The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor

This book surprised me.  The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor sat on my shelf for a few months before I finally picked it up early this year.  I’ll explain the two reasons I was (pleasantly) surprised, but first a word about the author.  Mark Labberton served as the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Berkley, California for sixteen years before joining the faculty of Fuller Theological Seminary.  Labberton is also a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission, a role that has clearly influenced how he sees the world.

What was first surprising about the book is the author’s awareness of how his race and gender has affected how he sees the world.  Books from Evangelical publishing houses about justice have become common recently.  Many of these books have hints of paternalism around their edges or within the assumptions they make, an unfortunate result of the authors’ worldviews.  Labberton distinguishes himself as a white man who repeatedly reflects how his privilege and power affect him and his neighbors, both local and global.

This self-awareness leads to a palpable humility on the part of the author.  Labberton shows us that injustice is not only “out there,” it also exists within those our society most often privileges.  This is now the book I would recommend to my white, male peers with limited experience with injustice.

The second surprise- and this surely comes from Labberton’s many years spent crafting sermons- was how well the author carried his thesis through the book.  The subtitle, Seeing Others Through the Eyes of Jesus, captures the trajectory; this is a book about how difficult it is to really see those who are “other” and how injustice flourishes when we don’t see.  Towards the end of the book we read this about the circumstances and choices that keep us from seeing.

We are located in racial, economic, class and political settings that almost always serve our interests.  The hard wiring of our cultural and societal location has partitioned us off from the daily suffering of injustice, and we would frankly prefer the deficiency of tokenism to the actuality of pain.

Thinking about injustice and love through the metaphor of seeing is a new idea for me, and it’s proving to be very helpful.  This is a book I’ll come back to again, likely the next time we plan a series of sermons related to justice.

2 thoughts on “The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor

  1. David – Thank you for posting this. I’ve been wrestling with the book & your post helps me understand where it is a useful introduction for people who want a biblical basis for justice. I do appreciate how he walks through passages & narratives that are not the “usual” social justice passages.

    However, I remain frustrated that he doesn’t seem to write out of much domestic experience with neighbors who are not from privilege. It is great to love our “neighbors” in developing countries, but one needs to come from a great deal of privilege to do so.

    It’s also so much safer than loving the less privileged in your own town… b/c that leaves one vulnerable to experiences like the woman from his church, whose story the book opened with. Loving your domestic under-privileged neighbors also leaves one vulnerable to no longer being able to detach ourselves from those acts of love when we return home.

    Love for our neighbors through in depth scripture study, overseas trips and act of compassion towards our peers with physical & mental challenges doesn’t strike me as all that dangerous. I was hoping for more.

    1. Thanks for your perspective Max. I don’t think I disagree with what you’ve written, though I may have had a more positive response to the book and to it’s potential impact on (what I assume is) its intended audience.

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