Book Review: Hopeful Realism in Urban Ministry

By Lee Hollaar

From the Catalyst, Summer 2017

Hopeful Realism in Urban Ministry: Critical Explorations and Constructive Affirmations of Hoping Justice Prayerfully
By Barry K. Morris
Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2016

Reviewed by Lee Hollaar

To all involved in any seemingly overwhelming ministry, this is an important and refreshing read. While dealing with issues of poverty, marginalization, and the politics of exclusion, it’s easy to move beyond naive optimism and approach a sense of futility. While the author looks through the lens of ministry in urban settings, this book speaks with equal cogency to the work of social justice—and any ministry, for that matter.

In the forward, Tim Dickau makes this assertion: “Read this book, because if you do… you will wake up the next day ready to go back to work in the place and parish God has called you with a realistic, prayerful hope.” This book delivers. It offers a practical theology which seeks to rise above the big challenges and takes ministry beyond life in the trenches. It addresses the often attendant ennui involved in ministry to those who are more vulnerable, which can often get bogged down in the midst of endless charity.

Inasmuch as the book aptly addresses ministry in general, it informs us of what better serves to make and “keep…ministry— any ministry really—pastorally and prophetically faithful in the long haul.” Morris’ work is supported by mined ore from the rich deposits of three particular giants on whose shoulders those in social justice should stand, namely Jürgen Moltmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Thomas Merton. In doing so the author has examined his findings to form serviceable insight, namely a triad, with justice as its apex. The metals of hope, justice, and contemplative prayer are richly catalogued and the rich alloy of hoping justice prayerfully emerges. The conclusion is that each “discipline” in the triad requires practice as an essential part of the pursuit of greater biblical faithfulness.

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