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Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Preaching God's Transforming Justice"

TITLE: Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A
AUTHOR/EDITORS: Ronald J. Allen, Dale P. Andrews, and Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm.
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (510 pages).

It is one thing to speak about justice for all and all for justice. Whether it is criminal justice, ethical justice or social justice, what about biblical justice? What does the Bible has to say about that? More importantly, what can the Church do as a collective people of God to be a part of God's transforming justice? The authors hope to accomplish three things. First, to interpret the existing world we live in. Second, to interpret it from a deep theological standpoint that is faithful to the biblical texts. Third, to do something about it through practice guidance for both individuals as well as for a community. While pain, suffering, and injustice cannot be undone, one can still play vital roles in learning how to deal with it in a manner that is biblical, humane, and transforming. Twenty-two specific days of justice are laid out for preachers to consider adopting, while the rest of the Sundays basically follow the Revised Common Lectionary Year A. It can be something that is local to American society (like Martin Luther King Day or Asian-American Heritage Day) or something more global (World AIDS Day or Earth Day). There are also days about women, Holocaust, native people, etc. There is an intentional using of biblical texts that speak into the existing situation needing justice or addressing the effects of injustice. The underlying belief is that the Bible speaks for the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and those on the fringes of society; how the Word builds community, and the need for the New World to come as promised by Jesus. The authors make a bold claim that "every passage of the Bible has social implications," and based on this tries to understand how the biblical writers speak to their audiences then, and how modern preachers can contextualize those and speak to modern audiences. This is where this book comes in. It asks questions like:

  • "What are God's life-giving intentions in each text?"
  • "How do human beings and nature fall short of God’s possibilities when they do not follow or sustain that vision?" 
  • "Do individuals or communities get hurt in the world of the text or in the way that text has been interpreted?"
  • "What needs to happen for justice, healing, re-creation, and inclusive well-being?" 
  • ...
For the preacher, it is hoped that they will be more equipped to name the context, the problems, and how it has fallen as a result of rebellion against God. Subsequently, they can speak from and to the contexts they are in. I like the dual emphasis of calling preachers to preach with a "prophetic vision" with a "pastoral goal."

This book contains contributions from ninety preachers and scholars, who come from different backgrounds but share a common purpose and passion. For it helps us build bridges between the ancient biblical texts with the modern contexts. This looking back and living forward manner is applied to various topics of injustice in places, societies, ethical issues, people groups, systemic problems, institutional weaknesses, etc. Hopefully preachers will be equipped. Congregations will be empowered. Readers will be emboldened to do something about the things we are ignorant about, the matters which we erroneously presumed our inability to do something about it, and the need to let the Word of God anchor us in any endeavour. From Chris Glaser's reflection on World AIDS Day (Dec 1) which urges us to practice lesser judgementalism to greater humility and grace; to Clark Williamson's piece for Holocaust Remembrance Day (Apr-May) urging us toward remembrance, repentance, and reconciliation; William Swartley's writing for the International Day of Prayer (Sep 21) and the biblical injunctions for believers to be peacemakers; a section on "Children's Sabbaths" (Oct 19) that deals with injustice done on children, and how we as a community of God can play a part in blessing the children. We see pages after pages of passionate argument that Christians can indeed so something about injustice.

Nelson Mandela once said that, "Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."

In the same spirit, this book recognizes and names the injustices for what they are. It recognizes the many fallouts due to rebellion of man and the worldly powers reacting against God's reign. It then lets the Word of God instructs, convicts, guides, educates, leads, and transforms us in such a way that no longer will we be simply be armchair critics or nonchalant skeptics, but active catalysts in God's transforming work and justice. This book is an excellent resources that is broad in coverage, deep in biblical awareness, and spoken from a very ecumenical range of contributions. There is at least something from everyone. For justice affects all of us.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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