It's a serendipitous experience to read books across different genres and make connections that stretch you. Two books by Edward Luce have done this for me recently: Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012) and The Retreat of Western Liberalism (Little, Brown Book Group, 2017). These books articulate a concern about the crisis of Western democracy apparent in many books and articles. While reading these I was also reading C Kavin Rowe’s’ The World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (OUP, 2009) which made some connections which go beyond the familiar frameworks of the twentieth century.
The Wages of Rebellion is shaped initially by an analysis of Western revolutionary theory from the 19th century forward. Revolutions, Hedges proposes, are not fermented by ideas promulgated by elites. They occur when intolerable gaps develop between ordinary people and the reigning narratives of the state, its economics and its elites.
Alan Roxburgh reviews this book and introduces a number of other books on a similar theme.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a self-proclaimed atheist who rejects the Christian God, and yet his book, Between the World and Me, is what happens when God draws the curtains to unveil the evil of racism that prevails across the world. This book is a critical social commentary on life in the United States that should inform every conversation concerned with mission in places that live with racial and economic oppression.
Together for the Common Good was written by an Anglican priest and a Roman Catholic priest and is part of a wider conversation. Both the book and the conversation are a product of discussions, meetings, action and prayer which seek to encourage people to work together towards change for the common good by overcoming differences, growing in respect for each other, as well as by learning from different cultural and religious traditions.
Church planter Dan White has an appreciation for the ways in which Euro-tribal, evangelical churches and their leaders remain deeply enmeshed in rationalisms, techniques, notions of success and power that so deeply infect Christian life on this continent. In the early chapters he dives into these issues. He travels a road many of us have taken by pointing out these captivities in order to show their inadequacy. The hope is that readers will see this and, in so doing, want to travel with him...
For Alan this is a time of ‘unraveling”, an invitation to shift our focus, to listen, discern and join God's presence in our neighborhoods In Alan’s words, the Spirit is going ahead of us into our neighborhoods. So often churches seek to either defend or accommodate as quickly as possible when faced with massive cultural shifts. Think about how different things could be if pastors and church leaders learned to see the cultural shifts as God at work opening spaces to listen and discern a new engagement for the gospel. This is the gift of Roxburgh. The answer to the church’s struggles is not more flashy promotions but a new and deeper discipleship and a community present to what God is doing in the places we live.
Reading An Other Kingdom takes me back to Augustine’s task. In its pages we read an important attempt to name the maladies of our time when faced with the ending of a certain Western narrative and the desperate need for an alternative imagination. In this sense it is an important book written with urgency. Like a tract it deconstructs the malaise of our time and offers an imagination for the reconstitution of social and cultural life in the West. It is to be applauded. Its proposals are important; they need to be taken seriously by any Christian desiring to faithfully live out the Gospel in these times; however, it misses the essential imagination that framed Augustine’s project and directed his desires.
Elaine Graham presents a high view of ‘public theology’ as studying and communicating the relevance of Christian thought and practice for public life and the common good. Public theology, she suggests, negotiates between the apparently immovable ‘rock’ of religious resurgence and the irresistible ‘hard place’ of secularism and institutional decline, or between faithfulness to Christian tradition and openness to diverse and critical conversation in the public domain. Graham’s portrayal of apologetics is refreshingly recast to include not primarily rational argument for the veracity of propositional claims, but an appeal to live well and act justly for the common good of society.
Review of Alan Roxburgh, Structured for Mission: Renewing the Culture of the Church (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015). Originally published in Englewood Review of Books, Vol 05, No. 03, Summer, 2015. It is reproduced here with permission. EnglewoodReview.org
Review of Lynne M Baab, The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014)