Review: Plough Quarterly

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Cover of Autumn 2018 issue of Plough Quarterly

It is not my usual custom to review periodicals on this blog, but I decided to make an exception because of an extraordinary publication that has come across my path in recent months. Plough Quarterly is part of the publishing efforts of the Bruderhof who describe themselves as “an international movement of Christian communities whose members are called to follow Jesus together in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the first church in Jerusalem, sharing all our talents, income, and possessions (Acts 2 and 4).” The Bruderhof began as an Anabaptist community formed by Eberhard Arnold in Germany in the chaos of post World War I Germany. The rise of Nazism drove the community abroad and led to the formation of communities in the United States, England, Germany, Australia, and Paraguay. These voluntary communities seek to live out the life of the Sermon on the Mount, and the book of Acts. Arnold wrote the following about the mission of these communities and their publishing efforts:

The mission of our publishing house is to proclaim living renewal, to summon people to deeds in the spirit of Jesus, to spread the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) in the social distress of the present day, to apply Christianity publicly, and to testify to God’s action in current events. We must get down to the deepest roots of Christianity and demonstrate that they are crucial to solving the urgent problems in contemporary culture. With breadth of vision and energetic daring, our publishing house must steer its course right into the torrent of contemporary thought. Its work in fields that are apparently religiously neutral will lead to new relationships and open new doors. (1920)

Only where the plough of God has tilled our lives can sowing bear fruit. An enduring deepening of the interior life can be brought about only through the ploughing of repentance. Therefore our main task is to work for that spiritual revolution and re-evaluation which leads to metanoia – the fundamental transformation of mind and heart…

This task can only be fulfilled in one way: in allowing the gospel to work in creation, producing literary and artistic work in which the witness of the gospel retains the highest place while at the same time representing all that is true, worthy, pure, beautiful and noble (Phil.4:8). This means breaking the cloistered isolation of Christian publishing, in which only explicitly Christian books are promoted exclusively to Christian circles. (1917)

I have reviewed several books from Plough Publishing, including works on Gerard Manley Hopkins, Archbishop Romero, Dorothy Day, a wonderful collection of the writings of Philip Britts, a Bruderhof leader in Paraguay, and a graphic novel of the life of Martin Luther. I’ve been struck with how these fulfill the standards of literary and artistic excellence while focusing on a clear gospel witness.

Plough Quarterly reflects these same qualities. What first catches my eye is the aesthetic appeal of the magazine, from eye catching covers, to original artwork and reproductions. The current issue includes an excerpt of a new graphic novel on the life of Nelson Mandela. There is artwork from Kandinsky, Raphael, Van Gogh, Winslow Homer, and Caravaggio.

Each issue focuses around a theme and brings together quality writing not only of those in Bruderhof circles but other thinkers and writers. The current issue, focused on “the art of community” includes contributions from the likes of Roger Scruton, Jacques Maritain, Dorothy Day, Annie Dillard, Dorothy L. Sayers, and James Baldwin, among others. There is a fine essay from Quaker writer Sarah Ruden on sound and silence, shaped by her Quaker tradition, and one by Scott Beauchamp on the use of the arts in the healing of the traumas of war among military veterans. The issue features a “manifesto” by the founder of the Bruderhof, Eberhard Arnold on “Why We Live in Community.”

I appreciate the focus on the gospel in all of life, from farming to art, from non-violence to the building of a summer tree house described in this issue. While the Quarterly certainly is a winsome portrayal of Bruderhof community, I think its most significant function is to nourish all those who aspire to a deeper engagement in following Christ, in the world, in the company of others.

A subscription to Plough Quarterly is currently $18 for U.S. residents, and includes both print editions and digital access to back issues. You may subscribe at their website. If you are not sure, you can access the current issue online. In its commitment to “all that is true, worthy, pure, beautiful and noble” it is a publication consistent with all that this blog stands for and I would highly commend it!

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