Author: Christopher D Marshall
Book review by: Christine Gobius
Available from Pandora Press, 2001.
Marshall argues that Christians have something special to say about human rights because the notion of human rights is deeply, and uniquely, grounded in the biblical story. Many secularists would object to this position because of their fundamental belief that religious views lack neutrality and universal application in contrast to a secular worldview.
Furthermore, Marshall describes how the fundamental legitimacy of a universal human standard is increasingly being rejected. He maintains, however, that a continuum of moral values exists, with some being universal and others more culturally defined. Marshall spends most of the book demonstrating that there are “sweeping implications of a human rights kind” (p.51) in God’s teaching on righteousness and covenant community. He does this by examining what he terms six key narrative moments – Creation, Cultural Mandate, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation.
He says of the church that as it follows Jesus’ example it most powerfully demonstrates human rights by exercising its role as reconciling community, where individuals transcend private advantage for the benefit of others. True freedom is “emancipation from oppression”, both outward (from exploitation and injustice) and inward (from sin and guilt). The latter he emphasises is a most powerful force in the subversion of outward structures of oppression.
Marshall laments the lack of serious theological reflection in this area but strongly encourages Christians to engage in human rights dialogue to allow the distinctiveness of the Christian voice to be heard. “Those who look to the Christian Scriptures for guidance … should become both the world’s greatest champions of human rights and the world’s greatest critics of rights gone awry” (p.22).
As we are overwhelmed by the violations of human rights on the world stage week after week, reading Marshall has sharpened my sensitivity to these issues, intensified the pain I feel, confronted me with my own complacence and encouraged me that God’s kingdom both now and not yet is the hope we hold on to.