By Allan Boesak and Wendell Griffen, Good Faith Media, 2023
Reviewed by: Marvin A. McMickle
Allan Boesak and Wendell Griffen have offered up as strong an example of prophetic utterance as I have encountered in my 50+ years of reading and teaching from biblical texts. Every essay is a word on fire. Every page is a condemnation of the cruelties heaped upon the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised of the earth. Each of their essays is shaped by a careful consideration of a biblical text with supporting biblical texts introduced to reinforce their major point(s). Having established a biblical premise for what God desires for the earth and all its people, they then turn their attention to how those ancient texts speak to the realities of life for people longing for justice and an end to oppression across the world.
The content of this book of essays cannot be fully grasped unless and until the reader understands the life story of historical circumstances that shaped these two writers. When I was President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School we invited Allan Boesak to campus to preach and lecture. During one of his presentations, he commented on the fact that during an imprisonment at the hands of the apartheid regime of South Africa, he was not allowed to take anything with him into his cell but a Bible. Can it be that the confluence of that Bible, read and studied in a prison cell in South Africa, in an attempt to muzzle his message about that apartheid regime was the incubator for the theology of Allan Boesak? What does the Bible say to a man that is illegally confined by an immoral regime that represented 15% of that nation’s population that is determined to maintain its power and privilege over the 85% of the people that are the victims of poverty and powerlessness reinforced by unchecked brutality?
Context is equally important for grasping the worldview of Wendell Griffen as found in this book. Griffen was the first African American to serve as a Circuit Court and Appeals Court judge in Arkansas. However, being a judge did not prevent him from vehemently opposing the war in Iraq or from participating in an anti-death penalty protest outside the Governor’s Mansion in Arkansas on Good Friday in . As a result of that action, he was barred from presiding over all cases that had a death penalty option. It was his faith and conviction as pastor of New Millenium Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas that led him to take these actions. It is his dual identity as judge and pastor that informs his view of scripture. Power should be used to pursue justice, and the church should be the agency that constantly speaks truth to power about working for justice for all, and not just advantage for some.
In that same chapter, Griffen refers to some high-profile White, Conservative Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Robert Jeffrees, Mike Huckabee, and Franklin Graham as “the hateful faithful.” He links them all together, because they represent the white evangelical Christians that constitute the dominant base of Donal Trump’s political support. Never mind that neither by lifestyle nor public policy Donald Trump is the polar opposite of biblical Christianity. They prefer Constantine’s use of the church to solidify his power over the Roman Empire and Trump’s use of the church to solidify his hold over the Republican Party, rather than seeing the church as envisioned in Matthew 25 and Luke 4 that set forth the principles by which Christians should live and serve to care for the poor, the sick, the stranger, and the imprisoned.
Griffen goes on to offer added critiques of the Black and white church in the United States in his essay entitled Missing Micaiah in which he laments the lack of response to the suffering long endured by the people of Haiti because of exploitation by moneyed interests from France and the United States. There, he asks this question: “Have we become court prophets to the interests of US and French imperialism, white supremacy, and indifference about the suffering descendants of enslaved Africans?” Throughout the writings of Wendell Griffen, one hears echoes of Walter Bruggemann and his distinction between “royal consciousness” in which religious leaders shape their messages to conform to the political status quo that upholds the power and prerogatives of the monarchy. As opposed to “prophetic consciousness” in which the preacher speaks God’s truth to the power and political elite and call them into judgment for failing to honor God by not caring for the needs of all God’s people. Wendell Griffen makes clear that the agenda of MAGA and the will of God on earth are clearly not synonymous!
In his essay entitled Wolves, Shepherds, and Hirelings, Allan Boesak offers an insight into what it takes not only to write like he and Griffen do in these essays, but also what is required if others are to live into the challenges they have set before us. He begins by speaking about the nature of hope in the face of suffering and despair. He turns to Saint Augustine of Hippo who says that “Hope is a mother with two beautiful daughters. The one is named anger and he other is named courage.” For Boesak there must be anger about what is going on in the world around us. However, anger alone will not resolve any of the challenges we face in the world today.
Anger will not bring about peace while bombs fall on Gaza and beheaded babies lie on the streets of Israel. Anger will not bring about justice or equity while CEOs at various American corporations receive in one week and in some instances in just one day a salary that their employees need a year to earn, and while star athletes and entertainers earn quarter-billion contracts while underpaid public school teachers try to train up the next generation of citizens in underfunded classrooms and laboratories. What both Boesak and Griffen have done with their writings and with their very lives is add some courage to their anger. As Boesak says, we must possess “the courage to rise up, stand in the breach, and do something about it.”
This is what separates this collection of essays about prophetic ministry from other books about prophetic preaching and action. Most authors only provide the reader with scholarly renderings of biblical texts and passionate exhortations about what others should be doing. Not so with this book and these two authors. The sub-title for this book could just as easily be, “Follow us as we follow Christ.”
Dr. Marvin McMickle is former president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School where he served 2011-2019. He is widely respected as a preacher, pastor, professor, author and mentor to many. His 19th book, “Hiding God’s Word in our Hearts” has just been published by Judson Press. He has written for “Christian Ethics Today” and many other journals and magazines. He is serving as Interim Regional Executive Minister of The Cleveland Baptist Association of American Baptist Churches USA.