Speaking of Christianity: Practical Compassion, Social Justice, and Other Wonders

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Speaking of Christianity: Practical Compassion, Social Justice, and Other Wonders

  1. Review

    Several years ago theologian Murray Joseph Haar, in an article in Theology Today (April 15, 1995), wrote that he had "observed a sickness within the American church." He diagnosed the sickness as "a rampant, individualistic, self-serving redemptionism." The sickness is manifest in the "a certain faith" that "God came in Jesus to benefit ‘you.’ He died for ‘you.’ He is here for ‘you.’ He forgives ‘you.’ He loves ‘you.’ He wants ‘you’ to decide to accept him as ‘your’ personal saviour." This sickness is evidence that the Church has allowed itself to be absorbed into a culture dominated by an ideology of radical individualism.

    Anglican theologian Kenneth Leech highlights the issue when he writes, "In our day Christianity is widely seen as a religion of personal pronouns, a purely individual faith; and this understanding is felt to be traditional though it is in fact of recent origin. The traditional social doctrine of orthodox Christianity has been largely forgotten and replaced by an individualistic theology."

    Robert McAfee Brown, Professor Emeritus of Theology and Ethics at the Pacific Schools of Religion in Berkeley, California, is an experienced doctor of the church who has spent his life ‘evangelizing’ the church with the social vision of Jesus. If his prescription, illustrated by the essays which form this book, was taken regularly, the church might be cured of its sickness.

    Part I am entitled "God, Sex, and Other Signs and Wonders." These essays are designed to be a reminder that God can be encountered in the life of the mind, in the way we deal with catastrophe, in the experience of worship that "departs from the bounds of the expected," in the "healing balm" of music, and in the "challenge and creativity experienced in sexual relations."

    Part II is entitled "Religion and Politics, Religion as Politics". Based upon his view that the Bible is "the most demanding, upsetting, and radical political tract the world has ever had to confront", Brown has essays on political idols, the role of dissent, a Protestant view of justice, the strategy of resistance to "powers that threaten people and God’s creative work in the world" and the vision of a just and compassionate society.

    He calls Part 111, "Living and Dying and Preaching in Times of Crisis." Here are examples of "speaking of Christianity" by two martyrs, Archbishop Romero of El Salvador and Father Joao Bosco Burnier, S.J. of Brazil. There is an essay on the controversial conference on "Re-imaging God, the community, the church" held in 1993. Brown shares a Christmas Eve sermon during the bombing of Hanoi and a sermon on "Becoming Peacemakers in Time of War", preached during the military buildup for the bombing of Iraq in 1991.

    Part IV is entitled "A Broader and Deeper Ecumenism." The word "ecumenism", originally meant "the inhabited world". It is now commonly used to describe the movement to overcome the divisions of different denominations, with church unity as the goal. Brown extends the use of the word to include the effort to overcome "all kinds of divisions such as class and race . . . " He suggests some ways people of different religious orientations can work together in a day of multiculturalism. He devotes a chapter to what we can learn from the holocaust and how we, as Christians, can use our shame to declare "Never again." He writes of "doing ecology" from a theological perspective. He points to some new directions for "what used to be called evangelism" and provides a recipe from a "New Ecumenical Cookbook.". Undergirding these essays is his conviction that "Contemporary and future patterns of evangelism must keep individual and social concerns interrelated. Without that foundation, both our individual and our social concerns will flounder."

    This is a refreshing, bracing book, illustrative of a social spirituality that is relevant and transforming.

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