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Easter 2018 Foreword
In the Easter season we keep reading the book of Acts. That testimony exhibits apostolic preaching and teaching amid the Roman Empire and its magistrates, a context in which a profound clash is inevitable between gospel news and settled power. Empires specialize in certitude, predictability, and control. That propensity of empire takes at least two forms. On the one hand there is scientiﬁc certitude. Wendell Berry, in his most recent book, avers:
Professionally, future seems to belong to the more or less scientiﬁc experts. We want, sometimes desperately, to know what is going to happen. We want a prognosis, a projection, a prediction, a contingency plan, a posture of military readiness. For this clairvoyance, in the modern world, we turn to the scientists who supply answers as professional services, usually paid for “up front.”1
On the other hand there is economic determinism in which we extrapolate from old numbers to manage future taxes and expenditures. Except, says Berry, the future is the domain of amateurs
The amateurs of the future are the fortune tellers, the self-employed visionaries, the determined or deterministic optimists and pessimists, the religiously faithful, and the general run of wishers and hopers….The only context of hope, I suppose, is the future, that is a dangerous business.2
The apostolic preachers, then in the book of Acts as now among us, are exactly amateurs without predictive capacity. That amateur apostolic preaching, however, drove the imperial magistrates crazy, because it evoked futures that were beyond the horizon or management of the empire. No wonder the magistrates were nervous, as they warned and cautioned, not unlike in our congregations!
It is like that in the twenty-ﬁrst century. We are entrusted with news as amateurs without scientiﬁc or economic credentials. We dare to assert a newness in the world that neither scientiﬁc prowess nor economic erudition can contain. On our best days, we do not ﬂinch from the news. We do not conform it to the norms of the empire or to the authority of the magistrates who like to sit in judgment.
Our subscriber can legitimately anticipate a strong inventory of articles, and that is just what we have in this issue. Michael Coffey addresses the “elephant in the room” and urges faith that takes the form of “renounce, resist, rejoice.” Will Willimon wades into hard public issues and proposes that we do not tone down the news entrusted to us. Joanna Adams ponders the power of “powerless love.” Sam Wells draws us into honesty about the two “God fears” that pervade our lives. Robert Dunham sees that the Easter story remains unﬁnished; our task is to do that ﬁnishing work with the story.
George Stroup permits his two theological heavy-weight friends—Beker and Bartlett—to instruct us concerning the large scope of the Easter claim, a departure from our all-too-common myopic view of Easter. Thomas Lynch invites to poetic playfulness in the midst of death, alienation, and our dread of reality. It is poetry that opens futures in the midst of our dead-ends.
We complete the issue with three special features. B. C. Gillette provides a new hymn that sings love in the face of violence. Bishop Breidenthal offers a new book that suggests fresh currencies that can fund our preaching afresh. James Rogers ap- peals to baptismal promises as the ground for parental nurture, even of high school kids. This set of wide ranging essays is sure to feed, nourish, and empower us for the Easter season.
Among us the empire in which we preach takes the form of the scarcity, greed, and violence of the market ideology (with a strong residue of racism) in which most of our listeners (like us) are deeply inured. Market ideology is resistant to newness that is not extrapolated, to transformation that is not earned, and to justice that costs too much. These, however, are the inescapable outcomes of Easter news that concern power for life unleashed in unwelcome places. Imagine: we are the ones, apostolic and amateur, who dare to speak such news, such transformation, and such justice. Hope is not an imperial enterprise; but it is entrusted to us!
1 Wendell Berry, The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2017), 59.
2 Ibid., 58-59.