Three Books about Justice: in the burbs and around the globe

Last week I mentioned this important classic of the social gospel movement, by Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis. This new anniversary edition not only retains the original classic, but offers insights by the likes of Cornel West, Stanley Hauerwas or Tony Campolo. I found it thrilling and informative, an important work we should know, made only more important with these contemporary reflections.
And, as you may have seen, I mentioned this great new book, Shaking the System, by Tim Stafford, offering things that he learned about, and from, the great faith-based movements of social reform, from abolition to civil rights, etc. Great, great stuff.
I thought I would mention just three other books which offer a radical social critique, and that give resource, aid and support to those of us who desire to be “morally serious” in our historical setting. These are each more practical than the historical and theological ones I mentioned in the last post. It is fascinating that there are more faith-based books out now about social action and prophetic critique of the ideologies of our time than I’ve seen in recent decades, and the extraordinary things is that many of these are being published by evangelical or charismatic publishing houses, Christian industry pillars who have not been known in recent memory for doing these kinds of books. Resisting the sex trade or standing for ecological practices, working for racial justice or getting involved in short term mission work, younger evangelicals, especially, are everywhere talking and acting on Biblically-based principles for social transformation. Some, even who indentify themselves as politically conservative are out there doing great socially significant work. (As opposed to decades ago when there were many who identified themselves as liberal socially, but didn’t get very involved in actual social activism.)
I have reasons to think why this is, and as one who has spoken for, taught about, hawked books on and generally tried to make a bit of a racket around these things for thirty years, I am now very, very glad, if a bit perplexed, to see these concerns popping up in the evangelical religious press. I am grateful for having known and in some cases worked with (or protested alongside of) with stalwarts like Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Ron Sider or John Perkins—great saints whose books you should have on your shelves, if you don’t— but the new generation of activists are coming with fresh voices, often clear, if progressive, evangelical faith, and a connection to spirituality and worship that these older men would surely affirm. These are exciting times to be about the work of nurturing the Christian political vision. Here are three examples of new titles that might not have even gotten published six or seven years ago…

Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization Sharon Delgado (Fortress) $20.00 Perhaps the edgiest-looking book this mainline Lutheran publisher has released, this eye-opening journey into the heart of the anti-globalization movement is provocative and disturbing. It makes your heart beat, wondering if her radical critique is really true, whether her lived out resistance to the powers is an authentic example of Kingdom hope, whether, you, too, should be involved in active protest, resistance and forming communities who model different ways of living and being that are not co-opted by the forces of conformity and complicity to injustice.
Rev. Delgado so badly wants to teach about the horrors of our abuse of the Earth, the trampling of the poor, the dangers of arms escalation and the spread of toxic fumes and ideologies, that she doesn’t worry about every theological jot and tittle–she blazes away, building a powerful critique and a persuasive call for serious change. This book reminds me of stuff I read by Phil Berrigan decades ago, indeed, draws on Phil’s old teacher and pal, William Stringfellow (and his fellow contemplative protester, Jim Douglas.) If you wonder how to best understand “the principalities and powers” and you’ve read, say, Walter Wink, (or even Sojourners magazine) this spiritually-motivated call to witness against the forces of globalization is a must-read. Sharon has been at this for years, working for sustainable communities and economic empowerment as an ordained United Methodist minister and Director of the interfaith Earth Justice Ministries.

Dangerous Faith: Growing in God and Service to the World Joel Vestal (NavPress) $13.99 First this: this is the first in a great new series called Deliberate, an imprint of books that seem to speak the language of emerging evangelicals, with the tone and passion of newer generation voices, somewhat in the mold of Donald Miller, say. (It is, happily, also a line that is committed to a green approach to book manufacturing, with the vital Earth stats listed for each book. Way to go, NavPress!) This book is seriously evangelical, very wholistic, profoundly cross-cultural, yet it is committed less to the political resistance of globalization as Delgado’s book is, but more to missionary partnerships that serve, reach out, care for the needy, showing Christ’s compassion and love to the hurting around the globe. Deliberate intends their books to be voices of the new generation, and they combine writing about passionate worship (Louie Giglio of the Passion worship conferences wrote the forward–you can check out his podcast about it here), prayer, simplicity, compassion and justice. It is fun and feisty and, it, too makes the heart race, and invites us to think how we can be agents of global outreach, God’s Kingdom coming, serving others, seeking social transformation in Christ-honoring ways. Vestal is the founder of the amazing ServLife International, (check out the great website!) and his story includes traipsing off to all sorts of dangerous places, as hands and feet of a Holy God who calls us to serve the lost. You will learn a lot about the world here, and some of these stories will send shivers down your spine; it is not your mama’s missionary story (ahh, but maybe it is. Some of those old timers did extraordinary things, despite the bad rap some of ’em get from novels like the powerful Poisonwood Bible.) Forget those old stereotypes. This here is the real deal. You won’t be able to put it down. And it will draw you closer to God in the process.

Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live Will and Lisa Sampson (Baker/emergent village) $14.99 Wow, what a gentle and challenging little book, the perfect guide to the conversation happening all over—how evangelicals, who major in Bible reading and evangelism, have so often missed the cultural engagement piece, the call to action for the oppressed, the structural stuff about economics, justice and racial reconciliation. Has life in the ‘burbs made us immune to how many folks really live, and what, in life, really matters? Has the American Dream edged out the dream of God’s shalom, coming in our midst? This is a lovely set of stories to guide us into taking small steps towards what Shane Clairborn called “The Irresitible Revolution” but explored in the middle class context. It is no surprise that dear Shane–urban activist and radical prophet, more akin to Delgado’s liberation movement than with most suburban mega-churches, offers a sweet and insightful endorsement to Will and Lisa.
Here’s something else you should know. This is the same Lisa Sampson who writes very well-done and truly enjoyable, thoughtful and contemporary Christian fiction. She starts each chapter in this book with a story device, a fictional episode which unfolds as the book goes on. In these vignettes, we watch as fairly ordinary Christian folks in the fairly ordinary suburbs, grapple with bigger questions, and take steps to align their hearts with the passions and demands of God’s story. After excellent teaching in each chapter, too, unpacking Bible truth and sharing their own journey toward these issues, there are devotional sidebars, reflections and meditations by friends and collegues of the Sampsons, who, like them, have attempted to live out the implications of Christ’s way amidst the complicated 21st century world. From Len Sweet to Brian McLaren, Shane to Luci Shaw, Tony Jones to Christine Pohl, Christine Sine to Kester Brewin, these important voices add a community conversation feel to the book. This is a great book to study, easy (on one hand) to understand and not at all alienating. It would be a great small group study or book for your reading group. From the delightful fictional portions to the insightful discussion questions, this is a great resource. Highly recommended.
PLEASE check out this great youtube video of them talking about the book. If this doesn’t get you interested, I don’t know what will….come on back and order from us. Thanks.

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