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A. J. Dickinson (Saint John, NB)

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Mere Christianity
Mere Christianity
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 18.49
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 I expect you will find this book valuable, Aug. 19 2013
This review is from: Mere Christianity (Paperback)
C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity is a consideration of Christian belief. Borrowing from Acts 11:26, Lewis broadly defines a Christian as a person who follows the teaching of the apostles. Lewis wants to explain the essence of such following. Hence, Mere Christianity. Lewis' explanation of mere Christianity requires four steps (each each presented in an individual book that comprise the entirety of Mere Christianity). It begins with an attempt to establish facts that allow Christianity to make sense. Lewis then places Christian doctrine into dialogue with these facts to see if it addresses the needs such facts create, followed by an exploration of how such doctrine affects morality. Lewis concludes with a discussion of who the Christian God is and what this God is turning people into.

Mere Christianity is what comes about when a brilliant and creative mind explains theology. This book, particularly the first chapter of Book IV, is among the best descriptions I have read about my religion. As I read, I often found myself thinking that Lewis was directly answering questions that I posed to him. Whether you share Lewis' faith or not, I sincerely hope that you read this book. It has the potential to inspire, but if nothing else, it will provide a thorough and clear description of one of the world's major belief systems.

This is not to say that the book is perfect. Lewis holds to hierarchical gender relationships, which he acknowledges to be unpopular**. Certainly The Bible does include similar teaching at points (which is undoubtedly where Lewis gathers his ideas from), but at this point enough theology and biblical study exists to convince me that such hierarchy is a cultural injunction for a particular time and place rather than a universal rule. I also wonder if Lewis was too assumptive surrounding the cardinal virtues when stating that all "civilized people recognize" them. I wonder if most people still (or ever did) agree that the cardinal virtues in particular - prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude - are all good or even whether a universal morality in general is even possible to agree about.

The critiques I have of Lewis have little to do with the general direction of the book. In fact, I can even more easily highlight particular points where I agree with Lewis. Chapter 3.6 concludes by noting that Lewis wouldn't want another religion legislating its entire ethic through parliament, so he should not want to impose his entire ethic legislatively. Lewis also strikes what I see as a perfect balance between giving to charity and working for a just society in parallel (Chapter 3.3).

I did a Christian apologetics class at seminary and one of the things I learned was that apologetics are important descriptors of the faith not only for people who are not Christians, but also for people who are. Why I think Mere Christianity is so important comes from how it presents belief to me, an Evangelical Christian who experiences a bit of scepticism. I thought it was interesting that Lewis did not start with what one would typically call an explanation of what Christianity is. Instead, by starting with areas of common humanity - namely whether morality exists and how to define it if it does - and then testing whether Christian teaching is able to speak to these areas, Lewis makes some of the harder to grasp aspects of my faith easier to encounter. Even when disagreeing with Lewis, I was able at least to see that his ideas were thoughtful and considered. Similar can be said about how Lewis periodically notes that not every step he takes his readers on indicates that Christianity is a viable faith choice. Some steps lead in this direction but are not the entire journey.

I expect you will find this book valuable.

*I hope you will forgive my gender exclusive language. Using it makes me uncomfortable, but the plural is grammatically unwieldy here. I used "Man" because that is what Lewis did and because Jesus was incarnate as a male.

**See Chapter 3.3 regarding obedience, as an example.

Scripture And The Authority Of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Scripture And The Authority Of God: How to Read the Bible Today
by N T Wright
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 27.99
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Good instruction for reading The Bible Today, June 29 2013
In Scripture and the Authority of God, N. T. Wright attempts to make sense of the claim that The Bible (scripture) is authoritative. Wright's argument is that the authority of scripture is more complex than saying that scripture provides correct information. Instead, it means that the Christian God exercises his authority through scripture and has a plan to redeem all of creation. Scripture spurs the completion of this plan through people. The best way to understand this is to read the Bible as a five-act story. The first four acts - creation, the fall, Israel, and Jesus - are already complete. The fifth act - the church - began at Easter/Pentecost. Scripture includes accounts and writings from early in this act and Christians today continue to live in this act.

Telling readers to look at scripture like a five-act story raises a question, namely How can God exercise authority through story? Stories are authoritative in their ability to change how a person thinks and acts. Stories do this in a couple of ways. First, unexpected twists in stories surprise people into a better understanding of an event (as in, I expect, the story told to David about the man with the lone sheep). Second, well-told stories allow a hearer to envision her- or himself as a part of the story, including imagined reactions.

How does the story of Scripture play out? The third act, Israel, addresses events in the first two acts - namely, there is a good creation with evil in it. Israel is God's promise to respond to evil and the explanation that his plan to do so is his Kingdom. In the Old Testament, God addresses Israel directly to remind them of their role in this plan. The fourth act, Jesus, follows directly out of the third. This is the "climax" of scripture. For God's Kingdom to address evil, obedience is required. Jesus gave God this obedience. Jesus was thus the fulfillment of the words recorded in Israel's sacred texts, or, "The Word made flesh."

Wright gives the most attention to the fifth act, dividing it into three subsections. Subsection One is the Apostolic Church. It is shown in scripture itself. The Apostles taught that Jesus fulfilled the promises made to and about Israel. This teaching created the church, a body of people transforming itself to Jesus' likeness - transformed by the writings of the Old Testament, the incarnation of Jesus, and the teaching of the church. The apostolic writings became part of the transformation process. This did not happen at the expense of the Old Testament because the Old Testament is a completed stage of the continuity of God's Kingdom development. The New Testament is then a "charter document" that defines how the church fits into this continuity.

Subsection Two concerns the changes that occurred in how people read scripture in the 1600 years between apostolic writing and the Enlightenment. The church began to define itself as a "scripture-reading community." The church began to look to what traditional understandings suggested about scripture, while comparing these ideas to contemporary opinion. During this process, the church began to see a tension that existed between authority and tradition. At the Reformation, the role of tradition was challenged. The Reformers taught that scripture was able to provide everything necessary for salvation. With the Reformation came the idea of reason, which dictated that theologians must have a warranted basis for scriptural interpretation.

Subsection Three shows how scriptural interpretation changed with the Enlightenment. Wright sees three ways culture, and with it scriptural interpretation, changed during this period. First, the idea of progress - or the notion that society will inevitably reach a completely reason-based worldview - suggested an alternative to Christian eschatological teaching. Second, evil became synonymous with the inability to think rationally. The solution to evil therefore became giving people an opportunity to be rational. Third, more credence was given to the subjective experiences that people have when interpreting scripture. This acknowledged that our sinful nature could negatively affect our interpretation and that experiences with God could positively affect it.

Like any book worth reading, Scripture and the Authority of God leaves me with questions, which I expect Wright answers elsewhere . My primary question - and the one I will focus on now - is one of belief. Wright notes that the Reformation principle of sola scriptura states that scripture provides a full explanation of salvation, but does not claim that a person must believe every bit of scripture to receive salvation. Wright neither endorses nor chastises this idea, but I am still curious about what to do with it. Essentially, if the idea is correct, how do we make mature decisions about what is non-essential, rather than simply push aside the bits of scripture we find distasteful?

The subtitle of Scripture and the Authority of God is "How to Read the Bible Today". In my mind, Wright's is successful in teaching people how to read the Bible today in two ways.

The first is his idea of reading the Bible as a five-act play. Several years ago, I became frustrated with the idea of scripture - not with what it did (or did not) say, but with its very existence. I wondered why some writings were "scripture" and others were not and I then heard about looking at scripture as a "charter document" from a friend. While this response initially seemed obnoxious at best, or absolutely useless at worst, I have grown to appreciate it. I like having a founding document and reading scripture as a five-act play helps me better appreciate the authority that comes with one. Seeing scripture as a large narrative lets me better understand where I come from as a disciple of Jesus.

Wright's second major success comes in the last two chapters of the book. In these chapters, Wright demonstrates - rather than only explaining - how to read the Bible. He provides detailed case studies on the Sabbath and on monogamy. The case studies serve as useful demonstrations. The Sabbath, for example, is not something Christians should adopt entirely from the Old Testament, but it also is not something from which to turn away. Instead, it is something that creates the Christian responsibility to demonstrate God's creativity, justice, mercy, healing, and hope. Wright notes that his purpose in these two chapters is to encourage Christians to think more fully about the complexities of reading scripture. Speaking for myself, they did so.

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
by Chris Hedges
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.57
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Important Book, March 5 2013
Chris Hedges offers a sombre reflection on America in the early 21st Century, which is easily applicable to my own Canadian context. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle argues that we made five trades. We traded rational and literate discourse for celebrity worship and intentional ignorance. We traded love and empathy for pornography and consumerism. We traded curiosity for entrenchment. We traded happiness and for positive thinking and ignoring reality. We have traded democracy, truth, and confidence for misguided icons, negligence, and shopping. Worse than making these trades, however, is that we think that we are advanced for having done so.

Hedges' book is sombre rather than outright depressing because of the final few pages. He offers something of a buoy for his readers, who - assuming my reaction is on par - will feel completely sunk by reaching the final section (a mere three pages) of the final chapter. What Hedges holds on to, and what he offers readers, is hope. "Have hope," seems like a kind of wishy-washy conclusion considering both the absolute dread I felt while reading the book and Hedges' own warning against trading intelligent consideration of our surroundings for positivity.

Hedges' hope is not blind to all the trades we made. His hope acknowledges that we have set ourselves up for a world that "will be painful and difficult." His hope also knows, however, that despite the worst any tyrant has done, tyranny has not destroyed the human capacity for love. The love that showed up in "small, blind acts of kindness" to combat empires of death camps, gulags, genocides, and killing fields, will certainly continue and stand in the way of an empire of illusion. The markers of such love are sacrificing oneself for the other, revering what is sacred, being apathetic to what is flashy, and rebelling against lust for power. Hedges has hope because, in his words, "The power of love is greater than the power of death."

A sombre reflection is not easy to read. Still, Empire of Illusion is an important book that points out to readers that our surroundings are not always what they seem. Hedges forces readers to ask, Am I actually literate, loving, wise, happy, and a democrat, or, do I only bask in a convenient and intentional illusion of these things? Forcing the question seems to be the goal of Empire. Hedges wrote a successful book not because it is absolutely convincing. He was successful because, when I was done reading, I started to evaluate how I straddle the border between reality and illusion. The hope that Hedges holds onto cannot take shape without such questioning.

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
by N T Wright
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 28.58
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Helpful Book, Jan. 17 2013
A "grown-up" Christian faith begs a question. Is what it says about Jesus true? N. T. Wright's Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters says that it is true. Wright's thoughts suggest a new vision of Jesus, which he hopes will help people understand their lives today in a new way.

The book has three parts. It defines Wright's questions about Jesus and suggests that they are difficult to answer. It then explains the focus, goals, and method of Jesus public career. Finally, it suggests why Jesus still matters.

Wright uses the image of a "perfect storm" coming from three directions. The first direction is Rome. Rome was the primary world power. It considered Caesar divine and called him the "son of god." Rome also needed the Middle East - where Jesus lived - for grain supplies. The second direction is the Jewish people. Rome thought the golden age was in the past. The Jews thought it was yet to come. The Jewish people looked forward to a time when a good rescuer would oppose an evil oppressor. The third direction is how Jesus thought he fit with the first two directions. Israel expected the messiah to come in power and glory. Jesus claimed to do so, but had a completely different definition of power and glory. Jesus stood in a line of prophets who said that Israel's vision for itself and God's vision for Israel were at odds.

Simply Jesus can now propose questions. First, Jesus did nothing that people expected the king and messiah to do. He was also crucified with the mocking title "King of the Jews" above his head. Why should anyone take this title seriously then? Second, how do we say that Jesus is in charge while the world seems to be completely out of his control?

For Wright, the answers begin with the idea of Jesus initiating a "new Exodus." The Jewish people knew the Moses account well. There was an oppressive ruler against a chosen leader for the Israel. God was victorious, sacrifice was necessary for rescue, rescue gave Israel a new way to live, God was present, and Israel received the Promised Land.

In the new Exodus, Jesus was the rescuer. He announced that God - instead of Caesar - is king. Jesus was initiating a campaign to implement a new kingdom. In this Exodus, Jesus' is the representative of Israel, but the oppressive ruler was greater than Caesar. Instead, evil itself was the oppressor and Jesus' kingdom opposed evil through repentance and faith. Jesus' kingdom would fix the world, fix people, welcome the wrong sorts of people, and offer forgiveness.

Because the oppressor is evil in general instead of a specific person (no doubt though that Caesar and Pharaoh were part of this evil), Jesus' death becomes a necessary part of the battle. In Jesus' death, the creator God absorbed the worst of anti-creator evil. God's Kingdom came because Jesus led the new Exodus through death. His resurrection was the beginning of a new creation.

Wright's suggestion is that we view life through the perspective of this new creation. We must make a choice. Some people choose the old creation and its methods - selfishness and revenge. Others say that this does not work and choose Jesus' new creation - love, reconciliation, hope, and forgiveness. If we choose Jesus' new creation, we call Jesus Lord. We also recognize our role in how Jesus exercises his rule. That is why Jesus rescues us. Acknowledging this is how we worship God. The church says that only God is sovereign. This certainly contradicts normal respectable society, but the church must be willing to stand behind the statement. The church, it seems, is how God intends to exercise his rule. It will absolutely make mistakes while trying to choose Jesus' new creation, but this does not negate the reality of the new creation. We must be willing to listen to our own prophets while we strive to reflect God to the rest of creation.

I am glad I read this book and see a couple points of value. First, Wright provides a good explanation of why talking about Jesus is difficult. Jesus lived as if he were in control and redefined rules, which we are not used to seeing. His context also had a different worldview than ours. In addition to a different context, he spoke in a way that challenges our assumptions, primarily in his use of the word "god".

This summary is important because it can help provide language for how we think about Jesus. Let's apply this idea to how Christian teaching can lead its followers to become advocates for social justice. Jesus' description of God, for example, suggests a personal being that is concerned with how we treat one another. The parables of The Sheep and the Goats and Lazarus and the Rich Man demonstrate this. An interested God who is concerned about how we treat each other stands in contrast to two dominant gods today - the god who is over there without much interest in what happens here and the god who isn't particularly concerned with what we do as long as we say "sorry" afterwards. Only one of these three Gods would demand justice.

The second value is that the book helped as I continue to reflect on Wright's teaching about why Jesus' life before his death and resurrection is important for Christians. Wright's use of the word "campaign" was helpful. Jesus was starting a new balance of power in the face of an existing regime. Jesus' life before Easter matters because of the value he places on forgiveness in his new balance. Forgiveness removes people from exile. Jesus' life demonstrated that having God in the role of King would characterize the regime change Jesus initiated. Jesus' life matters because it shows what a world that abandoned evil looks like.

This is a challenging book. It is well worth the challenge and I recommend that you give it a look.

Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?
Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?
by Shane C Claiborne
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 19.99
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5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The book enriched me, it frustrated me, and it confused me., Dec 3 2012
Red Letter Christians are Christians who embrace evangelical theology, while striving to reflect what Jesus said (hence, "red letter"). Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne had frequent discussions about what being a Red Letter Christian entails. The book Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? highlights these discussions. Asking what it looks like when Christians start to be intentional about following Jesus will undoubtedly cause conflict. The authors hope that Red Letter Christians will be a "positive irritant" that will grow in number and naturally become advocates for social justice and illustrators of spiritual disciplines.

The style of dialogue Claiborne and Campolo use in the book is interesting. They agree about what topics to discuss, but often disagree about how to respond in a given situation. Their disagreement is impressive. Neither hesitates to critique what the other says, but both are always respectful. I like that. It acknowledges that the speaker could be wrong.

The chapters are divided into three sections - Red Letter Theology, Red Letter Living, and Red Letter World. Each conversation is disconnected enough from the others that readers can jump from one chapter to another seamlessly. (The first four chapters I read were 19, 12, 1, and 18.)

For me, the highlight of Red Letter Theology is the discussion about the church. Both authors acknowledge failures throughout church history, but do not let these failures negate the good things that the church has done. Campolo and Claiborne also present ideas individually that caught my imagination. Claiborne suggests that folks who are not Christians will rarely expect that Christians are perfect, but they do want us to be honest. Meanwhile, Campolo uses theology rooted in Jesus' command to love our neighbour when proposing a free market economic system motivated by creating blessings for others. This system will better reflect Jesus' teaching than either profit-motivated capitalism or state-controlled socialism.

My response to Red Letter Living was different. One discussion does not define the section for me. Instead, Claiborne and Campolo's willingness to consider a variety of controversial issues is impressive. Their broad definition of "pro-life", as an example, refuses to pick a clear side in a polarizing debate. They do not dismiss an important discussion about abortion or euthanasia, but instead suggest including such issues as poverty, capital punishment, imprisonment, war, and healthcare in the discussion. For me, the value of this section is that I jumped between absolute disagreement to absolute agreement to uncomfortable uncertainty throughout most of the discussions. This section more than the others made me re-evaluate my own ideas.

I mostly wanted to read this book because of the kinds of topics discussed in Red Letter World. They help me frame my thinking as I try to be a thinking Christian. I was intrigued by how Campolo and Claiborne consider a response to evil. In the discussion on politics, Campolo says that the church should criticize governments that do not meet their divine mandate to restrain oppression. At the same time, Claiborne's thoughts in the discussion on vengeance remind readers that Jesus explicitly said that it is not our responsibility to eliminate evil because we may inadvertently get rid of some good as well. These types of complexities are frequent.

While I appreciate Red Letter Revolution, I have a concern. In Dialogue on History Campolo rightly points out that people sometimes see a difference between God as presented as Jesus in the New Testament and God as presented in the Old Testament. Jesus appears more compassionate (page 7). I absolutely agree with Campolo that we best understand YHWH through Jesus. I wonder, however, if Campolo lets people get away with reading the Old Testament badly. There are countless examples of YHWH's compassion in the Old Testament and Jesus refers to his father, the God of the Old Testament, in a consistently positive light. Campolo does not endorse the view that separates Jesus and the Old Testament God, but he just sort of leaves it there without much evaluation.

This is not central to my thoughts about this book. I think Red Letter Revolution is an exciting book and will not hesitate to recommend it to people. When the book described the Gospels as "a declaration of how to live as Kingdom people, working to create the Kingdom of God in this world," it gave me language to understand the Gospels that I did not have before.

Reading Red Letter Revolution was equal parts struggle and confirmation. Sometimes I felt guilty for reading a book that told me that what I already thought is correct. Sometimes, though, I was writing my disagreements in the margins and groaning. The book enriched me, it frustrated me, and it confused me. I expect it will do similar things for other people and that is why I hope you read this book.

Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
by Timothy Keller
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 15.19
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Excellent book. Made a significant contribution as I consider social justice., Sept. 30 2012
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A basic biblical lesson is that Jesus came to offer forgiveness. Timothy Keller wrote Generous Justice to give light to another basic biblical lesson that people commonly ignore and overlook: When a person has a true encounter with forgiveness, she or he will "inevitably" long for justice. The better a person understands grace, the more acute this longing will be. Generous Justice hopes to make this clear. Christians can learn that justice for poor and marginalized is at the centre of scripture. People who are not Christians can see that the Bible, properly understood, directs people to be just rather than oppressive.

Generous Justice is an excellent book and makes a significant contribution as I consider social justice. It helped to clarify some issues for me, while also raising issues that I hadn't considered before.

Keller's clarity on the biblical definition of injustice is most helpful in how he defines his question. The Bible seemingly make it obvious that doing justice is expected of Christ-followers. While Keller does spend some time answering the question, "Should we do justice," he quickly assumes the affirmative. This allows him to ask more complicated questions, such as "How", "Why", and "Where". Despite answering these questions in a readable book, Keller provides thought provoking answers.

It is also useful to consider Keller's concerns about the definition of justice relative to how we should use the word. While he provides a definition using The Bible - to make long-term sacrificial decisions that address the needs, concerns, and causes of marginalized people - he concedes that not everyone will agree with this definition, nor will everyone agree with what he uses as his source material for determining the definition. It is difficult to talk about "justice" because there are so many different definitions. Defining the word becomes even more problematic because it is a conversational trump card. Whoever uses the word first is typically the person who gets to set its definition for the conversation. Disagreeing with the definition is taking the side against justice. Most people do not want to be seen as unjust. I'm glad that Keller's response to this problem is not saying, "My definition is best." Instead, he challenges readers to acknowledge that discussing morality is necessary to discussing justice. This provides a launching point for the conversation, because we can debate about what our morality is, where it comes from, and how it leads to our understanding of justice.

Generous Justice also gave me an entirely new thought to consider. When planning to do justice, the church needs to understand the difference between long-term, or "permanent" poverty, and a short period of poverty. While this sounds obvious, the implications are great. Doing justice in the face of long-term poverty and injustice will be different from doing justice in cases of temporary need. This helps readers to understand the complexity of poverty and to see that our response must be just as complex.

Keller also provides a warning that I rarely think about. When discussing justice - particularly poverty - it is very easy to see poor people as always-innocent victims of oppression. Indeed, scripture often concludes that oppressing the innocent is wrong. However, by no means does The Bible indicate that poverty and virtue are synonymous. Nor does it show that a wealthy person is always a villain. Such caricatures are unhelpful when we do justice.

Power And Poverty
Power And Poverty
by Dewi Hughes
Edition: Paperback
Prix : CDN$ 27.50
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 The Most Impactful Book of Biblical Studies or Theology that I have Read, Sept. 5 2012
This review is from: Power And Poverty (Paperback)
Poverty is, generally, unnecessary. It rarely comes from a lack of natural resources or a human inability to use these resources. Instead, argues Dewi Hughes in Power and Poverty: Divine and Human Rule in a World of Need, poverty is what happens when people misuse the power with which God entrusted us. Understanding how poverty and power relate requires understanding who we are. The linkage of poverty with the misuse of power means that in addition to being a social, political, and economic issue, poverty is a spiritual issue. Hughes' book has had more impact on how I think than any other book of theology or biblical studies.

Power and Poverty presents a framework of theological ideas presented through The Bible. The Bible tells the story of God and the world. God's story shows that he created people with the capacity to rule. Today 1 billion people experience abject poverty. There is something wrong with how we use this capacity. Christianity teaches that God can redeem people. Redemption will influence how we rule, thereby affecting how we organize and govern ourselves.

Power and Poverty has an impact on how I see myself as political and how I understand myself as an advocate for social justice because Dewi Hughes is the first person that I have read to connect directly communal/societal evil with how I understand human sinfulness. As a Christian, I am not surprised that covering sin and forgiveness is necessary when discussing social justice. I overlooked this until reading Hughes' suggestion of God's redemptive plan as a means for addressing poverty. This is the primary lesson I take from this book.

It is also helpful that Hughes links God's commands with human rights (page 82). His contention is that we should not leave protection for the vulnerable and social welfare to the "charitable whims of the rich". By linking protection and provision to human rights and removing charity from the discussion, Hughes implies some difficult questions for any readers who are rich (and not just the 1-percenters). Not the least is, are we willing to rely on charitable whims to protect our other human rights, such as free speech? If we are not willing there, why are we willing to do so when addressing poverty?

Finally, I like that Hughes contributed to my thinking about how Christians and others can be co- advocates for justice. Hughes' idea that anyone - not just his fellow evangelicals - can come up with a good idea is a humble starting point for any social justice Christian (page 165). Hughes continues the idea by explaining that imperfect people cannot follow even the best plan. I think this is where Christians have something unique to offer. We believe that that God counters human sinful character (even and especially amongst Christians) with a redemptive plan. Christians can begin to explain how forgiveness and confession are invaluable to an approach ending to poverty.

God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time
God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time
by Desmond Tutu
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 A short and compelling blend of theology and spirituality with politics, Aug. 29 2012
Desmond Tutu's God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time is a short and compelling blend of theology and spirituality with politics. Tutu wrote the book to demonstrate that God does not ignore suffering. God's response to suffering is transformation and His agents of transformation are people. Tutu describes himself as a "realist" and bases his thoughts on the reality he witnessed through the Bible, history, and living during apartheid in South Africa

Tutu, a retired Archbishop, begins with a theological claim: God is in control of creation, even when he seems absent. God most likely appears absent during oppression. God is responding, however, through transformation. Surprisingly, this response begins by freeing the oppressor. A sinful person needs to be free of corruption to be a free child of God. For those already experiencing this freedom, transformation leads to forgiveness.

The theological statement "God is in control," has a political application. Tutu suggests that God created people as free creatures and asks us to follow him. The definition of person therefore includes freedom. This means two things. First, freedom must include the possibility of disobedience. Second, creation means that oppression opposes natural law. The tyrant's failure is therefore in inevitable. A properly functioning society responds to this inevitability by allowing people to experience creation-ordained freedom.

Tutu's next theological claim is that God dreams of an inseparable link amongst people. Equality is not enough because it allows people to ignore one another. Transformation makes people interdependent. God wants all human relationships to have the same characteristics as family relationships. People do not choose their family members, but connection is permanent. Family does not require absolute agreement but does require respect. Family has a willingness to share.

Again, the theological claim has a political dimension. Injustice is impossible when human relationships resemble well-functioning families. This would mean that the horrific circumstances we see as normal would stop. Resource use would not be disproportionate, someone would not die every 3.6 seconds, and children would not starve.

Tutu's next point is that God's love is unconditional and unearned. There is an unsettling follow up: God loves our enemies, so we also have to. Love for enemies comes through reconciliation. Reconciliation includes forgiveness, which is an opportunity to start over based on the hope that the transgressor can change and allow a positive relationship with the victim. Reconciliation also should include reparation if possible and necessary so that the transgressor will not continue to profit from wrongdoing. Tutu applies this truth to political enemies.

The final theological claim that Tutu makes is that we are God's only tool for justice. If we let God use us, justice will happen. People will matter more than possessions. We will cherish life. We will protect people from hunger, ignorance, and sickness. We will be gentle, caring, and compassionate. To neglect justice is blasphemy because it turns the image of God into a victim. Again, religion and politics intersect. The gospel - normally thought of as a religious topic - confronts injustice. Tutu's stance against apartheid was primarily a religious act. He stood with the weak because that is where God was standing.

The next two chapters of God Has a Dream suggest responses to these theological-political claims. The first suggestion is to stop looking at how things appear and to start looking at how things are. To do this, we need to learn from suffering by acknowledging that we do not always control suffering but do control our response. Use love to help control responses, set aside jealousy, and consciously choose positive responses to bad situations. Use humility to understand who you are and allow God to use you. Use generosity to acknowledge that everything is a gift from God so you will respond to suffering with empathy. Use courage to have a good response despite fear and threats.

The second suggestion is to allow for stillness. Stillness allows you to hear from God, which lets you become more godlike and more aware of God's presence. Three things help lead to stillness: prayer, particularly in groups; reading the Bible and understanding why and how it is relevant today; and, looking for and accepting truth - whether from religion or science.

Tutu concludes by noting that conflict comes from disputes over power. Instead of disputes, Jesus suggests an alternate use of power. Exercise power through service, compassion, gentleness, and caring. In Jesus' vision, power and servanthood are synonymous. Suffering does not indicate that God does not have a dream. Suffering indicates that we ignore it. The only way to ensure that Jesus' vision of power - that God's dream - prevails is to live as if it will. Power exists in people. Other sources - government, business, organizations - only exist because of they are groups of people. People choose to disobey God or obey God.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters
by N T Wright
Edition: Hardcover
Prix : CDN$ 31.00
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Read it carefully and let it challenge you, Aug. 22 2012
In After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, N. T. Wright considers how people who believe that Jesus is God's offer of redemption should respond to this belief. He writes primarily to Western Christians, steeped in the mistaken idea that Christianity is about getting into heaven after dying. He suggests replacing this belief with a question, What is Christianity for right now and does it impact life today? To understand his answer, readers need to understand three words: character, virtue, and wisdom.

Character is molding and sculpting the habits of life. It forms a behavioural standard. It is a pattern of thought and action, making rules unnecessary. Virtue comes from good character. It uses this pattern automatically after a life of making many good small decisions to develop character. Wisdom is knowing God. It helps people understand both God and neighbour and it places Christians in the gospel story.

After You Believe follows Simply Christian and Surprised By Hope. In these books, Wright discusses a future new creation where God joins heaven and earth. God's mechanism for unveiling this creation is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Hope is not "going to heaven." Hope is a future physical resurrection into this new creation. After You Believe continues along this line. Wright argues that the best way to understand the Christian life is to view our present lives as preparation for our future lives in God's new creation. This preparation comes by proper Christian behaviour, worship, and mission.

Such preparation is about how we understand what it means to be human. If we want develop a uniquely Christian character, the New Testament understanding of what it is to be human should shape our understanding. By adopting the New Testament's definition of human, Christians accept it as a guide to form their character.

People often have mistaken assumptions about Christian behaviour. The first mistaken assumption is that Christians must meet a list of obligations that they do not to always understand. This assumption misunderstands the purpose of rules. The second is that Christians can simply be themselves, because if our heart says something is OK it is good. This assumption neglects the hard work of forming our hearts to reflect the New Testament understanding of a human. The third is that Christians only need character to meet significant challenges. This assumption misses that character is important during all of life, rather than only in challenging times.

Wright responds to these mistakes by explaining character transformation. First, identify and aim at a proper goal. Second, identify the steps necessary to reach this goal. Third, follow these steps until they become second nature. Throughout After You Believe, Wright anticipates and answers reader's questions about this process.

Why is it important for Christians to develop character? Simply put, Christians have a task, or mission. While only one part of creation, people have a unique role as stewards. As God's image bearers, people need to reflect him to the rest of creation. When we develop character, Christians demonstrate how to reflect God.

Isn't developing character, optimistically, no different from following rules, or, pessimistically, no different from being hypocritical and image conscious? In both cases, the reality of sin means that the answer is no. Rules serve as a reminder. Rules help people avoid sin while we are working on character development. As character development increases, the need for rules decreases. Similarly, recognizing that sin is a reality is why working to develop character is not the same as hypocrisy. Acknowledging and then countering our sinful impulses is not a mask. Instead, it is a demonstration that we recognize and submit to an authority greater than our own.

What makes Christian virtue different from how other ideas about virtue? These ideas actually are similar because Jesus and the church's earliest teachers adapted an already good idea to reflect their own beliefs. This answer has two parts. First is the admission that recognizing value in other worldviews will not shake Christianity. Aristotle first suggested that virtue is evidence of character transformation. Courage, justice, prudence, and temperance are the four "cardinal" virtues. To achieve the cardinal virtues is to reach the peak of personal development. The goal of strong character is personal fulfillment. Second is the understanding that while early Christian teachers saw good in the idea of cardinal virtues and character, they needed to adapt the teaching if it was to help Christians grow in their faith. The difference in what Jesus and other early church teachers taught about virtue and character is that they are not sources of personal fulfillment. Instead, they are sources of humility. The goal of strong character is to ensure that the welfare of others.

To conclude After You Believe, Wright suggests several guides for Christians who are working on character transformation. Such guides do not provide this transformation. Instead, each provides an opportunity to make intentional choices that change life patterns. The first guide is scripture. Reading and studying scripture acknowledges our need to hear from God and our need to understand where we fit in God's narrative. The second guide is stories. Stories - whether from scripture, history, or art - help us to understand our God, our neighbours, and our selves. The third guide is examples, which show us the consequences of good and bad choices. The fourth guide is the community of people who follow God. This includes Christians everywhere, a local congregation, and smaller groups. The fifth guide is the practices of the community. There are several practices, including communion, baptism, prayer, giving money, and reading scripture together.

I am beginning to look at books of Christian ethics for more input on what it means to be a social justice Christian. I expect that these books will also expand my understanding about politics in light of my faith. After You Believe is an excellent start to this project. Three bits in particular were helpful.

First, I see value in our political system and see democracy as a tool available to social justice Christians. Wright's reminder that I need to think about how my faith co-exists with democracy therefore impressed me.[1] I considered this reminder in light of Wright's idea that Christian character limits the value of rules. How can I demonstrate Christian character in a pluralistic political system that depends on rules to protect people? The answer must recognize a tension: rules inadequately protected freedom, but having absolutely no rules corrupts freedom.

I also appreciate Wright's idea about repentance. The essence of Wright's argument in the book is that Christian life should reflect Kingdom life. This reflection will be a "Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love."[2] Not everyone - not even all Christians - is on this path. This is why a change of direction is necessary. I like that Wright's idea of character can affect social change. The character that he describes can therefore address injustice. If we want justice, a good deal of it will come when those of us on the top repent and stop stepping on those of us on the bottom. As I come up with my schemes for justice, perhaps I should ask, "Does this help people repent?"

Finally, I am happy that Wright sees social justice as the responsibility of the whole church. He explains that over the last two centuries, Western societies have attempted to separate social justice and God. The last two centuries have also seen war, totalitarianism, and revolution to address evil. Clearly, eliminating God from the discussion did not help. It is up to the church to demonstrate how God is relevant to social justice.[3] I am happy that Wright acknowledges the need of the whole church to participate, rather than just small pockets. I am a bit nervous though. He made it clear that the need for repentance is absolute. Is the church ready to confess and turn away from our own guilt in social injustice? I expect this guilt is partly why people seek justice apart from God.


[1] See page 11.
[2] See page 67.
[3] See page 231.

Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide To Faith And Politics
Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide To Faith And Politics
by Tony Campolo
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.14

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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Made me ask questions, July 17 2012
In Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith & Politics, Tony Campolo introduces what it is to be a "Red Letter Christian." Red Letter Christians guides Christians who want to see their faith influence their politics, while challenging the Christians as Republican stereotype. Campolo argues that Jesus does not fit into a particular political ideology and that attempting to make him do so creates division. Instead, Christians should vote about social issues based on their best judgement of what God's will is. Addressing social need requires political action, rather than only relying on the good work of volunteers. Simply put, it is sinful to pretend that there is no need for legislative responses to oppression and poverty.

Campolo begins his book by explaining who Red Letter Christians are and how to make the red letters of the Bible (the words of Jesus) a guide for political life. He concludes by providing "ground rules" for Red Letter Christians as they approach politics. In the middle, Campolo addresses specific issues, divided into the categories: The Global Issues, The Hot-Button Issues, The Economic Issues, and The Government Issues. This review, and my question "What does this book teach me about social justice," will focus on the beginning and ending portions of the book. Campolo is writing from an American perspective about an American system. While the middle parts of the book do have some universal value, part one, part five, and the final chapter of part four are most applicable to me as a Canadian trying to approach social justice in the Canadian system.

Who are Red Letter Christians? They are Christians who share theological views with Evangelicals, believing that scripture is the inspired word of God and that Jesus of Nazareth can have a saving and life-changing impact on people alive today. They are Red Letter because they are dedicated to social justice. This dedication means that they are closely involved in a range of political issues, but put a particular emphasis on legislation designed to serve poor or oppressed people.

Campolo outlines what he calls "a biblical approach to politics." His outline is based on the idea that Jesus has initiated the Kingdom of God and that this Kingdom includes salvation for people and a transformed society. This kingdom is breaking into the world now. Unfortunately, much of the contemporary Western Church does not see that the Gospel as incomplete when salvation for people is not paired with the transformation of society. God uses the church to see his Kingdom come to fruition. The church is therefore responsible to participate in social institutions to stand for social justice and explain God's role in justice. Politics is part of the mission of the church because the "principalities and powers" that Christians oppose include social structures. Politics is the tool for addressing social structures.

To approach politics properly, Red Letter Christians must make three choices. First, Red Letter Christians should choose to be loyal to issues instead of parties. This is because on some issues, Red Letter Christians will resemble liberals and on other issues, conservatives. Second, Red Letter Christians should choose authority over power. Power comes from strength. Authority comes from sacrificial service. Authority, therefore, is earned and confronts power. Third, Red Letter Christians choose to be knowledgeable instead of ignorant. Authority is useless without enough knowledge to contribute.

Campolo also suggests what a Red Letter Christian's ideal candidate could look like. Red Letter Christians can identify "the right kind of candidate" by asking a few questions. First, does the candidate use division to gather support by putting one group against another? If so, avoid this candidate and work for their defeat. Second, how does the candidate define freedom and does this definition allow people to fulfill their purpose as God's creation? Third, does the candidate have a biblical stance on social issues? This does not mean asking, "Is the candidate a Christian?" Instead, it means looking at what the candidate does about specific issues and seeing whether these actions are in line with biblical teaching. Fourth, is the candidate trustworthy enough to address government corruption? It is important for Red Letter Christians to consider carefully who to vote for. Failing to vote or failing to vote critically allows other people to decide what political morality is.

Campolo concludes his book with three "ground rules" for Red Letter Christians. First, Red Letter Christians should not use insults or vilify people with opposing political opinions. Second, Red Letter Christians should take stances, but should also acknowledge that they might be wrong. Third, Red Letter Christians should look for areas of agreement with other Christians and, when appropriate, approach these areas politically.

Red Letter Christians is useful as I think about social justice both in what the book teaches me and in the questions that it makes me ask. I'll begin with what I learned. Campolo shows that knowledge is a choice. Further, it is essential to speak with authority. I cannot simply appeal to morality because I may need to demonstrate why something is a moral issue. I struggle with the phrases "social justice" and "social justice Christian." Campolo's demonstration that knowledge is crucial for political engagement makes me even more convinced that these identifiers are not helpful. To speak with authority, I need to have knowledge about specific issues, rather than simply "justice." This means that I will likely know little or nothing about most significant matters of justice and I need to accept that.

Campolo also added to what I know in a couple of areas that I had previously considered. First, the political system is an indispensable tool for justice. I've long believed that politics were an important tool, but I'm now convinced that justice is impossible apart from a political response. This is mostly from Campolo's claim that principalities and powers include unjust systems. I doubt we can remove or fix a bad system without putting good system in its place. Something will fill the hole. Second, vilification of an opponent is a significant temptation in political discussions. I need to be constantly wary of this while I discuss social justice. Calling social justice a moral issue necessarily implies that someone is being immoral. Vilifying dialogue partners, however, makes it difficult to convince them of my position. It also makes it impossible for me to acknowledge the possibility that I could be wrong (which Campolo tells Red Letter Christians to do in a debate). How likely am I to listen to people who tell me that I am a twit and that they are absolutely correct? Not very. I do wish he provided more guidance on how to confront sinful policies.

Finally, I want to note what Campolo made me ask. His discussion about power vs. authority led me to wonder whether Christians can ethically hold positions of power. Nothing I read here has convinced me that we cannot, but there does seem to be an implication. The question remains, is it easier to act morally when in an opposition party than it is in government? Further, what happens if a person has enough authority that people give them power? It is difficult to run for Leader of the Opposition.

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