Review: The Awakening of Hope

December 18th, 2012

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a writer, speaker, and leader in the New Monasticism Movement. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, Jonathan and his wife, Leah, founded Rutba House, a house of hospitality where the formerly homeless are welcomed into a community of fellowship, hospitality, and prayer. His latest book, The Awakening of Hope: Why we Practice a Common Faith, is grounded in the premise that God is stirring a new movement of revival in the world today. Wilson-Hartgrove maintains that for this revival to take root, to shape lives and transform hearts, it must be lived out in spiritual practices and communities that enflesh the foundational teachings and practices of the Christian life. In these practices and communities, hope is given a name, a face, a voice and a heart.

The book is described as a new kind of catechism for our time. It comes with a DVD Wilson-Hartgrove created with Shane Claiborne, and discussion questions for each chapter. Its vocabulary will be familiar to admirers of Claiborne and the emerging church or new monastic movement—pilgrims on the edge of established denominations and institutions, seeking to live in community as committed followers of Christ, adopting a kind of voluntary poverty, reaching out to others on the margins, especially the homeless, children, prisoners, and all who have lost hope.

As a catechism, the book attempts to take traditional doctrines—Trinity, Incarnation, original sin, and so forth—and practices—Eucharist, fasting, covenant—and interpret them through lived examples of life in community called “pictures of hope.” Woven through is a critique of consumerism, a passion for creation care, the redemption of suffering, and a deep commitment to share and live into the Good News.

No doubt the book will initiate fruitful and faithful conversation. It is earnest and sincere and is delivered with a sense of urgency. And if it is a bit uneven, it is because it is truly a work in progress. It conveys a sense that it’s almost premature to try and put these words down on a page while they are being lived and spoken in new forms and settings.

Better to go and visit one of the communities described here than to try yet to fully talk it through.

Wilson-Hartgrove makes mention of similar initiatives from earlier in the twentieth century—Koinonia Farm and Clarence Jordan, and Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Part of what’s missing here is a more nuanced historical perspective to put all the insistence on “new” in a longer and larger context. Additionally, there are a few problematic assertions that warrant further reflection. The chapter on covenant and faithfulness focuses strangely on circumcision, important historically but rather stunningly exclusive. The place of women in the New Monasticism remains unclear. Similarly, the chapter on place uncritically asserts the role of Israel in God’s plan. The place of Palestinians and the tragically complicated present reality of the region is mysteriously unmentioned in a chapter devoted to the importance of place.

A prolific author, Wilson-Hartgrove will no doubt continue to explore these themes in future work. In the meantime, The Awakening of Hope provides a window into the new monasticism that will hopefully lead to continued reflection and expanded practice.

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