Faith that makes a difference
Seventh-day Adventists around the world are, for the first time this quarter, studying the Bible’s oft-repeated call to do justice. Signs Publishing Book Editor Nathan Brown wrote the companion book to the church’s Adult Bible Study Guide. Avondale College of Higher Education Public Relations Officer Brenton Stacey asked him about our duty to minister to the needs of those around us.
The Bible makes justice a mandate of faith and a fundamental expression of discipleship, so why does it seem to take a secondary place to other theological issues?
Because we’ve prioritised personal goodness—or righteousness—over public goodness—justice. But the concept in the Bible is not divided, both in the original languages themselves and in overt statements such as Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23 and James 1:27. And there are perhaps two practical reasons: much of our formal theology is generated in comfortable settings, in which issues of justice might not seem so urgent; and the work of justice is difficult, complicated and costly.
You’re a white, middle-class male living in a developed country. What qualifies you to write about those Jesus described as “the least of these”?
My primary qualification is the call of the Bible to care. As a writer, I’ve had the opportunity to share the stories of “the least of these” as well as those who work to help such people. When we see people suffering injustice, the Bible in passages such as 1 John 3:17 calls us to respond with compassion and with the resources we have. One of the resources I have is a writing voice.
Justice is a recurring theme in your writing, so does For the Least of These reveal anything new?
For the Least of Theseis an overview of much of what I’ve been working on in studying, activism and writing over the past 10 years. As such, it was a good writing challenge to order it in this larger format. But the greatest challenge was how much I had to leave out of what the Bible has to say on these topics. I was reminded again how large and pervasive the Bible’s call to justice really is.
In Of Falafels and Following Jesus, you write about the complexities of the Israel–Palestine situation, noting how the Bible calls the “chosen” to surrender their chosenness. Could we say the same about the responsibility of the privileged?
Yes, when I was heading into the Falafelswriting project, I knew I would need to address this difficult political and humanitarian situation—it’s not something I could honestly ignore. While Australian passports allow us to breeze through checkpoints and past the fences and walls, these are life-defining for those less privileged. But I see Jesus and Moses—key leaders in the histories of the various faiths—demonstrating that to be “chosen” is simultaneously and equally a call to surrender that chosenness and privilege for the benefit of the outsider, the marginalised and the vulnerable.
Your body of work is significant, both in breadth and depth. What are you trying to tell us?
That our faith matters—and must make a difference in the world around us. Particularly for those who most need the world to be different.
Books by Nathan Brown
For the Least of These, Of Falafels and Following Jesus and other books by Nathan Brown are available from Seventh-day Adventist bookstores in Australia and New Zealand.PURCHASE