Departure from Collective Madness
Gordon C. Stewart
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2017
Our world is a mess.
Despite a decades-long war against it, terrorism rears its ugly head around the globe. Technology allows us to communicate with anyone anywhere at any time, but we still cannot muster the ability to get along face-to-face. The gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen. We are more educated than ever, but still don’t seem to understand (or simply will not accept) that promiscuous living results in destroyed health, wrecked families and disillusioned people. Wherever one looks, there is a collective madness driving us to self-destruction.
Gordon Stewart, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), has years of experience reflecting, writing and speaking on issues of faith and culture. Along with his pastoral experience in campus ministries and congregations in five states, Stewart has been a guest commentator on NPR’s (National Public Radio) All Things Considered, as well as having pieces published in various venues.
Eric Ringham, an editor with whom Stewart has worked, says the following:
Gordon knows something about writing commentaries that many people of faith do not: that is, how to be inclusive in addressing an audience that may hold some other faith, or no faith at all. He writes from a Christian perspective, but not to a Christian perspective.
I appreciate Ringham’s perspective, but evangelical Christians (myself included) will, in some of these essays, search in vain for a “Christian perspective” that is truly faithful to biblical teaching.
Drawing from personal experiences as well as current events, both national and international, Stewart’s 48 brief essays in Be Still explore issues of life, death, religion, relationships, capitalism, politics, terrorism, ecology, animal rights, gun control, and nationalism, to name just a few.
The late Kosuke Koyama (to whom this book is dedicated) once told Stewart, “there’s only one sin – exceptionalism” (p.xi). Stewart concurs saying exceptionalism manifests itself in “religion, race, nation, culture, and finally, species exceptionalism.”
I’ve been thinking about Stewart’s assertion regarding the ways in which exceptionalism manifests itself. It requires only a cursory review of history to recognize the problems of exceptionalism in race, culture and nation (including America). But I am dubious when Stewart speaks of species exceptionalism. From the biblical account of origins, only humans were created in the image of God – something never said of animals.
Wayne G. Boulton, “fellow Presbyterian teaching elder, scholar, author, faithful friend, and cheerleader” (p.xiv) of Gordon Stewart, says this is “a book written in the tradition of public theology” (p.xv). With reference to the religious roots of the public theology displayed in this book, Boulton writes:
Though the religious roots of this vision and struggle are sometimes hidden, the thrust is public theology through and through. By the late nineteenth century, Christianity had produced only two major social philosophies: medieval Catholicism and Calvinist Protestantism. Within the recent period, however, the modern social gospel movement originated and developed a third – namely Christian socialism.
A great cloud of witnesses, the women and men surrounding this fine book are not difficult to bring to mind: Wendell Berry, Jane Addams, Cornel West, Walter Rauchenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, James Luther Adams, Dorothy Day, James Gustafson, Paul Tillich, Jim Wallis, and many others.
The movement is novel for its idea of social salvation. The leading direction has been that in order to make Christianity relevant to technological, nationalistic, and capitalist society, the church must recapture the utopian and revolutionary character of the faith … only in modern form. The church’s mission, the movement has argued, should be social, i.e., to transform the structures of society in the direction of social justice.
So how do you do that? … Be Still! is the Reverend Gordon C. Stewart’s answer.
Whatever your political, cultural and theological bent, you will find Stewart challenging, provocative and passionate – worth reading.