Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book review: 'A Christian Theology of Place' by John Inge (Part 2 of 2)

The link to Community Disorganization should be pretty obvious. As our own Daniel “Dr. Dan” Webb, PhD, tells us: “Research has shown that neighborhoods with high population density, lack of natural surveillance of public places, physical deterioration, and high rates of adult crime also have higher rates of juvenile crime and drug selling.”

I can’t help but be reminded of that when I read Inge’s commentary on modern cities, which appears on page 20:

“The problem is that places are turning from ‘places’ into dehumanizing
‘spaces’. This is more than anywhere else true in North America, where the
‘downtown’ areas of most cities have become no-go areas of deprivation, squalor
and crime . . . Once built, the buildings reinforce the prevailing norms. As
Winston Churchill put it: ‘first we shape our buildings and then our buildings
shape us.’ We ‘breathe in’ our surroundings as much as we observe them[.]”

After three interim chapters that focus on the importance of place in the Bible and in the history and traditions of Christianity, Inge ends the book with a chapter on the important role faith-based communities can play in the renewal of a sense of “place” in today’s world.

His point is that all churches should be regarded important insofar as their physicality is concerned; the building where people meet to worship becomes imbued with value and meaning because of the community of persons that meet there and because of the shared identity and sense of purpose that comes from their faith. If our church communities are vibrant and alive in the midst of a society that is either deadened or driven to extremes by the influence of modern conceptions of space and place, change on the municipal level is quite possible.

I invite all of our friends in the faith-based sector to read this book and see what they think. Depending on one’s particular beliefs and/or denominational affiliation, he/she may disagree with certain of Inge’s points. Personally, I myself took issue with his citation of a medieval bishop's statement that God can create an infinite amount of space as part of the cultural shift that gave rise to the devaluation of place in Western society. I'm not sure how one can argue that to be the case. For a more helpful view on this subject, I might recommend G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy."

My endorsement the book is by no means an endorsement of every single statement Inge makes. But overall, I think people will find “A Christian Theology of Place” to be a helpful reflection on what place should mean to the faith experience and to the human experience; hopefully, they will see in it a catalyst for positive change.

Photo from http://www.librarything.com/

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