Christian Writings: A Reader by Andrew Bradstock, Christopher Rowland
(Blackwell) There has long been a tradition in the Christian church which has
discerned in the scriptures an imperative towards radical political action.
Beginning with the Fathers and their writings on the community of goods, it can
be traced through the mystics of the middle ages and radical reformers and
Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to Christian socialists,
liberation theologians and social activists of more recent times.
Though remarkable for their incisiveness, originality and distinctive theological perspective, these writings have often failed to reach a wide readership. Bradstock and Rowland have now brought more than sixty extracts together in this one volume, including some which have been newly translated and many which have long been unavailable. This has resulted in a unique and immensely valuable resource, which includes letters, sermons, poems, liturgies and other writings from the third- to the twenty-first century.
This volume, which fills a gap in the current literature, will be an essential resource for third-year undergraduates and above in Biblical studies, political theology, Church history and political theory
The Social Gospel Today by Christopher Hodge Evans (Westminster John Knox Press) The social gospel has been making an impact on churches and individuals for almost a century. My own experience serves as a single example. Some time ago during my seminary studies, I chose Walter Rauschenbusch's A Theology for the Social Gospel as one of the required primary texts I would review in my historical theology course. Having come from a very conservative, pietistic background, I thought it was important that I learn firsthand about some of the writings of "liberal" theologians.
Although this experience of reading A Theology for the Social Gospel took place almost fifty years after its publication, it was a transforming event. The Bible had always been authoritative for me, and no part of it was more authoritative than the life and teachings of Jesus. I had understood it to teach of individual sin and salvation. Christ came to provide the way of salvation from sin for all individuals who would repent of sin and believe in him.
Rauschenbusch did not deny any of my prior understanding, but he did assert that it was a truncated understanding. Having seen the great needs as he served as pastor of the German Baptist Church on the edge of Hell's Kitchen in New York City, he set forth his clarion call for the movement in 1907 with the publication of Christianity and the Social Crisis. There and in his subsequent work, he argued that a gospel of individual salvation was only a half gospel, for the gospel had social dimensions as well. He pointed out that Jesus continued the call of the prophets for justice and mercy by proclaiming the coming kingdom of God in which unconditional love would eventually triumph over all obstacles in society. Rauschenbusch called on the church to respond to Jesus' call for bringing in the kingdom of God and to struggle for its realization. Such an understanding of the gospel was a revelation to me.
I also learned that Rauschenbusch held together both piety and social action. He refused to give up one for the other. He viewed them both as necessary for the life of the church. Rauschenbusch's favorite of all his works was his book of prayers, For God and the People: Prayers of the Social Awakening.
Although some of the language and issues appeared dated, the prayers still soared with beauty and timeless truths. As I struggled with the development of my own theology during my seminary pilgrimage, certainly I did not fully embrace all aspects of the social gospel any more than I embraced all aspects of its underlying liberal theology. Much of it appeared dated. Many of the presuppositions from its cultural milieu were problematic. Nevertheless, that encounter with Rauschenbusch changed my perspective forever.
This book is a call to allow the social gospel to speak to our current context much as I found Rauschenbusch speaking to my context several years ago. It is a call to encounter the social gospel again. It does not suggest that we accept all its ideas or presuppositions, nor does it advocate that we go back to the social gospel‑quite the contrary. Rather, it proposes that we consider again the messages of some of its proponents to find their relevance for our lives in the church today. Perhaps, if we will listen to its message again through these pages, the social gospel can provide us with fresh insights and enriched perspectives and become for us again a new revelation.
Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing by Dennis A. Jacobsen (Fortress) is an introductory theology of congregation-based community organizing rooted in the day-to-day struggles and hopes of urban ministry and in the authors 14 years of personal experience in community organizing ministries.
Drawing from the organizing principles of Saul Alinsky, Jacobsen weaves the theological and biblical warrants for community organizing into concrete strategies for achieving justice in the public arena. Designed to be used by congregations and church leaders, as well as by ministerial students, Doing Justice opens new vistas for community action in support of the poor, the disadvantaged, and the disenfranchised of our society.
God and the Excluded: Visions and Blindspots in Contemporary Theology by Joerg Rieger (Fortress) Theology is fracturing along tension lines once hidden by the great modern consensus that reigned from Schleiermacher's day till our own. Now, all of it is in dispute: its starting point, its self-awareness, its claim to truth, its method and interaction with other disciplines and institutions in church, academy and society.
Rieger offers an enlightening way to understand the chief strands or options in theology today and a valuable proposal for resituating theology around the crucial issue of inclusion. He sees four competing vectors at work in Christian today's theology: Theology of Identity (liberal theology, represented by Schleiermacher and founded in the self), Theology of Difference (dialectical theology, represented by Barth and founded in the Wholly Other), Theology and the Postmodern (postcritical theology, represented by Lindbeck and founded on the text), and Theology and the Underside (liberation theologies, represented by North American feminist theology).
Further, Rieger goes on to propose that each of these is in some way exclusionary and elitist; the mass of humanity and the globe's most pressing problems do not invade this cathedral, and in some ways the market itself has replaced God. Religious thought can remain viable only when it is grounded in an openness that reaches beyond the global market and postmodern squabbles, critiques its own complicity in the situation, and resituates itself in express commitment to those left out of today's "gated community."
ALTARS IN THE STREET: A Neighborhood Fights to Survive by Melody Ermachild Chavis
$23.00, hardcover, 257 pages
ALTARS IN THE STREET is the personal chronicle of Melody Ermachild Chavis, who bought a house in what was a quiet interracial neighborhood on the south side of Berkeley, California, but which became a place where drugs and violence were growth industries. It is about the life of a mother trying with other mothers to raise children in a dangerous world. Full of realistic hope and a keen social sense this inspiring story tells how she and her neighbors found ways of working with each other, the youngsters, the elderly, the unemployed, the addicts, the drunks, and even the police and the drug dealersin a courageous effort to preserve their homes and their lives. It teaches community action we can all adopt, such as tutoring at local schools, encouraging teenagers to start a gardening project, and accompanying them to court when they find themselves in trouble. This book illustrates our collective responsibility for bringing about healing. It is a brave and wonderful wake-up call, full of the nitty-gritty of how each of us can make a difference when push really does come to shove. Drawing on deep reserves of good humor, common sense, and practical experience of nonviolent action, Melody Ermachild Chavis has written a moving testament to the power of spirit in todays often cynical world.
ALTARS IN THE STREET is for people who live in cities and those who have fled them. It will speak to anyone who cares about the future of our children, our neighborhoods, and our nation, anyone who wants to look truthfully at the relationship between poverty and prisons, and between community and education. It is also for those who seek to put spirituality to work where it really countson the frontlines of their homes. Highly recommended.
Chavis is a private investigator who works on trials and appeals for death row inmates. She has served as cochair of the Berkeley Community Partnership for Substance Abuse Prevention and has been honored by the Berkeley Commission on the Status of Women for her outstanding contribution to the community. She is a youth justice advocate who volunteers with a community gardening program for youth at risk. A student of Zen Buddhism, she is a member of the board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She is a mother and grandmother, and lives with her husband in Northern California.
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