"Surveys the full reach of Christian history and spans the whole globe.... A fine gifta book that is not only fascinating reading but also a spur to bold and faithful action today."
Prof. Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University
"Excellent … reminds us that the gospel is a revolutionary challenge to a world that accepts poverty and war as 'just the way things are.' Holds a mirror up to readers, forcing us to recognize the timid compromises we make in order to feel secure and prosperous. The way of Jesus, as Robertson makes clear, is far more challengingand rewarding!"
Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National Council of Churches
"An antidote to individualistic piety and the assumption that Christianity is inherently conservative…. A much-needed challenge to transform our safe faith into a dangerous, powerful force for good."
Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Butler University
“Robertson gives us a dozen stirring exemplars who have challenged the world's conventional wisdom on behalf of the gospel. Read and learn, and discover your own courage to love as God loves.”
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church; author, The Heartbeat of God: Finding the Sacred in the Middle of Everything
“Engaging and refreshing … lifts up special people who model faith in life. Anyone looking to apply Christian faith to the challenges of today will be guided by the stories of these twelve courageous servants of God.”
The Rev. Donald J. McCoid, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
“The full force of exemplary lives can be lost on us so easily without the kind of fresh, contemporary portraits we find here. Robertson makes the compelling witness of these saints burn bright in our world.”
Prof. Jon Nilson, Loyola University; former president, Catholic Theological Society of America
“Invites us all to listen to that inner voice that continues to call us allas ordinary peopleto stand up and do extraordinary things for God.”
Fr. Albert Cutié, radio/TV host; author, Dilemma: A Priest's Struggle with Faith and Love
“One need not be a Christian to appreciate that those who inspire are to be cherished wherever and however they manifest…. [A] welcome balm at a time when the world too often seems devoid of true spiritual leadership.”
Ira Rifkin, editor, Spiritual Leaders Who Changed the World: The Essential Handbook to the Past Century of Religion
“One part Bible study, several parts history lesson, 100 percent good storytelling … provide[s] us a fresh look at folks we thought we knew and introduce[s] us to people we ought to meetexemplary women and men from many centuries and almost every continent, together reminding us of the breadth of Christian activism.”
Dr. Lucinda Mosher, Senior Fellow, Auburn Theological Seminary; author, Faith in the Neighborhood
“Celebrates the lives of twelve heroes who dared to step into darkness bearing the light of God’s love, no matter what the cost. These tales of danger, risk and sacrifice for Jesus’s sake are indeed inspiring.”
Michael Rhodes, five-time Emmy award–winning filmmaker; president, Film Clips, Inc.
“A clear and vivid picture of twelve men and women who would not stand still when the world needed to be pushed, or remain silent when power needed to be challenged. My hope is that the questions for reflection at the end of each chapter will help us to rethink our ministry in the service of God’s mission in our own time.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate, The Anglican Church of Canada
“Clear and very pleasing prose, with a sure and sympathetic command of his subjects, a Lives of the Saints for our times. [This] 'dangerous dozen’ and their escapades of faith … will instruct and encourage certainly; but beware, for they will also inevitably seduce and charm you as well.”
Phyllis Tickle, popular speaker; author, The Great Emergence and The Words of Jesus
The people we discuss, the stories we tell and the lives we admire will determine what we think is possible. I just heard a nine-year-old Christian boy saying that if he needed money he could just sue someone. What made this little boy's joke (or hope) possible was the constant flow of news stories describing individuals making millions in settlements from massive corporations. To be a people formed by the story of God in Christ, rather than the stories of celebrities living the American Dream, we need to know and tell more of lives made truthful by the life of Christ. In light of this, I was eager to read C. K. Robertson's
A Dangerous Dozen, which states in the subtitle that it tells the stories of lives that "[teach] us to live like Jesus."
Robertson’s book collects twelve succinct biographies of Christians who, as the other half of the subtitle describes, "Threatened the Status Quo." He includes both the recognizable and the unexpected, so for most there will be some familiar faces and some brand new. His prose shines when he captures the people of his stories in their particularity. He portrays the twelfth-century nun, Hildegard of Bingen’s poetic visions vividly, “…Hildegard’s vision of paradise is shown to be lush and moist and green. The holy life is also considered to be green, a life of hope and intentional living for God.” (62) Or, as she pleads for the church to accept her writing, Robertson includes her poetic flourish as she asks “to make it green.” (63) As Robertson narrates the Civil War era abolitionist Sojourner Truth’s life he inserts her wild forthright character as well as her wit. Whether it’s her last sojourn with refugees she calls “Exodusters” or her description of her first escape from slavery in her own words (“I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”), he renders her life with her very own vivacity and humor. These unique turns of phrase and personal additions make each short biography colorful and easily accessible. Other highlights include Dorothy Day, Francis of Assisi, Janani Luwum and Oscar Romero.
Robertson also took special care to make his cast of characters diverse. In the epilogue he describes his intentional inclusion of different ethnicities, both male and female, Reformed and Catholic, ancient, contemporary, and some in between. In his desire to present a variety of contexts he communicates the message that all are welcome to join in God’s salvation within their particular time and place.
Yet, by the end of the book it is difficult to pick out a central theme across the continents, centuries and contexts which may help us to recognize those in whom God is at work. To read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s and K. H. Ting’s lives back to back, it is confusing how Christ’s life makes intelligible our subversion of or allegiance to a nation state. The lack of a cohesive, constructive theme, other than challenging the status quo, may be due to Robertson’s treatment of the life of Jesus in the preface. He writes, Although they offer different reasons for the opposition Jesus faced, all four Gospels agree that he faced strong antagonism, that it came from the religious establishment, and that it resulted from the perception of Jesus as a threat to that establishment. Jesus was the prototypical ’sent one,’ but he seemed to be sent not to stabilize the religious system but to upset it. Interpreting Jesus as one sent primarily to upset the religious authorities misconstrues and obscures his central role, to be the revelation of God as the one who not only raised Jesus from the dead, but also raised Israel out of Egypt (to paraphrase Robert Jenson). Robertson does not adequately place Jesus as a product of, as well as a threat to, his community. This results in stories that heavily emphasize individuals in conflict with community rather than God’s continued work in people through confrontation and participation with the church, which is mentioned only rarely and in passing.
Robertson writes, “all the members of this dangerous dozen were salt and light in their own time and their own context.”(164) My worry is that, without a robust christology, Christians may feel justified to simply create controversy, calling it salt and light. To cultivate Christians in the practice of challenging authority without a clear vision of Christ’s community is to form a church with a battle cry but not a story. The reason we retell the stories of holy people is so we can gain a fuller vision of the story God is telling through us and through the history of the family of God, that we work toward the day when God will complete the establishment of a kingdom in which the Slaughtered Lamb sits on the throne. Any telling that compromises this vision is something less than the story God tells us in Christ. And I argue that the emphasis on individuals threatening “the establishment” is to the detriment of this eschatological vision.
Despite what I believe is a fault in the framework, we can still learn much from Robertson’s book. He introduced me to several new Christian lives that will fill my imagination with possibilities of how Christ can be alive in our world, lives filled with boldness, compassion, and faith. Robertson finds unique moments of humor and grace in the lives of his holy ones and he engenders a vast and varied appreciation for the diversity church across the ages. It will do the church well to learn of Robertson’s dozen dangerous Christians and to weave them in as a part of the greater life of Christ through his church.
Englewood Review of Books - Seth Forwood