Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing, based in Warburton, Victoria. He is author or editor of 16 books, as well as writing regularly for various Church publications. He talked about his recent books, including the current Sabbath school companion book, For the Least of These.
The Bible makes justice a mandate of faith and a fundamental expression of discipleship, so why does it seem to take a secondary place to other theological issues?
There is much in the history of our faith that has contributed to our blind spots. For various reasons, we have prioritised personal goodness (righteousness) over public goodness (justice), while the concept in the Bible is not divided, both in the original languages themselves and in overt statements such as Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23 and James 1:27. And there are perhaps two practical reasons: much of our formal theology is generated in comfortable settings, in which justice issues might not seem so urgent; and the work of justice is difficult, complicated and costly.
You are a white, middle-class male living in a developed country. What qualifies you to write about those Jesus described as “the least of these”?
My primary qualification is the call of the Bible to care. As a writer, I have had the opportunity to share the stories of “the least of these” in various contexts, as well as those who work to help such people. When we see people suffering injustice, we are called to respond with compassion and with the resources we have (see 1 John 3:17). One of the resources I have is a writing voice.
Justice is a recurring theme in your writing, so does For the Least of These reveal anything new?
For the Least of These is an overview of much of what I have been working on in studying, activism and writing over the past 10 years. As such, it was a good writing challenge to sit down and try to order it in this larger format. But, as I mentioned in the book’s introduction, the greatest challenge was how much I had to leave out of what the Bible has to say on these topics. I was reminded again how large and pervasive the Bible’s call to justice really is.
In Of Falafels and Following Jesus, you write about the complexities of the Israel–Palestine situation, noting how the Bible calls the “chosen” to surrender their chosenness. Could we say the same about the responsibility of the privileged?
Yes, when I was heading into the Falafels writing project, I knew I would need to address this difficult political and humanitarian situation—it is not something I could honestly ignore. While Australian passports allow us to breeze through checkpoints and past the fences and walls, these are life-defining for those less privileged. But I see Jesus and Moses—key leaders in the histories of the various faiths—demonstrating that to be “chosen” is simultaneously and equally a call to surrender that chosenness and privilege for the benefit of the outsider, the marginalised and the vulnerable.
What began as a travel story also became a short history of the Holy Lands, a devotional book and an introduction to discipleship. How have readers responded to this mix of genres?
One of the things that attracted me to this writing project was that it seemed unique in Adventist publishing—I couldn’t find a book similar to the one I wanted to write—and it seems to have worked. I have received positive feedback from a variety of readers who have enjoyed and been challenged by sharing this journey.
Your body of work is significant, both in breadth and depth. What are you trying to tell us?
That our faith matters—and must make a difference in the world around us. Particularly for those who most need the world to be different.
For the Least of These, Of Falafels and Following Jesus and other books by Nathan Brown are available from Adventist bookstores in Australia and New Zealand.