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“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.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Papaerback ]
[ 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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“Economics as a Truly Social Science”

A review of

The Economics of Enough:
How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters
.
By Diane Coyle

Review by Matthew Kaul.


ECONOMICS OF ENOUGH - CoyleThe Economics of Enough:
How to Run the Economy as If the Future Matters
.
Diane Coyle
Hardback: Princeton UP, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

At few points in American history has the intersection of politics and economics featured so centrally in the news, in our discussions, in the ways we live our lives day to day. Internationally, we watch as the Greek debt crisis spirals down and down, drawing Portugal, Spain, Italy along with it, and threatening the very existence of the European Union. Domestically, we listen to pundits repeat platitudes and slogans ad naseum as the divided federal government carries itself ever closer to default while the unemployment rate, when it’s not stagnating, continues to rise. Locally, we’ve been reminded of the possibility of protest and civil disobedience as political acts (a possibility much more easily forgotten in American than in most of the rest of the world), as protests engulfed a capital (Indianapolis) that some state legislators had fled. In all these events, in the continual lingering of a crisis that doesn’t seem to quit, we see just how deeply the economy is politicized, and likewise we come to recognize the economic costs of poor political decision-making.

If you’re like me, you frequently throw up your hands in despair over the mess in which we find ourselves—a global mess provoked in the first place by the egregious greed and recklessness of a few. Add to that concerns over global warming and our abuse of the environment, a population in the West that’s aging and hasn’t properly planned for the financial costs of that aging (even as the developing world’s population explodes at an equally unsustainable rate), wars that seem never to end, etc.  The sheer scope of and complex connections between these problems begs for some assuring voice of reason to simply explain to us what is going on. How can we hope to understand something as complex as contemporary political economy? If we can, how should we do so?

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“Breaking  Down the Dividing Walls of Hostility

A review of
American Grace:
How Religion Divides and Unites Us
by Robert Putnam and David Campbell
.

Reviewed by Mark Eckel.

American Grace:
How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Robert Putnam and David Campbell.
Hardback: Simon & Schuster, 2010

Buy now: [ Amazon ]

AMERICAN GRACE - Putnam / CampbellStudents from junior high through high school to undergrad to graduate programs have heard me incessantly intone this mantra: we must know both what and why we believe.  The person who parrots a point of view without reason is simply doctrinaire.  The person who can explain their belief, on the other hand, better understands their doctrine.  Everyone holds to certain dogma, guiding principles, or an accepted canon of thought.  If one gains no other information from American Grace, it might be this: one’s conduct reflects one’s commitment.

Putnam and Campbell have added their exceptional research skills to divine how faith functions in American life.  Statistical research, based on huge amounts of data, demonstrate their expertise.  Blended research methods tighten threads of interpretive fabric.  Academics needing to validate findings can easily follow the flow of approach and argument.  Internal corrections and limitations are in evidence throughout the book.  Chapters covering broad historical changes set the stage for understanding the present.  Crosscurrents of thought are overlaid on multiple categories within a number of religious affiliations forecasting future developments.  Conclusions are, for the most part, carefully drawn.  The reader is consistently given caveats within which to read the sum of data found at each chapter’s end.  Interpretation of data show general American trends.  But in the end, the average, interested religious person in America would not be at all surprised by any of the broad findings.

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Read an excerpt from

The Rule of Empires:
Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall
.
Timothy Parsons.
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Read our feature review of this title


 

A Brief Review of :
CLAIMING EARTH AS COMMON GROUND:
The Ecological Crisis Through The Eyes of Faith

A. Cohen-Kiener, ed.
Paperback: Skylight Paths, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed By Jordan Kellicut.

“We are full of life… and we are poisoning ourselves (8).”  This heartfelt plea is like a watermark on every page of Claiming Earth as Common Ground. Andrea Cohen-Kiener experienced an awakening that led her to pursue involvement in recycling plastics, and from that a greater realization that ecology was related to her spirituality.  The Earth, she says, is our ultimate common ground for disparate religion.  It provides not just the well-worn question, “Can religious people save the environment?”  But also a new question, “Can the environmental challenge save religion (2)?”  It is this question that drives her theological reflection (especially chapters 2-5).

Cohen-Kiener advocates a variety of specific practices, not the least of which is an appendix with an exhaustive list of “small steps” to reduce one’s ecological footprint (146-149).  One specific practice focused on gardening and seed conservation (chapter 6). This is imperative because homogenous seed genus is vulnerable to pests and climate changes (93).  The other main practice is the rediscovery of Sabbath.  Lessness is the object of Sabbath, where at least one day is given over to seeking to nourish the soul through slowing down and “greening a day” (chapter 8).  Cohen-Kiener argues that environmental abuse and the reactionary desire to “go green” is at its root a spiritual hunger (117).  Religion can help us “rename and reclaim the subtle spiritual hungers (119).”  As she says, “Environmentalism can save religion by giving us a living laboratory in which we can learn to live up to our religion’s aspirations (144).”

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A lot to think about here!