This last semester, in order to fulfill some of my Liberal Arts requirements, I took a sociology class on “Cities and Social Change.” A large part of the class is dedicated to a substantive final paper. As I look for chances to combine my schooling with my theological interests, not formally studying theology at this time, I decided to write my paper on the work of Church of England theologian Graham Ward; more specifically his three volume work on Cities. These three are Cities of God, Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice, and The Politics of Discipleship.
I drew on several other sources as well including the two volumes that he edited and which I reviewed on this blog, The Postmodern God: A Theological Reader and The Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology. Especially useful was the introduction to The Postmodern God which engages with a theology of cyberspace. Additionally I read through portions of Christ and Culture and Theology and Contemporary Critical Theory.
It was my original intention to compose a roughly 30 page systematic summary of his cities work but found out (later than I should have liked) that the paper was to be much shorter so I had to completely redo it. In the end I focused specifically on the “Disappearance of the Body in the Postmodern City and the Theological Difference.” Even here I had only space and time to interact mostly with Cities of God, though I also took a fair amount from Discipleship and skipped nearly entirely over Cultural Transformation. I certainly learned a lot about paper writing as I tried to make this my first “real” academic paper. I think I did pretty poorly to be honest.
But what I can do is give a couple notes about approaching Ward and a bit about those books which I was able to work through. We’ll start with his Cities ‘Trilogy.’
Cities of God is a work in the (in)famous Radical Orthodoxy Series published on Routledge. It is divided in three parts. In part one Ward gives genealogies of both “The Modern City – Cities of Eternal Aspiration,” and “The Postmodern City – Cities of Eternal Desire.” In them he traces the fragmentation and social atomism of the body and, if you tie in a future chapter (as I think he should have) – “Communities of Desire” – with this part it ends up making what is to me a persuasive case for Ward’s reading of both cities.
In part two Ward proceeds to outline an “Analogical Worldview” which he thinks that Christian theology can offer. This analogical worldview heals atomism and fragmentation by a sketch of how we are made whole in the Body of Christ. It is here that he also outlines a theological account of the body, drawing in surprising ways on Karl Barth, and a Christian picture of desire.
In Part three, by examining several contemporary ‘angelologies,’ Ward reframes his previous discussion with reference to “Theology and the Practices of Contemporary Living.”
I was surprised to have mixed feelings about this book. I came into it quite sympathetic but I felt at the end as if he opened up more problems and unexplored rabbit holes than he did provide what seemed to me to be sufficient answers. He didn’t maintain a coherent argument throughout; for instance at least one chapter had already been released as an independent essay. Ward was his strongest when he was describing the cultural maladies that beset us in our contemporary urban context.
If one was to approach Ward’s work on cities I would first direct them to The Politics of Discipleship where he plays on many of the same themes as Cities but has obviously spent more time reflecting on weaknesses inherent in this book. I will give a few more critiques after the next two books in the series.