It’s been a very busy few weeks but I have a couple of book reviews to share:
Worlds Apart: Poverty and Politics in Rural America, Second Edition
Cynthia M. Duncan
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999,2014
After conducting interviews in three disparate communities in America two different times – 1999 and again in 2012-2013 Duncan simply says, “We can do better.” Her interviews of people in these communities struggling with poverty are enlightening and revealing. People living in poverty express longings and desires for change but seem frustrated by inefficient and broken systems. People who are not in poverty express frustrations at trying to change systems that are needlessly oppressive and regressive.
What emerges from Duncan’s studies, conducted fifteen years apart, are several important observations. First, fighting poverty can only occur locally. The federal government has a role to play but the changes necessary must be community based and community driven. There are no one size fits all strategies. The three communities highlighted in her interviews and observations are radically different in culture but united by the same types of desires and dreams.
Second, the differences between Blackwell, Dahlia and Gray Mountain illustrate how far social capital and a culture of trust can create structurally different environments. Gray Mountain presented a different kind of community than its nearest neighbor in the study, Blackwell. The difference was not in the dreams and desires of poor and those not so poor but in the history of groups willing to work together to create a genuine sense of community.
Third, a critical issue in creating a more even starting place for our children – whether in poverty or not – is early intervention. Oregon is taking huge steps to coordinating early learning initiatives to created a more even starting place. Results will take years to evaluate, but a start is being made.
The book offers a fascinating overhearing of a variety of people with widely divergent backgrounds illuminating the struggles and challenges of making a living and creating a culture of livability. Rural Oregon communities like mine, Winston, would do well to carefully read and re-read the interviews and the conclusions as people seek to do better!
Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News
Josh Ross & Nathan Storment
Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2015
The past decade or so has seen an upsurge of interest in the Gospel. Numerous books have been published and perhaps hundreds of definitions have been offered. Each book and each definition tends to reveal the particular theological bent and the cultural location of the author(s). This book is no different. While the authors do not specifically identify themselves as progressive Christians rather than evangelicals the book tends towards a more progressive understanding of the gospel. The authors write often of God’s intention to restore and recreate the world and the role that Christians can have in working with God. There is little mention of judgment in these pages. The picture the Bible offers, however, does include judgment before restoration and/or re-creation.
The authors primary thesis is that Christians have been called to bring the Kingdom of God to fruition in this world is biblically accurate. Ross and Storment give much more credit to human abilities and creativity than I believe is warranted. Little is discussed in this book about the Fall and its debilitating effect on the world even though they do acknowledge that the gospel is “the story of God’;s work in restoring a broken world and broken people” (58). Notice the order of the story- God’s world seems to take precedence over the people for whom God created the world.
I did find the authors use of illustrations very helpful and from time to time I found myself agreeing with their conclusions about the necessity of engaging with the world – as broken as it is. Perhaps other believers will read the book and choose to become engaged with the world in which we live in positive ways. Withdrawal from the world is certainly not an option and Ross and Storment are to be applauded for their own efforts and the efforts of their congregations to make the Kingdom of God real and visible in a broken and hurting world.