City on a Hill by Philip Ryken - A Brief Review
Ryken begins his preface by stating, “As a church we have long been committed to the faithful exposition of God’s Word, the reverent celebration of God in worship, the worldwide missionary work of Christ, and the practical application of divine mercy to the needs of our city.” This book focuses on America as a post-Christian nation, in which Christianity no longer exercises a prevailing influence on the mind and hearts of the culture. The author warns against glamorizing the past in America and assuming that all those living in the first several centuries of the country were pious believers, but this is not the case. Sin has always held ground, but in the modern context it seems to be holding more ground than in the past.
Narcissism and relativism are pointed out to be two of the most detrimental worldviews to America. Due to the outworking of these worldviews in society, Ryken correctly asserts that the most likely course is for a slow and steady decline into moral and cultural depravity. However, he also notes that while this is troubling, it is not the Christian’s responsibility to save American Culture. Even if that culture becomes totally obliterated, the Gospel goes on. Unfortunately, many believers are trying to use the World’s antics in order to reach the world. Pastor Ryken argues that instead believers need to live in the present, learn from the past, and anticipate the future, while always looking to the Bible. (Although especially written with the USA in mind, this book could really be applied to all the Western world.)
The author then seeks to prove that the church must become a light in a darkened culture and to a darkened world. Only in this way, by showing a sharp contrast, will others be drawn in. Key doctrines are coming under attack and must be fought for. The preaching of the gospel will never become obsolete.
His thesis seems to be that the Church has the responsibility to act as a beacon/city on a hill to the world around it. The one aspect that I found troubling about this title and illustration is the historical context of the phrase. The Puritans’ use of this phrase denotes an eschatology that says the church is able to transform a state by consistent witness. While this can happen, I am not sure this should be the goal of a church. Whether the state is transformed or not is of secondary consideration, the transformation of individuals through the new birth and regeneration is the primary issue.
One of the first topics which is discussed is worship. The author helps express how worship should be different from mere entertainment, but it seems he argues for more of a classical cultural understanding of worship and music than a Biblical one. High Church Music is not necessarily godly unless such church music can be shown to be the most Biblical. The arguments were few and the assumptions many in this aspect. He then covers the following topics:
1. The necessity of community in the church. Dependence on Christ and each other can be learned by means of the community.
2. True pastoral care is also most important. A whole chapter is devoted to this idea, and much emphasis is given to true pastoral leadership – where the shepherd sets the tone by serving.
3. Outstanding devotion to God’s truth.
4. Missions is not the main focus but flows from Worship and must grow from that foundation.
5. The church must cultivate compassion. Christians must first have a passion for God and then a love for others.
Finally, the author makes the point that the church must continue to preach the gospel. This is indispensable for a church to be a city on a hill. Overall, this was a helpful read with some good reminders and some thought-provoking segments. On the whole, though, I’m not sure it is the best of Ryken’s work nor one of the best books on this topic.