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Shaking the System: What I Learned from the Great American Reform Movements

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Saving the environment. Helping the poor. Stopping abortion. Feeding the hungry. Increasing fair trade. Eliminating pornography. Ending racism.

Thousands are active today seeking to make the world a better place. It is a great American tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Sometimes such reform movements were very effective and sometimes they weren't. What made the difference? How come some grand ideals were fulfilled and others faded ...

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Overview

Saving the environment. Helping the poor. Stopping abortion. Feeding the hungry. Increasing fair trade. Eliminating pornography. Ending racism.

Thousands are active today seeking to make the world a better place. It is a great American tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Sometimes such reform movements were very effective and sometimes they weren't. What made the difference? How come some grand ideals were fulfilled and others faded away?

Tim Stafford explores the patterns of successful and failed reform movements to highlight what activists today can learn. How can activists keep from burning out? How can they avoid the lure of violence? What are ways to engage politics that are at once practical and ethical?

The great American reform movements of the last two centuries have an abundance of down-to-earth guidance to offer on these and other vital questions. Tim Stafford weaves the stories of the abolitionist movement, the temperance movement, the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement into this readable and practical study with application to those today who are motivated by the gospel to make a difference in the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Jim Wallis
"Activists (especially Christian activists) are too often unaware of our own history. Tim Stafford tells us that history—from the abolition of slavery to women's suffrage to civil rights—and draws from it the important lessons for today. This is an important handbook for a new generation, and a welcome refresher for those who have been in the struggle for years. He closes with the most important reminder—that what ultimately calls us into activism is the kingdom of God breaking into our world. We are motivated not by partisan politics but by the message of Jesus. I heartily recommend Shaking the System to all those who seek both a deeper faithfulness and a better world."
Charles Marsh
"It is deeply gratifying to see one of contemporary evangelicalism's most eloquent and respected thinkers plumb the wisdom of the great reform movements of American history. Shaking the System is a passionate and riveting account of Christian faith in action. Tim Stafford tells stories that inspire acts of courage and compassion, and at the same time, he shows us why courage and compassion must be grounded in costly discipleship to Jesus Christ. This book has the power to renew Christian social witness in our time."
John Perkins
"Shaking the System is a brilliant analysis of Christian attempts at needed social reforms, heavily focused on the abolitionist and civil rights movements. This is not a romantic or idealistic analysis, but it is brutally realistic about the pitfalls and problems as well as the limited successes of these movements. Very few white evangelicals write with the insight and wisdom of Stafford."
Ronald J. Sider
"Insightful, probing reflection on Christian activist struggles to change America. Wisely cautionary, firmly encouraging. A must-read for all activists who want to change the world."
Russell Jeung
"Many of America's great social movements—abolition, temperance, women's suffrage, civil rights—had their roots in the Christian faith. In his thoughtful and eminently practical analysis of these movements, Tim Stafford counsels would-be Christian activists in how to be 'as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.' I especially appreciate his take on the role of truth for activists who seek to be both passionate and durable. Although to most of our postmodern sensibilities truth has been relativized to be nonconsequential, Stafford reminds us that the truth of God's kingdom insists on activism and social change. Shaking the System is an 'ebenezer,' recounting how God has worked redemptively in America's past, and how God can work again today."
Philip Yancey
"As Christians increasingly join in the cause of social justice, it's a good time to remember that people of faith have always joined—and often led—great reform movements. Tim Stafford helps us pause, reflect and learn from both the wisdom and folly of that colorful past."
Publishers Weekly

Stafford, author of Never Mind the Joneses, presents another book of great clarity and insight-this time for the socially conscious Christian. With easy-to-follow analysis, Stafford explores four great social reform movements of American history (abolition, prohibition, women's suffrage and civil rights) and extracts lessons for contemporary activists. He points out that all these historic movements had deep roots in faith-based communities and that the most successful factions drew strength from a simple core truth (e.g., "slavery is sin," or "women are equal to men"). Every movement also had its fractures and conflicts, its failures and burnouts. Stafford pulls out intriguing details that readers won't have learned in civics class to illustrate the pros and cons of pressure tactics, the inevitable temptation to violence and the dangers of political compromise. Stafford is nuanced and therefore persuasive-he does not entirely rule out violence and politics, but uses compelling stories to warn about their limitations. Perhaps the central message is that the world-and the Kingdom of God-need "passionate yet durable" activists: people who are rooted in community life and able to follow the rush of early idealism with the dogged lifelong stamina needed to cement change. This is required reading for every evangelical Christian with a social conscience. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830834365
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2007
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Stafford is a senior writer for Christianity Today. Among his many books are Knowing the Face of God; As Our Years Increase; The Student Bible (with Philip Yancey); Love, Sex and the Whole Person; a trilogy of historical fiction (The Stamp of Glory; Sisters; The Law of Love), and Never Mind the Joneses. He and his wife, Popie, live in Santa Rosa, California.
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Table of Contents


How Do We Change the World?     7
Starting with Truth     27
Meeting Resistance     43
Pressure Tactics     59
Staying Power     81
The Seduction of Violence     105
Party Politics and the Prophetic Alternative     125
Applying Political Pressure     141
Who Is an Activist?     163
Acknowledgments     172
Notes     173
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