Review: Slow Kingdom Coming (Kent Annan)
You will know the truth and the truth will set you freeJohn 8:32
The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Any book that includes these quotations within its chapter epigraphs is aways likely to be a winner with me. But I liked Kent Annan’s Slow Kingdom Coming beyond it’s epigraphs (which also include Kierkegaard, Wendell Berry and Dostoyevky). So much that despite the fact that I’m tired of adding books by white Anglo-American men to the recommended reading list, I’m adding this to the recommended reading list for people interested in Christianity, justice and development work.
[Two asides: can someone recommend me somethings to read in this field by more diverse authors, and can someone at a publishing house publishing this kind of thing find some more diverse authors to publish and publicise, Kthx.]
In my case, Slow Kingdom Coming is preaching to the choir - but it’s a really good book for the choir members to pass on to their friends. It’s short, really nicely written (yes, including the epigraphs) and reflective but practical. Rather than asking the questions, ‘How do we do justice work?’ or ‘How do we bring justice?’ it asks the question: ‘What kind of person should I be in order to be a part of seeing justice come?’
Annan provides five practices for Christians to develop. These should be a part of our discipleship and daily life, but, as he makes clear, it is also essential for them to underpin Christian mission, development practice, and justice work. These are:
Attention. Paying heed to the world around us, as the first and most important step in exercising care. Annan challenges his reader - broadly, white, western, evangelical Christians - to first pay attention, and then to focus and maintain their attention on something particular that breaks their heart and where they want to see the kingdom come.
Confession. Admitting and lamenting past pain and faults and seeking restoration. The western reader is challenged to confess the self-interested motivations for seeking justice, our own privilege, and the roads they lead us down - towards hero complexes and grand public gestures.
Respect. Honouring others and waiting - earning - respect in turn. He argues that seeking justice involves seeing people finding and building lives that reflect the respect they deserve, then this work must be done with respect: listening, bearing in mind the imago dei, promoting rights, and living with incarnationally.
Partnering. Building relationships in which people are truly equal agents in the pursuit of justice. Annan challenges his readers to avoid saviour complexes that cause us to play rescuer or fixer for people, but to prepare the way for others - as John did for Jesus. He also challenges the reader to partner with God, pointing out that, ‘If you think you’re bring God anywhere you’re on the wrong trajectory of for not with.’ As he says, the resurrection is not just a rescue from something - it is a liberation for something: for faithfulness and participation in God’s story.
Truthing (telling and seeking). Breaking down the distance between ourselves and other people to check our assumptions against the realities of the world. This helps us to learn and to improve the things we do, the way we serve, and the relationships we build - and it enables us to tell the truth to others about the justice we seek.
Slow Kingdom Coming isn’t a scary book, but it is a challenging one for a lot of the western church in thinking about what it looks like to do - or rather, participate in mission, “development”, and the pursuit of justice, because it challenges the norms that exist in our cultures, inside and outside the church. It asks us to change and give up the easy options we’ve got used to. However, it’s also a bit liberating, because it reminds us that while we’re called to be a part of seeking justice and have a responsibility to God for that: we’re not responsible for the success of the whole show.
He is not, therefore, eternally responsible for whether he reaches his goal within this world of time. But without exception, he is eternally responsible for the kind of means he uses. Soren Kierkegaard.