Eerdmans is pleased to announce the launch of its newest theology series, Prophetic Christianity, edited by Bruce Ellis Benson, Malinda Elizabeth Berry, and Peter Goodwin Heltzel.
Here’s the official series description:
The Prophetic Christianity series explores the complex relationship between Christian doctrine and contemporary life. Deeply rooted in the Christian tradition yet taking postmodern and postcolonial perspectives seriously, series authors navigate difference and dialogue constructively about divisive and urgent issues of the early twenty-first century. The books in the series are sensitive to historical contexts, marked by philosophical precision, and relevant to contemporary problems. Embracing shalom justice, series authors seek to bear witness to God’s gracious activity of building beloved community.
Intrigued? Good! Benson, Berry, and Heltzel are also coeditors of the series’s inaugural volume, Prophetic Evangelicals: Envisioning a Just and Peaceable Kingdom, in which fifteen contributors share their visions for a socially responsible, gospel-centric, and ecumenical evangelical identity. Below, we present a brief excerpt from their introduction that explains the nature of the book — and, correspondingly, of the series — in greater detail.
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“What is an “evangelical”? Is there really such a thing as “evangelicalism”? If so, how is it defined and who gets to define it? Is “evangelicalism” synonymous with what is sometimes called the “religious right”? Is “evangelicalism” a particularly American phenomenon, or does one find it elsewhere in the world?
These are the questions that animate a conversation happening among a new generation of evangelicals, a growing community of prophetic evangelicals. As editors, our job has been to capture the energy of this discussion by bringing together our contributors’ reflections on how being evangelical shapes their worldview and how they live in the world as evangelicals today. In short, we have found a way to explore what it means be an “evangelical,” through creatively engaging contemporary theological debates and warmly embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because we believe that it is through his gospel that we have a personal relationship with Jesus and learn what it means to be his disciples in the twenty-first century, we invited this new generation of evangelical theologians to write meditations on a range of gospel themes. The contributors’ meditations are not simply another round of testimonies, though. They are continually animated by a single question: What does it mean to follow Jesus? What follows is our collective response to that question offered in a spirit of collaborative conversation that seeks to recover and revitalize a sense of Christian faith among evangelicals that is biblically centered, culturally engaged, and historically infused.
Look up the term “evangelical” in a theological dictionary or textbook glossary and you are likely to find a cluster of related terms whose basic root is the Greek word euangelion, which means “good news” or “gospel.” In its biblical context, euangelion means the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. The related terms refer to a movement among Christian churches and parachurch organizations in which a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is understood as the basis of Christian faith.
What these definitions fail to capture, though, is the dynamic nature of communities of Jesus’ followers who are living in and constantly interacting with a good yet hurting world. These communities offer the gospel of the living Christ, a message that brings healing to the broken, freedom to the oppressed, reconciliation to the divided, and peace to the restless hearts. Imagining the peaceable reign of God, stouthearted Christians critique the “powers and principalities” of their time, inspiring the church to live the gospel in its life together in and for the world. This is the prophetic imperative, and we are deeply drawn to this aspect of evangelical faith and are committed to embodying it in our lives, families, and churches, and in the public square.
As evangelicals who relate both to ministries of the church and to the life of the academy, we have been inspired by our study of the robust stream of prophetic evangelicalism that has flowed through the Christian religion since its inception. Just as early Christians held all things in common, we are serious about creating intentional communities of scholarship, activism, arts, and discipleship that share resources as a form of communicating the gospel. In the same way that nineteenth-century abolitionists fought to end slavery, we are serious about overcoming racism and working for social justice in the twenty-first century. We also recognize how the church’s history is largely told as a white European story, and we are serious about developing an intercultural history that tells a richer, more complex, and sometimes painful story of world Christianity.
Yet, amidst the plethora of prophetic pain there is prophetic promise: Jesus is victor! While twentieth-century evangelical Christology has emphasized the deity of Jesus Christ, we are serious about giving a theological account of Jesus’ Jewish, human flesh. It is through the wounds of Christ that all humans — bent and broken — can find restoration and wholeness. The suffering of Jesus becomes the axis through which we can understand the suffering of the world. The death of Jesus on the cross becomes the site of our redemption from sin, while his resurrection provides a horizon of hope for our witness to the just and peaceable kingdom. Thus, Jesus’ victory is manifest when we courageously enter into the places of the world’s greatest pain. Following Jesus, we seek to embody God’s justice, so that all who encounter him might believe and embrace the hope, justice, and freedom of God’s just and peaceable kingdom.
Many of us think in images, and as we have worked on this project, we have found that the image of light refracted through a prism best captures our conversation about recovering evangelicalism as a prophetic interpretation and embodiment of Christian faith. Imagine the gospel of Jesus Christ as a beam of white light, and the biblical vision of shalom as a prism. When the concentrated power and energy of that light hit a prism, the prism refracts the light, dividing it into a spectrum of wavelengths and colors. As the gospel — the light of Christ — passes through shalom, we can suddenly see the full spectrum of colors that represent the themes we explore in the rest of this book because they give prophetic faith its definition.
As you read each meditation, notice how each contributor pays attention to how Jesus Christ’s nature as a prophet of God’s shalom refracts his or her theme, causing us all to change the way we see the world, and think theologically about how God’s good news is for everyone. In these meditations we seek to recover the prophetic imperative — to live out justice within shalom. We encounter God’s love and justice in our encounter with the living Christ. Energized by the Holy Spirit and focused on the person of Jesus Christ inseparable from his death and resurrection, we seek to form communities of love and justice as part of a growing, global movement for God’s shalom.
We theologically frame the volume with two chapters on the just and peaceable kingdom, the heart of our theological vision. After these introductory chapters, each contributor shares a theological meditation on a core Christian doctrine. The contributors introduce their meditations with a prologue that shares their own unique story. Acknowledging the importance of social location and biography in the theological enterprise, these theologians describe their own journey in recovering an evangelical faith. Their authenticity and insight are reflective of a new wave of Christian theology that seeks to bear witness to Christ through inspiring prophetic action in repairing the world.
Evangelical theology is experiencing a deep transformation. It is moving from being an abstract discourse to being a concrete wisdom. It is moving from its individualism to a deeper understanding of theology’s social and cosmic context. It is becoming a theology in and for the world, a theology that makes a difference.
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Prophetic Evangelicals was released just last month, and already we are looking forward excitedly to the second book in the series (due out in June): Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision.
In this book, Randy Woodley draws parallels between the Native American “Harmony Way” and the biblical concept of shalom, arguing that cultivating an appreciation of those parallels can help to bring reconciliation between Euro-Westerners and indigenous peoples, a new connectedness with the Creator and creation, an end to imperial warfare, the ability to live in the moment, justice, restoration, and a more biblically authentic spirituality.