Where Goodness Still Grows

  

Amy Peterson, Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), 197 pages including notes.

Fifteen years ago, I read Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by Paul Woodruff. Since then, I’ve read it several times and have spent considerable energy thinking about virtues. Perhaps this itch drew me to this book. In this age when truth seems so elusive, we need to have a conversation about virtue and how to ground society in that which is good.  

In her Introduction, Peterson writes about growing up in an evangelical Christian home in the later part of the 20th Century. As a teenager, she watched as church leaders lambasted President Clinton as unfit for office. As a child, she was nurtured with stories of virtue collected by William Bennett. Later, she served a missionary stint in Southeast Asia. But she began questioning what she had been taught. The watershed moment was the election of Donald Trump and the flipflop of evangelical leaders who accepted or willingly forgave Trump’s behavior. She began to question if those who claimed to be virtuous in the 90s were only doing so as a way to “preserve power and keep everyone in place.” This soul-searching led Peterson to “reimage” a world built on Biblical virtues.  And, it appears, her faith has become stronger and grounded more firmly in the Biblical tradition.

What a virtuous world might look like:

Lament

Where Goodness Still Grows is Peterson’s attempt to outline what a virtuous world might look like. She explores nine spheres, as she tells her own story as well as digging deep into the Biblical story and the story of others. Lament is the first area explored. Having been steeped in “praise services,” lament becomes a useful tool for crying out to God for what is wrong in our world.

Kindness

The second area explore is kindness. She breaks apart the word that has evolved from an Old English concept of maintaining one’s position along the economic ladder. This leads her to come to an uncomfortable understanding about how her parents and grandparent’s “kindness” provided her with a status not enjoyed by many within minority groups. Her Biblical understanding of kindness requires her to see God’s image in everyone and may possibly require a redistribution wealth. 

Hospitality

Peterson explores includes hospitality, where she questions how evangelicals can be so against immigration. 

Purity and Modesty

She challenges the evangelical church’s link to purity and modesty only to sexuality. She finds no support for this within scripture. the Bible ties purity to the Temple. Modesty is often about not flaunting wealth. By linking modesty to how women dress, is to miss the Biblical view and also to create a low standard for men who need to have women dress themselves in a modest manner to keep their “animal instincts’ in check. 

Authenticity

Peterson recalls her desire to be authentic. Within the church she grew up in, praying spontaneously was viewed as authentic. Rote prayers were inauthentic. As she matured (and later found a home within the Episcopal Church), she understood a different view of authenticity. Writing about authenticity, she comes back to the evangelical support of Trump. She believes his ability to be spontaneous and having fresh ideas drew evangelicals. Instead, Peterson ties Biblical authenticity to being a disciple of Christ, clothed with the virtues of Colossians 3:12. However, this does not mean that one can’t be authentic if one isn’t a believer.God’s image allows us the ability to be authentic. At the end of the chapter, she makes the case that spontaneity shouldn’t be tied to authenticity within the church. “Authentic Christians” practice daily the role given. We are sinners, “saved by and growing in grace.” 

Love and Hope

Another areas Peterson explores is love. She finds love often contradicted in evangelism training that tended, in her experience, to objectify others. Another area is discernment. We cannot logically prove everything. There must be room for mystery. Finally, she investigates hope through an extended metaphor of raising chickens, which gives her a whole new understanding on Jesus’ lament on how he’d like to be a mother hen and protect Jerusalem under his wings. As a mother, this image is powerful for Peterson. Her chickens and other “homesteading” projects helps her understand our humanity. There is hope in being “gathered like children under a mother’s wing.”

My recommendation

In her introduction, Peterson suggests that her work isn’t the “definitive answer about virtue.” But she hopes it will raise questions. This she does. Peterson also leaves those of us who have never brought into a more simplistic view of the world as presented by fundamentalist Christianity with a little more hope. Hopefully, her book will encourage Christians to think about truth and what God wants for our world. If you read this book, I’m curious as to your take on it.

Reviews of other good books on similar topics:

Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies
John Kasich, It’s Up to Us
P. M. Forni, The Civility Solution: What to Do When People are Rude

26 thoughts on “Where Goodness Still Grows”

  1. Hello again! Yes I always enjoy visiting here and reading your words not just of wisdom but soothing to the soul, where sometimes the events of the day can distress and burden us in strange ways! So much goodness to absorb here and bring kindness to the top! Enjoy your weekend and I pray all goes well for this next week and seeing President Biden and Vice President Harris as our new administration unfolds!

  2. This sounds really interesting. It’s the question of the age, isn’t it: how does the political right reconcile the many contradictions between the religion it claims to follow and the policies it promotes?

    • Having always been one critical of the religious right, I just shake my head. I am generally viewed as more orthodox (I hate the word conservative in religious views) in my theology, but it tends to lead my politics in a different direction. There is a need within their camp to learn humility.

  3. I have read the first two chapters of this book. I have been struggling over the past few years with the political Evangelical movement. Having spent over 20 years in a Bible Study that was heavily Evangelical-leaning, I have become very disillusioned. I didn’t see this while I was involved in the study. I don’t regret my time and I learned a lot about the scriptures, but seeing some of the people I most admired get wrapped up in politics and excusing behavior that is so obviously against Christ’s teachings, has broken my heart. Amy’s journey is very helpful to those of us asking the same questions.

  4. Love this sentence” “kindness” provided her with a status not enjoyed by many within minority groups.”

    We loss kindness in some point now days. Thank you for sharing review of the book.

    • She acknowledges that privilege also comes from generation of wealth–I like the way she breaks apart kindness to bring out how it’s related to “kin” and our ancestors can benefit us greatly–something few minorities enjoy.

  5. What a fascinating book. I admire this author simply for tackling this topic. Important and timely! We seem over run with hypocrisy. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful review, Jeff.

  6. Nothing makes me crazier than hypocrisy, and it is hypocrisy that has driven me away from attending church. I’ve got to move past that. This sounds like a good book to read.

  7. This definitely piques my interest. I grew up in a mainline denomination, but joined a non-denominational church as a young adult and that’s what I’ve been a part of ever since. It would definitely be of the “evangelical” ilk, and I’ve had my struggles with it. Some of my fellow church members might not want to read a book like this, but I’m pretty open minded in what I read (and you’ve never steered me wrong). It’s on my TBR. Thanks.

    • Maybe you should suggest it as a “Bible study” book. I’m sure they’d appreciate it more than “Jesus and John Wayne” (another popular religious book these days).

  8. As a general rule, I don’t read books based in idealism, no matter how appealing, but as confusing as the world has become, I think I’m ready for a switch. This sounds good, Jeff.

  9. That sounds interesting. The evangelical fundamentalist movement has gradually been exposed for their rigidity. As a teen who grew up in a mega church, I do have stories! Suffice it to say, I left and never looked back. Unfortunately, their cult-like adherence to the right is going to continue to turn others away from Christ.

Comments are closed.