she addressed a plenary session on the first full day of the assembly (November 8).

James built her message on “The Kingdom of God in 21st-Century Cities” on four verbs in Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it.”

Jeremiah—the weeping prophet, “not one with swag or high-and-mighty friends” as James described him—is a suitable voice to address today’s urban situation. According to a 2014 United Nations projection, 90 percent of urban growth between now and 2050 will take place in Africa and Asia, and slums are already the fastest-growing type of housing.

James used the first verb from Jeremiah 6:16, stand, to counter the chronic busyness in which so many Christians are trapped today. “We wear it as a badge of honor that speaks of our self-importance,” James cautioned. “But busyness is an addiction that leads to barrenness.” Her alternative: “Cease unnecessary movement and halt chaotic action. Standing involves posturing ourselves so that we can hear and receive God’s instruction, so that we don’t take the wrong turn at a crossroads.”

James then urged her audience to look at cities through the lens of justice, not with “holy eyes” that glance away from human suffering. Using drone photography to vividly illustrate the rich-poor gap in spatial and resource planning, she asked, “Are our church schools ready to train laborers for the slums of the world?” She deplored the church’s frequent tendency to become fixated on money for itself: “We ask for bigger church buildings when God wants us to ask for the city.”

James used the third verb, ask, to encompass not only the promise of Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance,” but also asking what a city should look like if God’s Kingdom is manifested. She encouraged drawing on the history of prior urban revivals to grasp the conditions that made those events possible.

To conclude her practical challenge, James applied the fourth verb, walk. “At the university we say not to get trapped in analysis paralysis,” she stated. “You can spend the rest of your life analyzing. But after you have stood, looked, and asked, it is time to ‘get a move on’! Jeremiah became a marked man [see Jeremiah 26:11]; you may become a marked man or woman. You may have to carry the cross. You may have to give up your comforts. You may even give up your life. These are heavy things to say in the 21st century, but this is the burden of the Lord and he will make sure it is light.”

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