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Book review: To Right Every Wrong: The Making and Unmaking of One Improbable Minor Prophet

Tuesday, 17 May 2022  | Matthew Anslow




To Right Every Wrong: The Making and Unmaking of One Improbable Minor Prophet

By Dave Andrews

(Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2021)


What is required to produce Dave Andrews? Or, using his own phrase, what is required to produce an improbable minor prophet?

Dave Andrews’ recent book, To Right Every Wrong, contains numerous themes, but arguably none are as central as the question of how the author himself came to be Dave Andrews.

Before saying anything else, I should be clear about my own partiality. Dave is a friend and mentor. We have worked and, at times, struggled alongside one another. He has been a caring and sage-like presence for me during some demanding periods of my life. In approaching this book, I am far from objective.

Though I suspect objectivity is not what Dave is hoping for. To Right Every Wrong is hardly a dispassionate theological treatise. No, it is characteristically Dave Andrews. By which I mean that this book will delight, irritate, inspire, provoke, transform, enrage and/or polarise the reader. Because, whatever else Dave Andrews does, he pushes buttons. That’s the role of the prophet, after all, and Dave is surely among the prophets. Having been confronted by him, we are then left to decide how we will respond to his words and actions. That is the nature of To Right Every Wrong. There’s no room for cool objectivity here.

To Right Every Wrong is the story of Dave’s life and a kind of capstone of all his writing to this point, told in a way that only Dave could accomplish. Equal parts autobiography, songbook, theological reflection, memoir, prayer book, best hits, how-to text, confessional and prophetic declaration, the book is the definition of a page-turner. Dave’s singular ability to tell a story, along with his virulent passion, will mean you won’t want to put this book down.

To Right Every Wrong reads like a conversation with Dave. That is, it’s akin to a rollercoaster. Each part is fast and potent, never resting too long. You’ve barely begun to comprehend the enormity of what you’ve just encountered before Dave has already moved onto the next profundity. With any other person this might be whiplash-inducing. But Dave has a way of carrying you along for the ride. His characteristic mix of safety and provocation — pastor and prophet­ — is on full display here.

Indeed, I’d suggest this book is an ideal entry point into the Dave Andrews canon. Touching as it does on some of the most important material from Dave’s well-known books, it provides the best overview of Dave’s life and thought thus far.

To Right Every Wrong is divided into three parts. Part one, entitled ‘The Personal’, is the shortest of the three and details Dave’s early years, meeting Ange, and their early life together. Here we are treated to an insight into the formation of Dave and Ange and their call and commitment to love their neighbour as themselves in solidarity, simplicity and service.

Part two, ‘The Prophetical’, is a longer exploration of Dave’s vocation as a prophet. Here we see Dave’s theological instincts and insights on full display as he explores the nature and practice of the prophetic role. To do so, he seamlessly weaves catechetic reflection with his own stories, showing and not merely telling, through a seemingly unending series of episodes of radical love, justice and faithfulness. At the centre of it all is the person of Jesus, whom Dave has fanatically sought to emulate. There are echoes here of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians that they imitate him as he imitates Christ. Dave would never dream of saying such himself, but I’d wager that most readers would, nonetheless, feel inspired in this way.

Reading this part of the book, it will be tempting for some to think that Dave has an over-realised eschatology. He passionately calls for love and justice in all realms of life, including politics, in a way that might seem to some to imply we can build an idealised world here and now. Dave and Ange’s life is a testimony to this kind of holy hope. Such hope rubs against the habits of Western Christendom, the muscle memory of some 1500 years, that tends to be wary of such zeal in favour of more moderate forms of political configuration and engagement. It is radical and uncompromising. And yet, Dave isn’t some naive idealist or false-hoped utopian. He is clear-eyed about the injustices of the world and the provisional nature of our efforts in shalom-making. It is not that Dave’s eschatology is over-realised; it’s that the prophet sees things in a different way to most of us. Perhaps the veil that separates heaven and earth — future consummation and present dimness — is a little less opaque for the prophet.

The third and final part, ‘The Paradoxical’, sees Dave wrestle with the delights and dangers of righteousness. There is a candidness about the destruction that Dave’s fanaticism has at times wrought.

The importance of these reflections is difficult to overstate. Contemporary Christians are constantly tempted to raise high-profile kin onto pedestals. Recent episodes in Christian history have displayed the damage such pedestals can create and how catastrophically they can collapse. Dave’s confessions — expressions of self-awareness and integrity — alert us to the fragility and fallenness of even our most respected Christian figures. We are reminded to beware of the creeping peril of idolatry and to appreciate even our most inspirational figures properly in relation to Christ. Dave’s openness is an example to anyone who would assume a platform. It ought to be more common practice for those of us who trust not in our own faithfulness but in that of the Faithful One.

There is, of course, a certain amount of ego that goes into writing an autobiography, particularly one that self-consciously serves as an example to others. But any hubris or self-celebration is negated by Dave’s constant recognition of his own failings and, most importantly, his recognition of those who have been co-conspirators along the way. It is clear in Righting Every Wrong that Dave Andrews could not be Dave Andrews without those who surround him.

This raises the question I asked at the beginning of this review: what is required to produce Dave Andrews? No doubt there are innumerable things we could say. But the most important is voiced by Dave early in the book when he expresses his desire to be a person who appreciates that he has been ‘much loved’ (p. 13). Indeed, it is this love that weaves its way through Dave’s entire story.

It would be easy for those only remotely familiar with Dave to conclude that he — a prophet and Enneagram type 8 — has been most formed by conflict and adversity. Such would be a grave misunderstanding. What is required to produce Dave Andrews is, first and foremost, love.

The love of parents, both for their children and as an example in hospitality for those around them.

The love of a spouse, in affection and faithfulness, correction and courage.

The love of good friends, in warmth and generosity, kindness and solidarity.

And, of course, the love of God, especially as expressed in the Incarnate One. As David says in the opening of the book, he is David, ‘Beloved’ of God. ‘That is the secret of my life’, he reflects.

I wholeheartedly recommend To Right Every Wrong to anyone and everyone. May this story of an improbably minor prophet push your buttons. May it teach, inspire, and transform. Most of all, may the ‘secret’ of Dave’s life become that for which all followers of the crucified and risen One are known.

 

Matt Anslow is a theological educator for the NSW/ACT Synod of the Uniting Church. He is a scholar and activist, having published numerous academic and popular articles on subjects such as peacemaking, civil disobedience, agriculture, biblical studies and philosophy. He has a forthcoming book entitled Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets: The Prophetic Vocation of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew lives with his wife, Ashlee and their three children at Milk and Honey Farm, two hours west of Sydney.


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