OFF THE SHELF THE JUSTICE PROJECT
reform? Why not? Have you ever stopped to think about the context for God’s oft-quoted words from Jeremiah 29:11: Edited by Brian McLaren, “I know the plans I have for you, plans Elisa Padilla, to prosper you and not to harm you, and Ashley Bunting Seeber plans to give you hope and a future”? Baker Books Do you think nonprofits are the only agencies that can do justice, or can busiReviewed by Erika Bai Siebels nesses do justice, too? Do you know For those of us who consider ourselves where your food comes from? Your informed veterans of justice — and for energy? Why should these things matter? those of us who are well-read and well- These are just a few of the questions intentioned but make good excuses about that will get you musing once you start why we don’t take the time to do jus- the book. You might also find yourself thinktice — The Justice Project provides a wealth of stories to challenge our assumptions. ing about eye-jabbing quotes like this Essay after essay reveals what God has one, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: to say about justice, God’s heart for “If you are neutral in a situation of justice, where the church in North injustice, you have chosen the side of the America has gone wrong in violating oppressor.” Rather than outlining and whining justice (our relationship with land, Native peoples, and energy is just a start), and about all the injustices we face (both how we can take steps toward finding a historically and currently), the book encourages us with stories of Christtrue sense of justice. Have you ever considered what and followers who are doing something to whom you’re supporting when you buy combat deforestation, apathy, and a sleepa certain product? Do you vote on a ing church that needs to be awakened single issue when it comes time for elec- to care about the poor and the “least of tion, and is that issue campaign finance these” — because God does and because we must. How can we get there? The authors offer glimpses into their own struggles to better discern and do justice. Some common themes emerge. Listen — even when you don’t want to, even when you’d rather get up and walk away, especially when you think you’ll be offended. Invite others to the table to tell their stories and hear them out, recognizing the other as a fellow sojourner created in the image of God, not as an enemy. Repent. Be humble. Lead by serving. Love, like Christ did, even unto death. n
Jesus & Justice By Peter G. Heltzel Yale University Press Reviewed by Mae Elise Cannon
Written with rhythm and style, Jesus & Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics offers a sharp critical analysis of the progression of evangelicalism and its expression in the public square. Heltzel addresses the historical significance of two primary streams of evangelicalism at the intersection of theology and politics while uprooting America’s “original sin” — racism. He highlights the teaching and praxis of two prominent Christian leaders, Carl F. H. Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr., acknowledging their contributions toward public dialogue and modern-day perceptions of the intersection between faith and justice as well as their continued influence through subsequent evangelical movements. King is traditionally viewed from the framework of black Protestant liberalism, but Heltzel suggests that this unnecessarily limits King and neglects to acknowledge the parallels of King’s theology to evangelicalism. Heltzel expands the scope of the evangelical tradition by redefining its genealogy to be more inclusive of other prophetic black Christian voices, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Fanny Lou Hamer, and others. He argues that these voices emerge from the underbelly of the evangelical community while inspiring transformation through their prophetic witness, call to justice, and peaceful advocacy for social reform. King manifested these attributes and placed emphasis on both Erika Bai Siebels is trying to figure out how personal and systematic transformation to do justice in her neighborhood in Troy, in pursuit of his beloved community. N.Y. and has written about restorative justice Heltzel asserts that out of the suffering for PRISM. of enslaved African Americans hope emerged in the theological truth of Jesus PRISM 2010
and his teachings. King, an example of this heritage of black suffering, rested on the truth that “Jesus Christ was the stone of hope, a refuge in the storm, and an inspiring example of the nonviolent struggle for justice.” From King’s legacy a stream of evangelical movements arose that were committed to both personal transformation and social reform. Jesus & Justice tells the story of two such movements: the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) and Sojourners/ Call to Renewal. John Perkins, cofounder of CCDA, is one of the pioneer leaders of “prophetic evangelicalism.” Similarly, Jim Wallis, a white social activist, has been compelled by his faith to put justice into action through advocacy and political engagement. Both Perkins and Wallis exemplify the prophetic evangelicalism that emerged out of King’s legacy, placing emphasis on Christ as the one who suffers with and is the perfect embodiment of both love and justice. Carl F. H. Henry was also a pioneer of the Christian faith and was considered by many to be the “theological
architect of evangelicalism.” If King’s influence was from the underbelly of the evangelical movement, Henry’s was at its very core. As both a theology professor at Fuller Seminary and the editor of Christianity Today, Henry carried great influence as a public theologian, leading the way for a conservative stream of evangelicalism. His legacy contributed to the emergence of several Christian movements, including Focus on the Family and the National Association of Evangelicals. While Henry’s emphasis was on the kingdom of God and personal righteousness, he expressed an uneasy conscience about racism and injustice. Although not actively involved in the civil rights movement, Henry used his voice to call for increased evangelical involvement in social action through public policy and other methods of reform. His theology acknowledged God’s heart for justice and for racial equality, but his own personal life did not manifest significant social action. He failed to acknowledge institutional racism and did little to rectify the horrors of racial inequality and injustice. Heltzel offers a strong and well-substantiated critique of Henry and his influence upon white evangelicalism and its failure to develop “theological vision, social analysis, and collective motivation” in response to the problem of racism. Despite Henry’s and other white evangelical’s negligence, Heltzel leaves the reader with great hope that a new stream of evangelicalism is emerging. Jesus & Justice is convincing in its argument that evangelicalism must be viewed in its historical context of white oppression and black suffering. Heltzel says, “Evangelicalism is singing and listening to the blues; it is evolving and growing green.” The blues represent the horrors and tragedy of black suffering, and the green shows the growing holism of evangelicalism inclusive of the ideas of peace and justice.With the intePRISM 2010
gration of these two streams, we are reminded that “Evangelicalism is moving, and moving quickly, to embody justice around the world.” n Mae Elise Cannon is executive pastor of Hillside Covenant Church in Walnut Creek, Calif., and the author of The Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (IVP, 2009).
Trails of Hope and Terror By Miguel A. De La Torre Orbis Books Reviewed by Glen Peterson Social ethics professor Miguel de la Torre takes immigration reform to the desert, transforming it from dry policy debate to complex and compelling stories about real people. Along with fellow professors and students from Denver’s Iliff School of Theology, De La Torre walks the Sonoran desert to meet migrants and learn why they immigrate, then trans-
lates and tells their stories with passion. The testimonies found in Trails of Hope are deeply personal.We meet folks who undertake long journeys to cross international borders at great risk of injury and even death — people whose children need to be fed, whose livelihoods are destroyed by global economic forces beyond their control, whose hometowns are void of opportunities for economic improvement. This book is not designed as a case for one side of an argument; nor is it an intellectual exercise from the ivory tower of academia. It is a call to action, a call for justice and compassion. The book also includes testimonies of those who provide water and first aid to migrants in near-death situations — aid that comes too late for some. It shares stories about human smugglers, vigilantes trying to enforce their own interpretation of the laws, border patrol agents barely trained for the difficulties of their jobs, ranchers and property owners from both sides of the border, church workers, theologians, students, and the family members of immigrants. While the book raises many questions and offers few answers, one thing is made clear from this cloud of witnesses: A humanitarian crisis is being played out daily along the US/Mexico border. Trails of Hope and Terror is organized along such topics as borders, economics, myths, families, the politics of fear, varying perspectives, and ethical responses. A poem, prayer, or song accompanies each chapter. De La Torre seeks corresponding themes in the biblical testimony of migrating people, such as the narratives of Abraham and Lot, in which arrogance, overabundance, and unconcern for the poor and the sojourner incurred God’s wrath.The history of the Hebrew people’s liberation — migrant people who were mistreated as slaves in Egypt — is a constant reminder of God’s concern for those considered foreigners. The
story of Joseph and Mary, who fled to protect their firstborn from the murderous hand of an insecure tyrant king, demonstrates God’s empathy for and identification with immigrants. “In the act of God becoming human,” writes De La Torre, “God redraws the borders between people, making strangers into neighbors and aliens into members of a common family.” n Glen Peterson is a writer, catalyst, and activist living in Southern California where he volunteers for Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and is a consultant with capacitypartnership.com. He writes about immigration reform at LeviticusTwentyFour22. blogspot.com.
WHEN HELPING HURTS By Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert Moody Publishers Reviewed by Rodolpho Carrasco “Have you ever done anything to hurt poor people?” asks Dr. John Perkins in the foreword to the timely book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. Evangelical America is awash in books calling for greater engagement in ministry to the poor via direct help and social justice advocacy. Much of the material in these books is introductory, focusing on the theological case for holistic gospel engagement and then providing starting points for ministry. But not many approach the topic with a narrative thread that constantly returns to the core premise that not all help is helpful. How can help not help? Here’s how: In the introduction, co-author Brian Fikkert tells of “helping” a suffering woman in Kampala, Uganda, by ponying up $8 so she could purchase penicillin. The penicillin was needed — long story PRISM 2010
short — to fight an infection she had developed after asking her neighbor (who complied) to treat her tonsillitis by cutting out her tonsils with a kitchen knife. Fikkert felt great about it at the time, but the realization eventually dawned on him that his help had undermined the local believers with whom the woman related.The purpose of this book is to explain how his help (and similar efforts) didn’t — in the long run — help. But I’ll give you a little spoiler here. Fikkert writes that he “failed to consider the local assets that already existed in this slum, assets that included small amounts of money, a church, a pastor, and the social bonds of the 100 refugees attending the small-business class” that he had journeyed to Uganda to teach over a two-week period. “The truth is that there was more than enough time to walk back to the church... and ask people there to help. While the refugees were extremely poor, they could have mustered the eight cents per person to pay for the penicillin,” thus deepening a bond of relationship among people who would continue to live
together long after he left the scene. Applying long-term solutions in times of short-term crisis — that’s the challenge for believers who desire to be used effectively by God. From this starting point, Fikkert and co-author Steve Corbett provide background, theology, and practical experience that will help churches, small groups, and individuals to grasp concepts that appear basic but are difficult to implement in practice. Their definition of poverty as broken relationships in four spheres (with God, self, others, and creation) will help readers assess the effectiveness of their own ministries and outreach efforts. Asset-based development, do’s and don’ts of short-term missions, and overviews of current practices in wealth generation and poverty alleviation are right on target. The practical experience of the authors is bedrock to this approach. I’ve been in the poverty-fighting trenches for decades. Some things you understand only as you do them. This book will not replace experience. But inasmuch as concepts for effective poverty alleviation can be taught didactically, When Helping Hurts does the trick. In the words of Dr. Amy Sherman,“While accessible to beginners, [this book] is rich with insights for veterans, too.” I concur. n
A Story of Rhythm and Grace By Jimi Calhoun Brazos Reviewed by J.D. Buhl If you own Dr. John’s breakthrough album, Gumbo, then you know Jimi Calhoun. That the former bassist does not mention this 1972 classic until page 73 illustrates why the tempo lags in his well-intentioned book. He wants his past to serve only as support for his present as a pastor, church planter, and missionary in the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and for what he has to tell the evangelical community today. While written in an easygoing, first-person style, this is not a memoir. Every drop of a name, every memory of a gig must be justified. “They are intended to be much more than just tidbits of inside information” about his early years, he states, but such control over his material locks up the funk he was known for. Consequently, Rhythm and Grace: What the Church Can Learn
Rodolpho Carrasco is a contributing editor to PRISM, an associate director at Partners Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a board member of TechMission. He served for 19 years at Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif., an urban ministry providing programs for African American and Latino young people. Sign up (ESA-online.org) for ESA’s ePistle, the free weekly electronic newsletter that provides timely action alerts, updates, and commentary in four topical areas.
from Rock & Roll about Healing the Racial Divide lacks a groove. His concern is “race casting,” that unconscious maintenance of comfort and culture that, while not overt discrimination, makes for our modern obsession with “interpreting all human interaction through skin-colored lenses.” Such a topic is most effectively communicated by personal anecdotes and examples; here Calhoun is on the beat. “When I was a kid,” he muses, “I used to wonder what white Christians thought was going to happen once they went to heaven.” His guess — that they imagined a paradise divided into “designated areas for each different race to congregate” — says much about the skincolored shades the church continues to wear. “Race casting has caused whites to not see blacks for who they are, and blacks to not see who they can become,” he warns. This leads to his second topic, racialization, that which “predetermines which areas each race comes to accept as ‘theirs.’” Calhoun is not certain that race, as it is usually thought of, even exists. From the many personal stories he shares he constructs a parallel world where concepts of difference fail to dominate. In rock music, those engaged have something else they are immediately concerned with. The moment brings its own priorities, and things like skin color or physical appearance are just not as important as the business at hand. Calhoun wishes that Christians were so engrossed in furthering the kingdom of God that creaturely diversity would cease to be such a distraction.The antidote to racialization is not increased attention to race matters, but “becoming free of the word ‘race’ as a noun and an adjective.” n J.D. Buhl is a regular contributor to PRISM’s music column. See his review of Diane Birch on the next page.
Asking hard questions about justice; evangelicals, race, and American politics; testimonies on immigration; how to alleviate poverty without...