Review of Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope

What is our vision of hope when it is framed in a new generation?


So asks Carol Howard Merritt at the conclusion of a wonderful introduction to her newest book Reframing Hope:Vital Ministry in a New Generation published by The Alban Institute.

Merritt, who is a Presbyterian pastor, author, and blogger (,  seeks to help readers make sense of the vast changes in the cultural landscape that Christianity finds itself in at the beginning of the 21st century. As she does, she encourages readers to acknowledge and embrace the historic past of Christianity as new moments of the faith are emerging out of the  evangelically dominated late 20th century.

She both reviews the old currents and history of the faith as she presents the new and emerging patterns of church life and practice through seven themes which form the seven chapters of the book.

Redistributing Authority
Re-forming Community
Reexamining the Medium
Retelling the Message
Reinventing Activism
Renewing Creation
Retraditioning Spirituality

While I found much in her work to be informational and inspiring, it was her comments in chapter 2, ‘Reforming Community’ about contemporary leaders and pastors become more like a ‘hub’ and less than an ‘expert’ very insightful. I happen to agree that with the growing emphasis on flat organizations that one of the challenges faced by churches and denominations, is the growing simplicity of organizational structure that empowers and liberates churches, and pastors, to do more with less structural complexity.

I also think that another strength of her book is that she recognizes the continuum that pastors find themselves on between what was called 25 years ago, ‘high tech, high touch.’ She addresses that in chapter 3 “Reexamining the Medium” as she shares her journey from a small town Louisiana pastor to an urban Washington DC pastor.

A long the way she discovers what many pastors who are in multi-generational settings or making similar kinds of transitions are discovering: communication with congregants is changing. This chapter recognizes the established, and as time goes on, increasingly predominate aspect of “Social Media.” Seeing the ministry potential of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, Merritt illustrates how such tools can be used to aid spiritual seeks and congregants on their spiritual journey.

Written from a progressive and mainline perspective, “Reframing Hope” is a book that I believe pastors and lay persons from all Christian traditions can use to help them navigate the vast changes in culture and society so as to help them be in touch with people whom God deeply loves.

Note: I received an electronic copy of the book from the publisher, The Alban Institute in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.