Keith Hebden’s Seeking Justice (book review)
“You write a blog, don’t you?” It was an odd response to my suggestion that I needed to get cash out of a cashpoint before I could buy Keith’s new book. The deal: I could have a copy free in return for a review. I skipped a queue of books and got on with reading it straight away. I’m glad I did; of the various books on radical Christianity I’ve picked up in recent years, few have turned out to be both as radical and as reasonable as Seeking Justice.
I should start by saying that I’ve known Keith for years – we met at All Hallows Church in Leeds at the Christianity and Anarchism UK event which he played a pivotal role in forming. Knowing something of his passion gave me some preconceptions as to what the book might be like, and some of these weren’t far wrong – this is a book which takes a very strongly held pacifism almost for granted.
Keith’s book is a finely balanced mix of stories and theories, life experience and teachable theology. Its very much rooted in the real world of parish life, and presents a challenge to be heeded by clergy and congregations alike. Above all, the book managed to avoid the smug platitudes about improving one’s spiritual life by spending less money, as if Christians are all sufficiently middle-class to have budgets they can cut back.
But it also doesn’t read like a radical alternative to mainstream Christianity. Keith has managed to start from common understandings and arrive at seemingly natural conclusions – there are no contrived re-readings of scripture. There is, though, a re-evaluation of Jesus’ words in the context of a military occupation that points to a much more complete alternative than the individualistic disengagement from political conflicts that many accept as normal.
Like many similar books, it manages to be radical about human dignity, the created environment and meaningful peace, but maybe a little short on the nuts and bolts of what some call Kingdom Economics. But then it does avoid proposals of minor tweaks to make Neo-Liberal Capitalism more Godly, which are equally common and definitely more infuriating.
I’d recommend this book to two groups of people. First off, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s wondering if perhaps there should be more to their faith than just personal, individualistic salvation, or wonders what being a Christian with concern for the world might look like as ordinary people committed to the faith and the church.
I’d also recommend it to those who, as non-Christian activists, don’t get why they keep encountering Christians in their groups and networks. I think this book will do as good a job as any book can of explaining the ways many of us put our faith and politics together.
Since I began writing this, I’ve also recommended the book on the political podcast “In the Sprawl”, so Keith can only accuse me of being slow. And if Symon Hill reads this, I’d love to give a similar treatment to his new book!