S omeone has said we are living out the 1918 pandemic, the civil unrest of 1968, and the 2008 economic meltdown all at once. As followers of Jesus, we know the church has not always responded well to crisis moments. Too often, we have added to an anxious society rather than being a place of hope and grace that is rooted in the good news that Jesus is King.
We can be shaped into people who bring hope and grace in times of anxiety by listening to wise voices. At this moment, I believe the following wise voices can help us—church leaders especially—navigate the multiple crises we face and shape us into people of grace and truth.
1. Reading While Black: African American Biblical Tradition as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley
Dr. McCaulley is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. His book digs deeply into the Black, biblical interpretive tradition and helps us to discover hope amid chaos and brokenness. McCaulley’s deep-roots approach deals with the struggles of a painful history of slavery, lynchings, mass incarceration, and more. As McCaulley digs ever deeper into Black interpretation of the Scriptures, he finds and helps us discern the ability to deal with grave injustice.
2. Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings
Dr. Willie James Jennings’s work is always insightful and powerful. His commentary on Acts is no exception. Jennings’s particular talent is to ask questions of both the text and the context that bring us to understandings of the text that can reshape our vision of this vital book of the Bible. While this book is a commentary, it is easily and profitability used as a daily devotional.
3. Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah
Dr. Rah has jokingly said that if you want to sell a commentary, don’t write one on Lamentations. Joking aside, Rah’s commentary takes us into the world of Lamentations and connects powerfully to our present context. His insights can make the reader uncomfortable at times, but, more importantly, they cause us to ask deep questions about justice in troubled times. Like Jennings’s commentary, Rah’s book is easily used as a daily devotional.
4. White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones
Robert P. Jones digs into the idea that to be living out white values is the supreme life. As the head of research firm Public Religion Research Institute, Jones takes us on both a personal and statistical journey into the ways that white supremacy has firmly rooted itself in the white church.
While many twenty-first-century white Christians want to point out that racism is in the past, Jones will not let white Christians off the hook so quickly. His research shows that while white evangelical Christians have warm feelings toward African Americans, actual behaviors and beliefs show that evangelicals are the most racist group in the United States. While this can be a disturbing read, it is an important one to see what has shaped white Christians.
5. Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity by David Swanson
David Swanson believes that racial reconciliation begins with rediscipling the white church. He argues persuasively that the white church is discipled into racial discipleship. This means white Christians are taught a way of life that sees the white race’s ways as best and sees all other ways as inferior. Being discipled in this way creates biases in white Christians that separates them from other Christians so that everyone is damaged.
Following the lead of philosopher Jamie Smith and fourth-century theologian Augustine, Swanson points out that we are what we love. Therefore, white Christians need to learn to love the fullness of God’s kingdom. God’s is a kingdom where the dividing walls of hostility are broken down so people from every language, nation, tribe, and tongue worship at the throne of God. The way white Christians learn to love the fullness of the kingdom is by robust habit-shaping practices that lead us out of racism.
In this little book, N.T. Wright gives wisdom on how to respond to COVID-19 with a godly mind and heart. He shows the temptation to grab hold of Greek philosophies in our response (for example, Plato’s “Death isn’t the worst thing that can happen. We’re heading somewhere else anyway.”) rather than holding to a Christ-centered response.
Wright holds that, at this moment, we have to center on Christ as the revelatory one and revelatory event. When we do, we stop looking for the “whys” in the pandemic; instead, we look to the “what.” What is the Christian response to this and indeed to all pandemics? How has the church responded in the past to this kind of large scale suffering? The “what” of our response outweighs the “why” of this happening. Focusing on the “what” rather than the “why” leads us to respond to the needs around us.
7. Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief and Uncertainty by Walter Brueggemann
Brueggemann does a wonderful job of summarizing the purpose of his book in the preface: “It is my hope that my thinking may be of some encouragement and suggestion about how we may think and speak critically, theologically, and biblically about our current crisis of virus in order that the community of faith may maintain its missional identity with boldness and joy.”
Written in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, this book asks readers to deeply examine our understanding of God as we face this crisis. Brueggemann also uses this moment—and the prophet Isaiah’s vision—to call us to live a new way of life.
Larry Doornbos serves as director of Vibrant Congregations, a partnership of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America that helps congregations discern their next faithful step into fresh ministry.