Steve Garber, William Wilberforce & AMAZING GRACE

Recently, a mail order customer, a guy I’ve never met, who reads the BookNotes blog carefully, had his 6-year-old daughter do a painting of what she imagined our bookstore to be. He paid her a bit because she is fund-raising for a local homeless shelter they have visited. The little girl’s art is surely on her mommy and daddy’s refrigerator. It is also being shown in a local coffee shop, to raise awareness and money of the poor of their town.

I say this to help us enter into conversation about a few things, and to give me the chance to tell of some books, framed by this simple story. How do people come to care about such matters? Where do we learn to take a stand? When the rubber hits the proverbial road, why is it that some allow their deepest principles to shine, while other back off, sit down, shy away? One book that helps us, here, is Moral Courage: Taking Action When Your Values Are Put To the Test by Rushworth Kidder (Harper Collins; $13.95.) He has done excellent and helpful research, shown in his earlier book, How Good People Make Tough Choices which shows various approaches, levels of commitment and styles of responding to controversial ethical concerns. Moral Courage is a good phrase, and happily the book gives meat to the bones.

But what about matters that aren’t exactly ethical case studies, not an episode or issue that comes up, but the deeper question of how to form character, to be the kinds of people that live into the big questions of the day, that take a stand in important and redemptive ways in the very day to day of ordinary life? How do we be the kind of people who would get their child doing art for the homeless? Ahh, there are oodles of books, of course, but I want to tell of one. It is, as anyone who knows us knows, one of my all time favorite books. It has been re-issued with a new subtitle, a great new cover, and an extraordinary new forward and afterword. Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Believe and Behavior is so well written, and the new forward is inspiring and beautifully written. (Dare I say that it is worth the price of the new book, even if you have it, just for the new pieces in it? I think so.) In this new essay, Garber updates his thesis about how to form people who ask the biggest questions, for the whole of their lives, and emerge as people of faith and integrity over the course of their lives. Steve writes movingly of, among other things, some young Chinese activists, who have sought out him to ask big questions about their role in forging a just, new homeland, and whether the Christian faith is true, and true enough to sustain a life of committed work for social change. He also tells of his conversations with Smashing Pumpkins flamboyant punk poet, Billy Corgan (whose pained songs gave voice to the generation now known as X, and who is mentioned in the first edition of Fabric…) Steve had reason to sponsor a Corgan poetry reading, and had good time to talk about his recent interest in Christian faith. Please check out his good writing at his Washington Institute website, and see if his vision, care for vocation and calling, wise and balanced passions about social change, and his stuff on mentoring doesn’t ring true. I hope you will buy the book and pass it on to people longing for bigger, deeper faith, faith applied to all of life, thoughtfully. It is the kind of book that can truly sustain a lifetime of conversations and have significant consequence. I am honored to be in it, and glad to have reason to promote it.

In the new afterword to Fabric of Faithfulness Garber continues to probe and tease out the implications of his book’s main argument (that faith which is solid and sustained needs three things–a broad worldview based on a commitment to truth, a mentor which shows that truth claims can be formed into our character and lived out, and a community to make faithful, but inevitably counter-cultural initiatives plausible) by doing a brilliant comparison of two important figures in Steve’s own life, George Washington and William Wilberforce. That Wilberforce had his mentors, friends, and community (and perhaps was clearer about the certainty of Biblical truth) makes him yet one more great case study and illustration to close out a book that is loaded with stories and examples. Truth, understood Biblically, is much more than abstract ideals, but is lived, embodied, incarnated. Steve believes this, and his pedagogy and writing style shows this. He points the spotlight on others—-authors like Wendell Berry, say, or Simone Weil, or cultural critics like Tom Wolfe (or, the ordinary folk he interviews in the book, with their struggles and passions for coherence and meaning in their vocations and families.)

It will be helpful for some readers to know of Steve’s indebtedness to the ministry and hospitality of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, with whom he spent a season, to the insights gained from the philosophy of science pioneered by Michael Polanyi (think Parker Palmer, if you are an educator) to the missiology of Indian churchman and missionary, Lesslie Newbigin. He is as wholistic as they come, and this book shows just what we mean when we call for ordinary folks to take up their callings and work for cultural reformation, rooted in a worldview that is deeply, consistently and faithfully Christian.

At the CCO’s Jubilee conference (where Steve was a keynote presenter) we did a special book package, linking Steve’s Fabric of Faithfulness to Os Guinness’ The Call: Finding and Fulfilling Your Life’s Central Purpose (Word; $17.99) and Kelly Monroe Kullberg’s Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journey’s of Thinking Christians (Zondervan has released a lovely new edition; $15.) Perhaps these three together would resonate with you; perhaps these kinds of titles help you get a glimpse of the kinds of books we are most eager to commend.


And so, we turn to heroes who can embody for us this kind of life, and the stories generated by and about them. We turn to William Wilberforce.

I was fortunate to have a column published in our local newspaper, The York Sunday News in mid-February, a week or so before the movie about Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, hit the theatres. I would be so very happy if you read it, re-published, below. I will follow this piece with a listing of some of the most recent books about the great social reformer, and suggest a few that will help us see the need for some modern-day Wilberforce’s, since the evils of human slavery are as high now as perhaps ever in the history of the world. From Gary Haugen’s extraordinary work with the International Justice Mission to the new David Batstone book, Not for Sale, there are new resources to motivate a new generation of abolitionists. One that I can’t wait to announce is the stunning book by Zach Hunter a 15 year old activist, called Be The Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World (Zondervan; $9.99.) He is the student spokesperson for the Amazing Change Campaign, which is inspired by the film Amazing Grace. But I am ahead of myself. Read this essay I wrote, and then look for my must-read bibliography.


From: The York Sunday News February 18, 2007.

Many of us long to be people of greater character. From our workplace to home life, from our deepest pains to our most public political hopes, we seek to weave together a whole fabric, a life that makes sense. And, most of us need all the help we can get.

Needing a little help on the meaning of life front may explain our interest in heroes; we draw inspiration from those who have walked through life with integrity, who manage to make a difference with a degree of wisdom and joy. We admire those who carry themselves with grace and have left this world better than they found it.

William Wilberforce, a 19th Century British Parliament member who served as a Christian activist working to abolish the slave trade in England, has long been a hero of mine.

I don’t recall when I first felt deeply about the horrors of the African slave trade, the brutalities of the Middle Passage, or the ways America’s original sin stained our national soul. Like many my age, the writings of Dr. King, and the TV mini-series Roots were important. So was becoming friends with African-Americans, whose great-great-grandparents recalled being bought, owned. It was to abolish such despicable evil that William Wilberforce gave most of his adult life.

Wilberforce nearly quit parliament upon his conversion to Christianity. "The Great Change" (as he called his evangelical encounter with Christ) so effected him that he considered church or mission work.
An early mentor (John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace) and an old friend (religiously agnostic Prime Minister William Pitt) talked him out of such a foolish decision and encouraged him to serve God in the complicated business of worldly politics. With a host of friends, collaborators and colleagues, he did so with integrity, passion, and distinction in what surely is one of the most tenacious political struggles ever. Year after year his efforts were rebuffed and his legislation defeated. He was stalked, abused, and beaten by those whose moneyed interests were tied to the international trafficking of human beings.

Wilby was well loved, though, by many, and he became friends with some of the great figures of pre-Victorian England. He enjoyed the company of and was admired by statesmen, theologians, poets, and artists such as Edmund Burke, John Wesley, Samuel Coleridge, and Josiah Wedgwood. He fought eloquently, heroically. His faith motivated him to initiate committees and conferences on an array of causes; he championed human rights and animal rights. He was a generous giver, always willing to help the poor, active in church-work and Bible distribution. He and some of his fellow-activists moved into the same part of London–near what is now called Wimbledon— so they could be in constant contact for their various strategies and on-going initiatives. But his chief crusade was leading the decades-long legislative battle against slavery.

The slave trade was eventually outlawed and he carried on the valiant struggle, despite ill health and considerable personal anguish, for total emancipation. He was visited by US dignitaries and by renowned American abolitionists. Wilberforce saw victory in his extraordinary human rights campaign three days before he died in 1833.


Today has been declared "Amazing Grace Sunday" and churches from all over the world, including some in York, are singing the song the former slaver Newton wrote, the song that was used in such powerful ways in the fight for justice and righteousness in those years when the 18th century turned into the 19th. (This month marks the 200th anniversary of British abolition.) Today I am in a congregation of 2000 college students worshiping with the gospel choir of the historic black college, Howard University, who gathered in Pittsburgh this weekend to consider the implications of such an evangelical "great change" and how Christian faith today can be a force for social justice, cultural reformation and public goodness.

Not only are we singing Amazing Grace but we are watching an advanced copy of the much-anticipated Walden Media film about Wilberforce, Amazing Grace directed by Michael Apted, the respected director of Ray. The brainchild of Patricia Heaton (of Everybody Loves Raymond, a member of Hollywood Presbyterian Church) the movie dramatically portrays the life and struggles of a true hero, the kind we need these days.

Amazing Grace will open next week nation-wide. As a new biography of Wilberforce, Amazing Grace:William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slave—written by Eric Metaxas, brother of a Dallastown resident, by the way—says, "We often hear about people who “Ëœneed no introduction,’ but if ever someone did need one, at least in our day and age, it’s William Wilberforce. The strange irony is that we are talking about a man who changed the world…" The several new books about him, and the extraordinary film will introduce a new generation to the engaging, thoughtful, passionate man of great faith, kindness and integrity, the man who has been called the greatest social reformer the world has ever know. For those looking for a durable hero, look no further.


I got some good feedback from the column, and am grateful that the editorial page folks have asked me to be a guest columnist a few more times this year. I hope this piqued your interest in all things Wilberforce, including the film, Amazing Grace. It is important, I think, to support this kind of project and would encourage you to show the trailer (easily found at to your church or student group, and to promote the film when you can. Without a good early response, films like this can languish a slow death, and that would be sad indeed.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Eric Metaxas (Harper SanFransico) $21.95 I wrote a bit about this at my blog post a week ago, and we are thrilled to suggest that this may be the definitive book about Wilberforce. There are some that may be more detailed, but none which are so well-written, so engaging, so fabulously inspiring. I noted on the blog that not a few reviewers have commented on Metaxas who hosts "Socrates in the City" (a philosophy club in Manhattan) and is a written for the gonzo VeggieTales team. The perfect guy to introduce the joyous and creative (and child-loving) Wilberforce. Hear, hear! (Dare I brag that he has a nearby relative, and has been in our shop here in Dallastown? I can and I do.)

William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity
Kevin Belmonte (Zondervan) $12.99 Now out in paperback, this is perhaps the most thorough and well-researched volume on Wilberforce. Belmonte was the lead historical consultant for Amazing Grace as well he should be—he is the Wilberforce scholar of our time. (That he ordered a book from us years ago as he was researching this makes me feel somehow connected, which I suppose is silly.) I could not put this down, even as it cites numerous letters, historical documents and is seriously researched. Highly recommended.

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce
John Piper (Crossway) $7.99 Piper has written passionately about Wilberforce before, in the third volume of his "Swans Are Not Silent" series. (In that collection, entitled The Roots of Endurance he has good chapters on the "invincible perseverance" of Wilberforce, John Newton, and Charles Simeon.) Here, in this one, he offers the theological basis for Wilby’s joy and tenacity: he was rooted in a solid commitment to Christ as Savior and the doctrines of grace. This little book is a gem—if you don’t need to know too much about Wilberforce, but wonder how you, too, can be equipped to live a life of passion and service, this is a great place to begin. Excellent and sweet.

Statesman and Saint: The Principled Politics of William Wilberforce
David Vaughan (Cumberland House) $14.95 This chunky-sized smaller hardback is in a series of books about the leadership of various Christian leaders (Luther, Calvin, Booker T. Washington, Jonathan Edwards, Bach, Anne Bradstreet, John Knox, George Whitefield, among others.) George Grant’s brief forward is brilliant, and commends not only this book, but the very life and leadeship of Mr. W. A very nice introduction.

A Journey Through the Life of William Wilberforce: The Abolitionist who Changed the Face of a Nation
Kevin Belmont (New Leaf Press) $14.99 This handsome little hardback is laden with photographs, etchings, maps and full-color art, making it a lovely gift, with the look of a very contemporary encylopedia. Very suitable for readers 12 and up.

The Amazing Grace of Freedom: The Inspiring Faith of William Wilberforce, the Slave’s Champion
Ted Baehr, Susan Wales, Ken Wales (New Leaf Press) $19.99 This is the official tie-in edition for Amazing Grace co-written by the producer, Ken Wales. With awesome photography and scenes from the making of the film, readers get an exclusive "behind the scenes" look. Included are essays and commentary from ministry leaders and scholars such as Chuch Colson, John Piper, Alveda King and others. Glossy paper, attractive lay-out, this is a very nice book, almost like a coffee-table collector’s volume.

FREE (while supplies last)The Slave’s Champion: The Life, Deeds, and Historical Days of William Wilberforce Henry Wheeler (New Leaf Press) $11.99 New Leaf Press has graciously reproduced a wonderful facsimile of this 1861 best-seller. They are offering it free to compliment the purchase of the above-listed The Amazing Grace of Freedom.


The Good News About Injustice
Gary Haugen (IVP) $13.00 Some of the most urgent matters of our time are faced head-on by this heroic, Godly and inspiring person who many of us have called a modern-day Wilberforce. Gary worked for the Justice Department, working with the Department of State, leading the investigation into the horrific genocide in Rhwanda. After that gut-wrenching experience, he concluded he needed to launch a Christian organization that could draw on the resources of faith and the connection of God’s people in local setting. Here he makes the case for a global vision, caring about the plight of the oppressed, gives very solid Biblical basis for his work and shares stories both disturbing and helpful.
Thank God for the International Justice Mission that came out of this work, and the way this good books lays the groundwork for our awareness, concern and activism. 27 million people are now held captive in the worst era of human trafficking the world has ever seen. A must-read.

Terrify No More
Gary Haugen (Word) $21.99 You may have seen the edge-of-your-seat, breathtaking Dateline feature, or caught this story on Oprah, or 20/20 or Today. Executed in extreme secrecy, this work is now lauded as a heroic resuce operation. This documents—in riveting writing that pins you to your seat—the investigation and literal rescue of girls held in an Asian brothel. When Gary Haugen spoke at Jubilee 2007—all joyous and energetic and cool in his black tee shirt—I kept thinking of the unbelievable stuff he’s seen, and how important his legal scholarship and deep faith have been. One of these days he will get the Nobel Peace Prize and you can say you got the book from us. I’m not kidding.

Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade—And How We Can Fight It
David Batstone (Harper SanFransico) $14.95 When I blogged about this I was thrilled to announce it, and we are happy to see it advertised all over the place now. (David’s past work with Sojourners hasn’t hurt any.) From kids chained to rug weaving looms in Southern Asia to child soldiers in Africa, from slaves doing forced mining in South America to the infamous sex slaves and child brothels in Thailand, David has documented this global evil and tells of the new generation of abolitionists who are making a difference.

We stock other important books on this topic (Kevin Bales being one of the chief scholars) and of course there are many books about other global injusitces, including the persecution of people of faith in many countries. But Not For Sale is the one to read first, to read now. We see a movement emerging, and this is the handbook.

Be The Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World
Zach Hunter (Zondervan) $9.99 This is written for teen or young adult audiences (and includes the obligatory cool graphics and visionary quotes from guys like John Foreman of Switchfoot or Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay. (Jars, by the way, run a supurb ministry called Blood:Water Mission which has won the approval of everybody from Bono on down. To bring my column full circle, it might be helpful to know that Steve Garber’s Fabric of Faithfulness has been an important book in the journey of these brave young artists, and Steve’s freindship with them—-he just got back from Africa—has been vital.)

As I said before, Be the Change is written by a 15 year old kid, a young man who spends nearly all his time traveling around the world, exposing the crime of slavery, talking about abolition, and challanging youth to be involved in world-changing causes. His "Amazing Change" campaign is linked clearly to the legacy of Wilberforce and has been being promoted everywhere Amazing Grace is showing. No matter your age, this book will do you good. If you know younger folk, it will do them good. It might do you good to give it to them. This is the most amazing youth-oriented book I think I’ve ever seen and adults should share it far & wide!

What would a cool young dude like this do without a hip website to help other youngster get involved. Check out his Loose Change to Loosen Chains efforts
There, you can see his CNN interview, check out the contest to vote for his site in a myspace social justice contest, lots of other links and resources, and other very cool stuff. Come back here and buy the book, if you can. Thanks.