Ben Lowe is the author of the newly published Doing Good without Giving Up, reviewed on this blog earlier this month. He is on staff with the Evangelical Environmental Network and serves as national spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. He is also the author of Green Revolution. He spoke last month for the ministry with which I work, and recently connected with me over Skype for an interview concerning his new book.
Bob on Books: Tell me how you came to write Doing Good without Giving Up?
In my work within the creation care community I was traveling to lots of Christian college campuses and speaking before audiences about why we should care for God’s creation and as the years went by I found that more and more people were affirming this message and less and less people were questioning it. The questions I was getting more and more had to do with “we believe we should care for the world and we believe we should stand for justice but do we really have to engage in advocacy and activism? Why can’t we make changes in our own lifestyles? Why do we have to work together on a broader scale? It is so messy and so hard. We rarely see any progress there.” So that’s why I decided to write Doing Good without Giving Up. In many ways it was a follow-up to Green Revolution but also addresses many different questions and challenges that are facing us today.
Bob on Books: You think personal simplicity and faithfulness are not enough in addressing pressing social issues, that social action and advocacy are also important. Say more about that.
I think personal faithfulness and simplicity are very important but they are not enough. That’s because we are called to be the body of Christ. We are called to community. We are called to live in faithfulness at every level of life which includes in our own lifestyles and in our families but also how we live together with the time God has given us on the world he has placed us on. And when it comes to some of the great challenges we are facing today, whether it is climate change, on which I work a lot, or human trafficking or the immigration crisis; these are problems that we cannot fix if we are just focused on making changes in our own lives. These are problems that were caused by us together in our society and in communities working together. They are problems that will only be solved when we come together.
Bob on Books: You write in the book about moving beyond the dichotomy between evangelism and social concern and polarities of the culture wars. How do you think it is possible to do this?
I think our motivation is very important in engaging in evangelism and in social action and justice. They are the same. That is, we are motivated by love. If we truly love God and truly love our neighbor we will want to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. He has transformed my life and saved me from things and delivered me from the brokenness I knew I was powerless to overcome on my own. In the same way he empowers us and calls us to join him in changing the world, and so I believe that to follow Jesus and to love each other means to engage in evangelism and social justice. Our motivation is important in helping us to be on the right path towards integrating these two.
And then when it comes to the culture wars, I think that a lot of our motivation there was fear. The most commonly repeated commandment in the scriptures was “have no fear” or “do not fear” yet that’s often our first posture when we engage with people in the broader society outside of the church. So what would it look like to not be so afraid but to be willing to vulnerably love our neighbors even when our neighbors are very different from us and when we don’t always agree with them?
Bob on Books: What have you learned about not giving up, about sustaining yourself as you’re engaged in social action?
These are all lessons I’m learning. Every day I find new reasons to give up and yet more reasons to keep going. And so in the book I talk about our motivation being love and the importance of prophecy and remembering Sabbath and contemplation and there are a number of different disciplines and practices that I share that have been meaningful in my life. But I think there is a scripture passage that I have written in the front of my notebook that I carry around everywhere that helps to keep me on track in life. It is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and it’s a passage that has become more and more meaningful over the years and it’s “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly. I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I’ve preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Bob on Books: What new projects or goals are you looking forward to in 2015?
That’s a great and somewhat tricky question. I’m looking down the “to do” list and wondering how is this all going to get done this year? On a personal level, I’m in the ordination process with the Christian and Missionary Alliance church. This has been a life-giving and faith deepening process and l look forward to continuing that and, hopefully, completing that by the end of this year. I’m also finishing up the last chapter in a book that Ron Sider and I are writing together, which will be an intergenerational dialogue about some of the key issues facing American Christianity moving forward. I’m excited about that!
In my work we have a number of projects going but one of them in particular that we started in 2014 is a Climate Leadership Fellows Program which has a vision of training up new leaders in the climate movement, new faithful leaders, and empowering them to go out and engage their communities and train up new leaders on their own. We’re looking at this as a new discipleship model and are excited to pull together the next cohort of leaders for the coming year.
Bob on Books: I’ll look forward to the next book when it comes out. Ron Sider has been a hero and I’ve appreciated your writing. I’ve appreciated your time today as well as your recent visit to our campus. Let us know when you are back in town!
Ben Lowe may be contacted via his website: http://benlowe.net/