Portraits of a Radical Disciple
Recollections of John Stott’s Life and Ministry
Edited by Christopher J.H. Wright
Reviewed by Stephen Williams, Contributor
Few great or famous men ever truly finish well, and it seems that even fewer are remembered as fondly by their friends and family as they are by a general public which knew them only for their deeds and not for their personal character. But English pastor John Stott was a man who broke both of these molds. A titanic figure of 20th century Christianity, Stott was ranked by Time Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential people in the world, and it was said of him that, if evangelicals were to have ever elected a Pope, Stott would have been the likely choice. However, the biography Portraits of a Radical Disciple demonstrates that for all of his many contributions to the global evangelical Church, Stott’s personal friendships were marked by a selfless, humble, and consistent intentionality that proclaimed the work of Jesus Christ in ways that a large ministry never could.
Portraits is a collection of personal memories of Stott, written by a number of his friends, colleagues, and protégés, and compiled by Christopher J.H. Wright. Stott never married, but as Wright notes in his preface, “[O]ne of the outstanding gifts that God gave to John Stott, observed by almost every contributor to this collection, was an incredible capacity for friendship. Never did the word single seem less appropriate than for this lifelong bachelor.”
To a man, each contribution tells of Stott’s enduring kindness to both strangers and close friends. Despite his thousands of acquaintances from around the world, Stott pursued diligent correspondence with untold hundreds, never ceased to remember names and faces, and constantly made mention of such details as birthdays, old prayer requests, and major life events. Moreover, many of the testimonies praise Stott’s unwavering discipline, both in matters of daily life and in those of prayer and personal devotion.
These stories and others attain a particularly intimate poignancy when told from the perspective of those who were the beneficiaries of his love and prayers, and it’s that poignancy that makes Portraits a tremendously enjoyable and encouraging read. As Wright noted after Stott’s death in 2011, “For the vast majority of people whose lives he influenced profoundly, however, he was simply 'Uncle John' – a much-loved friend, correspondent, and brother, to whose prayers we will never know how much we owe.”
Portraits is certainly not a monumental biography in the way that we tend to think of monumental biographies; it’s no Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. But it is a monument to a faithful, consistent man whose demonstrative love for those in his personal community was never overtaken by his demanding international schedule or the admiration he received from millions of Christians across the globe. Without a doubt, Stott should be remembered for his ministry to the masses; aside from his duties as a pastor, he authored such classics of the 20th century theological canon as Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ, and he was also the primary mover behind the framing of the historic 1974 Lausanne Covenant promoting worldwide evangelism. But perhaps Stott should be emulated for the ways in which he demonstrated the love of Jesus Christ to all those many individuals who crossed his path. In all of our clamoring for men and women who will do great deeds, let us also clamor for men and women who will also be great friends, for, as Christ said, it is our love for one another that will demonstrate to the world that we are His disciples. Portraits of a Radical Disciple certainly helps ensure that we are not left without example.
Welcome to Round Two of "R.J.'s Social Media Book Club"! After the rousing success of our foray into the C.S. Lewis-created world of The Great Divorce, we are excited to announce the title of the second novel we'll be tackling on Twitter and Facebook:
G.K. Chesterton's... The Man Who Was Thursday
First things first: here's a link where you can get a free electronic copy of the book. (If that doesn't work, try here.) I feed you this information right off the bat because we are going to commence our social media discussion of the book this Thursday (11/29/12). No need to panic or worry if you'll be able to read the entire thing in time! We'll only be covering the introductory poem and Chapter 1 on that day, and working through two chapters per day until the book is finished sometime next week.
If you didn't join us on Great Divorce, here are a few simple things to keep in mind about what we're doing:
- The goal here is to get people reading and discussing meaningful and interesting stuff on social media sites (primarily Twitter, for our purposes). You don't have to be an expert and you can simply follow along if you'd like...but we'd LOVE to hear from you.
- On Twitter, follow (and add to) the discussion by including the hash-tag #MyManThursday in any Tweet you send out about the book. You can also find the on-going dialogue about it by typing that same thing into Twitter's search engine.
- Participate when you can, and please Re-Tweet any quotes or comments from other people reading the book that you like. This helps spread the word across Twitter that G.K. Chesterton's being discussed.
- Have fun with this!
If you're going to participate, I'd simply ask that you send a link to this very blog-post around to your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc. so that we can reach as many people as possible.
Other than that, I will see you on the inter-web come Thursday morning!
Note: some of my good friends - other religious conservatives - will be helping in this effort. Please follow these folks on Twitter: Joseph Sunde (@josephsunde), Brandon Smith (@brandon_j_smith), Hunter Baker (@hunterbaker) and Daniel Suhr (@danielsuhr)!
Thanks to all who participated in our first round of "RJ's Social Media Book Club" with the C.S. Lewis novella The Great Divorce! A few of my friends - Prof. Hunter Baker (Union University), Joy Pullmann (The Heartland Institute), Joseph Sunde (RemnantCulture.com) and Eric Teetsel (Manhattan Declaration) - helped me on Twitter and Facebook the past few weeks as we systematically worked our way though #GreatDivorce. Here are a few closing thoughts from Dr. Baker and Mrs. Pullmann:
"This was my third time with The Great Divorce (counting the one man show I saw recently). What a beautiful and inspiring book. Looking back, I think this is where I got my own view of Heaven and of God's justice. He is the creator of justice. We don't judge his justice. We experience it. And part of that justice is that those who end in Hell (a small, dark place that cannot contain a joyful person) choose it. How wonderful is the idea that Heaven is the ultimate reality. Heaven is almost frighteningly dense and solid. Flowers fall upon the ground like crashing boulders when perceived by transitory spirits. Goodbye to the aetherial Heaven of clouds and choir robes.I was also struck by the objectification of sin in people's lives. A young man has a lizard on his shoulder whispering in his ear. A dwarf has a large doll on a chain. The doll is a tragedian giving vent to carefully nurtured grievances. In one case, the sin creature dies (let us all rejoice). In the other, the wretched doll is all that is left.
C.S. Lewis managed to give us an entirely different way of thinking about Heaven and Hell. I think I could read the book yearly and be the better for it.-Hunter"
I started reading The Great Divorce in a funk. As I read, I realized I was acting just like the hell-threatened phantoms in the book: clinging to petty things like who should have washed the dishes last or annoyance at my loud, messy kids. It shook me. Just like my pastor's sermons each week, C.S. Lewis in this short book delivered a frightening mirror: frightening not because it distorted my features, but because it accurately revealed my soul's ugliness.People don't like to talk about hell, especially in the American winter, when it's always pseudo-Christmas. We delude ourselves into thinking we're pretty good people. But, as one of the glorified humans says in the book: "That's what we all find out when we reach [heaven]. We've all been wrong! That's the great joke...After that we begin living."That quote isn't just true in some ethereal future heaven. It's true now. After we realize we've been wrong about it all--how great, smart, perfect, rational, and self-determining humans are--we see we're great, silly fools. And God grants us repentance.Because of Christ, we can laugh at our sins, because he has overcome what we couldn't. That's the gospel.It was a gospel I needed to read this week, as I need to read and remember it each day and moment. Thanks, Mr. Lewis. (And thanks, RJ!)
I'm excited to announce the launch of a new idea I've been scheming the past two months or so: R.J.'s Social Media Book Club (working title)
The concept is fairly simple...I pick a book (mostly shorter works of fiction), I invite some of my friends in the media/think-tank world to join me in offering up daily analysis/commentary as we read through it, and we open it up to all of you to join in and participate and engage with the material on a deeper, more thoughtful level.
Starting this upcoming Monday, we'll be digging into The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.
On Twitter we'll be using the hash-tag #GreatDivorce to distinguish our conversation throughout the week as we go chapter-by-chapter through the powerful story Lewis tells. We'll also be posting stuff on Facebook and here at A Voice in the Wilderness (rjmoeller.com).
The great thing about this is that even if you've already read the book we're going through, you now have a chance to re-visit the material and offer up your valuable perspective as someone who has already digested it once. We use social media for so many pointless activities, here's a chance to be a part of something meaningful, deeper, and hopefully a lot of fun. It's also a great way to draw other friends into the mix. People are drawn to a crowd, so instead of that crowd being about how dumb Kim Kardashian is - and she's very dumb - let's make it about great written works and the important things they can provoke us to have to deal with and think about.
This isn't about politics. It's about worldview and using the minds God gave us to think critically.
Prepare for the trial run of what could become a very big deal!
Note: We know everyone's busy, so don't think you can't still participate during the week if you're not able to read everything. We simply need participants and want to generate buzz around the book. So at the very least, give us some RT's on Twitter and tell a friend!
By: Whitney Hunt, Contributor
When my friend R.J. Moeller adamantly insisted C.S. Lewis’ “Space Trilogy” was a must read, I have to admit I was skeptical, for several reasons. First, I had never even heard of these books, and I am pretty familiar with most of Lewis’ works. Surely, if they were any good, they would be more popular, right? Second, I was hesitant to read them because I am not usually a fan of anything space or sci-fi related. Sure, I watched the Star Wars movies as a kid (mostly because my older sister was obsessed and I was forced to watch with her), but I never really enjoyed them. Heck, even old Star Trek episodes would give me nightmares when I was younger.
So, reading a trilogy about space travel and the exploration of other planets was not exactly on the top of my to-do list.
However, R.J. offered to lend me an extra copy of Lewis' first book, Out of the Silent Planet, so I could not very well refuse such generosity! Before I knew it, the book had arrived at my house, and I was actually looking forward to beginning the adventure. It did not disappoint; in fact, I was sucked in from the very beginning. Since R.J. has already given his review and thoughts on the book and some of its themes, I will try not to reiterate those. Instead my goal is simply to give the perspective of someone who was reading it for the first time, and share a few things that stood out to me.
The story is about a man, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a professor of philology (the study of language), who is taken, very much against his will, by two evil men to the planet Mars (known as Malacandra in the book). He discovers en route to this foreign planet that he is to serve as a human sacrifice to the creatures that live there. Upon learning this, Ransom determines to take his own life before being handed over to these creatures, as his imagination conjures up all sorts of terrifying images of what they must looks like. This is the first big point that struck me in the book, how easily we, as humans, succumb to fear and are overtaken by it, especially fear of the unknown, fear of that which we do not understand, and fear of those things which we have no control over. Rather than exploring other options or devising a way out of his situation, Ransom immediately turns to suicide as the only way out. He felt all was lost; he felt hopeless. Yet, soon after landing on the planet Malacandra, an opportunity presents itself and Ransom is able to escape his two captors, Weston and Devine. Once fairly free of danger, and after exploring/experiencing some of this new world, Ransom realizes how foolish he was to have been so intent on taking his own life. It’s important for us, especially Christians, to remember that we are never hopeless, and while at times our situation may seem bleak and even disastrous, there is always another way out, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, there is always another option, though it may not always be immediately apparent.
As Ransom continues to explore this new world, he comes across a large, furry, otter-like creature called a hross, and is immediately both afraid of it, yet filled with curiosity at the same time. He soon learns that it is an intelligent being, with a language of its own. As the two try to communicate, Ransom finds he is comfortable with it one moment, and in the next once again overtaken by fear of it, and C.S. Lewis beautifully describes this struggle of reason as follows:
[The fear] "arose when the rationality of the hross tempted you to think of it as a man....nothing could be more disgusting than the one impression; nothing more delightful than the other. It all depended on the point of view."
When Ransom tried to compare the creature to a man and reason with it as such, it became a hideous monster of sorts and Ransom was full of fear. Yet once Ransom was able to view the hross for what it was, an animal-like creature with intelligence and rationale, it was a wondrous thing. Our limited human understanding can cause us to be narrow minded and form opinions mostly based on ignorance or stubbornness. Yet, if we surrender our minds and thoughts to Christ, we begin to see things as He sees them, and what once seemed impossible suddenly seems possible, what once seemed strange or unlikely now makes sense. Not because we understand it with our intellect, but simply because we are no longer leaning on our own understanding, trusting instead in the Author and Creator of the universe itself. Ransom came to terms with the unique qualities of the hross, and ended up living with these creatures for some time and learning about their culture and way of life.
Ransom soon learns that he was indeed summoned to Malacandra by some higher being, the ruler of the planet, named Oyarsa. Though he is unsure of this ruler’s intentions, he sets out on a journey to find him, obeying the call. Along the way he meets other inhabitants of the planet, called sorns, whom he feared upon first meeting, but, like the hross, once he became familiar with them they were quite agreeable and he learned many things from them and they, in turn, queried him about his planet. One of the main differences between Earth and Malacandra, Ransom found, was the existence of evil in one, and the complete absence of it in the other. Evil did not exist in Malacandra; all the creatures that lived there did so harmoniously, each serving a particular purpose and always at peace with one another under their leader, Oyarsa. So when Ransom attempts to describe life on Earth and the history of humans there, the sorns are in disbelief over the violence and division among the people. They speculate as to why this is so, saying,
"It's because they have no Oyarsa"
"It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa"
"There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves?"
Ransom does not have all the answers to their questions, and he also wonders about his own planet and the depravity of mankind. In the closing scenes of the book, Ransom does indeed have his meeting with Oyarsa, and an extremely powerful exchange takes place, involving the two men that originally brought Ransom to Malacandra, Devin and Weston. RJ did a spectacular job of recounting those scenes and the underlying themes, so I strongly suggest you read his account.
In closing, I would say that C.S. Lewis does a masterful job of taking the reader outside his own world and placing him in completely new and mystical environment, while weaving truths and realities that still apply to us today but often need reminding of. If you have not yet read Out of the Silent Planet, or any of the Space Trilogy, I highly recommend you do so! I have just started the second book, Perelandra, and I am already hooked! I am so glad RJ made me - err, I mean kindly suggested that I - read these; they are quickly becoming some of my favorite works of literature!
I recently finished re-reading C.S. Lewis' first book in his Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet.
It's one of those books that even most people who love and have read Lewis before are utterly unfamiliar with. But it's good. REAL good. Like, "get home to find someone has made you freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies" good.
You can read about the plot and overview here, so I won't waste time with too many details about the story. There are big themes in this book. It's a short, easy read, so don't fret my fellow short attention-spanned Millennials!
But, on the other had, don't be fooled: there are some serious, heady, fascinating topics and existential questions broached in this tale.
The main character is Dr. Ransom who specializes in languages and dialects. Through a series of events, he ends up on the planet Mars - called Malachandria by the natives. Again, don't worry if you aren't a science fiction fan: this book remains palatable for men and women of all ages above about 13 years old. The protagonist (Ransom) is pitted against two different types of antagonists who are working together.
The first, Mr. Devine, is a morally-depraved, money-grubbing, soul-less, seemingly irredeemable hedonist. He is driven by prestige and riches and whatever might benefit him and raise his stature in society.
The second, Professor Weston, is for all intents and purposes Ransom's doppelganger. Both have the common thread of being educators and intellectuals, but they part ways on nearly every other core value/idea/ideal. Even in a physical sense they part company: Ransom is tall and slender, Weston shorter and chubby.
One specific encounter in the book was, in my mind, important enough to briefly share with you in order to make a bigger point that applies directly to our lives today.
Eventually the three humans who have traveled to Mars/Malachandria end up in the presence of the "king" of the planet. He is something akin to an angel and the creatures on the planet refer to him as Oyarsa. For the Christian reader - and you by no means must be one to enjoy this compelling narrative - you will quickly pick up on the deeper, spiritual elements of this book!
So the three humans have an audience with the Oyarsa and while Ransom has become "friends" the local population, Devine and Weston - driven by nefarious motivations that are contrary and foreign to the sinless world of Malachandria - aren't the most popular blokes on the block. Using a strategy often employed by agents of the Creator (as well as the members of the Trinity themselves) in the Bible, Oyarsa asks Weston a series of questions regarding his intentions in coming to Mars. It's sort of one of those, "I want you to say out-loud the insanity that is in your heart in hopes that you might be convicted by your own words" strategies.
To the point here: Weston claims that he has mastered space travel and come to Malachandria because of his noble passion for the advancement and progress of mankind. He is a "man of science" who is filled with plenty of confidence regarding his abilities and capacity to learn and advance his species. He is defiant, even in the face of overwhelming and, quite candidly, terrifying spiritual forces that clearly disprove much of his materialistic, naturalistic worldview.
Oyarsa can already see that Devine is a morally-decadent and spiritually-decayed, and even says that if Devine was under his authority he would simply "un-make" him because of what little service he provides to the universe. But with Weston, and sensing the genuineness to his misguided aims, Oyarsa has more compassion. You can tell that this angelic creature would do what he could to aid in any potential internal rehabilitation that may be possible for Weston. Oyarsa tries to get Weston to see how shallow and empty his worldview truly is. (What follows is a rough paraphrasing of a much longer, much more interesting conversation that you'll really enjoy when you read, or re-read, this book):
Oyarsa: "Why do you want to bring the human race to Malachandria? What is your motivation? Is it the bodies of the people of earth that you love?"
Weston: "No, I feel a duty to mankind though"
Oyarsa: "Is it the mind, the heart and soul, of mankind that you love?"
Weston: "Not so much."
Oyarsa: "It seems odd that someone who cares not for the body of humans, nor for their internal make-up, would be so passionate and persistent regarding the advancement of that species..."
What Oyarsa is getting at is this: how can those who espouse secular materialism and the "religion of science" claim to be acting nobly or for the altruistic good of mankind? They have no right to such language. Their worldview is empty and has no culmination other than decomposition in the grave. You couldn't call someone "brave" who was willing to die for other already-dead and accidental cells.
Weston constantly betrays his true callousness throughout the story: for example, before kidnapping Ransom for the journey to Mars, he is ready to kidnap a mentally-handicapped boy as a "sacrifice" to the creatures of Malachandria. (Note: having a scientist be so reckless with the life of a handicapped/disabled child character in this instance was very intentional...)
Even during this scene in front of Oyarsa's royal court, Weston - who is under the impression that the natives mean them harm - is trying to give away his two human companions as bartering chips. He says on more than one occasion that anyone who thinks that human "progress" is not worth the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals - well, then such a person is an idiot and contemptible.
Why do I bring any of this up? The worship of science, and the acceptance of the secular academic world's insistence that faith/religion have no legs to stand on in their arena of expertise, is dangerous and devoid of any true meaning.
It offers no morality or comfort or explanation of the "why?" question that matters more than any other.
C.S. Lewis wasn't anti-science. In fact, his views on various things like evolution would more than likely be in conflict with many of my fellow Evangelicals. There's a time and place for that debate, but the point here is simply that the modern world is full of people who want to reject God and because of the advancements in science and technology those people feel like they have the intellectual/rhetorical cover to remove the undeniable accountability even a vague understanding of "Creator" saddles mankind with.
Abortion. Euthanasia. Genetic engineering. Cloning. We know what is already here, and we can reasonably guess what the very near future holds. If your understanding of life does not begin with "In the beginning, God created..." everything is up for grabs. And, if we're being intellectually honest, requires an admission on the part of anyone holding such a view that life has no real meaning other than hedonism (to one degree or another).
How can you look someone in the eye and say both "You're a randomly gathered collection of protoplasm, there's nothing special/unique about your existence and nothing happens when you die" and at the same time "I am fueled to do research because I believe in the advancement of the meaningless progeny of strangers I'll never meet, nor care about"?
Loving your neighbor only matters if you know, acknowledge and love Him. Weston's desire to help the human race "progress" was genuine - as Oyarsa concluded - but it was genuinely wrong.
Please get yourself a copy of this book, or if you've already read it and have any other thoughts leave us a Comment below!
(Note: Me and my friend Whitney just started reading the second book in the Space Trilogy: Perelandra. We'll be sporadically Tweeting and posting things on Facebook about the story and its themes as we go through it. If, like me, you've already read it...grab your copy and go through it again. It's always more fun with others who you can bounce ideas off of!)
The fact that it is already the second week of August blows my mind. Although I'm no longer a full-time students myself, I still get that uncomfortable "Don't make me do it again" feeling about this time every year. Oh sure, school can be loads of fun and if you're in college you're probably ecstatic to get back to that sweet freedom of university life.
But real learning - real intellectual development - can only truly take place during that time outside of the classroom. It's about what you read when no one's looking that makes you the student you really are.
And I'm talking about "student" in the bigger, life-long pursuit-of-wisdom-and-knowledge sense of the term. It's never too early, and certainly never too late, to start cultivating a thoughtful, informed, engaged mind.
I try and read and/or listen to three books every month. To some that sounds insanely difficult and boring. To others, and you know who you show-offs are, this sounds like amateur hour. If you're just starting, set a goal of a book a month and I promise you that before you know it that will jump to two. Reading and learning and experiencing something by consuming the ideas and concepts someone else has taken the time to put to paper is a contagious experience.
To that end, I've listed below the "Five Books R.J. Read This Summer" in hopes that at least one of them might inspire someone who doesn't read to start, and someone who already does to read what I like. (Note: some of these are re-reads...that's how good they are...and they are in no particular order)
1. That Hideous Strength By: C.S. Lewis
- The final book in C.S. Lewis's acclaimed Space Trilogy, which includes Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, That Hideous Strength concludes the adventures of the matchless Dr. Ransom. Finding himself in a world of superior alien beings and scientific experiments run amok, Dr. Ransom struggles with questions of ethics and morality, applying age-old wisdom to a brave new universe dominated by science. His quest for truth is a journey filled with intrigue and suspense.
- Get yourself a copy here! This is the C.S. Lewis novel that everyone ought to know of, but few have read. It definitely is part of a trilogy, and I recommend starting from the beginning with Out of the Silent Planet, but the first two are short books and it is SOOO worth it when you get to THS!
2. Demons (The Possessed) By: Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Pyotr and Stavrogin are the leaders of a Russian revolutionary cell. Their aim is to overthrow the Tsar, destroy society, and seize power for themselves. Together they train terrorists who are willing to lay down their lives to accomplish their goals. But when the group is threatened with exposure, will their recruits be willing to kill one of their own to cover their tracks? Savage and powerful yet lively and often comic, Demons was inspired by a real-life political murder and is a scathing and eerily prescient indictment of those who use violence to serve their beliefs.
- Your copy of the most interesting ideological thriller awaits you here. Just be warned that the books starts fairly slow, but all of the character building and analysis matters greatly to the outcome of the story. This is easily one of my favorite books of all time.
3. Christianity and Liberalism By: J. Gresham Machen
- Honestly folks, if you consider yourself a Christian, this book is an eye-opener. It's thought-provoking and challenging in ways that very few books today are. It's not about politics, so don't let the title throw you off the intellectual scent. Get yourself a copy of this classic right here!
4. Not Taco Bell Material By: Adam Carolla
- On June 12th Adam Carolla debuted Not Taco Bell Material the highly anticipated follow up to his New York Times bestselling first book In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks. Not Taco Bell Material is a memoir of Carolla's early childhood, through his raucous drug-fueled teens and twenties up to the present day as a comedian, actor, producer and writer. The book follows the framework of the various 'dumps' Adam grew up in, the apartments he rented through his twenties, to the homes he purchased and personally renovated when he found success. Each chapter focuses on the hilarious stories that took place while he lived in each abode and is peppered with Carolla's trademark rants all while managing to be touching and inspirational.
- Most people reading this site know that part of the reason I got a chance to move from Chicago to Los Angeles earlier this year is because I came up with the idea to bring Carolla and my current boss, Dennis Prager, together for a nation-wide tour that they're currently doing a few weekends out of each month. So this might seem biased, but Adam is a really funny guy and this book - like his first one - is hilarious. Parents, please know in advance that there is some crude humor and language to be found in its pages. Adam isn't shy about using fairly colorful terms to describe just about anything. But there is real heart to the stories he shares and to the overall message/theme: life gets better with the right attitude and a genuine work ethic.
5. Tyranny of Cliches By: Jonah Goldberg
- According to Jonah Goldberg, if the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the greatest trick liberals ever pulled was convincing themselves that they’re not ideological. Today, “objective” journalists, academics and “moderate” politicians peddle some of the most radical arguments by hiding them in homespun aphorisms. Barack Obama casts himself as a disciple of reason and sticks to one refrain above all others: he’s a pragmatist, opposed to the ideology and dogma of the right, solely concerned with “what works.” And today’s liberals follow his lead, spouting countless clichés. With humor and passion, Goldberg dismantles these and many other Trojan Horses that liberals use to cheat in the war of ideas. He shows that the grand Progressive tradition of denying an ideological agenda while pursuing it vigorously under the false-flag of reasonableness is alive and well. And he reveals how this dangerous game may lead us further down the path of self-destruction.
- I had the distinct honor of meeting Jonah this summer and attending a Dodgers baseball game with him and few others back in July. He's even better in person than in print, and that's saying something. I know this book looks like some cookie-cutter, Right-wing smear-job of the Left...but it absolutely is NOT!!! It's thoughtful and insightful in ways so many books never are. Plus it's funny. Remember that concept, conservatives? Buy it right here and read it ASAP. Let me know what you think when you do!
Okay, so there you have it. Some books to take back with you to school if you're a student, and some books for you to finally get around to reading once the kids are out of the house if you're a parent. I swear to you, upon bended knee, that you'll thank me for the recommendation.
By: Stephen Williams, Contributor
To call Robert Lupton’s 2011 book Toxic Charity a paradigm-shifting little work would be an understatement. Recently named by WORLD Magazine’s Marvin Olasky as a runner up Book of the Year, it pulls no punches in challenging the existing norms surrounding Christians and our charitable ventures, whether they be foreign mission trips or “mercy ministries” here in the States. Toxic Charity is characterized by a refreshing honesty that is at once both hard to swallow and edifying, and I believe the book deserves a spot on the shelf of any Christian wishing to thoughtfully engage in sustainable, effective compassion ministry.
At the core of Lupton’s arguments are calls to due diligence and a more thoughtful stewardship than that which currently characterizes the large majority of Christian charitable work. He targets both the mentalities surrounding the giving of resources to charitable organizations and the approaches taken by those organizations in deploying those resources:
“We mean well, our motives are good, but we have neglected to conduct careful due diligence to determine emotional, economic, and cultural outcomes on the receiving end of our charity. Why do we miss this crucial aspect in evaluating our charitable work? Because, as compassionate people, we have been evaluating our charity by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served. We have failed to adequately calculate the effects of our service on the lives of those reduced to objects of our pity and patronage.”
Lupton cites a prevailing, if often unintended arrogance on the part of the “giver” in charitable ventures, and he advocates a collaborative approach between “giver” and “receiver” in addressing poverty and other physical needs. Drawing from multiple real-life examples, he demonstrates how “top-down, one-way” charity communicates a damaging attitude of condescension and superiority. For Lupton, charity that does not empower or require accountability is a gross affront to the basic human dignity of those in need: “Doing for rather than doing with those in need is the norm. Add to it the combination of patronizing pity and unintended superiority, and charity becomes toxic.”
Moreover, he believes that “one-way” charity sets the table for an unhealthy, counterproductive relationship of dependence between the “giver” and those on the receiving end. “The negative outcomes of welfare are no different when religious or charitable organizations provide it.” For politically conservative Christians, this is an especially damaging indictment. If many of the underlying principles behind our opposition to government welfare programs are to hold true, they must find application in our own private charitable ventures, both within and without the Church.
In the end, Lupton’s arguments are made persuasive by his four decades of experience in transforming poverty-stricken communities. Toxic Charity is no armchair rant against Christian charitable ventures by a disinterested, detached, or heartless party. Rather, it is both a direct, honest assessment of the state of Christian charity and a clarion call for wise, prudent compassion made by someone who has spent his entire life in the trenches of ministry. For all of his bluntness, Lupton throughout the book maintains a compelling belief in the fundamental human dignity that finds its origins in the imago Dei, and it is this dignity that should inspire the Church to greater wisdom, prudence, and patience in stewarding our resources while addressing the needs of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.
Follow Stephen on Twitter at @williamstephen!