Graham Joseph Hill, ed. Relentless Love: Living Out of Integral Mission to Combat Poverty, Injustice and Conflict. Cumbria, UK: Langham Global Library, 2020. 402 pp. Paperback. $27.10.
This book is a collection of lectures and summaries of consultation tracks delivered at the 7th Triennial Consultation of the Micah Global Network held in the Philippines from September 10th to 14th in 2018. The presentations are connected, for the most part, to the theme of “integral mission and resilient communities addressing poverty, injustice and conflict” (xxv). The chapters average less than ten pages each, making the book user-friendly for busy practitioners. The Micah Network is “formed by over eight hundred members from more than ninety-five countries around the world” (xxix). It was founded by an international group of Christian organizations to campaign for delivery of the millennium development goals (MDGs) (137). The group’s name refers to Micah 6:8, which also provides its mission statement: “to act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” The members want to ensure that this mission is not set aside for a ticket-to-heaven gospel that does no earthly good.
The book is too broad to summarize concisely; this review instead highlights a few especially noteworthy chapters. Other chapters are packed full of general principles, programs, policies, steps, stages, definitions, citations, and acronyms. These are not riveting reading, but even here some sentences sparkle with perfect clarity. For instance, the phrase “the scandal of poverty, injustice and conflict” (xxv) is spot on. Imagine if a starving family was discovered to be living in squalor in your basement. Their toddler has just died of an easily preventable disease. The newspaper article covering this story reveals that you not only knew they were down there, but that you invested in an expensive home security system to keep them out of the main house. The money you spent on locks, alarms, and guard dogs could have fed them for eighteen years. That would be a scandal.
I was challenged by Chapter 4: “Dangerous Resilience? The Institutional Church and Its Systemic Resistance to Change.” There, Thandi Gaedze argues persuasively for the urgent need to include new people and perspectives in the teaching format and governance of the church. Similarly, in Chapter 9, Amy Reynolds and Nikki Yoyama-Zseto address gender-inclusive leadership. Henry Ford once said, “The question, ‘Who ought to be boss?’ is like asking ‘Who ought to be the tenor in the quartet?’ Obviously, the man who can sing tenor.” In this sense, Reynolds and Yoyama-Zseto call for the inclusion of an alto and soprano in the leadership quartet. Is such inclusion a matter of “gender justice” (102), or is the demand for male/female leadership parity just one of the more recent expressions of Western cultural imperialism? Perhaps, following Henry Ford’s advice, we should look at giftedness rather than gender. Perhaps “it does not do any good to promote a universal solution, when gender is very culturally specific” (105). Leadership structures and ideals are also culturally bound. As missionaries, should we not allow and encourage churches in all cultures to select their own leaders? Yet, is there not also a need to let God’s word challenge “the culture’s ‘leadership narrative’” (111)? This is a thought-provoking chapter.
In Chapter 12, Sandra Maria Van Opstal gives an excellent, lively discussion of “Worship and Justice.” At one point she bemoans how “global worship practices are currently shaped by a small group of worship movements on three Western continents (North America, Europe, and Australia), continuing the patterns of theological colonisation that impacts the heart of the entire church” (154–55). I would point out, nonetheless, that the globalization of music styles also happens in society at large, and Western styles of music are popular among many young people who are becoming Christians around the world. Perhaps we may give up aiming for a mythically pure and unchanging indigenous style of worship music and just encourage Christians in all countries to write whatever lyrics and tunes they feel help them communicate their hearts to God.
I underlined passages on every page of Chapter 16, which discusses “the necessity of lament for spiritual resilience in contexts of poverty and injustice” (189). Denying or downplaying suffering and injustice in an effort to protect God’s reputation actually hurts God’s reputation with the poor and those who love them. We may even find that as we scream for God to intervene, we are actually “building solidarity with Yahweh in declaring that the world is not as it should be” (199). If we refuse to lament we will likely either burn out or develop strange compensatory behaviors, one of which is emotional withdrawal (201). A different reviewer would likely have chosen to highlight different chapters.
Chiang Mai, Thailand