Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Defining Fantasy and Science Fiction

Fantasy and Science Fiction are distinct-but-related genres of fictitious literature, both belonging to the larger category of speculative fiction.  Fantasy is a modern term for fictional literature set in worlds wherein magic works and where there are often supernatural beings (e.g., djinn or genii, ghosts, demons, vampires, nymphs, dryads, goddesses and/or gods, etc.) or creatures from mythology (e.g., elves, dwarves, giants, dragons, etc.).  Major characters often have supernatural abilities or magical devices (e.g., rings, swords, harps, lamps, flying carpets, etc.).  Fantasy draws from many ancient mythologies, texts from extinct religions (and sometimes from living religions), fairy tales, medieval  romances and legends, but, unlike these earlier works (which often serve as source material), modern fantasy is deliberately composed by one or more authors not as history, but as entertainment–the fantastic elements are not expected to be believed by either the author(s) or readers.  Although people often refer to “sexual fantasies,” fantasy literature is not usually a written form of pornography; the term for that “literature” is erotic fiction.  (This is not to say that fantasy literature aimed at adult readers may not entail elements of romance or even of the erotic–but this is not the focus and because of the wide age range of readers, love scenes seldom become overly graphic.)

What distinguishes fantasy from science fiction is that the latter attempts to base all fantastic elements on principles from known science or to give a plausible scientific explanation for the fantastic elements.  Usually, the laws of the universe in science fiction either function in ways known to contemporary science or the changes are cautious and a scientific or pseudo-scientific explanation is attempted.  (For this reason, despite the genetically altered indigenous lizards of Pern, that the colonists from earth named “dragons,” Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” books are science fiction and not fantasy, as McCaffrey herself would argue.) 

The two literary genres do sometimes overlap and, when this happens, the result is often called science fantasy.  The currently most famous example of science fantasy are the films in George Lucas’ “Star Wars” saga which include science fiction elements (starships, laser weapons, advanced technology, robots/droids, holograms, alien races, etc.) but also elements of fantasy (e.g., the powers of the Jedi Knights and the Sith Lords; a “quest” structure and a cosmic battle between good and evil, etc.).  Other major examples  of science fantasy include Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Barsoom” novels in which the “Mars” to which Captain John Carter of Virginia is transported bears little resemblance to the Mars known by astronomers; C.S. Lewis’ “Space Trilogy,” Lin Carter’s “Callisto” books, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover stories and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.  The great pioneer of modern science fiction was 19th C. French author, Jules Verne (e. g., 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; The Mysterious Island; From Earth to Moon; Around the World in 20 Days, etc.)

In later posts, I will outliine the major sources of modern fantasy, an overview of the history of the genre (especially the pioneers of the 19th and early 20th centuries), and outline some of the sub-genres within fantasy literature (e.g., “heroic, high, or epic ” fantasy; historical fantasy; alternate timeline fantasies; gothic and horror stories; sword and sorcery tales; “dark” fantasy; contemporary fantasy; humorous fantasy;  urban fantasy.  I may also compose a post outlining a brief history of science fiction and some of its sub-genres.

Since I believe imagination is crucial to both religious faith and moral discernment, I encourage wide reading in this literature, regardless of the particular religious commitments (or lack thereof) of the author(s).  I am also convinced that both fantasy and science fiction are excellent vehicles for exploring moral, philosophical, and spiritual questions, although this should never be so heavy-handed as to dominate the narrative structure.  The story must first work AS literature.  Far too many Christian apologists with no real literary ability and boringly dogmatic outlooks have wasted trees in attempts as “Christian fantasy,” believing falsely that they are the next C.S. Lewis. (Left Behind and all its sequels should be LEFT OUT. Ugh!)

June 15, 2009 Posted by | arts, books, fantasy fiction, science-fiction | 6 Comments

Top 20 Fantasy Novels/Series

I like both Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.   (I mean classic, heroic fantasy, not the ramblings of a political pundit. 🙂 ) So do my family members.  My daughter, Molly (14), found the website, Fantasy 100, listing what it considers the “Top 100 Fantasy Novels Of All Time.”  It’s a good list, but I don’t agree with the rankings.  To rank Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series 4th, but Richard Adams’ Watership Down only 19th seems absurd to me–unless the site is just tracking sales in which case it ought to rename the list, “Most POPULAR Fantasy novels.”

My own, purely subjective, list of the top 20 Fantasy novels/series follows.  Since I consider fantasy to be a separate genre from science fiction (there can be overlap–as in some of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover stories), I am only listing pure fantasy works here.  I might write another post on favorite “hard science” fiction works .I invite readers to list their own favorite works of fantasy. UPDATE: I have slightly rearranged the original rankings after further reflection.

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (a novel in 3 volumes).  Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation is visually stunning and fun, but misses much of the moral depth of the novels.  Although I find Tolkien’s other Middle Earth novels, The Silmarillon, etc., interesting because of the light they shed on him and his world, they lack the narrative power of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
  2. T. H. White, The Once and Future King (adaptation of the Arthurian legend).  Based on Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, this is the great Arthurian novel that was the basis for both the Disney movie, The Sword in the Stone and the Broadway musical Camelot. (No, ’60s fans, Camelot was NOT an intentional allegory about the Kennedy administration.  It’s only that, after JFK’s assassination, far too many romantics kept seeing parallels where there weren’t any. )
  3. Stephen Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever and The Second Chronicles of Thomas CovenantDonaldson has a tougher, grimmer, vision than Tolkien, but there may be even more moral depth to his characters and stories. Especially compelling is the character of Thomas Covenant, a novelist who contracts Hansen’s Disease, popularly known as leprosy, an anti-hero who struggles with power and powerlessness, faith and unbelief, and the struggle to be loyal to the people he meets in an alternate universe (the magical Land) while also keeping faith with his view of sanity and reality.  The moral power of beauty and care for life and living things is a deep theme of the books.
  4. Richard Adams, Watership Down.  The concept of rabbits having a mythology and culture is odd, but the story is deeply gripping and helps one see the natural world in ways that illumine our world.
  5. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in TimeThe sequels, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and A Wind in the Door aren’t as good, but still worth reading.
  6. Ursula LeGuin, A Wizard of EarthseaThe other Earthsea novels don’t match the power of the first, but are still very much worth reading.  LeGuin is a contrast to the deeply Christian outlook of Lewis and Tolkien or even L’Engle and Donaldson who also have Christian influences. LeGuin calls herself an inconsistent Taoist and a consistent NON-Christian and that comes out in her books, but they are great reading–and I am one Christian parent who believes in exposing my children to several rival worldviews.  The other Earthsea novels are The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, The Other Wind.
  7. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter series.  Some will wonder why I haven’t rated the wildly popular series higher.  The stories are great and I’m glad my kids introduced me to them, but they haven’t yet stood the test of time–not even the test of whether I, personally, still like them ten years or so after first reading them.
  8. Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series of 5 novels which interweave the Merlin and Arthur legends with “modern” (1960s era) British children.
  9. Walter Wangerin, The Book of the Dun Cow.  Written by a Lutheran minister, this is a great fantasy set in a barnyard where the hero is a cussedly endearing rooster and the dun-colored cow is an angel-figure.
  10. Mercedes Lackey, Last Herald Mage Trilogy (Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Promise, Magic’s Price).  I like almost all of Mercedes Lackey’s books, but this is her best work.  In addition to being a fine work of fantasy, with moral reflections on power and responsibility and sacrifice, it is also a great “coming out” tale of a young man discovering that he is gay–and the struggles to accept himself and get his very homophobic family to accept him, too.  When Mercedes Lackey wrote these books in the early ’90s, there was little or nothing like this in fantasy genre.  It was much needed–and at least one young person I know was helped to  avoid suicide.
  11. Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon, Arthurian legend from a feminist perspective.
  12. C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia.  Not all even in quality, but Lewis manages to include the Christian allegorical allusions without being heavyhanded or forgetting that the story must come first.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and A Horse and His Boy are the best in the series.
  13. Philip Pullman, “His Dark Materials” Trilogy, The Golden Compass (U.K. title, The Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass.  Pullman is a self-declared secular humanist and his works have been greatly criticized as “atheism for children” by the likes of James Dobson.  They do present a worldview that is highly critical of religious beliefs, but, again, children should wrestle with all viewpoints–and the books are VERY well written.
  14. Tamora Pierce, Becka Cooper series (Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff (due out 2010).  Like Mercedes Lackey, I think Tamora Pierce is one of the best fantasy writers currently in the biz., but most of her heroines and heroes come from upper-class aristocratic backgrounds.  Becka Cooper, by contrast, is a child of the streets turned “dog,” the nickname of the Provost Marshall’s Guards (primitive police). 
  15. Stephen King, The Dark Tower Series.  There are 7 novels, but the only boxed set so far is for 1-4.  So, the novels in the series are: The Gunslinger;The Drawing of the Three  The Waste Lands ; Wizard and GlassWolves of the CallaSong of Susannah;  The Dark TowerKing is far more famous for his many gothic and horror novels (although some cross over into science fiction), but this great series creates an alternate universe that is almost a cross between Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the wild west as imagined by Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti Westerns” (mostly starring Clint Eastwood). King pits a gunslinger named Roland against a “man in black” that is nothing like Johnny Cash!  There is also a Dark Tower series of graphic novels.
  16. Patricia A. McKillip, Riddlemaster Trilogy, (The Riddlemaster of Hed; Heir of Sea and Fire; Harpist in the Wind).  Brilliant and far from formulaic, with surprise twists and turns.
  17. Katherine Kurtz, The Chronicles of the Deryni.  I love all  Kurtz’ Deryni books, but especially this first trilogy (Deryni Rising, Deryni  Checkmate, High Deryni).  Kurtz’ world is a fantasy version of Medieval Wales (Gwynedd), complete with a Medieval Catholic Church Militant; Moors (Muslims); a sundered Eastern church;and a persecuted race of magicians known as the “Deryni.”
  18. Jim Butcher’s novels of Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook.  Dresden is a practising wizard who works as a private investigator and a consultant for the Chicago Police Department.  Sci-Fi channel made a half-hearted attempt to turn this into a series  known as “The Dresden Files” but only about 5 episodes ever aired. Update: I’m told that 27 episodes were made, but I don’t think all 27 ever aired on Sci-Fi channel or anywhere else.
  19. Orson Scott Card, The Tales of Alvin Maker series (Seventh Son; Red Prophet; Prentice Alvin; Alvin Journeyman; Heartfire; The Crystal City and the forthcoming Alvin Maker).  Card is more known for his science fiction work (as Stephen King is for horrorand gothic), but these are a great series of stories set in an alternate-reality version of 19th C. America.  Card is a practicing Mormon whose politics is an odd mix:  He is a Democrat because he is convinced the Republican Party in the South still supports racism, but he was an enthusiastic supporter of Bush and the Global War on Terror and strongly opposes same-sex marriage as a “dangerous social experiment.”  He is a strong environmentalist.  His odd mix of progressive and conservative views comes through in his books, but they make excellent stories in their own right. 
  20. Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, beginning with Eragon.  The movie is terrible, but these novels, begun when Paolini was only 15, are amazing and original.  After further reflection and input from friends, I realized that I was ranking this too high because of compensating for Paolini’s age.

So, here are my fantasy favorites.  What are yours?  I would love to see someone try to write a major fantasy novel from a pacifist perspective–preferably from a perspective of Christian  nonviolence, but Gandhian, Buddhist, or other pacifist perspective would also be fascinating.  There also needs to be far more multi-culturalism.  Even the European Middle Ages of the “real world” wasn’t as lilly white as portrayed in too many Medieval fantasies.

June 13, 2009 Posted by | arts, books, fantasy fiction | 22 Comments

Book Review: The Book Thief

the-book-thiefMarkus Zusak, The Book Thief (Knopf, 2007).  I must confess that my 13 year old daughter read this before I did.  I’m glad she introduced me to it.  I can’t say enough good things about this great book.

Imagine writing a book on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust that is morally serious without being depressing.  Imagine writing realistic fiction about the horrors of war that still has plenty of humor.  Imagine vivid, fantastic, heartbreaking characters, a plotline dominated by WWII and the Holocaust, and an uplifting book that is full of death, prejudice, ignorance, struggle, pain, and the reader’s constant feeling of “And here I thought MY family was crazy!” Imagine trying to portray ordinary Germans, including the pro-Nazi ones, during that era in a humane manner without downplaying the horror.  Now imagine trying to do all that in a book for older children and teens.

The Australian writer, Markus Zusak, pulls it off amazingly in The Book Thief.  He uses the technique of making Death the nearly-omniscient narrator.  But this Death is not a grim reaper or malevolent force, but a world weary bureaucrat doing his job and telling this story as a way to convince himself that humanity is actually worthwhile.  One of great passages has Death refute the old adage that War is Death’s friend.  Instead, he describes War as a nagging boss that gives one far too much to do and then looks constantly over one’s shoulder and complains about the quality and pace of the work!

The Book Thief tells of one orphaned German girl, daughter of parents who ran afoul of Hitler by being members of the Communist Party, who is sent as a foster child to a poor and dysfunctional married couple with grown children in the town of Molching, outside Munich.  It tells of her foul-mouthed foster mother who is good in a crisis, but who never learned any way to show love and affection except through heaping verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse on her husband and foster daughter. It tells of her mostly-silent, foster father, a house painter who can get little work because he is not a member of the Nazi Party and who must play the accordian in bars to try to enough to keep the small family from starving–and who takes time to teach his foster daughter to read. It tells of a boy befriending a pre-teen girl, a German boy who has Jesse Owens as a hero and once painted himself black before going to race around the track, mentally recreating the 1936 Olympics! It tells of a family hiding a Jew from the Nazis–of art and fist fights and hunger and cigarettes–and stolen books.

Warning to parents:  Although very humorously done, there is quite a bit of profanity in a book for older children and teens, much of it in German, but usually Death translates to English! There are no perfect characters as role models.  There are no saints in this work and plenty of sinners, but at least some are trying to become fully human.  And there are many moments of grace.  Yet here is a work that can help young people (and old folks like me, too!) grow.  The Book Thief entertains (I could hardly put it down) while peforming the indispensible act of all good literatue: illuminating our moral world.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | books, holocaust, young people | 1 Comment

A Brief Bibliography on Christianity vs. Empire

Key: Items marked with an asterisk (” *”) are introductory or for beginners in these fields of study.  Those marked with the number sign (“#”) are of intermediate difficulty.  Items marked with a plus sign (“+”) are more difficult or presume background knowledge in biblical studies, theology, and/or political theory.

The theme of “empire” has become widespread in recent biblical and theological studies, as well as recent political studies.  Political theorists debate whether or not the U.S. is an empire (remember that Rome was called an empire in its colonies long before that language was used back in Italy, where the trappings of the earlier republic were kept for some time), whether globalized capitalism forms a new kind of empire, and related matters.  For brevity’s sake, I am including only biblical and theological works, although they may reflect on contemporary issues.  In general, the anti-imperialist tone of the biblical writings has become newly emphasized in these studies.

#Avram, Wes, ed., Anxious About Empire:  Theological Essays on the New Global Realities. Brazos, 2004.  These are collected papers from a conference held in light of the unveiling of the “Bush Doctrine” in 2002 which proclaimed that the U.S. would tolerate no military or economic rivals and would launch “preemptive wars” against any and all perceived threats.  Most of the contributors are quite critical of this doctrine, but political ethicist Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School, once a liberal just war theorist, has become a vocal apologist for the Bush administration and the “war on terrorism.”


*Carter, Warren.  The Roman Empire and the New Testament: An Essential Guide.  Abingdon Press, 2006.  This is an excellent place to begin exploring the recent biblical works on this theme.


#___________. Matthew and Empire:  Initial Explorations. Trinity Press International, 2001.


+Cassidy, Richard J.  Christians and Roman Rule in the New Testament: New Perspectives.  Crossroad, 2001.  A good introduction from a brilliant Catholic New Testament scholar who is also a peace and justice activist.


+___________.  Jesus, Politics, and Society:  A Study of Luke’s Gospel.  Orbis Books, 1978.


#____________.  John’s Gospel in New Perspective:  Christology and the Realities of Roman Power.  Orbis Books, 1992.


*____________.  Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles.  Orbis Books, 1987.


*Crossan, John Dominic.  God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.  A popular-level book with rather sweeping conclusions, some of which may outrun the exegetical evidence.


#Crossan, John Dominic and Jonathan L. Reed.  In Search of Paul:  How Jesus’ Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire with God’s Kingdom:  A New Vision of Paul’s Words and World.  HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.


#Cullmann, Oscar (1902-1999).  The State in the New Testament.  Scribner’s, 1956.  Contrasts the vision of the state as “God’s instrument to you for good” in Romans 13 with the vision of the state as demonic “beast from the sea” in Revelation 13 and says that discernment as to when the state is more in line with Romans 13 or Revelation 13 is a major Christian task.


+Griffith, Lee.  The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God. Eerdmans, 2002. This is a difficult, but very important book. Griffith had already completed much of the book prior to 9/11. That terrorist attack and the U.S. response simply reinforced most of these conclusions.


*Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyer,  Unveiling Empire:  Reading Revelation Then and Now.  Orbis Books, 1999.  This is a serious study of the Book of Revelation, but written in the easy-to-read style of all of Howard-Brook’s works.


*Howard-Brook, Wes and Sharon Ringe, eds.  The New Testament:  Introducing the Way of Discipleship.  Orbis Books, 2002.  This is an excellent introduction to the New Testament from biblical scholars committed to radical discipleship and nonviolence.  Two chapters deal especially with our theme:  “Paul’s Letters:  God’s Justice Against Empire,” by Neil Elliott and “Revelation: Claiming the Victory Jesus Won Over Empire” by Wes Howard-Brook.


#Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  Fortress Press, 2003.  Glen Stassen warns that some of Horsley’s biblical exegesis in this book doesn’t seem very careful.  What is certain is that Horsley has changed his mind considerably since his earlier work, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence. Harper & Row,  1987.  In that earlier work, Horsley argued that Jesus dealt almost exclusively with Palestinian village society and that his teachings on nonviolence and enemy love did not address the question of Rome.  Horsley has had a rather large change of heart in this regard.


*____________, ed. . Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society. Trinity Press International, 1997.


*Horsley, Richard A. and Neil Asher Silberman.  The Message and the Kingdom:  How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed the Ancient World.  Putnam, 1997.


+Horsley, Richard A., ed., Paul and Politics:  Ekklesia, Israel, Imperium, Interpretation: Essays in Honor of Krister Stendahl.  Trinity Press International, 2000.  Includes several scholarly essays on the theme of empire.


+____________., ed.  Paul and the Roman Imperial Order. Trinity Press International, 2004.  A collection of very deep scholarly essays.


#Keller, Catherine.  God and Power:  Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys.  Fortress, 2005. Keller is a feminist historical theologian who has co-written and co-edited works with the more famous Rosemary Radford Ruether.  While I share her negative attitude toward the normal idea of apocalyptic writings, I argue that the only biblical examples, Daniel and Revelation, use the genre of apocalypse to subvert the usual expectations.  I would not want to be “counter-apocalyptic” in the sense of counter-Daniel or counter-Revelation.


*Laarman, Peter, ed.  Getting on Message: Challenging the Religious Right from the Heart of the Gospel.  Beacon Press, 2006.  See the chapter, “Easter Faith and Empire: Recovering the Prophetic Tradition on the Emmaus Road.” by Ched Myers.


# Northcutt, Michael B. An Angel Directs the Storm:  Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire.  I. B. Taurus, 2004.


+Phillips, Kevin P.  American Theocracy: The Perils and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.  Viking, 2006.  The author is a former political strategist for the U.S. Republican party who has become alarmed at the direction of his party and the nation.


+Sugirtharajah, R.S.  The Bible and Empire: Postcolonial Explorations.  Cambridge University Press, 2005.  A difficult, but rewarding, study from the viewpoint of a liberation theologian from India.


+Stringfellow, William (1928-1985).  Conscience and Obedience:  The Politics of Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in Light of the Second Coming.  Word Books, 1977.  A popularization of the work of Oscar Cullman on the state and application to the U.S. that Stringfellow knew in the ’60s and ’70s.


#Taylor, Mark Lewis.  Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right:  Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire.  Fortress Press, 2005. Very important reflections from a contemporary theologian. Medium difficulty.


+Thompson, Leonard.  The Book of Revelation:  Apocalypse and Empire.  Oxford University Press, 1990.  Difficult, but rewarding reading.


+Wengst, Klaus K.  The Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ.  Fortress, 1987.  This is an important and very careful study of the contrast between the kind of peacemaking that Jesus taught and the “peace through strength” policies of empire, whether Rome’s or Napolean’s or Britain’s, or the Soviet Union’s,  or the de facto “empire of bases” of the contemporary USA. 

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Bible, Biblical exegesis, books, empire | 5 Comments

Some Theological Memoirs

I like to read autobiographies of interesting people.  Since I’m a nerd, that doesn’t just include celebrities (seldom written well), sports figures (seldom interesting or written well–stick to your sport), or politicians.  No, I also like to read autobiographical material by (gasp!) intellectuals. (“The horror! The horror!”)  And, since my academic training is mostly in theology, philosophy and related disciplines (political analysis is just a hobby! 🙂 ), I have a special fondness for theological memoirs, the intellectual autobiographies of theologians and scholars in related fields.  My nerdish fondness for this form of literature is not at all restricted to authors  whose theological perspective I largely share.  On the contrary, I often find the memoirs of those with whom I have large disagreements to be particularly fascinating. (So THAT’s what led X to come to conclusion Y or to specialize in area Z! Aha!) 

Maybe it’s my Baptist church context (we like personal testimony as a homegrown liturgy), but I often feel that I understand a particular theologian (biblical scholar, ethicist, etc.) better after I have read said scholar’s memoir.  I find myself re-reading some of that scholar’s works with new eyes.  Sometimes a particular memoir is so enlightening, that I have recommended it as a place to begin in understanding a particular theologian, especially if I believe many have misunderstood that scholar by starting in the wrong place.

Theological memoirs are a classic Christian genre, dating at least as far back as Augustine’s Confessions.

Here are some of my favorite theological memoirs to date (in no particular order):

F. F. Bruce, In Retrospect:  Remembrance of Things Past. Posthumous edition. Baker, 1980, 1993.  Bruce (1910-1990) was a British  evangelical New Testament scholar.  He was conservative in most of his critical conclusions, but liberal in spirit. I found his memoir full of pastoral  wisdom. Bruce came from the Open Brethren movement which has no ordained clergy.  Trained in Classics, he became a Neutestamentler and taught at the universities of Edinburgh, Leeds,  and Sheffield, before succeeding the great T. W. Manson as Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester.  He simultaneously led in the church life of local Brethren assemblies.  I loved Bruce’s open spirit:  he repeatedly rejoiced that his academic career was spent in secular universities rather than confessional seminaries.

Lesslie Newbigin, Unfinished Agenda:  An Autobiography(Eerdmans, 1985).  Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) was a Church of Scotland, missionary, ecumenist, bishop in the ecumenical Church of South India, pioneer in interfaith dialogue, and trend-setting missiologist.  Interestingly, he attended a Quaker boarding school as a child, something probably not many Presbyterian ministers ever say!  In his memoir, he communicates strikingly the way in which his missionary service made him thoroughly ecumenical (divisions between Christian denominations seem less important in the face of the sharp contrast between the Christian minority and the majority of other faiths).  After his return to the UK, he saw the post-Christian West not as a secular society with no gods, but as a pagan society with false gods. So, he tried to stress the need for Western churches to find new ways to take the gospel to the post-Christian Western culture.  In many ways, Newbigin pioneered the post-liberal critique of the Enlightenment myth of objectivist knowledge in which facts and values are rigidly separated.  All of this comes out in interesting and compelling prose.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Living of These Days: An Autobiography. Harper & Row, 1967.  Fosdick (1878-1969), a Baptist minister, was the champion and popularizer of classic  theological liberalism and a strong opponent of the Fundamentalist Movement of the 1920s.  He was also a popular hymnwriter and the title of his memoir is taken from a line in the 2nd verse of his most famous hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory.” (This was a favorite hymn of the late Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder, who was one of my mentors. As such, it was sung at John’s funeral. I attended and loved this because John’s good friend, then-Methodist Stanley Hauerwas, a fierce critic of all things liberal, had to sing this quintessentially liberal hymn.  The irony was not lost on Stanley who took it good naturedly.)  This was the first theological memoir I read and it really helped me understand the context out of which the liberal theological movement grew.  I will never share Fosdick’s liberal convictions,  but I find myself glad for the impact he had on American Christianity.

I found equally fascinating, a memoir by someone QUITE different from Fosdick, Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), founder of Christianity Today, one of the founding professors at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a major mover and shaker of post-WWII American evangelicalism.  His evangelical rationalism has never been my cup of theological tea, but I have recognized  his importance as a dialogue partner.  His memoir, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Word, 1985) is fascinating, and revealing, though I still find myself unimpressed with his exegetical skills and find his rationalism sterile and lifeless.

Very different is James H. Cone’s black liberation theology. I prefer the work of J. Deotis Roberts, but, to date, Roberts has not written a memoir and Cone has.  White Christians, especially those with little experience of the Black Church, have a very hard time understanding black liberation theology.  Look at the extreme overreaction to 30 seconds of one sermon by Rev. Wright.  So, I always tell white folks thinking of reading Cone, NOT to start with Black Theology and Black Power (written in the wake of the killings of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.) or A Black Theology of Liberation, but with his memoir.  Otherwise, they find it very hard to get past the angry tone of Cone’s early works to understand his perspective.  They quickly dismiss his anger as “hate,” or “reverse racism,” because that is easier than dealing with his actual thought–and his accusations about white American Christianity.  But if you start with My Soul Looks Back (Orbis, 1985), it’s much easier to understand Cone, the Black Church, and black liberation theology.

Just As I Am(Abingdon, 1983) by the Harvard theologian, Harvey G. Cox is fascinating.  Here is a famed liberal with a surprisingly evangelical background and spirit.  The adventures teaching in East Germany are worth the price if you can find this out of print gem in a used bookstore.

I haven’t seen too many theological memoirs from women (could I just be missing them?), but I highly recommend Dorothy Day’s classic, The Long Loneliness.  This spiritual autobiography from the founding spirit of the Catholic Worker movement is amazing.

I have reviewed Henlee Barnette’s A Pilgrimage of Faith: My Story (Mercer University Press, 2004) on this blog earlier and won’t repeat the review.  But it’s a great book.

These are a few good theological memoirs.  I invite others to share their favorites–I can always use more suggestions for reading! 🙂

April 5, 2009 Posted by | books | 8 Comments

Bibliographies on Christian Peacemaking I: Biblical Studies

In light of recent discussions, I should also work on getting bibliographies on abortion, the death penalty, and related matters.  But this is a good starting point for examining Scripture and peacemaking.  Future installments will cover theological works, church history, philosophical arguments, and contemporary applications.

I hope biblio-bloggers will give me additional entries, along with reasons why they would make good additions.  MLW-W.

Alison, James.  Raising Abel:  The Recovery of Eschatological Imagination.  Crossroad, 1996.

Allison, Dale C.  The Sermon on the Mount:  Inspiring the Moral Imagination.  Crossroad, 1999.

Bauman, Clarence.  The Sermon on the Mount:  The Modern Quest for Its Meaning.  Mercer University Press, 1985.

Beck, Robert.  Nonviolent Story:  Narrative Conflict Resolution in the Gospel of Mark. Orbis, 1996.

Borg, Markus.  Jesus, A New Vision:  Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship.  Harper & Row, 1988.  (This is the best of Borg’s books on Jesus.)

Bredin,  Mark.  Jesus, Revolutionary of Peace:  A Nonviolent Christology in the Book of Revelation.  Paternoster, 2003.

Brown, Dale W. Biblical Pacifism.  2nd Ed.  Evangel, 2003.  (This 2nd ed. is a MUCH better book and incorporates Stassen’s just peacemaking theory and his 14 Triads interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.)

Brueggemann, Walter.  Peace. Chalice Press, 2001.  New, revised edition of Living Toward a Vision:  Biblical Reflections on Shalom.  United Church Press, 1976.  (Brueggemann is one of the most amazing living scholars of the First Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. )

Carter, Warren.  Matthew and the Margins:  A Sociopolitical and Religious Reading.  Orbis, 2000.

Cassidy, Richard J.  Jesus, Politics, and Society:  A Study  of Luke’s Gospel.  Orbis, 1978.

__________.  John’s Gospel in New Perspective:  Christology and the Realities of Roman Power.  Orbis, 1992.

__________. Society and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles.  Orbis, 1987.

Collins, Adela Yarbro.  Crisis and Catharsis:  The Power of the Apocalypse.  Fortress, 1994.

Crosby, Michael.  Spirituality of the Beatitudes:  Matthew’s Challenge for First World Christians.  Orbis, 1981.

Ferguson, John.  The Politics of Love:  The New Testament and Nonviolent Revolution.  Attic, n.d.

Ford, J. Massynberde.  My Enemy is My Guest:  Jesus and Violence in Luke.  Orbis, 1984.

Grimsrud, Ted and Loren L. Johns, eds., Peace and Justice Shall Embrace:  Power and Theopolitics in the Bible.  Herald, 1999.

Hamerton-Kelly, Robert.  The Gospel and the Sacred:  Poetics of Violence in Mark.  Fortress, 1994.

Hays, Richard B.  The Moral Vision of the New Testament. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. (This is an excellent work on New Testament ethics by a very fine biblical scholar. I have disagreed with his conclusions on “homosexuality,” but his arguments and conclusions on “the use of violence in defense of justice” is excellent.)

Hengel, Martin. Victory Over Violence:  Jesus and the Revolutionists.  Fortress, 1973.

Horsley, Richard A. Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder.  Fortress, 2003.

_________.  Jesus and the Spiral of Violence:  Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine.  Harper & Row, 1987.

_________, ed., Paul and Empire:  Religion and Power iin Roman Imperial Society. Trinity, 1997.

Howard-Brook, Wes and Anthony Gwyther.  Unveiling Empire:  Revelation Then and Now.  Orbis, 2003.

Lapide, Pinchas.  The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?  Orbis, 1992.  (Lapide was a German Orthodox Rabbi who was also heavily involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue. )

Lassere, Jean.  War and the Gospel.  Trans. Oliver Coburn. Herald Press, 1962.

Lind, Millard C.  Yahweh is a Warrior.  Herald, 1980.  (Lind is a Mennonite OT scholar.  This is the best way I have seen in dealing with the “Holy War” texts in the OT, especially in Joshua and Judges.)

Macgregor, G. H. C.  The New Testament Basis of Pacifism. Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1954.  (Macgregor, a NT scholar in the Church of Scotland, kept his commitment to pacifism even as the UK was bombed during WWII.)

McSorley, Richard, S.J., New Testament Basis for Peacemaking.  Herald, 1985.

Myers, Ched.  Binding the Strong Man:  A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Orbis,  1988.

Rensberger, David.  Johannine Faith and Liberating Community.  Westminster, 1988.

Schuessler Fiorenza, Elizabeth.  The Book of Revelation:  Justice and Judgment.  Fortress, 1985.

Schwager, Raymond.  Must There Be Scapegoats?  Violence and Redemption in the Bible.  Harper & Row, 1987.

Sider, Ronald J.  Christ and Violence.  Herald, 1979.  (This is an excellent argument that does not require any background in biblical studies.)

Swartley,  Willard M.  Covenant of Peace:  The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics.  Eerdmans, 2006.  (Swartley, a Mennonite NT scholar and former Dean of Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, here gives his magnum opus.  It was well worth the wait.)

__________, ed.  The Love of Enemy and Nonretaliation in the New Testament.  W/JKP, 1992.  (A fantastic collection of essays by a wide variety of scholars.)

___________, ed. Violence Renounced:  Rene’ Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking.  Cascadia, 2000.  (Rene Girard, a literary theorist and anthropologist, studied the connections between violence, religion, sacrifice, and literature.  His conclusions converted him to Christianity as the only religion which unmasks the way that religion justifies violence.  His work is fairly technical and jargon loaded. But he has been very influential in biblical studies and theology–though not uncritically so.)

Wengst, Klaus.  Pax Romana and the Peace of Jesus Christ.  Fortress, 1987.

Williams, James G.  The Bible, Violence,  and the Sacred:  Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence.  Harper, 1991.  (An excellent Girardian argument.)

Wink, Walter.  Engaging the Powers:  Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.  Fortress, 1992.

_________.  When the Powers Fall:  Reconciliation in the Healing of the Nations.  Fortress, 1998.

Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God.  Fortress, 1996.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus.  Rev. Ed. Eerdmans, 1994.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Bible, books, discipleship, nonviolence, pacifism, peacemaking, Sermon on the Mount | 4 Comments

Book Review: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land

peace-in-holy-land2Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land:  A Plan That Will Work. Simon and Schuster, 2009.


Full disclosure: 1. Jimmy Carter is one of my heroes. I voted for him when I turned 18 and took his loss to a B-grade movie actor almost as hard as he did.  2. Like Carter, I have a deep passion for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine–a just peace.

Those biases do not blind me, however.  I recognize that Carter was only an average president (you have to win reelection to have a chance at being a great president, even though second terms are usually much rougher than first ones).  Since his good diplomatic skills abroad were not matched with an ability to get even his own party to cooperate domestically, perhaps Carter would have made a better Secretary of State than president.  Even his human rights policy wasn’t perfect–if he hadn’t backed the Shah, perhaps the Iranian revolution would not have turned in an anti-Western direction and history would have been very different.  Carter’s great record in his post-presidency cannot make up for the average job he did as president.

I also know that the odds are stacked against a Middle East peace deal.  In fact, the odds have been getting worse since 2001:  After the collapse of the Clinton-backed talks, Ariel Sharon deliberately provoked the Second (more violent) Intifada and Arafat and the Palestinians played right into that.  Whereas the first Intifada had been led by a nonviolent wing (allthough the Western media focused on those, like the stone throwing youths, who broke nonviolent discipline), the 2nd Intifada centered on suicide bombers–many of them women!  Then came the Likud election of Netanyahu and then Sharon and things got continually bloodier while Bush didn’t care.  Then came the re-occupation of the West Bank, Arafat a prisoner in his own compound, civilian deaths skyrocketed and the suicide bombings increased.  Then Israel built its “security fence,” a huge wall that ate up miles of Palestinian land and turned large sections of the West Bank into giant  open air prisons.  Plus the constant bulldozing of Palestinian homes. Then, after Arafat’s death, the Palestinians became frustrated with a weakened Fatah in charge of the Palestinian Authority and elected Hamas–which led to an ever worse situation. Civil war broke out in the Territories and Fatah claimed the West Bank and Hamas got Gaza.  The Hamas rocket attacks (even if mostly missing any targets) were designed to provoke a disproportionate response and they succeeded–With the Israeli total war against Gaza.  Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, Israeli politics takes a sharp turn to the FAR Right. For although the Kamida Party won the most votes, they don’t have enough to form a government, not even in coalition with Labor.  So, Netanyahu and Likud will return to power in coalition with rightwingers so extreme (like Avigdor Liebermann) that even the ISRAELI press likens them to “Jewish fascists.” In such a context, can any peace plan be realistic?

When Carter promoted his book and plan on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (my favorite cable news program, hosted by the only out-lesbian in U.S. broadcast journalism–a young Rhodes scholar with a D.Phil. in political science from Oxford and a veteran of the liberal radio network, Air America–and a quirky sense of humor), Maddow asked him if the (then-upcoming) Israeli elections would make a difference in the chances for peace.  He said that the particular cabinet would mean more, although he was clear that a Likud victory would be a setback.  But Carter puts his hope in several facts which give us a window (but narrow one) for a lasting peace:

  • Despite all the negative events and crimes on both sides, vast majorities on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide (upward of 80%) still favor a two-state peace solution.  No matter who is in power in either side, those numbers MUST push them to peace–especially if the U.S. and Europe prods them.
  • The basic shape of a successful, lasting peace deal has been agreed to IN PRINCIPLE by all parties since the late ’70s:  The Israel-Palestine borders return to the pre-1967 ones (these are the only borders that have been recognized by international law); Israel removes the Jewish settlements from Palestine and either removes the wall or moves it BACK to the border, NOT cutting off any Palestinian land; Palestine is an unarmed state except for police/security forces; Palestine gets a seaport; Jerusalem is a shared city.  These are agreed to by ALL the major parties–the question is how to get there.
  • A major sticking point is the problem of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Carter suggests removing only about 85% of them, leaving the settlements just outside Jerusalem. IN RETURN, Israel would trade Palestine an equal amount of land, acre by acre, to create a corridor that connects the West Bank and Gaza, making Palestine a far more viable nation state.
  • Another major sticking point is the “right of return.” When Israel was founded in 1948, and again during the 1967 war, thousands of Palestinians lost their homes–some of which had been owned for 2000 years. Under international law, such refugees and their descendants are entitled to return to those homes.  But if ALL the Palestinians returned to homes in Israel, they would outnumber Jewish Israelis, making a Jewish state impossible.  Carter suggests that Palestine could accept in its borders the majority of returnees. Others could be compensated monetarily for lost homes.
  • A solution of this kind has been proposed for years.  A few years  ago, the Arab League sweetened the deal for Israel:  IF they would agree to such a two-state peace, then EVERY MEMBER of the Arab League would not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but cease harboring pro-Palestinian terrorist groups and open FULL DIPLOMATIC relations with Israel. This is something Israel has wanted for over 50 years: It would greatly strengthen its security and economy. To date, only Egypt and Jordan, out of the Arab League, recognize Israel–and the recent Gaza war has led many in their publics to call for cutting off these diplomatic ties.
  • There are Arabic citizens of Israel, not just in Palestine.  Because Israel’s birthrate is  low and Diaspora Jews no longer are moving to Israel, the high-birth Arab Israelis are threatening to soon outnumber the Jewish Israelis.  This would be sped up considerably if Israel simply tried to annex the Palestinian territories. This would mean the death of a Jewish state.  This demographic clock (which all in Israel know about) pushes even the most hawkish Israeli to try to find a peaceful two state solution before it runs out and demographics destroy the Israeli experiment as 50 plus years of war never could.
  • There is also a clock for Palestine: the desperation and despair of the youth.  The rise in suicide bombings  is a sign of a lack of hope for the future.  Between the settlements and the Israeli army, Palestine could soon find it impossible to HAVE a viable state.
  • The Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, is very interested in a two-state peace.  Obama did not reveal just HOW MUCH he was interested in this until after the election. During the campaign he said far more about the imperative of U.S. protection of Israel than  he ever did about the rights of Palestinians.  It is now clear that he was keeping the pro-Israel Right from using his concern for a Middle East peace as a “wedge issue” to win the election and put the hawkish McCain in the White House.  But since the election, and even more since inauguration, Obama has signalled that U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations are changing:  He placed his first presidential overseas phone call to the head of the Palestinian Authority. He appointed George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East peace. (Mitchell, a former U. S. Senator, was instrumental in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. He also has street cred with both Palestinians and Israelis.) Obama has warned Israel against more Jewish settlements in the territories–even threatening to cut off U.S. military support.

So, while making peace in the Holy Land will be hard, it is not impossible.  Carter’s book is a step-by-step plan to get it done and he has been advising Obama on this since the election.  And Carter, we remember, negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords which led directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty– not one line of which has ever been violated. 

It seems to me that the level of distrust between Palestinians and Israelis is the major obstacle to peace–and requires outside intervention.  The U.S. must be a major player not because of any U.S. peace virtues (if we even HAVE any) but because we are the one nation Israel CANNOT ignore–they depend heavily upon us for economic and military support.  The European Union and the Arab League must be deeply involved because Palestinians need them.

Like Carter, I have deep faith-based reasons to care deeply about this: Christians are to be peacemakers; we have a sense of solidarity with Palestinian Christians–many of whose communities date back to the very first generation of Christians; we have a sense of solidarity with Jews  because our faith is the daughter of Judaism; we have (or should have) a sense of solidarity with mainstream Muslims because ours is a sister faith.  We want a peaceful land that is Holy to all  3 of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths.  We won’t agree on whether Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God (God has no children, say Muslims and the Trinity is disguised polytheism say Jews), but we have much else in common and deep reasons to see peace come to the Holy Land.  For Carter this is the cause of his life because he believes it is the very will of God.

But American citizens, whether or not they share anything like Carter’s religious reasons for working for Middle East peace, have deep reasons of self interest to push for success here.  1)The plight of the Palestinians is the NUMBER ONE recruiting tool  for extremist, anti-Western Islamist groups that promote  violence and terrorism.  Some of them, like Hezbollah, are sincere, but many are simply cynically using the Palestinians for their own ends.  In any case, a two-state peace robs these groups of their single biggest recruiting tool. It robs Hezbollah of a reason to exist!  As Arab League nations said to  then-Sec. of State Colin Powell in 2002 when he was trying to recruit allies for the invasion of Iraq–it would be better to make peace between Israel and Palestine. Such a peace is the single-biggest blow to Islamist terorists possible. 2) The U.S.’ apparent one-sided support for Israel channels this concern for the Palestinians into a hatred of America if such hatred were not there previously. 3) The Israel/Palestine fued and series of wars and crises is a drain on U.S. resources: in terms of the level of military support to Israel (our largest % of foreign aid, of all types, is military aid to Israel) and in terms of constant drain on our diplomatic resources. 4) The constant humanitarian crises in Palestine is also a drain on our resources–an economically stable and peaceful  Palestine would not need such support from either Europe or the U.S. 5) We get a constant influx of Palestinian refugees into the United States–it’s amazing that none of the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs types don’t rail against this.  Our already over stressed social safety net (whose strength was eroded by GOP fiscal priorities long before the current economic crisis) doesn’t need the added burden–and it is inevitable that a few extremists come in with the legitimate refugees. 6) A prosperous and peaceful Israel and Palestine could import U.S. exports, helping us get out of recession.

So, there are many compelling pragmatic as well as moral reasons to invest heavily in Middle East peace.  It won’t be easy–and the recent Israeli elections are the biggest obstacle since the Palestinians elected Hamas!  But it CAN be done–and Jimmy Carter’s book outlines the way forward.

UPDATE:  Even as he is forming his government, new PM Netanyahu is telling reporters that he will work with Obama for peace with Palestine.  While his past record should make us skeptical, we should also see this as a hopeful sign that even Netanyahu realizes that the political context has changed.  Now, if only Obama will push all parties equally instead of returning to the usual U.S. carrot and stick policy:  all carrots for Israel and all sticks for Palestine.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, books, foreign policy, Israel-Palestine, Jimmy Carter, just peacemaking, terrorism prevention | 13 Comments

Book Review: Twentieth-Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics

Twentieth-Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics, ed. by Larry L. McSwain and Wm. Loyd Allen (Mercer University Press, 2008). 

This is a difficult book to review for several reasons:  1) I know many of the “Shapers” personally as teachers.  2) I know both the editors and many of the contributors. 3) This is my field of academic expertise and these are mostly my frieds.  4) The figures included in this collection represent what I consider to be some of the best of my denominational or theological tradition–rather than the images more often associated with Baptists as narrow bigots and hypocrites, uncritical warmongers and lovers of money.  The individuals profiled in this book, and many of the profilers, are among the strongest reasons why I continue to identify with the Baptist tradition. 5) I was initially invited by one of the editors to contribute to the volume, but Mercer University Press was already complaining about the length of the book (343 pp.). None of this makes objectivity easy.

Let me say it clearly: I liked this book and all the chapters included.  My criticisms are those of an insider and perfectionist who would be trying to get a profile and analysis better. I did not find any chapter that was fundamentally off in characterization, although I did have some differences of emphasis and some differences on who should be included.

After an introductory chapter by the editors, the volume includes chapters that profile Walter Rauschenbusch, Muriel Lester, Nannie Helen Burroughs, T. B. Maston, Henlee Hulix Barnette, James
Wm. McClendon, Jr., J. Deotis Roberts, Paul D. Simmons (since Simmons’ focus has been on biomedical ethics and sexual ethics, it is not clear that he has been a shaper of Baptist social ethics, despite a Ph.D. dissertation on Just War Theory and Selective Conscientious Objection and many writings on religious liberty and church-state separation), Clarence Jordan, Martin England, Millard Fuller and Koinonia Farm, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, C. Anne Davis, Glen Harold Stassen, Tony Campolo, J. M. Dawson and James Dunn, and Foy Dan Valentine.  It is part of my mindset that I first notice who is omitted in collections like this:  This collection focuses almost entirely on the U.S. scene (with the exception of Muriel Lester, an English Baptist), although it includes more African-Americans and women than most similar collections.  Nonetheless, I thought immediately of Tommy Douglass, the Canadian Baptist minister-turned-politician who was a product of the Social Gospel and who created Canada’s publicly funded healthcare system–and was recently voted by Canadians as “The Greatest Canadian.”  Or Britain’s John Clifford, the U.K.’s answer to Rauschenbusch or Australia’s maverick Baptist, Athol Gill.  And, if one were to include Baptists from the Global South, the book would look very different.

Even in the U.S., I wondered at some omissions:  Where are Howard Thurman, C. René Padilla, Orlando Costas, Will D. Campbell, Culbert Rutenber, Dorothy Cotton, Marian Wright Edelman, Peter Paris, Cornel West, Peter Gomes, Ken Sehested and Nancy Hastings Sehested, W. W. Finlator, Stanley Grenz, Diana Garland, or Carlyle Marney?  Needless to say, a sequel or companion volume would be easy to fill.  In a future volume, many of the current volumes contributing authors will probably find a place, including Paul Lewis (author of the chapter on Rauschenbusch), William Tillman, Jr. (T. B. Maston), David Emmanuel Goatley (J. Deotis Roberts), T. Laine Scales (C. Anne Davis), David P. Gushee (Glen Harold Stassen), Michelle Tooley (Tony Campolo), J. Brent Walker (J. M. Dawson and James Dunn), and, perhaps others.  I agree with the editors that a volume on Twenty-FIRST Century “shapers of Baptist social ethics” would include far more women, be far more racially/ethnically diverse, and probably be dominated by voices from the Global South.  More Christians now live South of the equator than North of it and more Christians live in Africa and Latin America than in Europe or North America–a trend that is likely to continue.  African and Asian Christians have begun to send missionaries to post-Christian Europe and to North America (where U.S. Christians who vote for war and torture seem to have completely misunderstood the gospel in DROVES!).

But given the limits of any volume like this in size and scope, this is an excellent work and I highly recommend it.  Sections Two and Three are divided between “Thinkers and Teachers” (section two) and “Activists: Dreamers of a New World Order.” But the division should not be seen as airtight. Many of the activists (e.g., Tony Campolo, C. Anne Davis and Glen Stassen) have spent most of their careers in the classroom and have pioneered in various academic areas.  Some of the other activists (e.g., Jimmy Carter, James Dunn, Foy Valentine) have also had teaching responsibilities for parts of their careers.  Also, many of the teachers and thinkers (e.g., Henlee Barnette, Deotis Roberts, and James Wm. McClendon) have all engaged in action for social justice, especially Barnette.

In fact, one major thread connecting all these different Baptist social ethicists is a refusal to divide theory and practice, faith and discipleship, salvation and social reform.  Though most of the figures profiled herein have high christologies and orthodox theologies, they have not exhibited (with Luther) any desire to remove the Epistle of James from their working canon.  In differing ways, each has incarnational faith that must be lived out in the world. 

Because of the price ($45!), I am hoping MUP puts out a paperback edition of this volume soon.  I recommend it for church libraries, for those seeking to understand the 20th C. history of one major Christian tradition, and for those of us in the Baptist (or, more broadly, Believers’ Church) tradition who seek to learn from guides in previous generations as we try to be faithful disciples in our own contexts in this 21st C.

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, books, ethics, heroes | 3 Comments

A Desmond M. Tutu Bibliography

To supplement yesterday’s profile of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, I am offering today a bibliography of his major writings and a few excellent secondary sources on this major prophet and theologian.

I. Primary

1982     Desmond M. Tutu, Crying in the Wilderness: The Struggle for Justice in South Africa. (Eerdmans, 1982). This collection of Tutu’s sermons from the late 1970s and early 1980s was my first introduction to the man–and my first in-depth introduction to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.  It was reissued in 1990 in a new edition edited by the contemporary Barthian theologian John Webster.

1984     Desmond M. Tutu, Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches (Eerdmans, 1984).  Published just before Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1984      Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture.  Reprinted in Tutu’s later book, The Rainbow People of God (below) as “Apartheid’s ‘Final Solution.'”

1994      Desmond M. Tutu, The Rainbow People of God: The Making of a Powerful Revolution (Doubleday).

1995      Desmond M. Tutu, An African Prayer Book (Doubleday).

1999a    Desmond M. Tutu, et. al., Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Final Report.

1999     Desmond M. Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (Eerdmans). This is Tutu’s reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which he chaired in the aftermath of apartheid.

2004    Desmond M. Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (Doubleday).

II. Edited works:

Tutu has edited a series of brief collections of the words and ideals of major global faith leaders for peace and justice. The series is put out in the U.S. , the Philippines, and Canada by Blue Mountain Arts, Inc. and in South Africa, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand by Blackwell, Ltd. (I do not know if the series is complete or if other volumes are planned.)

Believe: The Words and Inspiration of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu. 2007.

Dream: The Words and Inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. 2007.

Love: The Words and Inspiration of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 2007.

Peace: The Words and Inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. 2007.

Naomi Tutu, one of the Archbishop’s daughters, has edited a Tutu reader:

The Words of Desmond Tutu, selected and introduced by Naomi Tutu (Newmarket, 2007).

Battle, Michael, ed. The Wisdom of Desmond Tutu (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000).

III. Secondary Works:

Allen, John. Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu (The Free Press,          2006).

Battle, Michael. Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1997).  Written by an African-American Episcopal priest who traveled to South Africa to study with Tutu. Tutu ordained him to the priesthood and officiated at his wedding.  This intimate and in-depth study now needs balance by someone with more critical distance.

Gish, Steven. Desmond Tutu: A Biography. Greenwood Biography Series (Greenwood Press, 2004). Written for young adult readers.

December 24, 2007 Posted by | books, heroes | Comments Off on A Desmond M. Tutu Bibliography

Great Peacemakers

great_peacemakers_book_cover.jpgFrom time to time on this blog I review books–and sometimes, like now, I am even sent books to review, which is always nice.  Great Peacemakers: True Stories from Around the World by Ken Beller and Heather Chase is the 2007 winner of the International Peace Writing Award given by the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology.  It is written by a unique husband and wife writing team.  Ken Beller is co-founder and president of Near Bridge, Inc., a consulting firm that links “bottom line” profitability with values and specializes in promoting generational and cultural diversity, visionary leadership, and global sustainability.  He is the lead author of the highly praised The Consistent Consumer:  Predicting Future Behavior Through Lasting Values (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005).   Heather Chase is founder of Models with Conscience, an international group of fashion models dedicated to promoting animal-friendly and environmentally-conscious products and causes–which is certainly not what comes to mind when one thinks of most fashion models!! Heather is the author of Beauty without the Beasts:  A Guide to Cruelty-Free Personal Care (Lantern Books, 2001) which, as the title suggests, promotes beauty products that are developed without animal testing or the use of furs and skins.

Great Peacemakers is a collection of biographical sketches of 20 major workers for peace, justice, and a sustainable environment.  The figures chosen range from the 19th to the 21st c. and come from various different cultural, racial/ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds.  The “chapters” of biographical sketches are brief (only 2-3 pp. apiece) and are written simply.  Because of this, it is just as appropriate for older children, adolescents, and young adults as for older readers.

Many of the figures profiled are instantly familiar to most people, such as Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, the 14th Dalai Lama, and Albert Schweitzer.  Those familiar with the literature of peace and justice studies will not learn anything new in these chapters, but they are excellent introductions to folks for whom these are just names.

Other profiles are of people who are not as well known.  I, for instance, had never heard of Andersan Sá, a singer and leader of the band AfroReggae from the slums (favelas) of Brazil who uses Afro-Reggae music to fight the drug trade and give young people from the favelas hope.  And even though I have been heavily invested in Middle East peace work for years, I was completely unfamiliar with the life and work of Father Bruno Hussar, a Catholic priest born in Egypt of a Hungarian father and French mother (both non-practicing Jews), who created in 1969 Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam, an interfaith village known as an “Oasis of Hope” where Israelis and Palestinians (Jews, Muslims, and Christians) live in peace and which runs a School of Peace not only for children and adults in the Middle East, but for people in conflict situations around the world.  Hussar and his village have repeatedly been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize since 1988, but this was my first introduction to them.  Other folk, like the children’s author Astrid Lindgren, creator of the Pippi Longstocking books, are well known, but their peacemaking efforts are not as well known.

A significant feature of this gem of a book is the way that environmental concerns are deeply woven into work for peace and justice–a dimension overlooked in some standard peace literature.  I expected that when the environmentalist was also known for more traditional peace work, as in the cases of Thoreau or Schweitzer, or when the person’s work had clearly connected ecological and peace concerns, such as with Jane Goodall or Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai, but I had never considered the work of the ecologist Rachel Carson or the early British animal rights’ activist Henry Salt in terms of peacemaking. I was glad to be challenged to rethink these connections.

Brief quotes from each figure follow the biographical sketches, encouraging readers to pursue their writings for themselves. Excellent photos also accompany each chapter.  At the back of the book, each chapter has endnotes (misnamed a bibliography) to writings or websites which is also helpful.  Yet, this could have been made more helpful if a real bibliography had been added that had covered the major writings or standard biographies of the more prolific figures in these chapters.  A few errors in fact creep in to some of the biographical sketches themselves (e.g., Martin Luther King did NOT go to Boston University immediately following his graduation from Morehouse College; King went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA–now merged with Colgate-Rochester to form Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY. It was only King’s Ph.D. in philosophical theology that he pursued at Boston University), but these are very few and seem to be a result of strict editing for brevity so that 20 people can be profiled.

I recommend this book not for scholars, but for those new to these fields. Hopefully, it wets appetites to learn more about several of these great peacemakers–or others.  Our history books teach us the names of generals and dictators, but leave us ignorant of the pioneers of nonviolence, justice seeking, peacemaking, and ecological sustainability.  As Colman McCarthy (one of the people profiled), journalist and teacher of peace, says, “Why are we violent but not illiterate? Because we are taught to read.”  This is a nice introduction to the teaching of peacemaking in a very broad sense.  It would make a great Christmas gift (or a gift for Channukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, etc.) or birthday gift.

P.S.: As Laura of Texas in Africa reminds us, it is World HIV/AIDs Day.  Wear your red ribbons, contribute to organizations working for cures, vaccines, and better treatment, support AIDs ministries (especially prevention), contribute to organizations caring for victims, for the children of parents with AIDs, etc.  Lobby for BigPharma companies to make cheap generic anti-retro-virals available easily in developing countries. Let’s struggle to end this demonic plague–and to care for the victims until we do–even those who contracted the disease through promiscuity or drug use because we all sin. We must see HIV/AIDs not as God’s judgment, but as our opportunity to care for each other in a world that includes pain, suffering, and death, along with beauty.

December 1, 2007 Posted by | books, peacemaking | Comments Off on Great Peacemakers