Advent of Justice

Wednesday we spent all day packing and loading the van to get to Antiochian Village in Western PA for a book set up for a several day event with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. A few guys helped me load in about midnight, and I set up—with a little help from Tim B from Messiah, who was out there early–til about 6 am the next morning. Thursday and Friday brought plenty of good conversations, some hefty book sales, some significant reports of books used in ministry and good book clubs and Bible studies that we have resourced, and some fun, funny, times. While a couple of new parents on staff of the CCO browsed our book room, they left their babies in look-alike carriers in a row in front of the cash register, as I was wheeling and dealing, offering discounts and give-aways and such. Somebody quipped “And yes, today’s special: with any hardback purchase you can have the baby of your choice!” It still cracks me up…

The wise and gentle and powerful African American preacher Anthony Carter, author of On Being Black and Reformed spoke, inviting CCO to dig deeper into their Calvinist roots, relying on God’s sovereign grace and the creedal tradition of the Reformation in order to root well their equally important efforts to work on ethnic diversity, racial reconciliation and becoming advocates for social justice. Carter was too young to have worked with the civil rights movement, so is a new generation of black leader, and his trust in the providence of God and desire to glorify Christ was palpable. His impeccable theological standards made him a very, very compelling speaker as he invited us to learn or remember the hidden history of minorities within the dominant culture. Although passionate about preaching reconciliation, and doing God’s work in God’s ways, he advised that we allow God’s Spirit to guide us into our own needed repentence before crusading on social issues. (That is a strategy, by the way, which, on the face of it, is nearly self evident; on the other hand, I detected a frustrating invidualism and pietism there that didn’t sound like the broad and socially engaged Calvinism I know.) I got to do some book plugs and promoted the obvious–John Perkins, Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King, Carl Ellis and the like. Do you know Randy Woodley’s Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Diversity? Or More Than Equals by Perkins & Rice? Or Barbara Salter McNeil’s The Heart of Racial Justice? These are the kind of resources this CCO group uses. It is a serious privilege to hang out with those who have radically gospel-based theology and equally radical commitments to cultural diversity and racial justice.

Speaking of which: I did not stand up and shout about this small Advent meditation book and I should have; I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about it sooner. The Advent of Justice is always the holiday book we tout the most. It is thoroughly rooted in the longing for liberation described in the Bible during the period of exile of the Old Testament Hebrews, and works well with the social context of the seasonal readings from Isaiah and the prophets. It is therefore truly solid, liturgically and theologically, for the Advent season and not the least bit sentimental. (Okay, put some sweet instrumental CD like The Gift by Tingstadt and Rumble on if you want sentimental.) The four authors are all dear freinds, and among those whom I admire most: Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennan and Richard Middleton. They put these seasonal reflections together as a gift for the Citizens for Public Justice (a faith-based, progressive social ministry in Canada) a few years back and it has subsequently been re-issued each year by Dordt College Press. It is, I believe, the best and most Biblical Advent devotional I’ve ever used, and I dip into it each year. It reminds us that these religious holidays of ours can best be understood when framed by the socio-political understandings of the orginal. This book, Advent of Justice, does this with care and brillance.
Oh come, oh come Immanuel…yes, come Lord Jesus! This time of longing for Christ’s regime can be deepened and more properly understood by using this brief, inexpensive devotional. It is not too late to order it.
On Being Black and Reformed Anthony Carter (Presbyterian & Reformed ) $9.99
Advent of Justice: A Book of Meditations Brian Walsh, Sylvia Keesmaat, Mark Vander Vennan, Richard Middleton with illustrations by Willam Hart (Dordt College Press) $6.95

6 thoughts on “Advent of Justice

  1. Although passionate about preaching reconciliation, and doing God’s work in God’s ways, he advised that we allow God’s Spirit to guide us into our own needed repentence before crusading on social issues. (That is a strategy, by the way, which, on the face of it, is nearly self evident; on the other hand, I detected a frustrating invidualism and pietism there that didn’t sound like the broad and socially engaged Calvinism I know.) Hi Byron,I’m confused by what you mean by this observation. Could you clarify? Thanks!

  2. Mern,Thanks for your good quesiton. I just spent over a half an hour answering—maybe it is your good fortune, but the whole thing disappeared. (This posting comments is a bit tricky, I’ve found.)I HAVE to get back to work, so can’t do it all again. Sigh. But I will reply as it is a very, very important question. Which part most interseted you? How did you find our site?? Eager to stay in conversation about this, but gotta go. I am so frustrated as it is gets at much of what I think is central to our concerns here. What is the relationship between personal renewal and social change? Does Christ’s Lordship cover just people or whole nations? Is faith firstly personal and only secondarily social? How does the Calvinist tradition (Calvin was called “a constructive revolutionary, you know) and especially the Dutch tradition of Abraham Kuyper who emphasized the Soverign grace of Christ not only over salvation (5 points, say) but over the whole of life. Kuyper talked about a Christian viewpoint on art, science, education, commerce, politics and the like. These concerns come to mind when thinking about the advice to work on our own personal issues first and then, later, eventually (maybe) get to becoming salt and light and agents of God’s creation-wide and multi-faceted social transformation.As I said, I wrote way too much before, but hopefully I can share some little bit more later. Sorry to be unclear. Thanks for asking.

  3. Well, perhaps I can give it another quick clarification: it seems that there are some versions of Christianity and piety that seem to think that taking care of one’s personal issues and seeking God’s grace on individual sins is more urgent or basic than seeking God’s will in other areas of life or culture. Of course Jesus DID say to “take the log out of your own eye before taking the twig out of someone elses” so we obviously dare not be unaware of our own sin nor judgemental about others. Still, the Hebrew prophets seem to care more about social justice and public righteousness and discerning the harmful influence of ideologies and idolatries that deform the culture and nation. There is a huge lack of awareness of the Biblical call to seek social renewal among some whose faith is more personalistic and privatized; Jesus Himself warned against this when he criticized those who fret about the little things while missing “the weighter matters of the law, justice & mercy.” (Matthew 23:23.)Of course it should be clear that we need to seek God’s grace to heal inner brokenness, personal sin and private foibles. But even there, I am glad that heroes like William Wilberforce (or any numbe of Biblical characters) carried on their valient and noble work of cultural reformation even as they worked hard against their own personal sins. I am glad that some noble missionaries started orphanages or schools, say, even though they struggled against personal pride or bad tempers. I am glad that Martin Luther King continued on taking up his heroic role in the civil rights movement even amidst his truly awful unfaithfulness to his wife. There is no excuse for whatever caused that fall—lust, pride, lonliness, whatever–but to suggest, as the speaker seemed to, that one ought not be involved in such outward ministries until one has one’s own personal foibles healed seems to me to imply that God would rather sit out our grand calling to be salt and light and leaven–history makers!–until some time when after an adequate amount of personal growth or maturity or navel-gazing or something.The comment about Calvinism, by the way, refers to a sort of Calvinistic tradition that I have written about at the blog and the website…Abraham Kuyper (fro the late 1800’s and early 1900’s) insisted that the soverignity of God ought not to be applied only to predestination and how one come to conversion–God’s covanantal faithfulness in underserved mercy–but also apply that, working it out, it art, politics, business, education and so forth. Francis Schaeffer picked up a lot of these ideas in the late 20th century (due, mostly to his friendship with Hans Rookmaaker, a Kuyperian Dutchman who I blogged about last week.) Schaeffer was deeply committed to hoping for “substantial healing” of God’s cosmos, seeing Christ’s Lordship bring restoration to every zone of life, pushing back not just personal sin, but cultural and society dysfuntion as well. To the extent that that stream of Reformed thinking–developing a whole-life discipleship that leads to a unique worldview and way of engaging culture–bears fruit of social action and societal renewal, it is the sort of Calvinism I (and the CCO who hosted the lectures) wnats to promote. The sort that tends to fret more over only the personal, making nearly a fetish out of personal righteousness and being part of God’s elect, to the exclusion of appropriate, prophetic action in every zone of life, is not the most helpful.Again, there needs to be wise balance. Rev Carter was right on to remind us that the world surely doens’t need messed up folk with messiah complexes splashing their inner brokenness and violence on the world; similiarly, though, the converse is true: we don’t need navel gazers who opt out of the social obligtaions of true Christian living because they feel they aren’t worthy, ready or mature enough. I’d want to shout to one and all the clarity of Matthew 6:33—seek first God’s Kingdom and everything else will fall into place. Calvin was called a constructive revolutionary because even as he did intense pastoral counseling with those in bondage to personal sin, and started an academy for education, and crafted the most serious systematic theology of his day (and nearly any day!) he was dedicating them to the King, working on urban renewal, including a new water system for Geneva. He truly was a vibrant believer who brought together Biblical study, theologican renewal, social action and cultural reformation. Any tradition or bit of advise that isn’t rooted in this broad scope of the renewing work of Christ over all of creation—from the bedroom to the boardroom as Ron Sider has put it–isn’t worth being called Calvinist. Any spirituality that prides itself in avoiding the issues of the day while it basks in merely personal growth or inner healing is a false piety that the prophets, Jesus, and I believe the apostles would condemn. Of course Anthony was NOT preaching that kind of quietism or escapism. He powerfully insisted on reconcilation and care for the poor or marginalized. Which is why his advise on that one matter surprised me. His book doesn’t back away from inviting involvement in the hard implications of discipleship…Sorry to ramble. Is this at all helpful? Do others want to chime in?? Oh that we would be as balanced as the Bible tells us to be, and as broad and sociall engaged as the Bible calls us to be. What an adventure, journeying inward and outward, carrying about personal foibles and the grand themes of history, repenting of a lack of kindness or impatience and being equally active in calling our society to repent of things like the immoral budget which hurts the poor that is currently being debated in Washington. So few really live out faith in this wild and multi-faceted way, seeking God’s face for personal cleansing and social healing. Where’s Calvin when you need him?Thanks.peace,Byron

  4. right on. I got the chance to say as much in one of Brad Frey’s Sociology classes at Geneva. It seems that most students can’t understand that sin also resides in the very fabric of social institutions that we have built. We need to help individuals see the light, but we also need to redirect institutions to be organizations of a side note, Vanity Fair has an article about Jerry Falwell and his claiming to have Francis Schaeffer as an influence for getting involved in politics (if you can call it that). The author of the article seems to have butchered the interpretation of Schaeffer. greg veltman

  5. I see what you mean. Thanks for the clarification. What you say makes sense. The thing that I worry about is that Christians tend to slip into a “moralistic tendency” after conversion. (A lot of times this is not their fault, but poor or no discipleship that occurs afterward.)What I mean by this is that grace seems to be for conversion, but after that, it’s back to “gutting it out”, doing deeds of service, getting involved in church and offering up a prayer here and there for help or guidance. Without ongoing repentance and daily, vital relationship with Jesus, one can end up feeling burned out, overwhelmed, angry (is this all there is to Christianity?), doing things out of a sense of duty or feeling better about one’s self rather than out of love for Jesus and people.I have trouble with either extreme.Does that make sense?Thanks Byron.mern = Becky 😉

  6. Yes, yes, that makes much sense. Grace is what it is all about, grace for salvation, grace for santification, grace for life. Thanks.Yet, I have sometimes offered very similiar warnings—dead duty is no sustainable motivation for deep discipleship, and guilt mongering (or your helpful word “moralism”) is a sure-fire set up for trouble. (You know what Jesus said about the Pharisees, etc.)Yet: I don’t know that many people that are out there doing all kinds of good deeds out of duty, radical Christians serving valiently for graceless reasons. What I tend to observe (in my own life too) are those who don’t do much at all, who pay lipservice to a concern for justice, who are so interested in inner issues, personal hurts or spirituality that they really don’t embrace a world formative kind of faith.Extremes are usually trouble, but I just don’t worry much about the extreme of too much good doing. In fact, the Scriptures tell us to fan the flames of such service. And I worried (what got me started on this) that our speaker failed, in that moment, to do that, by backing off the big issues of the Kingdom vision and reverting to a simplistic kind of call to lick ones own wounds and not act boldy for others.Anyway, you are wise and good too offer these comments.By the way, do I know you, Becky? We know a lot of Becky’s and a couple of Merns’s, too.Either way, good talking with you. Thanks for your helpful input.grace & peace,comfort & joy,Byron

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