Saturday, April 13, 2013

Carnival Kingdom -- Review

CARNIVAL KINGDOM: Biblical Justice for Global Communities.  Edited by Marijke Hoek, Jonathan Ingleby, Andy Kingston-Smith, and Carol Kingston-Smith.  Gloucester, UK:  Wide Margin, 2013.  Xvi + 249 pages.

The title of this book – Carnival Kingdom – may seem oddly paired with the subtitle – “Biblical Justice for Global Communities.”  What does a carnival have to do with justice?  If you’re thinking in this way, it may be because you’re thinking of a typical American carnival.  The carnival that stands at the heart of this book hearkens back to the medieval carnival, which was intended as a subversive entity.  The Carnival Kingdom, as it’s understood by the editors and contributors to this book, is one that turns the status quo on its head.  As Carol Kingston-Smith puts it in the first chapter, the Kingdom of God is the obverse of earthly kingdoms where “power and privilege coalesce in the hands of a few, often at the expense of the majority” (p.  4).

Carnival Kingdom consists of a compilation of essays that focus on biblical understandings of justice.   Jonathan Ingleby writes in his introduction to the essays that what is envisioned here is a “revolutionary biblical justice,” where God stands on the side of the poor and the powerless.  It is a vision that encompasses the idea of the carnival because such a vision is scandalous to many.  The authors of these essays, most of whom are British, appear to be evangelical in their theology, but progressive in their commitment to justice.  The book is part of an effort by the jusTice initiative, which is designed to encourage persons to "apply their Christian faith to the important work of crating and contributing to just communities around the world."

The first three chapters of the book lay out the theme – the first focusing on the concept of carnival, the second looks at Tolkien’s idea of justice in the shire (Lord of the Rings), and finally the vision of society offered by the seventeenth century radical Baptists – the Diggers or Levellers.  For those who don’t know about the Levellers, a group that gained some prominence during the English Civil War, this brief chapter offers a good introduction.  Molly Scott Cato introduces to a truly revolutionary movement that sought to “level” society, a vision that the Marxist historian Christopher Hill sought to reintroduce to the 20th century conversation, reminding readers that one needn’t be an atheist to envision a truly egalitarian world.  Cato believes that the Levellers may have a message for today, offering a vision of self-reliant local communities.

The chapters that follow these first three explore the ideas of liberation, the experience of the minority Christian community in India, immigrant issues, climate change, human dignity, economic development in the Philippines, and more.  As with any collection the reader can decide which chapters to explore.  All have a message of justice that seeks to lift up equality, freedom, and dignity of the human person – in response to God’s call to justice.  The authors address justice issues from a very explicit theological perspective.

What this book does is introduce the reader to the variety of ways in which the concept of biblical justice arises – whether focused on climate change or immigrant rights, the call of God requires us to do what is right and what is just for the least of these.  For those readers who think that evangelicals are concerned only about getting to heaven, this book offers a very helpful antidote.  Many evangelicals have a strong concern for life in this world.  They are committed to evangelism, but also recognize the importance of justice in this world. Besides that, the book reminds us that the concept of carnival can have important theological implications.  The Kingdom of God does not link with the status quo, but upsets it, even as Jesus upset the tables of the money-changers.

I was invited to read this book for the purpose of reviewing it.  I didn’t know the authors or the organization that stood behind it, but I was pleased with what I found between the covers.  I believe that you will as well.
Just a note on the jusTice initiative:  It was founded in 2010 by Andy and Carol Kingston-Smith, lecturers at Redcliffe College, an evangelical college located in Gloucester, UK.  Their intent was to create a movement that would focus on creating and sustaining just communities – and do so rooted in a robust evangelical faith. 

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