The three books below are written by Christians primarily for Christians, in large part to remind some sections of the church of the parts of Christian teaching that relate to unjust social and economic conditions – often referred to as Liberation Theology, or Social Justice.
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider
First published in 1977, Ron Sider’s book was intended to shock and challenge mainstream Christianity into reevaluating it’s attitude and response to global poverty. It proved particularly controversial, as it cast the rich West as the ‘bad guys’, with systems and practices that are, if not entirely responsible for creating global poverty, are at least responsible for doing little to improve it.
A significant backlash developed from parts of the Christian right, especially in the US, with Dave Chilton publishing Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators in 1981, as a response. Sider’s book is now in its fifth edition, and has ‘mellowed’ significantly since its first publication – being now less judgmental and critical in tone, and less antagonistic to market capitalism.
At its core it still challenges disinterest and apathy within the church in the face of global poverty and injustice, and asks Christians to consider if their economic and social priorities are really in line with the Christian message of concern for the poor and marginalised in society, and if not, calls on them to do something about it. [Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger from Amazon]
A Just Church by Chris Howson
Chris Howson is a City Centre Mission Priest in Bradford, and in A Just Church writes the story of a small community church trying to live out what they believe, asking the question ‘what would Jesus do ?’ Chris’s church were partly inspired by the example of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, not just for his outspoken role in ending the apartheid regime, but also for his less well know criticism of the ANC once in government, of Robert Mugabe’s violent regime in Zimbabwe, and of the growing homophobia seemingly developing in parts the church.
A Just Church describes Chris’s church’s struggles and actions across a wide range of issues, including guerilla gardening, reducing their carbon footprint, challenging top-down urban regeneration that doesn’t consider local people, building relationships with Bradford’s Asian communities, anti-war protesting (including super-gluing themselves to the gates of a nuclear submarine base) and taking part in Make Poverty History.
As well as telling the story of the church’s activities and deliberations, A Just Church also contains a number of suggestions of how other churches, groups or individuals can educate, take action, reflect and sustain themselves on a range of issues. [A Just Church from Amazon]
The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
Shane Claiborne has become a well known international figure, famous for his peace activism during the Gulf War, critiques of materialism, disparity and corporate greed, and support for the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Irresistible Revolution is his first book, published in 2006.
Shane argues the case for a simpler way of life (simplicity, he bemoans, has become too complicated to achieve) and describes the origin of the Simple Way movement in Philadelphia. There is plenty of humour, for such a serious subject, with Shane ironically pointing out that ‘simplicity is very popular nowadays – lots of people are very busy giving presentations about it, or being paid lots to write books about it’. He also points out the detachment of many who profess concern for the poor, whilst never having anything to do with them; ‘there is nothing more sickening than talking about poverty over a fancy diner’.
The Irresistible Revolution is an easy read, but poses uncomfortable and challenging questions. The preface describes it as not being for saints or martyrs, but ordinary people who are dissatisfied with how the world is and want to do something to change it. The revolution, Shane writes, must begin inside each of us. [The Irresistible Revolution from Amazon]
The irony of promoting books on a website opposed to consumerism is not lost on me. Borrow them from a friend or library if you can or buy them second hand. If you must, buy them from Amazon through this site and make me some money :) Half of any income I make will be donated to Oxfam and Water Aid.
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Photo by James Fischer, via Flickr