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Book review: The Hopeful Activist by Rich Gower and Rachel Walker

05 July 2024

Groups and influencers could find this useful, says Andrew Graystone

THIS is a beginners’ manual for Christians who believe that when it comes to injustice, their calling is not just to “see it” and “say it”, but to “sort it”, too. It is a “how to” guide for lay people who want to effect social change in the name of Christ.

Rich Gower and Rachel Walker have collected wisdom for Christian activists and packaged it in a breezy, personal style. Much of the content is drawn from their long-running podcast series of the same name. So, the book is peppered with inspiring and challenging words from activists, such as Shane Claiborne and Krish Kandiah, who have made a difference on a national scale. But there are also contributions from individuals who are known only in their own neighbourhoods: Christians who have tackled food poverty by installing a community fridge on a housing estate, or campaigned against air pollution from parents idling their engines outside a primary school.

The emphasis is on the small and local, and on “working with” rather than “working for”. There is advice on planning campaigns, working as a team, avoiding burnout, and dealing with failure.

For young Christians who may have been taught that multiplication is the primary goal of discipleship, this book offers a welcome alternative. The writers insist that “bringing effective change has more to do with fruitfulness than it does with the language of industrial production.”

The authors choose not to address specific issues such as poverty, racial injustice, or the climate crisis. There is not much here about power. Instead, they simply urge readers to ask “What has God put at your core?” Quoting the civil-rights activist Howard Thurman, they advise readers to “ask what makes you come alive, and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I wonder whether this individualistic approach risks crossing a line from service to self-fulfilment.

Provocative questions at the end of each chapter will make it useful for small-group discussions, as well as for “emerging influencers” who want to reflect on their methods and motivations in social engagement.

Andrew Graystone is a theologian and writer. He is the author of
Faith, Hope and Mischief: Tiny acts of rebellion (Canterbury Press, 2020) (Podcast, 28 August 2020).

The Hopeful Activist: Discovering the vital change you were made to bring
Rich Gower and Rachel Walker
SPCK £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.89

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