The four new books I am about to tell you about are each excellent, truly worthy of your support, and so very interesting and helpful, but I want to accomplish two things in these reviews.
First, of course, I want to alert you to these brand new titles, to affirm these publishers and authors, and to – yes – actually have you consider using these books in some kind of way. Obviously, I hope you consider buying and reading them for yourself. (That would be buying them from us, that is: shame on you if you read my recommendations and go elsewhere!) Maybe you could help get these books into wider circles. From a church library or small group to an Adult Ed forum or a campus ministry project, these books are useful as educational resources and we would be thrilled to be able to sell some to you or your group.
Just use the links to our secure order form page found at the end of this newsletter.
OUR DREAMS AND VISIONS
When we opened our bookstore we distinguished ourselves as a rare Christian bookstore that emphasized social justice topics, authors involved in faith-based social concern; we dreamed of making a living resourcing those who were making a difference and inspiring many to get involved in activisms of various sorts, from urban renewal to global peacemaking, from criminal justice reform to legislative concerns around poverty, hunger, and agriculture. To be honest, we really don’t sell many of those kinds of books and over the years it has raised a number of eyebrows, and cost us a number of customers.
Which leads to the second thing I want to underscore here once again, a point I’ve made a lot in the last fifteen years or so. I don’t know if other Christian bookstores carry much social justice stuff (I’ve heard that they do not) or if the books I’m highlighting are found at the mainstream chains or ABA indie shops (again, I gather that they mostly are not.) But there is no doubt that evangelical Christian publishers are leading the way in releasing powerful, useful, insightful books for activists – academic books, semi-scholarly, serious ones, and popular handbooks for beginners. The four books listed below that have been released in the last week or so are Exhibit A to show that evangelicals are much more interested in social justice than ever before. These are some of the best books on this topic I’ve seen in years.
(I hope you saw my shout outs in the previous post about the must-read The Justice Calling by Bethany Hanke Hoang & Kristen Deede Johnson (Brazos Press) and the beautifully-written spiritual guide Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan (IVP) which are both further indications of the prevalence and quality of these kinds of gospel-centered, Biblically-grounded resources.)
(And I hope you recall that we are promoting Lisa Sharon Harper’s fine introduction to the social implications of gospel reconciliation in her marvelous, new The Very Good Gospel, published by the evangelical publishing house Waterbrook; $19.99. Did you see our review of it a few weeks back, and recall that we’re hosting her out in Pittsburgh on July 26th? More on that later, but, again, it illustrates my point.)
I became aware of religious-based social activists while a high school kid – one of the trials of the radical Berrigan brothers was in nearby Harrisburg (for the record, a nutty trumped-up case cooked up by J. Edgar, alleging that these pacifist priests were going to kidnap Henry Kissinger and plant bombs in the Pentagon, a claim so ludicrous that even other hard line prosecutors and public policy hawks had to distance themselves from the show.) I met a few radical priests myself, read gay Episcopal poet Malcolm Boyd and the erudite William Sloan Coffin, got involved with Caesar Chavez’s campaign for justice for farmworkers, and found that I was often very, very lonely. By and large, many mainline denominational books I came across (a Harvey Cox book that looked like Sgt. Pepper, as I recall) were religiously weird, or arcane, but the more overtly Christ-centered, gospel-based authors and ministries had very little interest in social change. I sometimes characterize those days in my life as hanging around with people who wanted to change the world, but didn’t care about salvation through Jesus and hanging around with people who loved Jesus but didn’t care on whit about the world. I hardly knew anybody who really wanted to do both.
Most people, I suppose, were just sort of nothing, socially and politically speaking, though, and the status quo reigned supreme. These were the days when Catholic Bishops would literally bless the bombs heading to civilian targets in Viet Nam and Billy Graham would naively hang out with Richard Nixon, but it wasn’t terribly pushy and it wasn’t a thing; it just was. This was before the creation of the Religious Right – an overtly Christian (and, in some circles, very well-intended) effort to link a Biblical worldview to public life, which ended up supporting crass right wing politics; before that it was just sort of a given that church folks would mostly be conservative but un-involved, or, in reaction, would be into the “social gospel” which, in my experience, was a sincere but not particularly Biblical blend of lefty ideals and counter-cultural goofiness. At one earnest church retreat about changing the world we took “communion” with Pepsi because, as the ad slogan back then went, we’d “come alive.” Or was it Coke and that hillside “I want to teach the world to sing” thing? Whatever.
Apathetic conservatism propping up the status quo or radical weirdness dis-connected to the first things of the gospel? Even as a teen I knew this was fishy, but I didn’t quite know why.
(And then, for me at least, I would catch hints of a more integral, faith-based, gospel-centered, church-related movement coming from the Black churches and the civil rights movement down South and the writings of Dr. King and his associates. It would be years until I’d read up and eventually even met folks in that tradition.)
THE CHICAGO DECLARATION
In November 1973, I came to later learn, there was an era-defining weekend conference held at an inner-city YMCA in Chicago that came up with the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern. Convened in part by the distinguished Carl F.H. Henry, people who later became friends and mentors – Richard Mouw, John Perkins, Bill Pannell, Ron Sider, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, the founders of The Other Side magazine and, of course, The Post American (that later was renamed Sojourners) were all there, playing a part. By the mid-70s Beth was visiting Koinonia, the famously inter-racial communal farm founded by Clarence Jordan in Americus, Georgia, I was wondering why I hadn’t heard more of this robust, evangelical vision for wholistic Kingdom ministry, and recruiting people for Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and the anti-hunger citizen’s lobby, Bread for the World (BFW) and the early version of what is now the Center for Public Justice (CPJ) then called the National Association for Christian Political Action founded by Jim Skillen.
Some of this story (and so much more), by the way, is told in historian David Swartz’s Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (University of Pennsylvania Press; we have the expensive hardback on sale for the paperback price = $24.95.) One of my dearest friends from Pittsburgh was one of the folks he interviewed for first-hand recollections.
The wonderful relief organization World Vision was getting to be better known and we had their President Stanley Mooneyham – he had written What Do You Say to a Hungry World? [now long out of print, but important in those years] – at one of our Pittsburgh CCO conferences, the precursor of Jubilee. At the first Jubilee conference we hosted Senator Mark Hatfield, a rare anti-war Republican and vibrantly Christ-centered evangelical. Because of my interest in some of this kind of stuff one friend seriously wondered if I was possessed by a demon which she named “the spirit of politics.” That’s how anti-social concern some of my friends in my college fellowship group were, fearing evil in a matter as benign as raising money for the hungry.
Soon enough, I’d be wondering that myself, though, as it seemed like Screwtape himself was behind the 1980s rise of religious involvement in society as former evangelists known for preaching the gospel and the blood of Christ like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson began to twist the message to fit their nearly bizarre far right agenda, spewing all kinds of toxic stuff on the body politic in the name of Jesus. Do you recall Robertson raising money for military helicopters (the Boland Amendment make it illegal for the US government to do so directly) which sprayed death on civilians in Guatemala and Nicaragua? Do you recall when Falwell said Dutch Reformed theologian Alan Boesak was a communist as he fought for the end of apartheid amidst savage mass murders in South Africa? Do you recall the Nightline show when Falwell said Jim Wallis didn’t really believe in the gospel? (I do, and I debated him personally about it later that week!)
Almost out of nowhere Falwell et al ranted against homosexuality and secular humanism – school prayer became an issue, as did abortion. (Those of us on the front lines of crisis pregnancy work — I was at the first National Right to Life Conference, and help start a Birthright crisis pregnancy center at our college in 1973 and served our local CPC in the 80s and 90s — found the harshness of the fundamentalists, new to the cause, counterproductive and more than a little annoying.) The evangelical ministry of gospel-based leaders like Ron Sider saying we should affirm a mildly liberal view of economic reform inspired by the Bible’s teachings or John Perkins saying we needed to address racism as a sin, not just a social problem, were drowned out by sinfully stupid things being said in the national media by Pat Robertson and others of his ilk. (I’ll never forget a David Brooks column in The New York Times lamenting that Falwell and his food fighting style was often selected by the media as a voice of evangelicalism. Brooks wondered why they never contacted somebody like John Stott.)
Yet, in a matter of a few decades, the Christian Right seemed to fizzle, the Moral Majority collapsed, some leaders (like Ed Dodson) emerged sobered, and young adult evangelicals increasingly identified themselves as caring about peace and justice, creation-care and race relations. Shane Claiborn was published by Zondervan, quoting my old acquaintance Phil Berrigan and the Catholic Worker, Dorothy Day. How did this happen? Why and when was the tipping point? It used to be rare to find Bible-based, grace-filled, evangelical books on social justice and most publishers in the CBA world were reluctant to release much about public justice that wasn’t linked to some super-star preacher or some far right agenda. (Although they’d publish Ollie North in hardcover!)
Now, even the most theologically traditional evangelical publishers – Multnomah, Tyndale, Moody, Cook, NavPress, Waterbook, Crossway, Kregal, Zondervan, Nelson, IVP, Baker – all do inspiring books about fighting sexual trafficking, about creation-care, about racial reconciliation, about God’s passion for the poor, about orphan justice, mass incarceration, and more; a few even dare to publish books on Biblical pacifism, the kind of thing formerly only available from the Mennonites (or the publishers of the Catholic Left.) On almost any social topic, evangelical publishers in recent years have done more (and, in most cases, better) books than mainline denominational publishers have. While there isn’t an evangelical consensus on policy — there are brilliant conservative scholars, moderate, Biblical, fair-minded, and there are feisty and passionate leaders who tilt left — but most evangelicals are desiring to be faithful, relevant, and compassionate in the world, not ideological or fighting the culture wars. (Most true evangelicals, let us be clear, do not favor Donald Trump.) This broader worldview which embraces concern for the common good is, I believe, one of the great shifts of recent years, and certainly one of the top two or three religious publishing trends in our lifetime, that social awareness and concern for the poor, for racial justice, fair trade, human rights and the like, are on the agenda, even if we don’t always agree on how to pursue those goals.
When and how and why did this happen?
One of the fabulously interesting (and, I think, really important) books I am about to list tries to answer this very question, or at least paint a backstory of how it began to happen, in my lifetime. When did this shift happen, and why? All four of the titles we’re listing are indicative of this large shift and are great examples of the best social justice stuff coming out of thoughtful evangelical publishing houses today.
I think we can thank the pioneering work by Ron Sider and John Perkins and Jim Skillen and John Stott and even Francis Schaeffer, and, after his time in prison, Chuck Colson, names you most likely know (especially if you follow BookNotes.) And, we should thank Gary Haugen. (Read on to find out why.)
Anyway, in the words of the Dylan song I used to play at youth group so many decades ago, “the times, they are a-changin’.” Thanks be to God.
Return to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscious Soong-Chan Rah & Gary Vanderpol (Brazos) $19.99 sale price = $17.99 As I’ve said, the resurgence of interest in social justice among evangelicals – even among organizations such as Cru or at flagship evangelicals seminaries like Gordon-Conwell or at megachurches like Willow Creek or Saddle Back – is one of the grand shifts of faith (and within religious publishing) in our lifetime. Beyond the religious right and left, there is now an increasingly mainstream acceptance of Bible-based teaching about justice among those with a high regard for orthodox readings of the Bible, who feel called to share their faith, hoping to see others come to a personal, saving faith, and who express their spirituality often in deeply personal ways. (I myself am doing two workshops on Biblical justice for evangelical groups in the next few weeks!)
Those who follow these things like to note that the earliest roots of the American evangelicalism were socially progressive. Finney preached against slavery, many evangelical colleges were quick to admit women, preachers like D.L. Moody cared deeply about the human suffering in the urban slums; of course, William Wilberforce (whose story is so wonderfully told in the must-see film Amazing Grace based on Eric Metaxas’ book of that title) was part of a very wholistic movement of social and cultural renewal affiliated with the Methodist revival in England in the late 1700s. So, evangelism and social concern, orthodox theological pietism and politics are actually old bedfellows, oddly eroded by the retreat from society with the rise of fundamentalism in the early 1900s, the middle class status quo liberal Protestantism in the middle of the 20th century and then again by right wing political fundamentalism in the late 20th century. Now, it seems evangelicalism is recovering its storied history. Hence the “reignited” in the subtitle here.
In Return to Justice, six key movements are described that have been influential in setting the stage for rising generations of young evangelicals and their return to wholistic, justice-oriented Christian social concern.
I have not adequately studied Return… so am not sure which issues and personalities to which the authors attribute the most weight, but it seems as if it is doing good, rich, history from earlier decades, those which set the stage and built momentum. For sheer impact, I vote for Gary Haugen, whose breathtaking story and valiant work exposing the horrific problem of child slavery and sexual trafficking in the late 1990s was one of the big, tide-turning influences that not only caught the attention of idealistic youth but also transcended partisanship. Right or left-wing views didn’t seem to matter much in the pitches given all over the land by Gary and his staff of the International Justice Mission (IJM.) Who doesn’t oppose sexual trafficking?
I believe that the current passion for social reform and the ethos of making a difference owes much to the tireless, funny, passionate, storytelling of Baptist preacher Tony Campolo, traveling around the country for decades, sowing seeds among those who are now middle-aged evangelical leaders. (Campolo ran for Congress in the mid 1970s as an anti-war, pro-justice, consistently pro-life Democrat.)
Agree or not with all of Tony’s flamboyant one-liners on issues, one cannot miss that he is an almost-old-school evangelist, inviting people to accept God’s grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ; his call to radical discipleship and socially-engaged commitment always emerges from his invitation to be embraced by the love of God shown in the gospel of Christ. (Interestingly, in two different co-authored books – Adventures in Missing the Point with his friend Brian McLaren and Red Letter Christians with his now famous former student Shane Claiborne – Tony is the more traditional of the two, sounding concerns when their views seem to verge on drifting away from evangelical truisms.) I write all this to note that Rah and Vanderpol do not give much attention to Campolo as a seminal figure in this shift that is coming to fruition before our eyes. Interesting.
Other folks have been at it a long time – John Perkins telling his story of being beat by racist cops and still promoting racial reconciliation, say, or World Vision promoting child sponsorship – but by the new millennium, momentum seemed to accumulate, some tipping point was reached, perhaps when Compassion International starting going to the major evangelical Christian rock festivals like Creation. The impact of hearing first-hand accounts of the needs of starving children offered place after place, year after year, accumulated, and high school kids grew up knowing something about global development issues. Liberation theologians were debating complex nuances in nomenclature in mainline seminaries but evangelicals were organizing massive fund-raising campaigns among youth, and their WWJD bracelets reminded them to think about the needy. Old conferences for evangelical young adults like CCO’s Jubilee and IVCF’s Urbana, and more recently, the Passion Conference, have naturally integrated social concerns into their display areas and messages; this simply wouldn’t have happened without controversy 30 or 40 years ago.
So, Return to Justice really is helpful, giving us a glimpse of the Spirit’s work in the generation that informed the resurgence within the last decades, and documenting how some of this extraordinary shift has happened, and how lasting education can happen around these key issues.
Besides a fantastic introduction and a solid and hopeful conclusion, here is an overview of this marvelous book:
In Part 1 (“Justice Is Personal and Relational“) they explore the power of personal story by looking at John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association and the power of personal connection by exploring child sponsorship as a window into global poverty.
Part 2 is called “Justice Is Public and Prophetic” and this explores World Vision’s work of prophetic advocacy and Sojourner’s as a prophetic voice for those on the margins.
In Part 3, “Justice Confronts Power in Community“, Rah and Vanderpol explore African American evangelicals and what true racial reconciliation needs to be; it draws on narratives about Bill Pannell and Tom Skinner (and the historic, tense Urbana 70 conference) and Carl Ellis and Clarence Hillard and others who pressed these issues in the 1970s within mostly white evangelical organizations, paving the way for ongoing conversations even this very season. The last chapter explores Rene Padilla’s and Samuel Escobar’s influence and the “The Fraternidad Teologica Latinoamericana. (Oh, what an honor it was once when Rene Padilla visited our Dallastown store!) Can power be shared in the 2/3’s world? How has our global Christian world changed in our lifetime and how might that influence the experiences of rising generations? Soong-Chan Rah has an entire book on this (The Next Evangelicalism) and he knows his stuff.
Here are some of the rave reviews Return to Justice has gotten.
I know Rah and VanderPol personally and highly respect them and cherish that they have done an excellent job in articulating the history of the return of justice to the evangelical church. I am blessed we can participate in that return as we find ourselves at a wonderful crossroads. I wish that the church community worldwide could read this book, particularly those who are a part of this new multicultural church planting and post-racial generation.
—John M. Perkins, founder, John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation; author of Leadership Revolution
The resurgence of concern for justice emerges from deep wells in the evangelical tradition, and the story needs to be told–and in fact has now been told in Return to Justice.
—Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary, author The Kingdom Conspiracy
Return to Justice tells the story of an evangelical history that must not be forgotten. This book examines several influential evangelical movements that have shaped our understanding of service, compassion, and justice, including contributions from the African American and Latino evangelical communities. It provides valuable insights that both inspire individual growth and compel us toward an authentic return to God’s heart for justice.
—Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World
This carefully researched book shines a spotlight on modern evangelical movements that expound the gospel message as a mandate for social justice as well as eternal salvation. While the authors’ recommendation of these groups includes some critique of their aims and actions, they want other evangelicals to realize how thoroughly evangelical the activities of John Perkins, World Vision, the Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana, and other groups have been. They make a persuasive case.
—Mark Noll, historian, author of Turning Points
Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures Stephen Offutt, F. David Bronkema, Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Robb Davis, Gregg Okesson (Baker Academic) $22.99 sale price = $20.69 Well, again, that a book like this even exists – with such a blunt title and such serious content — and is promoted as a major release from an evangelical publishing house is further indication that something is afoot in our times. That Stephan Bauman (President of World Relief and author of the inspiring Possible about how we can make a difference in the world) calls it “a watershed book” is perhaps another way of noting how important it is. Wow.
Yet, this is a hard-hitting critique, and a needed one, I’m afraid. It is suggesting that despite all the talk about justice and the great move of social concern that seems to be prevalent in our evangelical churches — and, our mainline ones, too, I’d say – we really are pretty unaware of how the world really works, who has power and how power does or doesn’t serve the common good. Advocating for Justice is a book that is pushing us to complete the journey from a empathy and charity to a broader social vision to a uniquely Christian advocacy for institutional change.
Miriam Adeney (former missionary and now of Seattle Pacific University) writes of it,
This stellar book asserts that evangelicals are anemic with regard to structural evil. We don’t know how to think about power, so we settle for strategies that are too simple. Yet we are animated by the God who both creates and conquers the powers. Clear, orderly, theoretically rich, theologically vibrant, and full of examples, this book is a must-read.
These authors themselves are another fine illustration of the maturing of the mind and cultural sophistication within evangelicalism, not to mention the ecumenical flavoring of many within theologically evangelical institutions. For instance, in this collaborative effort, one author has a PhD from Boston University but teaches development studies at Asbury, an evangelical Christian college. Another has a PhD from Yale and teaches at the Baptist-related Eastern University. Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy has a degree from Weston (a Jesuit school of theology) and works as an evangelical church outreach organizer with Bread for the World, the ecumenical anti-hunger citizen lobby group. One author is an elected official – yay! – and Gregg Okesson (himself with a PhD from the University of Leeds) is dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary.
What does it mean to truly be advocates for lasting social change? What are Biblically-informed and theologically substantive views of power and institutions? For many of us, Ron Sider’s must-read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger is still one of the best books on all this, but this takes these concerns about structural readjustment to a new, thoughtful, and necessary level. It isn’t about politics exclusively, although there are some great case studies about the details of funding debates on things such as AIDS/HIV research or immigration reform, but it is trying to help us understand longer-term structural change, lasting institutional reform, and being advocates, as citizens and in other spheres where we can do more than “come alongside” the marginalized, but learn effective advocacy practices. This isn’t the final word on all of this, I’m sure, but it is an essential, nearly stunning, next step. Kudos.
Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity Miroslav Volf & Ryan McAnnally-Linz (Brazos Press) $21.00 sale price = $18.90 I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this and hesitated listing it along with these others for fear it would get lost in the list. This is a book that deserves to be very, very widely read and discussed, and is needed during this election cycle so very badly. Not only because we need to counter a thoughtlessness and knee-jerk response from various quarters, but also because this not only affirms a careful and wise approach, but because in it’s graciousness about prudential judgements about which we can disagree it is — as James K.A. Smith observes — “an anti-dote to polarization.”
And we can’t get enough of that right now, can we?
If the first book I listed above (Return to Justice) offers some historical background and some fairly contemporary case studies of those recovering an evangelical commitment to public justice and the second (Advocating for Justice) is a serious study of how power works and why we need to think carefully about structures and institutions as we advocate for social transformation on behalf of the poor, then Public Faith in Action is a handbook to living this out in this exact time. It is a guide to being a better informed citizen, guided by integrity and fidelity to our best principles. It is, as Ron Sider himself says,
A concise, readable, theologically-informed guide for Christian political engagement, this book deftly integrates relevant biblical principles and contemporary data, summarized the key issues at stake, and points to important additional reading. An excellent contribution to the rapidly growing body of work on how Christina can engage politics in a faith way.
I sort of wish this wasn’t a hardback, as it ought to be promoted widely and used in classes and study groups, especially this summer and fall. It isn’t just a quickie manual, as it is profound — what else would you expect from the likes of Volf, a theological scholar from Croatia, now at Yale (both teaching theology and directing the esteemed Yale Center on Faith & Culture) who is respected around the world? His Exclusion and Embrace was voted by Christianity Today as one of the best 100 religious books of the 20th century. (And I have a blurb on the cover of his very impressive A Public Faith; just saying.)
Listen to these impressive endorsements from advanced reviews of Public Faith in Action:
The question isn’t whether you’ll live out a public faith but how. In this wise, measured, and refreshingly concrete discussion, Volf and McAnnally-Linz encourage Christians to be active, thoughtful contributors to the ‘life together’ that is society. The book is unapologetically convicted, but it makes room for the global realities that demand different responses and creates space for Christians to come to different prudential conclusions. Here is an antidote to polarization.
–James K. A. Smith, Calvin College; author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit; editor of Comment magazine
Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz’s volume achieves its aims: opening up a series of serious questions that are a matter of public debate in a pluralistic society, while exhorting Christians to responsibly explore the answers through the lens of faith.
–Stephanie Summers, CEO, Center for Public Justice
The world needs our active Christian faith more now, perhaps, than ever. Public Faith in Action provides a deeply thoughtful model for how we as Christians might work out our faith for the glory of God and the flourishing of communities and people. One needn’t agree with every application here in order to be instructed, challenged, and inspired by this call to commitment, conviction, and character as we strive to serve a suffering world faithfully and well.
–Karen Swallow Prior, author of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist
Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith Sarah Withrow King (Zondervan) $16.99 sale price = $15.29 Sarah King starts off this short book telling about her growing up with good family devotions, becoming born again, the purity ring she wore as a younger Christian girl, and her wholesome recollections of being raised in a Godly, evangelical Christian family. She’s been a vegan for years, has been an animal rights activist as an evangelical (talking about Christ with her colleagues in PETA) and now offers this, her second book on the topic — published by perhaps the quintessential evangelical publisher. Do I really need to say “I rest my case” regarding the shifts within evangelical publishing?
I list this book (alongside her other recent, somewhat more scholarly one, Animals Are Not Ours (No Really They Are Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology) published by Cascade; $25.00; sale price = $22.50) not only because it is truly fascinating and important, but because it does indeed, again, illustrate the point that there is something remarkable happening when the theologically traditionalist evangelicals at this storied, mostly conservative publishing house thinks they can publish a book on why Bible-believing Christians should consider becoming totally vegan.
I am not at this point myself, by the way, and I must admit I wish Sarah would have gone the route of just protesting the abuses of factory farms and proclaiming an ethic which insists on treating all creatures with dignity and care — with what Joel Salatin in his new book calls “the marvelous pigness of pigs.” I think more folks would have given her a hearing.
But she will have none of my wish to tone down her convictions: she critiques (kindly, in footnotes) much of the rapidly-growing evangelical creation-care literature for how it misses or confuses what she says in a key aspect of Biblical and theological creational ethics: radical animal welfare. This book really is one-of-a-kind; few, if any, of the other such books on this topic are as accessible or so particularly evangelical in tone about this blind spot in our thinking and practices.
We here at the shop have a large selection on animal welfare — one Christian woman was so struck by seeing our selection she broke down in tears, realizing she was not alone in her passions. But, really, this is ground-breaking as it offers such grace-filled, Bible-based, evangelical insights with wit and without compromise. Agree or not, you have to appreciate a book like that.
So, let’s be clear. Nope, her children do not drink milk and have never been to a McDonalds (obviously.) She doesn’t go to the zoo. She agrees with C.S. Lewis that animal testing (vivisection) is cruel and wrong. She doesn’t wear leather and she’s trying to live as fully by her principles as she can. But, delightfully and surprisingly to some, she is not angry or judgmental or trivial. She is playful, deeply Christian, and invites us to consider a whole lot of stuff that we really ought to consider so that we honor God and live in ways that are consistent with the best practices of new life in Christ. There are good study questions to ponder and it would be fascinating to discuss together (if your group can hold in tension a lot of disagreements and perhaps painful conflict about it.) Both books really are commendable, and I’m happy to tell you about them.
I love these blurbs about Sarah and her book — especially the first by a guy who isn’t even a consistent vegetarian, let alone vegan. Listen up:
I love animals. I also love eating them. This book isn’t a self-righteous rant. It’s a provocative, funny, spiritual manifesto about how precious life is. It’s easy to forget that God’s original plan was to hang out with a couple of naked vegetarians in a garden. Our McDonalds-and-Chipotle-loving fast-food world has come a long way from the ole Garden of Eden. Sarah’s book is an invitation to step back and consider how God really intended for us to relate to all these wonderful creatures. — Shane Claiborne (backsliding vegetarian)
A significant introduction to the important but too-long neglected topic of a solidly Christian approach to the (mis)treatment of animals. One need not agree with every argument to realize this book presents an urgent challenge that biblical Christians dare no longer ignore. King’s chilling stories, extensive statistics, and probing biblical arguments offer a great place to begin. — Ronald J. Sider
And, please, consider these wonderful assessments by two sharp, Godly women I admire greatly:
Sarah King’s book about how to love Jesus and love animals was overwhelming. Overwhelmingly fun – with her quick wit and accessible writing style. Overwhelmingly challenging – in that she suggests some ideas I honestly don’t know how to integrate into my own evangelical practice and spiritual life. And overwhelmingly good – she asks critical questions the 21st century evangelical church has yet to wrestle with and entertain. May Vegangelical be a guide for us who choose to follow Jesus and seek to honor and love His creation and the human-animal relationships that are a part of it. — Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, , author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World
An articulate, sincere introduction to Bible-based social and environmental justice, opening the conversation to how God forms us through our interactions with the created world. A must-read for protectors of all creatures, great and small. — Nancy Sleeth, , co-founder of Blessed Earth
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