Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma- Prediger and Brian J. Walsh (Eerdmans; $24.00) is a book that I can safely say will be one of the most important works of the year, a major contribution to Christian social analysis and cultural reformation. I’ve followed these friends a bit as they’ve worked out this material. I’ve had an early draft and have been awaiting this published copy for a year; I couldn’t be more excited that it has arrived. Thanks be to God, the ever-faithful home-making and Earth-restoring God who comes to us in Jesus not, as they ably show, to take us away to heaven only to leave behind a burning planet, but to help us image the God of creation here, now, in creation-caring stewardship, until that great day when Christ returns to consummate his covenantal ways in a new Earth.
Walsh has written widely as co-author about the shape of a Christian way of living, based on a Biblical worldview informed by the grand story of creation-fall-redemption (Transforming Vision, Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be, Subversive Christianity , The Advent of Justice, and, with his wife Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed.) How this has transfigured—through, among other things, forming a friendship and working relationship with environmental studies scholar (and author of the brilliant For the Beauty of the Earth) Steven Bouma-Prediger, reading a lot of Walter Brueggemann and Wendell Berry and the new urbanists like James Howard Kunstler, and moving into a sustainable agricultural community farm)—to the metaphor and images of home-making/exile/home-coming, is itself quite an amazing part of the story of this book. The grand drama of Scripture is still the heart of this book, but the new insights about land and place and the hope (in Revelation 21 and 22) of a “gardened city” are fresh and generative. I do not say this lightly, I really don’t: this is brilliant.
The Biblical studies are profound (and there are creative Bible interludes between each longer chapter that will bring the insightful and provocative reflections of Colossians Remixed to mind.) The scholarly breadth is prodigious, the cultural awareness just amazing. From the stories to the science, the cultural criticism to the theological proposals, from the song quotes to the incredible footnotes, this is one really interesting read.
It has deep integrity, too, remarkably so. From their work in classrooms and homeless shelters, to their work in homesteading and sustainable agriculture, they have lived out faithful and creative ways of being agents of God’s great homecoming. They’ve studied the meanings of home and homelessness, both among the very rich (who may have houses, but not homes in any meaningful sense) and the literally homeless (who may have homes in the sense of a community of belonging, even without houses.) They explored how the high modern culture displaces us, metaphorically and sometimes literally, from our “sense of place.” They’ve related the cultural angst and upward mobility culture with our disregard for the creation itself, related (as has their friend Bob Goudzwaard) the relationships between some of the key social problems of our time, from climate change to global poverty.
The insight of this important work is urgently needed, and I will be exploring Beyond Homelessness in greater detail in a longer book review over at our monthly column at the website. For now, please know of our very sincere gratitude for this remarkable work, our commitment to try to explain it well to folks so our readers purchase it, read it, discuss it, and deepen their ties to communities and places, living out the transforming vision that underlies this profound gift of insight, courage and hope.
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