Book Review – Following Fire, Cheryl Catford (ed.), 2008
Released by UNOH Publications, this is a collection of essays and articles by some of the world’s most engaged Christians about how the Spirit leads us to fight injustice. When I first looked at some of the names of the contributors to this work I realised quickly that this would be something worth looking at. Not that I should read a book simply because of the reputation of its author(s), but these are people I deeply respect for their genuineness, brutal honesty, and concern for the poor. People such as Tony Campolo, Ash Barker, John Smith, Tim Costello, Shane Claibourne, and Dave Andrews are just some of those who have given their time and effort in this publication to describing how the Holy Spirit is essential in the Gospel work of fighting injustice in the world.
This book expresses, through the stories of those who are at the coalface, the truth that the work of God cannot be carried out without the Spirit of God. As Ash Barker states in the preface, “knee-jerk, guilty reactions and even the best human plans are not enough to rid the world of the stubborn poverty that causes so much misery. The Holy Spirit, though, is ready and willing to pour out a revolutionary response to the cries of the poor”.
This is not a book to be read from cover to cover. Different chapters can be read from any section. Cheryl Catford, who edited the book, explains also that it is divided into three sections loosely under the themes of theology (understanding the Fire), history (tracing the Fire), and story (the Fire at work).
As you delve into this work, I expect that you will be both surprised and intrigued by the fact that, for example, the Celts chose not the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit, but the goose. You will also see how the Spirit moved the prophets of old, and moves the prophets of today, with moral rage and protest whilst at the same time always nudging us towards mercy and compassion. You will see too how the Spirit has moved throughout the history of the church to inspire the most unlikely people to deeds of the most extraordinary courage and sacrifice in the service of the ‘least of these’.
‘Following Fire’ brings together the outpouring of the Spirit in our lives, and all of its associated manifestations, with the activist concern and moral rage of the prophet. Often seen as mutually exclusive within the Church, the stories contained in this book show that these are actually two sides of the same coin, and indeed must be if we are serious about following the Jesus of the Gospels. For too long, those who have claimed to be filled with the Spirit have lacked a Christ-like passion for justice and the plight of the poor, whilst those of us who have been more inclined to the social justice, activist claims of the Gospel, have been terribly negligent in seeking out the guiding and leading of the Spirit, and have therefore not offered true transformation to the world. I believe that what the world needs today is believers who, in the words of Shane Claibourne, are not just ‘believers’ and not just ‘activists’, but are ‘lovers’ – “a community of people who have fallen desperately in love with God and with suffering people, and who allow those relationships to disturb and transform them”. Such is the work of the Spirit of God, the Spirit who moves us to swim against the tide. As a Danish pastor by the name of Kaj Munk once said, “the signs of the Christian church have always been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove and the Fish…but never the chameleon”. This book offers the challenge, the inspiration and the Fire himself to lead us toward this vision.
by Nils von Kalm