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A review of
Not As the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice
Paperback: Second Spring, 2014.
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Reviewed by Sam Edgin
As crowd-sourced media plays its hand in defining what our culture is, and as news aggregation-by-way-of-popularity sites — such as Reddit — grasp more public interest, the Christian church will, and indeed already does, find itself in a culturally unique situation. Within current social media, stories, videos and pictures of what the Christian society would term “hope” and “love” and “justice” frequently attain virality and become behemoths of social popularity. This is good. In fact, this is something to be celebrated by Christians everywhere. The problem mentioned earlier, however, is that Christianity, in light of the popularity of an almost “Christian” justice throughout secular society, has found itself with less and less actions and postures that it can champion as uniquely Christian. That is, if the world’s justice appears much the same as Christianity’s justice, or even better than it, the argument that Christianity offers a better world seems to weaken in impact.
What this means is that simply “doing good” is no longer enough to distinguish our actions. And although Christ insisted that our good be done in non-visible ways (Matthew 6:1-4), the hope He offers is both more than and not the same as that which the world offers (John 14:27). And, if we are the mirror of Christ in the world, what we offer needs to be likewise. In order to offer something that is both more than and different from, the Church needs to diligently seek a whole-life ethic with which to approach mission and faith. As a beginning for what this kind of new ethic might look like, Stratford Caldecott takes his title for Not As the World Gives: The Way of Creative Justice from a verse in John referenced above: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” It is an excellent starting point for his exploration of Catholic social doctrine (CSD) within our post-modern culture.
Caldecott’s book is broken into three parts, each with three chapters: an overview of Catholic social doctrine and the role of the Church in culture, a consideration of current problems CSD must address, and a glimpse at what creative justice looks like in the creation of culture. The shift in Catholicism that accompanied the election of Pope Francis has brought the importance of these ideas into the foreground like never before. Because of Francis’ posture towards the least of these and his resounding impact on the culture at large (in a way defining concisely the “more than and different from” mentioned above), the Catholic church needs a renewal in how its members do and consider life. Caldecott argues that the Church can no longer offer its posture towards society as wisdom to be applied to the current world, but instead as guidance into a whole new world “by refusing to separate the subject itself from ethics, spirituality, and the creation of culture” (4-5).
His vision is magnificent. Caldecott lays out an ethic for a Church that looks outward and sees beautiful potential everywhere. From the Beatitudes he creates this ethic, pairing lines with gifts of the Spirit and also with lines from the Lord’s Prayer and the latter seven commandments. What he is building in this book encompasses all of faith and all of life. Through participation in the “Divine Society,” or, the communion of the Church with the flawless unity of the Trinity, Caldecott sees a kingdom people who look at each facet of society, imagine how to create something more, and then strive to build that in alignment with the beauty of the divine. This world, let by a creative, inspired Church, confronts all injustice and welcomes all. It encourages a better physical world and a better spiritual one.
The backbone here is the unity and the mystery of the Trinity. With a unified Church taking its lead from the beautiful mystery that surround the person of God, there is reason and impetus to offer the world a new way. This way envisions justice without separation from theology, and worship within a constant awe of beauty. It sees a Church leading a wandering world into just governance and a healthy relationship with technology.
Caldecott’s CSD resembles portions of Protestant thinking from the past ten years. It is not difficult to draw lines to writers like Andy Crouch (In his seminal book Culture Making), Dave Harrity and John Perkins. It would have quite a bit to offer to the conversation, in fact, if it seemed to be at all interested in participating. Certainly, this is a book on Catholic Theology written exclusively for Catholics, and it occupies a more scholarly and philosophical realm of literature than the bulk of protestant theology; but the inspiration Caldecott’s words have for the Church at large (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox) should give witness to the necessity of a more prevalent cross-Church conversation.
Pope Francis has turned the heads of the world. Caldecott uses this new Pope’s election and focus on the poor and on ecology as the impetus behind Not As the World Gives. Francis’ overwhelming popularity within the Protestant population proves that the Church, in all Her parts, is ready to dialogue about what it means to live in this modern world. It seems a subtle irony that the three-parted unity of the Trinity as inspiration that is Caldecott’s focus echoes the three-parted disunity of Christ’s global church. Stratford Caldecott’s Not As the World Gives has plenty to offer all Christians, and it is a useful part of the conversation surrounding how Christ’s Church is going to lead the world into a whole new society.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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