The Common Good

Why I Wrote The Great Awakening

Sojomail - January 17, 2008


We need to find a way to stop this flow of blood. It is bringing hatred in the hearts of the children. The only solution is to reach an agreement with the Israelis: we can't just finish each other off.

- Maher Taafish, a Gaza resident whose father was shot dead during an Israeli incursion that killed at least 18 Palestinians. The tank and helicopter attack came in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants and after a sniper killed a farmworker across the border with Israel. More than 1,000 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians since September 2000. More than 4,400 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. (Source: The Guardian)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail


Why I Wrote The Great Awakening

God’s Politics called on people to take back their faith after it had been "hijacked" by the Religious Right. Millions of Christ­ians have done just that, and now the question is what are we going to do with our faith, now that we have it back? My new book, The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America, addresses that question.

My friend E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post syndicated columnist, has read the new book and describes how it is different from the last one. "The Great Awakening is the perfect successor to God’s Politics," Dionne says. "If the earlier book helped open our eyes to what had gone wrong, The Great Awakening ... provides an historical and theological foundation for a transformative public religion."

When I am asked what has changed since God’s Politics, I reply, "Everything." The subtitle of God’s Politics was "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It." Well, the hard Right continues to get it wrong, but evangelicals are leaving the Religious Right in droves. Meanwhile the Left is starting to get the idea that politics should be about values and that religion has much to contribute to progressive politics.

Two things in particular have changed. First, we now see the "leveling of the praying field" as many Democrats are rediscovering their own reli­gious roots, with many coming out of the closet as people of faith. And their candidates are actively reaching out to the faith community. In recent years perceived as the "secular party," hostile to religion and values, Democrats are becoming a much more faith-friendly party—that’s a real sea change.

Second, and more important, the agenda of the faith community—especially the evangelical community—is changing dramatically to include issues such as poverty and pandemic diseases, environmental care and climate change, trafficking and human rights, genocide, war and peace.

That change could significantly impact politics in the 2008 election. The Great Awakening explores the new broader and deeper faith agenda and shows how a new spiritual "revival" could spark real social and political change. Already, in the early primaries the clear victor is "change," revealing the deep hunger in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />America for a new direction in politics, which many on both sides of the spectrum believe to be badly broken. All the candidates are now competing to convince voters that they are the best change agents. Hopefully, The Great Awakening will be the spiritual and movement companion book to that political hunger.

Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, says that many evangelicals are ready for just such a "justice revival." He says, "We are interested in the poor, in racial reconciliation, in global poverty and AIDS, in the plight of women in the developing world."

And Rich Nathan, senior pastor of the Vineyard Church of Columbus, Ohio, says that "there is a spiritual awakening across America ... on behalf of the poor and the most marginalized."

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, wants to "fan the flames of the 21st-century revival within Ameri­can Christ­ianity. This revival is a reclaiming of the fullness of the gospel—a gospel that invites people into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, transforms them from the inside out, and then calls them to pursue justice, to practice radical compassion, and to both pray and work for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven."

The new book traces the history of "great awakenings" of the past, in the U.S. and world history, and then points to what is occurring now. I wrote the book because I believe it’s "movement time" again.

U2’s Bono, in one of the book’s endorsements, says, "I had always been a skeptic of the church of personal peace and prosperity ... of righteous people standing in a holy huddle while the world rages outside the stained glass. But I’ve learned that there are many people of the cloth who are also in the world—and, from debt cancellation to the fight against AIDS and for human rights, they are on the march."

The Great Awakening speaks of two great hungers in our world today—the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for social justice. I believe that the connection between the two is one the world, and especially a new generation, is waiting for. The Great Awakening makes that vital connection and shows how spiritual renewal will likely be a necessary part of social change, and how perhaps only genuine spiritual revival can spark social and political transformation.

As a longtime social activist, I am now convinced that we will not get to social justice without spiritual revival. The book lays out seven key commitments that—if made on the personal, communal, and public policy level—could provide the "tipping point" on many of the key moral issues that we confront today.

I am not just saying that another Great Awakening may be coming. I’m convinced that it has already begun, and the book begins to tell its stories. As I’ve often said, this could be a revival that calls us to find common ground by moving to higher ground. It could transcend traditional divisions and bring people together across the theological and political spectrum on the major moral issues of our time. It asserts that religion should not be a wedge to divide us, but a bridge to bring us together.

As a teenager, I went to the black churches of Detroit after being kicked out of my white evangelical church. It was in the black churches that I first encountered the explosive combination of spiritual power and social change, and I have adopted that vision as my own.

In the months of working on this book my writing, praying, and vocational discernment got nicely tangled together. So I didn’t just finish a book; I also got a clearer sense than ever before of what the next steps might be and what I am supposed to be doing. We decided to organize "Justice Revivals" in cities across the country, beginning this spring in Columbus, Ohio, where I recently met with a wide variety of pastors and leaders to prepare for this three-day gathering of preaching, praise, and a call to do justice.

It’s the vision of the book, and a vision we are beginning to put into practice—a Justice Revival may be coming soon to a city near you.

+ Visit The Great Awakening web site for more information and exclusive bonus content


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

MLK and LBJ: Movements and Politicians (by Jim Wallis)

An unfortunate exchange of words between the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama this week threatened to explode into real conflict, involving the always-volatile U.S. issue of race. The dust-up was as unexpected as it was unfortunate, and was sparked in part by comments made about the respective roles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson in achieving the historic goals of the civil rights movement. But race is the wrong way to view this escalating war of words (with operatives on both sides doing their political jobs of trying to gain from the controversy).

Amens and Amendments to Rich Nathan's Israel Sermon (by Deanna Murshed)

I commend Pastor Nathan for the courage and commitment to truth required to publicly reconsider what has strangely become status quo in parts of the U.S. evangelical world - an almost "biblical immunity" and unconditional support granted to the modern nation state of Israel. I especially appreciated the way he offered a lens for even the most serious adherents of scriptural authority to theologically unravel Christian Zionism. As he showed, the way forward depends neither on tossing certain passages aside, nor on citing them individually, but on viewing them in light of the overarching meta-narrative of the Bible and the general direction of God's redeeming history. Although there is more that I said amen to than questioned in this sermon, I'll offer (humbly) some things he may want to consider as he continues or expands this dialogue.

How Should Christians Relate to the State of Israel? (by Rich Nathan)

Now, the issue of Israel is not just academic to me. Most of you know that I was raised in a Jewish family. And in terms of my personal identity, I consider myself to be a Jew who believes that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the one promised by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. ... Now, Israel is at the very center of almost all of the great divisions in the world today, especially the division between America and the Arab world. Many Christians believe that America must support Israel because the land was promised to the Jews by God 4,000 years ago. And many Christians see the formation of Israel as the major sign that the return of Jesus Christ is near.

In the Image of God: Male and Female (by Rose Marie Berger)

When I asked a leading progressive biblical scholar who was doing the very best Bible work on images of God and gender theology, she didn't hesitate in her answer: Elizabeth Johnson, she said. Johnson, a Roman Catholic sister in the Congregation of St. Joseph, is interviewed about images of God in the January U.S. Catholic ("Honor your Father and Mother"). This is the theme she also takes up in her new book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (Continuum, 2007). Stale images of God aren't working for today's seekers, says Johnson. New ones are emerging from the experiences of all God's people – male and female. In the excerpt below, she reflects on God-language and invitational language in worship.

Women, Faith, and Presidential Politics (by Diana Butler Bass)

During the South Carolina Republican debate, Mike Huckabee garnered greatest applause when defending his views of wifely submission as part of his evangelical faith. The questioner quizzed Huckabee about being one of 131 signers of a 1998 USA Today ad by the Southern Baptist Convention that asserted, "a wife is to graciously submit herself to the servant leadership of her husband." Huckabee responded by saying, "I am not the least bit ashamed of my faith." He joked that his own wife was not submissive and appeared to temper his original statement by affirming the idea of mutual submission in marriage (a view, by the way, specifically rejected by the Southern Baptist Convention). Some evangelicals might find this acceptable, but many more do not—not to mention the American public as a whole.

Getting the Evangelicals Wrong—Again (by Jim Wallis)

The upcoming primary in South Carolina will be critical for both the Democrats and the Republicans, say the media pundits. And South Carolina is full of evangelicals, they also say. But they have absolutely no clue about what that means. For example, the exit polls in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have asked departing Republican voters if they are "evangelicals," but they don't ask the same question of exiting Democrats—therefore assuming there aren't any evangelicals voting for Democrats, an assumption that is demonstrably not true. The leading Democrats in the race—Obama, Clinton, and Edwards—speak explicitly and articulately as Christians and their campaigns have reached out as much to faith communities as the Republicans have.

A Cure for Burnouts (by Tony Campolo)

Far too often, activists do little to nurture their souls. Consequently, they "burn out." Ignoring the need for spiritual revitalization to sustain their zeal on behalf of the poor and oppressed, they wear out and fade into oblivion. Often those who were one-time dynamic spokespersons for social justice while living out countercultural values become exhausted from working hard with very little sense of accomplishment. Becoming cynical, they sometimes say disparaging things about those who still remain in the fray.

Happy (No) New (Nukes) Year! (by Jessica Wilbanks)

The day after Christmas, President Bush signed an omnibus spending bill containing a major victory for all those committed to a world free of nuclear weapons: the complete elimination of funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. This program would have led to a new generation of nuclear warheads, and possibly a new nuclear arms race, under the guise of ensuring the reliability of current nuclear warheads.

Bush Gets a Brush-Up on the Beatitudes (by Rose Marie Berger)

Archbishop Elias Chacour, an Eastern-rite Palestinian Catholic bishop in the region of Galilee, is escorting President Bush on a tour of the Mount of the Beatitudes in Israel on Friday, Jan. 11. This date also marks the sixth year since the arrival of the first prisoners to the U.S. prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

A Faithful Response to Human Rights Abuses (by Kaitlin Hasseler)

Here at Sojourners, human rights issues, such as the genocide in Darfur and human trafficking, are incredibly important. They are not issues that "have little relevance to our own;" instead, they are central to our mission as people of faith to follow Christ's example of fighting for and working with the poor, rejected, and forgotten.


+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

Evangelical leaders say Democratic/GOP polling skewed
Religion News Service

Keeping Poverty on the Page
Columbia Journalism Review

Race Spells Trouble for the Dems
Time Magazine

Evangelical Christians and Muslims meet for historic dialogue
Ekklesia (United Kingdom)

The Times, They Are A-Changin'?
Huffington Post

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.


In Time for Lent: An Inspiring New DVD-Based Study for Your Group!
DEVOTION TO JESUS: The Divinity of Christ in Earliest Christianity
with Larry Hurtado, Edinburgh University

When, Where, and Why Did People First Believe in the Divinity of Christ?
The true story of Christian "devotion to Jesus" is more amazing than anything found in books like The Da Vinci Code. An acclaimed scholar lays out the evidence in this vitally important course. See

Deputy Director - Washington DC Visions in Action. Humanitarian organization working in Africa seeks leader committed to social justice. 5+ yrs international NGO experience, Masters degree, fund raising, refugee relief skills preferred. Send CV to

Subscribe to Sojourners and save! Order now and save $10 off the regular subscription price. Sojourners offers award-winning commentary on faith, politics, and culture - plus Bible study, humor, and more! Click here to subscribe!

GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: | Advertising: | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.