Saturday, November 13, 2010

Walk On: A Review

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2 by Steve Stockman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian minister in Belfast, is a man clearly enamored with U2. He's thought a lot about the lyrical content of the band's output and has a few interesting things to say but hagiography is what he ends up with. He does the same thing that U2 does in their own book, U2 by U2, and that is to try and position themselves in a middle ground politically. The problem with this, of course, is that there is no neutrality when staking positions and it is a ploy to be free to criticize your "right-wing fundamentalist" opponents while not having to identify yourselves as members of the Christian Left.

As I see it, there are three main problems with the book:

1. The author, like his subjects, does not understand the doctrine of two kingdoms.
2. He proposes that evangelicals have wholesale rejected U2 but offers no sourcing for this.
3. He conflates left-wing red letter Christianity with simply normal Christianity and attacks all other sources.

Two Kingdoms

At the risk of oversimplifying, the doctrine of two kingdoms is that Christ is preserving the secular kingdom on earth rather than redeeming it. This means that Christians are free to engage in the culture and politics of this earth but are not to confuse those aims with the aims of the heavenly kingdom that they will be part of when Jesus comes back to rule and reign. In contradistinction to that, Bono and U2 believe that it is their Christian duty to bring the kingdom to earth now and this is manifest in the social gospel. In 1998 Bono spoke of the appearance together of two opposing Irish politicians as "victory Jesus won" confusing peace on earth with the Gospel. Stockman follows that with "U2 believes that the Gospel...has an agenda for peacemaking and justice and a kingdom coming. They also believe that kingdom could come now on this side of eternity." The reason they believe this? A misinterpretation of the Lord's Prayer, in which Bono identifies his favorite line: Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. "Heaven on earth - now - let's have a bit of that," Bono exclaims. The Gospel (Christ's objective work on the cross to reconcile us to the Father) has nothing to do with what we do. We cannot live the Gospel. We cannot add anything to the work of Christ on our behalf. The author is cloyingly sympathetic to U2's views as he writes "[the band was] asking the Church to get out of prayer meetings and into the everyday dirt and pain of bringing the kingdom. This band believed in a kingdom coming...and they were going to run until they found what they were looking for: an earth as it is in heaven." And later he says that "Bono...longs for heaven on earth and tells his God he is tired of waiting." What I expect from a pastor is some Scriptural backing for these views but few verses are forthcoming.

Evangelical Bogeyman

On the first pages of the book it is asserted the band members' faith have been put in doubt by "the Christian press and Christians in general." The book goes on to suggest that evangelicals have caused U2 disillusionment for their concern for appearances over human suffering (pg. 5). When he writes that the band made a concious decision to deflect allegiance to conservative evangelical Christianity he fails to see this is because they are social gospel liberals who don't like being compared to people they oppose. There is no sourcing for such claims as the right-wing Church was forcing them to shut up (pg. 60), that Jublilee 2000 proof-texts from Leviticus are not taught in evangelical churches (pg. 151), or evangelicals spend a lot of time on being born again but little time on growing up (pg. 65). Stockman saves a special amount of vitriol for an editorial in Christianity Today that dared question Bono on his own record of giving and says that they shouldn't assume he doesn't give. But he assumes throughout the book that so-called evangelicals oppose U2 with nary a reason other than his conjecture.

Christian Left

One of Bono's more famous quotes is that "faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned with social justice - that is not aligned with the poor - it's nothing." Early on the band becomes involved with Amnesty International and then later Bono starts his own advocacy group called DATA but the thread running through a lot of their work is alignment with center-left groups. Amnesty International believes that abortion is a human right and Bono himself is pro-choice, but you won't find that in this book. A stated goal of the ONE Campaign is to increase government funding for international aid programs but Bono and this author simply call this loving their neighbor. If by love you mean coercing my neighbor's government into taxing that neighbor at a higher rate so we can send his money to Africa. For a pastor to write a line of such low ecclesiology further solidifies in my mind that this book is hagiography more than anything else: "For Bono, The Edge, and Larry, the God that they met and have pilgrimaged a God who is bigger than Church..." Think I'm making too much of Stockman's wagging finger? He writes "It is scandalous that in trying to switch America on to justice issues like debt relief, HIV/AIDS, and trade issues both Bono and Ali have had to prove what advantage it would be to America rather than the good idea of ridding the world of poverty, injustice, and millions of senseless deaths." He is also, apparently, on board with Bono's questionable assertion that poverty creates terrorists. In a passage of breathtaking naivete he writes "The press too have been quick to have a go at him for his do-gooding, telling him to stick to the music. Condemning someone for trying to save lives and help others is a remarkable indictment on third-millennium priorities." I haven't seen this "condemnation" he's talking about but he can't seem to understand that Bono's being criticized for being a moral scold and a public nuisance. Having millionaire rock stars hector governments into transferring more of their wealth to poor countries for the dubious notion that poor nations can achieve parity in this way is annoying to a large swath of people.

While being maddeningly biased and parroting the same insights into U2 you can find in their own book your time is much better spent in U2 by U2.

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