By Jim Wallis (Brazos Press, 2013)
Jim Wallis, the well-known evangelical activist and editor of Sojourners magazine, continues his conversation about religion and politics in his latest book, On God’s Side. Referring to the Abraham Lincoln quote, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side,” Wallis is back to warning about “What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned,” namely the common good.
In a message apparently meant for Democrats frustrated with President Barack Obama, Wallis reminds us that the solution has never been a candidate or politician, but rather social movements. On God’s Side is Wallis’ two-part primer for the movements of the “Matthew 25 Christians” he believes will make real, substantive change in American politics.
The first half of the book lays the theological groundwork. He points out what the “conservative” churches get wrong—focusing on a personal, atonement-only gospel—and what the “liberal” churches get wrong—focusing on Jesus’ teachings about the common good to the exclusion of the gospel’s salvific message. The latter problem seems rare, and Wallis hints as much by elaborating mainly on atonement-only theology.
The second half of the book details practices for the common good, including everything from eating healthily to fighting human trafficking. Again, he tries to be even-handed, pointing out conservatism’s “best big idea” in personal responsibility. Yet his progressive bias is revealed in the space he spends calling for more social responsibility.
Though not necessarily aimed at Catholics, the book emphasizes for evangelical Protestants an important aspect of Catholic social teaching, one forgotten even by many “evangelical” Catholics. In the last chapter, Wallis admits “of all the religious teachings about the common good, the best and most insightful come from the Catholic Church.”
This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 10, page 43).