Welcoming Justice, 2nd ed. | Book Review


On December 3, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. opened the first annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in Montgomery, Alabama, with a message titled, “Facing the New Age.” The institute was sponsored by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which King led. Almost a year to the day earlier, Montgomery police had arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a crowded bus to a white man. Her arrest began a yearlong bus boycott that ended with a Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of public transportation throughout Alabama.

King began his address by noting that both around the world and in the United States, people of color were throwing off the chains of imperialism and slavery. In place of that oppression, King proclaimed, “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” He defined that love in a mashup of Matthew 5:44–45 and Luke 6:27–28: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.” Love—not violence nor hate nor boycotts—was both the means and end of the movement King sought to lead.

It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform oppressors into friends…. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

King’s speech plays an important role in Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins’ Welcoming Justice. On the one hand, it helps explain the fragmentation of the Civil Rights movement that began in late 1964 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee “moved away from Christian formulations of nonviolence and beloved community,” as Marsh puts it. He continues, “Removed from its home in the church, the work of building beloved community withered and died.”

On the other hand, King’s words provide the setting for Perkins’ life work in completing “the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement.” In 1960, Perkins and his wife Vera Mae had returned to their home town of Mendenhall, Mississippi, to teach Bible stories to kids in public school. But the entrenched poverty and racial antagonism he experienced there led him to expand the vision of his ministry and to articulate the “three Rs” of community development, which Marsh defines this way:

  • Relocation: “incarnational evangelism, the lived expression of the great Christological theme that Jesus Christ ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’ but took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2).”
  • Redistribution: “sharing talents and resources with the poor,” as well as “observable changes in public policy and voting habits.” More than politics, Marsh explains, Perkins understood the Christian community itself as a “distinctive social order.”
  • Reconciliation: “embodying the message that ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ and that Christ has ‘destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ in lived social experience.”

Perkins has spent the last six decades of his life in pursuit of this vision of the beloved community.

Welcoming Justice alternates chapters between Marsh and Perkins, who have been friends for nearly forty years. In his chapters, Marsh, who is director of the Project on Lived Theology and professor of religious and theological studies at the University of Virginia, provides historical background to the Civil Rights movement and Perkins’ life and ministry, as well as introducing other contemporary expressions of community development, such as the “new monastic” movement. Perkins, in his chapters, shares his thoughts about the cultural captivity of the church, what the next Great Awakening will look like, and what it will take to build the “beloved community” in America today.

I don’t agree with everything Marsh and Perkins write in Welcoming Justice. I’m awed by Perkins’ life story, cognizant of the deep strain of racism that runs through our nation’s history—including its churches, and committed to racial reconciliation. I agree that churches must do more than they do now, both to heal our racial wounds and to lift up the poorest in our community. I’m just not sure that Perkins’ brand of community development is the way to go economically. That said, Marsh and Perkins—especially Perkins—inspire and challenge me to do more than I have been doing. My guess is that the book will have the same effect on you.

Welcoming Justice was first published in 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The second edition, just published, comes out a year after white supremacists organized a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. On the day of the rally, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring many and killing Heather Heyer.

The prefaces to the first and second editions of the book, by Philip Yancey and Marsh, respectively, capture the “two steps forward, one step back” character of American discussions about race. Our country has come a long way in the half-century since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, but we still have a way to go before we realize the “beloved community” he dreamed of. Toward that end, to quote the sentence Perkins ends the book with: “Love is the final fight.”

Book Reviewed
Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoiming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, 2nded. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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Woke Church | Book Review


The word woke is slang for being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Dr. Eric Mason appropriates this term to describe a church that has been “awakened to the reality of implicit and explicit racism and injustice in [American] society.” Such a church is characterized by four attributes:

  1. Awareness of the “overarching truths” that unite the Body of Christ, including the relationship of justice to the gospel (chapter 2) and the Church as the holy family of God (chapter 3);
  2. Acknowledgement of the history of racism among American Christians (chapter 4), which provides a list of beliefs and practices to lament (chapter 5);
  3. Accountability for churches to “reclaim our roles as light and salt in the world” by means of “prophetic preaching” (chapter 6) and advocacy for justice, which is understood to encompass how both individuals and systems act and react (chapter 7); and
  4. Action, which suggests “ten action steps” churches can take “to bring healing and justice into our spheres [of influence]” (chapter 8).

Mason concludes the book (chapter 9) with a brief study of the book of Revelation, which paints the “bigger picture” of God’s vision of the Church. “If the church can keep this image of what is to come before us,” Mason writes, “we will be energized to accomplish His purposes in the earth. We will work as one unified body, across all ethnic lines” (Revelation 7:9–10).

Mason is the founder and pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. He is a black evangelical who describes himself as “exegetically at home with my conservative family on the doctrines of grace, but ethically at home with my liberal family on issues of race and justice.” My guess is that Mason’s dual at-home-ness may frustrate readers. Conservatives may think some of his suggestions go too far, while liberals may think they don’t go far enough.

As a conservative white evangelical, the best piece of advice I can give to readers like me is this: listen. White and black Christians may read the same Bible, but they read it from very different social locations. And in my experience, white Christians are often unaware of the breadth and depth of racism in American history, including the history of the American church. Until we listen to our black brothers and sisters we cannot hope even to begin bridging the racial divide in our churches, let alone our country.

Dr. Eric Mason’s Woke Church is a right step in that direction.

Book Reviewed
Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice (Chicago: Moody, 2018).

P.S. If you like my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

One Blood | Book Review


The most heated conversations I’ve witnessed on Facebook had to do with race. Whether the topic was Confederate statues or Black Lives Matter, the conversations typically began politely enough but almost inevitably degenerated into the online equivalent of a shouting match. Many words appeared in ALL CAPS. These conversations both surprised and disappointed me.

Unfortunately, most of these conversations were between Christians. American society is divided, and American churches all too often reflect rather than correct those divisions. That saddens me immensely. We can do better. For the sake of the gospel, we must.

One Blood, according to its subtitle, contains John M. Perkins’ “parting words to the Church on race.” I’m not sure that’s right, however. While race is the context of the book, its text is reconciliation. Perkins writes: “Biblical reconciliation is the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship” (emphasis added). Given America’s tortured history of race relationships, how can Christians lead the way in reconciliation? That’s the question the book examines.

Perkins is the founder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and cofounder of the Christian Community Development Association. Born in 1930 to black sharecroppers and raised in New Hebron, Mississippi, Perkins knew sorrow from an early age. His mother died of pellagra when he was an infant. (Pellagra is a vitamin deficiency that causes its victims to starve.) His father abandoned him at a young age. His brother, a World War II veteran, was murdered by a deputy marshal. When he was 17, his family urged him to migrate to Southern California in the hope he wouldn’t suffer his brother’s fate.

It was in California, at the age of 27, that Perkins became a Christian. In 1960, he and his wife and children returned to Mendenhall, Mississippi, to start Voice of Calvary Bible Institute, a ministry focused on personal evangelism and biblical literacy. Alongside this ministry, however, he and his wife, Vera Mae, began to minister to the material needs of members of their community. And he began to advocate for civil rights and public school desegregation. In 1970, he led a boycott of white-owned businesses that landed him in jail, where he was beaten by police.

In the following decades, Perkins increasingly became a black evangelical voice for civil rights, at a time when many white evangelicals were suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement. He advocated justice, of course, as well as help for the economically disadvantaged, but above all, he continued to urge reconciliation.

One Blood outlines the biblical case for reconciliation, as well as the kinds of practices that make it possible. More than any other, this single paragraph encapsulates the message of the book:

The Church must speak out with one voice against bigotry and racism. We have been too quiet. The time is now. A platform has been placed in front of us and we must speak with clarity and truth. We’ve made a mess of things, but there is a path forward. It will require us to hold fast to [God’s] vision for one Church and the biblical truth of one race. We need to lament our broken past and be willing to make some personal confessions about our own part in that mess. Then we’ll have to be willing to forgive and move forward toward true repentance. We must be committed to the right until the battle for reconciliation is won. And we must never forget that our power is not in guns, weapons, or armies. Our power is on our knees before God.

Perkins leaves no doubt that reconciliation is a gospel issue. “For too long, many in the Church have argued that unity in the body of Christ across ethnic and class lines is a separate issue from the gospel. There has been the suggestion that we can be reconciled to God without being reconciled to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scripture doesn’t bear that out.”

At the outset, I mentioned my surprise and disappointment with conversations about race I have witnessed on Facebook. One Blood was surprising, too. Given what Perkins has seen, heard, and been subjected to in his 87 years of life, the lovingkindness of his message is stunning. It doesn’t detract from the hard truths he mentions about our nation’s — and the Church’s — failings with regard to race. Nor does it lessen the responsibility to make things right. But it does engender hope.

Book Reviewed
John M. Perkins with Karen Waddles, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Preaching with Cultural Intelligence | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Matthew D. Kim about his new book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence (Baker Academic).

Dr. Kim is associate professor of preaching and ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and author of the book, Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear our Sermons (Baker Academic). Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

I think this book is timely because America is becoming an increasingly diverse nation, and so are American churches. This diversification raises an important question: How should pastors and other church leaders preach and minister in this new cultural context?

Take a listen to Dr. Kim’s answer!

“I Have a Dream”


In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate on this national holiday, I encourage you to watch (or watch again) his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963.

Pentecostals, Race, Justice and Reconciliation | Influence Podcast


In episode 123 of the Influence Podcast, I interview Pastor Walter Harvey about “Pentecostals, Race, Justice and Reconciliation.”

Harvey is pastor of Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as vice president of the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. He also has the lead article in the January-February 2018 issue of Influence magazine, titled, “A Place Called Sherman Park: Eight ministry lessons that can help bring renewal to communities in chaos.”

 

Friday’s InfluenceMagazine.com Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey offers three helpful insights about the importance of delegation.
  • We interview Brian Schmidgall about how MiddleTree Church is building bridges between racial and socioeconomic divides in North St. Louis, Missouri.
  • I review Andy Crouch’s new book, The Tech-Wise Family.
  • And Christina Quick notes Pew Research about faith commitment and levels of education.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!