This is a short, readable, challenging and deeply transformative book. The author is Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern, who chairs the Clewer Initiative, and the Sarum College Trustees, and is a theological educator of significant skill and generativity.
Organised into four parts, the book explores the theme of slavery and salvation within our Scriptural and Christian tradition. Part two opens contemporary challenges as the reader is invited to consider the nature of choice in the formation of discipleship. The articulation of faith is profound and arresting as the text takes us into the heart of Christian identity and practice. Aware of the complexity of metaphor and image we are invited into a deepening and enlarging of our faith with a series of questions for reflection and group discussion. Redfern charts his sources throughout allowing the reader to dig deeper into the shape that faith might take amidst the paradoxes, injustices and pain of our inability to live together in such a way that all can flourish.
If we look in different places, so often hidden, we are invited into what transformation means for those in power and those victims of structural injustice.
Anyone who is tempted to believe that slavery is something that happens to other people should read this book. We are reminded of the complexity of human nature and our capacity for evil. This narrative is explored within the cultural context of the consumerist and materialist society that fosters cheap and shallow living. Redfern skilfully lifts our perspectives to see, name and be challenged by our indifference and the exploitation of vulnerable people.
In chapter 4 the concept of morality is discussed. Drawing on the work of Oakeshott and Foucault, the reader is asked to consider what it might look like to see and serve those who our silence or blindness oppress. We can and should be aware of our feelings and complicities as we nurture a spirit to inform and change structures where all can live well.
In part three, and building upon an awareness of the reality of poverty and exclusion, the reader is invited to consider the nature of power and powerlessness. In a consumerist and materialist world where our separation from one another distorts the quality of relationship and the liberation of seeing well, Redfern explores the nature of forgiveness and grace and our calling to use power with mercy and knowledge. If we look in different places, so often hidden, we are invited into what transformation means for those in power and those victims of structural injustice. The integration of economics, cultural theory, social analysis, theology and spirituality poses a range of questions to each of us about our commitment to change and care as a basis for transforming communities and society.
The reader is introduced to a concept used by Pope Paul VI called, ‘a civilisation of love’. Our households have a key role in structuring kingdom presence for engaging in both public and political tasks. This takes us into an awareness of presence in the poorest and defines discipleship as having the imaginative energy of widening sympathy.
There is a confidence in the gift of Anglican polity as a historic witness over centuries in its commitment to the locality and all who live within it. The gentle but persistent invitation for us to see, reflect and respond differently is captured in some key questions at the end of each of the ten chapters. Here is a vision of discipleship and faithfulness within which we are to be called, formed, inspired, and enabled. Above all it reveals new possibilities for the coming of the kingdom and in the creation of safe and saving communities.
Slavery and Salvation is a model of how to do theology well – an extended theological reflection that invites its readers into seeing and doing discipleship differently. It is deep and deeply challenging.
The Clewer Institute continues to work across church and society at raising consciousness and enabling action to combat modern slavery.
Slavery and Salvation by The Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern (SPCK 2020), reviewed by The Revd Canon Professor James Woodward, Principal of Sarum College.