“Christians are called to live for the good of the world. This requires understanding and action. We must think clearly about the world and engage deeply when and where we can.”
In his essay “On the Reading of Old Books”, C.S. Lewis once admonished his readers to engage numerous old books for every new book that they read. The prevailing attitude of Lewis’s day (and, indeed, that of our own) often emphasizes the new. In opposition to this “cult of innovation” we are often encouraged to return to the foundational classics of civilization and culture, and rightly so. Yet along with the wealth of the past, we must also read new books—this very website contains my reflections on a new book almost every week. Many of these new books I fully expect to make only limited lasting contributions to the shape of our world (if they make any substantial contribution at all). There are exceptions of course—though I shall not delve into a catalogue of what I perceive to be the most influential contemporary books in this particular review—and these writings are to be engaged with great eagerness. Certain other books are highly descriptive in nature, accurately taking the pulse of our world from a particular moment and perspective. The best of these are works which not only offer a catalog of contemporary culture but also connect that description with principled analysis. Though I have read many a writing claiming this dual role of description and analysis, none in recent years hold a candle to the work which is the topic of today’s review.
In Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Everyday People (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015), Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet take a candid look at today’s world and seriously reflect on how Christians should engage that reality. Smith—who is the Vice President of the WORLD News Group—and Stonestreet—who works for Breakpoint, The Point, and Summit Ministries—cut through the complexity and chaos of contemporary culture with insightful and engaging accounts of how God fulfills His promise to “make all things new” in today’s world. Especially in the American context, Christians often focus on the negative and the divisive. That is to say, much of contemporary Christianity remains better known for what it opposes than what it supports. In contrast to this often-pervasive attitude, Restoring All Things is a book about clearly articulating faithfulness and what Christianity stands for, not what it stands against. To these ends, Smith and Stonestreet focus on the “re”-words of Christianity—redemption, renewal, restoration, resurrection, reconciliation, regeneration—and suggest that these ideas stand at the heart of the Christian message of God’s Good News.
Key to Smith and Stonestreet’s process includes fostering a proper understanding of the Biblical narrative and its attendant worldview. In their view, the Bible remains best understood as the story of God and the true story of the world (and not as personalized spiritual handbook or mythic guide to worldly success). Indeed, they go so far as to argue that the biggest problem with the Christian Church today centers on its failure to grasp the Bible as the “true story of the world”, that the Biblical worldview involves the salvation of the world, not salvation from the world. Smith and Stonestreet summarize this the following way: “Rather than safety from or capitulation to the world, the grand narrative of Scripture describes instead a world we are called to live for.” Scripture not just advice, esoteric instruction, or moralizing, but rather includes a description of reality, the purpose of humanity, and the meaning of existence. For Smith and Stonestreet (and all manner of “worldview-ish” Christians), taking the Biblical worldview seriously requires that Christians “bring glory to God by living for the good of the world.”
This perspective in mind, Restoring All Things focuses on the lived expressions of “re”-word Christian faith in today’s world. In their approach, Smith and Stonestreet take two important stances. First, they focus on the importance of the middle. That is, they consider mediating institutions (between Church, State, and society) and offer a balanced approach to important topics through the consideration of numerous viewpoints and concerns. Restoring All Things is an ecumenically minded book that holds value for Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Democrat, and Republican alike. The second approach of this book is the use of stories. Each chapter centers around an organization or experience related to the topic at hand. Smith and Stonestreet are not interested in pontificating about what Christians should believe or do about in certain contexts; rather, they are interested in showing readers how Christians are already making a difference in our world. Ultimately, these stories—and the reflections they elicit—are intended to inspire everyday Christians to “run toward the plague when everyone else is running away” and stimulate the strategic vision of the Church in ways which are “restorative and life-giving, not merely reactionary.”
The bulk of Restoring All Things involves a review of important areas in which Christians are working toward redemption, renewal, restoration, resurrection, reconciliation, and regeneration in our world. Chapters address such issues as poverty, creating systems which serve the common good, abortion, human trafficking and prostitution, education and education reform, justice and social justice, restorative race relations, ideological intolerance, loving God with our minds, sexuality and identity, suffering and disability, marriage, orphan care, and the arts. In each area of culture, Smith and Stonestreet pose four guiding questions: What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect, and celebrate? What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute? What is evil in our culture that we can stop? What is broken in our culture that we can restore? Each chapter ends with a concluding “To Do List” of practical activities, learning opportunities, places to serve, and organizations to learn more about. Restoring All Things ends with some important reflections on Christian approaches to vocation, the importance of difference making and faithfulness, and the personal stories and insights of Smith and Stonestreet on how they experienced restorative faith in their own lives.
There are several especially resourceful portions of this book. The “To Do List” at the end of each chapter not only provides a list of important organizations and resources pertaining to each subject, but also serves as an immanently practical list of activities to undertake in order to actively live restorative faith. In the end matter of Restoring All Things there is also a helpful selected bibliography of recommended resources for further study. Very rarely do I come across a work which I think should be required reading, but this book certainly fits the bill. Restoring All Things should be read and reflected on by anyone who calls themselves a Christian living in the United States. It is simply that important of a book, a superb resource into how Christians should engage our world and an insightful call to view our context through the lens of a Biblically redemptive worldview. This book comes highly recommended and should be on everyone’s reading list in the near future. We may take seriously the calling of this book, to live out God’s plan of restoration and the salvation of our world.
I received this book from the Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.