Archives For Social Justice


“In Search of a Third Way

A review of
An Evangelical Social Gospel?:
Finding God’s Story in the Midst of Extremes
by Tim Suttle.

Review by Tim Høiland.

An Evangelical Social Gospel?:
Finding God’s Story in the Midst of Extremes
Tim Suttle.
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2011.
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[ Amazon – Kindle ]

Over the course of the past decade, as a member of a fairly large, conservative evangelical church in a part of the country fairly saturated with other conservative evangelical churches, I have become increasingly interested in and committed to the sort of faith the prophet Micah describes: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

If we’re honest, though, that’s not what evangelicals have been particularly known for. Rather, we have often been caricatured — with varying degrees of accuracy, to be sure — as just the opposite: unkind, unconcerned, and yes, just a wee bit holier-than-thou. Why is this the case?

One way to answer the question would be to say that we are sinners, just like everybody else, and God knows that justice, kindness and humility don’t come easily for any of us. Another approach would require looking back at the past hundred years, back to a seismic split in North American Christianity, between theological conservatism on the one hand and theological liberalism on the other. Broadly speaking, the conservatives emphasized the need for personal faith in Jesus Christ, to the exclusion of what were considered “worldly” concerns. The liberals, meanwhile, guided by the so-called “Social Gospel” movement, taught that Christ’s mission and ours was to transform society, not individuals.

Like many people my age in recent years, I’ve been grappling with this split, in search of a better way, one that embraces the best of both without falling prey to the traps of either. For these reasons I was fascinated when I heard about Tim Suttle’s new book, An Evangelical Social Gospel?: Finding God’s Story in the Midst of Extremes (Cascade, 2011).

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Listen to the Children

A Review of

Listen to the Children:
Conversations with Immigrant Families/
Escuchando a los niños:
Conversaciones con familias inmigrantes

By Elizabeth Conde-Frazier
Paperback: Judson Pres, 2011.

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Reviewed by Michelle van Loon.

“One of every five children in the United States today lives in an immigrant family. The majority of these children will become lifetime residents of the U.S., and their presence will affect the basic institutions of society.” Elizabeth Conde-Frazier quotes a think tank panel’s findings in order to focus our attention on the issues these children (and their parents) face.

The book’s 80 pages are in both Spanish and English. Though the book is brief in length, its seven chapters offer a helpful detail about the social and emotional journey often experienced by Hispanic immigrant families. Listen to the Children offers a particular emphasis on the experience of children with undocumented parents, but much of the material in the book is applicable to every immigrant family. From making the decision to leave a home culture in search of better economic prospects to the challenges of re-forming a family unit in an alien culture, Conde-Frazier allows the voices of both children and parents to describe their particular experiences. The conclusions she offers about the kinds of care and support these families need are not in-depth solutions, but wise and empathetic first steps for the teachers, clergy, social workers, friends and relatives who are involved with these families.

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016640: Ministry with Prisoners and Families: The Way Forward

A Brief Review of

Ministry with Prisoners and Families:
The Way Forward

Edited by W.W. Goode, Sr., C.E. Lewis, Jr. & H.D. Trulear
Paperback: Judson Pres, 2011.

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Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.

The statistics are incredibly disturbing.  “The United States incarcerates its citizens at the highest rate of any nation.  The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that at midyear 2008 more than 2.3 million people were being held in federal or state prisons or in local jails.  From 2000 to 2007, the overall prison population grew annually by an average of 2.4 percent.  An additional 7 million persons are under the supervision of probation or parole…Data from the Pew Center confirm that the situation is especially daunting among African American males. Currently 1 in 15 African American males over age eighteen is behind bars, as opposed to 1 of every 36 Latinos and 1 of 106 white males.  In addition, the Center reports that one of every nine African American males between the ages of 25 and 34 is behind bars.” (3) Ministry to Prisoners and Families is a response to those frightening statistics – a response of hope and courage and real answers.  It is a powerful reminder of our calling and our responsibility as God’s people in this broken world, a world full of broken lives, families and communities.     Even though it is directed specifically toward the African-American community (written out of deep concern over the high incarceration rate among African-Americans), the wisdom, discernment and vision found on its pages are true and relevant for all God’s people in every community.

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A Brief Review of

Divine Rebels:
American Christian Activists for Social Justice.
Deena Guzder.
Paperback: Lawrence Hill Books, 2011.
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Reviewed by Joshua Smith.

There’s a famous scene in Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s 1970 play, The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, in which Henry David Thoreau—a noted author, environmentalist, transcendentalist, and anarchist—sits alone in a moonlit prison, listening to the cry of a loon outside his window. Thoreau, imprisoned for a night in Concord, Massachusetts, in July of 1846, refused to pay taxes for fear of the money being used to subsidize the Mexican-American War. In the play, upon hearing of Thoreau’s incarceration, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson rushes to the prison in the night. Peering in through the bars from outside the jail, he asks, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” to which a composed Thoreau replies, “Waldo, what are you doing out there?”

Like Thoreau, the activists Deena Guzder describes in Divine Rebels have had enough of the established paradigm, opting instead to stand in the way of injustice, placing their reputations, financial well-being, and even their lives on the line for the sake of their Christian morals. Though Divine Rebels is nonfiction, it flows with an interwoven narrative, connecting the individual stories of “holy mischief-makers,” highlighting Guzder’s superior skills as both a journalist and a story-teller.

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A Brief Review of
Introducing Catholic Social Thought.
Milburn Thompson.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.
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Reviewed by Bill van Loon.

Though many in the evangelical world are newly discovering the importance of social engagement, our Catholic brothers and sisters have a long history worth exploring. In the new book Introducing Catholic Social Thought, part of a series directed toward both college students and general readers, J. Millburn Thompson guides us through this rich history.

The content of the book is presented in a way that is intended to make the topic of Catholic social thought approachable and easy to digest. Thompson begins by distinguishing between teaching and thought. Teaching focuses on the explanation of the major documents of the Roman Catholic Church that were written by popes and bishops. Thought takes into consideration the teaching and applies it to the social context.

Thompson says the Catholic social tradition brings the Christian faith to bear on relevant social issues. He says the book focuses on the spirit of Catholic social teaching rather than the letter. Thompson gives a lot of attention to the “social question” and response of the faith with the history and  content of Catholic social teaching used as foundational elements to the discussion. The primary way he does this is by including the stories of people and organizations who he believes incarnated Catholic social teaching.

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A Review of

284772: Love Mercy: A Mother and Daughter"s Journey from The American Dream to The Kingdom of God Love Mercy:
A Mother and Daughter’s Journey
from The American Dream
to The Kingdom of God

By Lisa Samson & Ty Samson.
Paperback: Zondervan, 2010.

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Reviewed by Jeni Newswanger-Smith

A couple of years ago Lisa Samson and her daughter Ty took a trip to Swaziland.  Their lives had already changed greatly and they wanted to see firsthand what was happening in this devastated part of the world.  What they found was much struggle, illness, neglect and hunger.  They also found love, joy, devotion and stories of the lost being found.  In other words, they discovered the world.   Lisa and Ty have write about their experiences on this trip in the new book Love Mercy.

The book is delightful to read.  Lisa writes to her audience as if they are sitting down with her for a good cup of tea.  In the first half of the book, she chronicles her family’s journey from suburban individualism to inner-city community.  This journey was a difficult and challenging one, but Lisa writes about it with humor.

The second half of the book is co-authored with Ty.  They take turns telling about a second great journey—one to visit the churches in Swaziland.  They see children orphaned by AIDS, people dying from AIDS, children raising children—and people turning a blind eye.  They witnessed the last vestiges of apartheid that had seeped over the borders, which is heart-breaking and eye-opening for both women.

One of the remarkable parts of this book is that neither Lisa or Ty offer solutions to the problems in the world.  They acknowledge these problem,s tell us about their trip to learn more and ask all of us to join in the brainstorming for solutions and change.

Lisa uses the words “social justice” quite often in the book and while I know what she means, those words have become so weighted and misconstrued by some Christians, and may be off-putting for some potential readers. Lisa defines intentional community as “caring for each other to care for the other,” and this is the core of Christian social justice, as the Samsons’ book title expresses: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

For people just beginning to explore what social justice means, this book is a great place to start.  For people a little further on the journey, this book provides good reminder of why one started in the first place.


A Review of

Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are.
Alex and Brett Harris.
Paperback: Multnomah, 2010.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Alex and Brett Harris - START HEREAlex and Brett Harris are the authors of the recent book Do Hard Things, which they have described as “[countering] the Myth of Adolescence, which says the teen years are a time to goof off and have fun before ‘real life’ starts.”  They have now also released a followup volume, Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are, which is a sort of practical guide beginning to explore the ideas offered in Do Hard Things.  Although admittedly,I have not yet read the first book, in reading Start Here I am inspired by these young men’s social critique of adolescence and their striking call for teens to step up and to put their energy to use imagining and doing meaningful work.  Start Here takes on many of the seeming impediments that would stand in the way; indeed the sort of “hard things” that the authors challenge youth to undertake.   Secondly, I deeply appreciated their advice not to do these “hard things” by oneself, but rather to invite others into our undertakings or even to engage ourselves in the meaningful and redemptive work that others in our churches and families are already doing.  Similarly, their encouragement to “move against the crowd” seem to resonate with the Gospel story and is an essential word for the maturing of teens beyond the social traps of popularity and “coolness.”

Start Here is essential reading for youth workers, as well as for churches in general.  It is exciting to think that the authors’ message is getting out there and I pray that it will continue to be used by God as a means of transforming both teenagers and their church communities.

[ A copy of this book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.]


[ For anyone who is keeping track of these things, we are forgoing the full issue that we had planned to release today and will return to our regularly-scheduled issue on this Friday Dec. 5.  The following interview with Andy Crouch was done by our friend Matt Conner and originally appeared on the lighthearted, yet thoughtful group blog that he coordinates.  Thanks Matt! ]


In our final of three interviews focused on the Christian’s response to social justice, our attention turns to one of my favorite interview subjects – Andy Crouch. Andy is the author of the fantastic new book, Culture Making – a much needed treatise for the intersection of faith and culture. He’s also director of the Christian Vision Project for Christianity Today.


I’ve interviewed Andy twice now and each time is drinking from a mental fire hydrant and you come away refreshed and challenged by what Crouch comes up with. This time was no different than the first as he discusses the warnings for those of us charting toward the waters of social justice.


Culture Making.
Andy Crouch.
Hardcover. IVP, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Doulos Christou Books $16 ]  [ Amazon ]


Matt: What’s the balance for counter-cultural movements with their work toward social justice and the mainstreaming of those movements?


Andy Crouch: I think we have to recognize that the mainstreaming of alternative movements is a continual process in American culture since the 1960s. It’s been happening for a long time, so it’s not that new. It’s just the latest version of it now, where something that begins as even very consciously outside the mainstream is adopted for commercial purposes.


I think it’s really double-edged sword. Here’s the positive thing about it: to the extent that social movements that become part of a profitable enterprise, they are much more scalable than they are when they’re not-for-profit. Because a not-for-profit is always have to replenish its resources, whereas a profitable enterprise has found a way to provide something that’s of sufficient value for people that it can actually grow from the generation of excess income. In a way, I celebrate the fact. When anything becomes mainstream enough that people can make money doing it [Laughs]…



I am not of those who are firmly opposed to anyone ever making economic profit. I think economic profit is a sign that you’re connecting with people in a significant way. And the fact that companies are finding it economically profitable to align themselves with really important causes is really encouraging. It’s a sign of success.

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