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A Feature Review of
Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is At the Center
Paperback: IVP Books, 2015
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Reviewed by David Swanson
What is your testimony? The question might sound dated, but the sentiment behind it has been important to a wide variety of American Christians for a long time. The before and after of conversion to Jesus is mixed with one’s narrative arc – some more dramatic than others – to create a form that is instantly recognizable in churches of distinct denominations, races, and styles of worship. Increasingly there is a second conversion that follows the first. If the first conversion is accomplished by believing the good news of Jesus, identifying with the justice priorities of Jesus’ kingdom marks the second. Like the first conversion, the second has its own testimony.
In 1976 John Perkins, widely viewed as a founder of the Christian community development movement, wrote a memoir about his own first and second conversions. Having left behind the racial oppression of his native Mississippi for California, Perkins eventually gave his life to Christ. Later on he felt called to return to Mississippi and to the plight of his people. Let Justice Roll Down captures Perkins’ awakening to God’s heart for justice, the trials and joys of the work for justice, and a theological framework that would eventually lead to founding the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). Perkin’s biography could be seen as one of the first to emphasize for American Christians the need for a second conversion to God’s kingdom agenda, one that emphasizes flourishing for the marginalized and oppressed.
In Where the Cross Meets the Street Noel Castellanos has recorded his second conversion. Others have written this sort of book since Perkins, but few are better suited than Castellanos. Working backward through his biography this becomes clear: he is the CEO of the CCDA; he has long traveled with those experiencing this second conversion; he experienced the not uncommon angst of parachurch ministry that focused on evangelism while mostly overlooking justice; his identity as a Mexican American gives him a vantage point distinct from the many white Evangelicals who have recently lifted high the banner of justice.
Like Perkins, Castellanos’ biography includes the story of his coming to faith in Christ and work with the kinds of ministries that are known and trusted by Evangelicals. Like Perkins, Castellanos knows what it is to be an ethnic outsider within most Evangelical circles. And like Perkins did forty years ago, Castellanos uses his biography to describe a theological framework for a new generation of Christians who have been converted for a second time.
Having done ministry among students on the west coast, Castellanos and his family moved to the Little Village in Chicago, a predominately Mexican American neighborhood with the sorts of joys and challenges associated with many urban, under resourced neighborhoods. The catalyst for this move had been a conference where Castellanos met John Perkins.
The more John spoke about his work, which he referred to as Christian community development, in Mississippi and Pasadena, California, and about the power of the gospel to transform communities, the more I began to go crazy. My heart and mind were exploding with excitement as I realized that this was the kind of holistic transformation I wanted to see happen in my community, but I had no language for it. I loved that John was absolutely committed to the Bible, and that at the same time he was adamant that our faith needed to be put into action to bring about reconciliation and justice in the world.
In the work and theology of John Perkins and the Christian community development movement Castellanos found fertile ground for his passion for justice. Now he began the slow work of church planting and community development.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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