Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life
by T. Wilson Dickinson
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
From start to finish, this book challenged every angle of my understanding of the Gospel, the Bible, and the Kingdom of God. It is not a big book or long—less than 200 pages; but it is a dense book, with ideas and interpretations piled one upon another in ways that forced me to read slowly, carefully, patiently.
Wilson Dickinson is a young scholar from my own circle of life. His dad taught me physics many years ago, and his brother and I were faculty colleagues at the same college a generation later. Wilson grew up in an educated family, one that nurtured him up and through a PhD in philosophical theology at the University of Syracuse. But it was also one that formed him as a disciple of Christ, taking seriously the scriptures, the doctrines, and the practices of Christian living.
And he applies all of this intellectual and spiritual heft to the task of envisioning (or re-envisioning!) what the world might look like if we understood properly the life and teaching of Jesus and acted accordingly.
Which is difficult—then and now—because how we live and move and have our very being is shaped so thoroughly by empire, that collections of values, organizations, and behaviors that determines everything. Dickinson is not the first to riff off the contemporary understanding of empire, both the ancient Roman and the modern American; but how he does it and where he comes out offers a unique and powerful contribution to the conversation about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the here and now.
This book takes up five practices and thus evokes, for me, the ground-breaking book Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World by John Howard Yoder (1927-1997)—whom he does not cite, although he does note prominently another teaching colleague and friend, Norm Wirzba, as well as the influential Kentucky agrarian philosopher and poet Wendell Berry.
For Dickinson, these five practices are community-organizing, food-gardening, story-telling, supper-eating, and prayer-lifting.
The accent falls on food, as you might imagine: how we grow, distribute, and prepare it, and also how we eat it as humans and as Christians. He writes about his experience with community gardening even as he critiques the agribusiness that dominates our part of the world. He describes the dinner church that meets in his house and does so in such a way that I vowed to join them the next time I am in the Commonwealth. He seems to share my conviction that the fellowship meal and the eucharistic meal are, indeed, one and the same; and, although he does not explicitly say so, he assumes that dividing one from the other, placing one in the fellowship hall and the other in the sanctuary, each with its own set of rules and expectations, undermines the gospel purpose and power of both.
Here and everywhere, Dickinson offers interpretations of texts, especially those related to the ministry of Jesus (parables, miracles, controversies, events) that consistently “flip the script” that has dominated my life as a teacher and preacher, albeit less now that earlier. It is this that made the book challenging. I had to keep taking that picture of Jesus off the wall and replacing, first, the mat, then the frame itself, so that the Jesus that now hangs in my house is very different than the Jesus I first came to know and love. It is the same Jesus, really, and this process of reframing has been going on for a long time, but so much of it came together in this wonderful and compelling book.
The Green Good News is not a perfect book. His vision of kingdom-living herein described needs a great deal more connection with the way life is actually lived by most Christians. I kept wanting him to write, “Now here is a place and here are the people who are actually doing it the way it needs to be done.” And of course, his closing chapter on the prayer of Jesus (the Lord’s Prayer) is way too short. These provide perhaps springboards for other books of equally high quality and impact, or at least, new adventures in living, reading, and thinking as a Christian.
God bless you, Wilson, and thank you!