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Mobilizing for the Common Good

Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John M. Perkins

Peter Slade
Charles Marsh
Peter Goodwin Heltzel
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Mobilizing for the Common Good
    Book Description:

    Born into a sharecropping family in New Hebron, Mississippi, in 1930, and only receiving a third-grade education, John M. Perkins has been a pioneering prophetic African American voice for reconciliation and social justice to America's white evangelical churches. Often an unwelcome voice and always a passionate, provocative clarion, Perkins persisted for forty years in bringing about the formation of the Christian Community Development Association--a large network of evangelical churches and community organizations working in America's poorest communities--and inspired the emerging generation of young evangelicals concerned with releasing the Church from its cultural captivity and oppressive materialism.

    John M. Perkins has received surprisingly little attention from historians of modern American religious history and theologians. Mobilizing for the Common Good is an exploration of the theological significance of John M. Perkins. With contributions from theologians, historians, and activists, this book contends that Perkins ushered in a paradigm shift in twentieth-century evangelical theology that continues to influence Christian community development projects and social justice activists today.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-965-5
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Ronald J. Sider

    I first met john perkins at the thanksgiving workshop in chicago in 1973 when a diverse group of evangelical leaders wrote “The Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern.” The majority of the participants were white evangelicals. But the gripping story of this daring, innovative black Christian—he and his wife, Vera Mae, had already developed a major ministry of evangelism, education, health care, and promotion of civil rights in rural Mississippi that just two years earlier, in 1970, had gotten John beaten almost to the point of death by a local white police officer—had already begun to circulate in...

    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Peter Slade

    John m. perkins is a truly extraordinary man whose history and influence defy easy categorization. An African American fundamentalist Bible teacher and preacher, a third grade dropout, a recipient of honorary doctorates from numerous universities and colleges, an adviser to presidents, an author, public speaker, entrepreneur, provocateur, and community developer, he is the founding organizer and spiritual leader of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA)—a coalition of over 200 churches and community projects working in economically depressed neighborhoods. Perhaps surprisingly, despite receiving honorary doctorates, Perkins’s life, work, and influence have received surprisingly little attention from the academy.¹ The conviction...


    • The Black Apostle to White Evangelicals
      (pp. 3-15)
      Albert G. Miller

      For john perkins, the apostle paul has always been central to his theological core. In this essay I argue that as the apostle Paul was called to preach the gospel of reconciliation to the Gentile community in the first century, so, too, Perkins’s call has been to preach the Christian gospel of reconciliation, redistribution, and relocation to the white evangelical community of the United States on behalf of the poor, black, brown, and white communities. Paul was the major Christian theological influence upon the Christian life and faith of Perkins, including his conversion as a young adult. Before his conversion,...

    • The Church as Family and the Politics of Food Distribution
      (pp. 16-31)
      Lauren F. Winner

      In 1983 john m. perkins was appointed to president ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Food Assistance. This task force, which also included neoconservative author Midge Decter and former Massachusetts governor Edward King, was convened during an upsurge in interest in, and controversy about, hunger in the United States. Specifically, the administration’s proposed cuts to food stamps had stoked the ire of hunger activists and Democrats on Capitol Hill. More generally, in part due to the 1981–1982 recession, the early 1980s saw growth in food stamp expenditures; 1983 had seen growth in food banks; and reporters were newly turning their...

    • Brotherhood and Its Limits
      (pp. 32-59)
      Ted Ownby

      In 1994 john perkins and former klansman thomas tarrants published He’s My Brother: Former Racial Foes Offer Strategy for Reconciliation. The book consists of alternating narratives and religious reflections of the two men as they describe how their journeys to overcome their own forms of hatred and to embrace similar understandings of racial reconciliation became essential to their definitions of Christian life. The idea that racism violates essential Christian principles has become so prevalent that it may seem, at least in many circles of Christian thought, an easy point to make. Even the urge within the Christian Left to criticize...

    • A Quiet Revolution and the Culture Wars
      (pp. 60-80)
      Peter Slade

      The story of the civil rights movement dramatizes the moral failure and cultural captivity of the white evangelical church in the United States of America. Evangelicals’ active resistance to integration in the 1960s stemmed from their rejection of the social gospel movement and separation from modernist and progressive Protestants earlier that century. The civil rights movement was only one act in a theological drama that continues to play out in the sanctuaries, seminaries, and city streets of twenty-first-century America. John Perkins is a key character in this unfolding drama. As an African American prophet to contemporary white evangelicals, Perkins confronts...


    • A Prophetic Vision in an Age of Profit
      (pp. 83-92)
      Paul Louis Metzger

      The gospel message centered in jesus involves sustained consideration of the economics of the kingdom. The apostle Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Paul is speaking of a spiritual-physical reality, which has a bearing on our whole being and the whole Christian community. Yet we often spiritualize texts like this one and rarely think of their implications for how we redistribute our wealth, talents, resources, and gifts as Jesus’s followers....

    • Between Two Gardens: An Organic Salvation for Community Development from the Biblical Narrative
      (pp. 93-107)
      Michael Andres

      Between two gardens lies a plantation; it is a cursed garden, a sharecropper’s field. Between Eden and the new earth, there is the cursed land of thorns, thistles, and cotton, marked by the pain, toil, and sweat of the oppressed. This is the ground from which John Perkins sprouted. He is son of a sharecropper scraping out a living from borrowed land, infant of a dying mother bequeathing her final drops of milk, sibling to a murdered brother seeping his last drops of blood. This is the earth out of which both his person and theology were formed.¹ He himself...

    • Religionless Ecclesiology and the Missional Church
      (pp. 108-122)
      Peter Goodwin Heltzel and Christian T. Collins Winn

      John perkins reimagines the church as a movement for love and justice. In this imaginative proposal, Perkins delivers a challenge to evangelicals to move beyond institutional religion toward a prophetic evangelical faith in and for the world. In this gesture, Perkins’s theology has much in common with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “religionless Christianity.” From a prison cell in Germany, he too would reimagine the church without the shackles of institutional religion. While Bonhoeffer articulated a Christological form of prophetic church, Perkins describes the church as a Christ-centered healing movement, more specifically as a movement for community development marked by racial reconciliation and...

    • “Lady, Give Me a Drink”: Reading Scripture, Shaping Community Development
      (pp. 123-129)
      Kelly West Figueroa-Ray

      In 2009 john perkins, an african american evangelical christian and civil rights activist, gave a presentation on the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) as part of an academic conference hosted by the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia. When I sat down, I expected to hear a few minutes of background information and an outline of the organization’s core principles. Instead, following a brief introduction, Perkins began his presentation by saying: “I am primarily a Bible teacher.”¹ In the talk that followed, Perkins exhibited a strong tendency to unite his explanation of John 4 or the text’s...

    • Prophetic Ministry, the Prosperity Gospel, and Gentrification
      (pp. 130-142)
      Cheryl J. Sanders

      This is an edited transcript of a public presentation and discussion that took place at the University of Virginia on April 23, 2009, as part of the Spring Institute for Lived Theology.

      There is a book that I think many of you are familiar with: Divided by Faith. In that book, Christian Smith and Michael Emerson designate John Perkins as one of the founding fathers of the reconciliation movement in evangelical Christianity, and he is named as one of three black evangelical leaders who formed what I would call a reconciliation triumvirate: those three men are Tom Skinner, Sam Hines,...


    • Communities of Resurrection and the Transformation of Bodies
      (pp. 145-160)
      Chris Rice

      Much has been made, and rightly so, of john perkins as a grassroots prophet of justice for the poor and marginalized. Yet whose justice? Reaching toward what end or purpose? During the American civil rights movement, Will Campbell argued in Race and the Renewal of the Church that in a world of racism and poverty, the church had adopted a largely humanitarian approach around freedom, justice, and democracy. “These things are good,” said Campbell, “but are they the most basic, most distinctive concern of the church?” To be true to the church’s own nature something “far more radical” was needed....

    • Love, Reconciliation, and the Solidarity of Pain
      (pp. 161-168)
      Mae Elise Cannon

      I first met john perkins when i was on staff at willow creek Community Church. Willow Creek is one of the most influential megachurches in the United States and the world. While at Willow Creek, I was responsible for some of the ministries that were involved in compassion and justice in the city and around the country. We invited Perkins to be our spiritual mentor and teacher on a weeklong experience called the Justice Journey. On the trip, a group of mostly whites and blacks traveled on a spiritual pilgrimage through parts of the South that played important roles during...

    • Only Love Wins: Justice and Public Policy
      (pp. 169-175)
      Lisa Sharon Harper

      I found jesus at a sunday evening camp meeting in erma, new Jersey, in August 1983. After listening to the preacher bellow a hell-fire and brimstone message that lit up aged trees surrounding our tent meeting, I sat planted in my seat wondering if I should uproot myself and walk forward. When my friend tapped me on the arm and asked if I would walk forward with her during the altar call, I said, “Yes.” I was the only African American in this multichurch, community-wide gathering in this small town of about 300 residents on the outskirts of Cape May,...

    • Moving toward the Next Evangelicalism
      (pp. 176-188)
      Soong-Chan Rah

      Several years ago on a frigid january evening i found myself in the back of a Boston police squad car. Just to be clear, I was not under arrest. I was part of an effort by the Boston Ten-Point Coalition to curb gang violence in our city. Armed with my clerical collar, I was teamed with a police officer to visit at-risk youth in the community. We would visit the home of a youth whose name had appeared in the school police blotter. The student had gotten into a fight, been caught with weapons, or sported gang colors or signs...

  8. Appendixes

    • APPENDIX A. Let Justice Roll Down: A Conversation with John Perkins
      (pp. 189-202)
      Charles Marsh
    • APPENDIX B. The Four Ministries of the Holy Spirit
      (pp. 203-212)
      Lowell Noble
    (pp. 213-216)
    (pp. 217-217)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 218-224)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)