In the first part of this series, I introduced Wolterstorff’s ideas about world-formative Christianity and the vision of shalom. In part two, we looked at his ideas about how responding to poverty is a matter of rights not generosity, and how unchecked nationalism destroys shalom. Here now are some final thoughts from Until Justice and Peace Embrace.
Shalom in the city
Shalom is about having and enjoying right relationships, and nowhere is the need for this seen more clearly than in our cities. Wolterstorff writes that this extends beyond the considerations we might normally consider:
It is customary to view the city simply as a large collection of buildings in close proximity to one another, each more or less self-contained and possessed of its own degree of architectural distinction. I propose… to break away from that sort of atomistic way of thinking, however, and view the city instead as an integral entity in which the individual buildings are abstracted parts. Adopting the holistic perspective, we see the city as a unit orchestrating paths and partitions to establish gathering places for human beings on a given amount of the earth’s surface.
The city both expresses and shapes the lifestyles of its residents, for better or worse. Architecture and aesthetics, in other words, aren’t neutral — not if shalom has to do with delight. “Could it be,” he muses, “that living in a city devoid of sensory delight is itself a form of poverty?”
Justice and liturgy
“Amidst its intense activism,” Wolterstorff writes, “the Western world is starved for contemplation.” He continues:
I want to explore the possibility that a rhythmic alternation of work and worship, labor and liturgy is one of the significant distinguishing features of the Christian’s way of being-in-the-world.
Work and worship are connected, he says, and they both spring from grateful hearts, in step with the six-plus-one rhythm set into motion by our Creator:
This rhythm was given to be practiced as a remembrance, as a memorial of the pattern of God’s creative activity and of the pattern of Israel’s liberating experience: the very rhythm of everyday life was to be a liturgical practice.
Activists of all kinds would do well to practice this kind of liturgy.
Theory & praxis
Wolterstorff concludes, not surprisingly given his original audience, with a challenge to academics and scholars that applies just as well to each of us:
My call here is not for theorizing that emphasizes the theme of justice; it is for theorizing that places itself in the service of the cause of struggling for justice… The goal is not to describe the world but to change it.
Wolterstorff concludes with the book’s single most poignant sentence:
By listening to the cries of the oppressed and deprived we are enabled genuinely to hear the word of the prophets — and of him who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped at, but took the form of a servant, walking the path of humble obedience to the point of accepting execution as a despised criminal: the Prince of Shalom.
Justice and peace, you might say, find their embrace in Jesus.
What do you think of Wolterstorff’s ideas of justice and shalom? Does his understanding resonate with yours? Where do you part ways?