Public Faith in Action - A Review

If this election cycle has revealed anything, it is that there is a drastic need for improvements in the way public dialog occurs. It has also revealed the need for Christians to engage in political discourse in a distinctly Christian manner: informed by Scripture, reasonably argued, and carefully expressed.

Miroslav Volf often exhibits the gracious demeanor in public discourse that is exemplary for Christians. His recent volume, Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, offers an example and encourages such political engagement. The book was co-written with an associate research scholar at Yale, Ryan McAnnally-Linz, based on a series of Facebook posts Volf published.

The book claims to be non-partisan. That claim is fair, though it is clear that the political leanings of the authors are center-left. In most cases the positions presented are well-reasoned and have the reasoning explained. Each topic is put forth with some foundational discussion, followed by some proposals for non-negotiable points for Christians, and then examples of points that are open for debate. Notably the authors provide no non-negotiables for the topic of marriage and family, since their position reflects a revisionist concept of those institutions. For the most part, however, there is a pattern of consultation with Scripture, tradition, and reason.

One major concern that this volume creates is that the authors call for greater government intervention for nearly every social issue. There are times when more laws and additional spending are necessary. However, one of the solutions for most of the problems they discuss is more government funding. At the same time they call for a wise stewardship of both personal and national finances. The necessary conclusion is that increasing taxes is necessary for justice. This is an opinion that many contemporary Christians on the left and center-left share, but the continual growth of the government is not necessarily the only Christian response to these difficult issues.

It is possible that this volume will find readers who already lean left and convince them that Volf and McAnnally-Linz present a case that is truly reasonable to all Christians. This risks continued ostracization of right-leaning Christians who are unwilling to accept some of the authors’ supposed non-negotiables, though they may resonate with the need to deal with the issues. This perception is aided because nearly all of the recommended resources of the volume are from sources that range from center-left to radically left in their politics and theology. There are only a handful of conservative sources offered, only increasing the false perception that right-leaning Christians are not discussing some of these issues.

These concerns aside, the volume is valuable. The tone of the volume is reasonable and non-accusatory. The authors have succeeded in presenting their case in a way that is inoffensive and engages the big ideas in culture without demeaning people that do not hold the same positions. The style of communication is exemplary for real public discourse.

One of the keys that makes this volume helpful in creating legitimate dialog is that for each chapter Volf and McAnnally-Linz explain the question they are seeking to answer. Public discourse often falls into shouting matches exactly because participants do not define their terms or engage the same question. This book is to be commended for seeking to diagnose and respond central questions related to significant public concerns. In the case of marriage and family, the integrity to identify the questions they are addressing and the vision of the common good they are pursuing make clear why they arrive at a revisionist answer.

Another strength of the volume is that it works from the understanding that the Christian worldview touches every aspect of life. Much of the discourse in the public square seems to be divorced from the notion that Christianity has anything to say about the common good. Although their solutions are often based on philosophical and political predispositions that are not distinctly Christian, their identification of the problems and the need to respond reflect the influence to a holistic Christian worldview.

This book is worth reading and sharing. Although some of their conclusions are debatable, the general approach to each topic is exemplary. This volume will not end the discussions, nor be the foundation for a definitive Christian approach, however it is a worthwhile example of faithful engagement of important issues in a non-contentious manner.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this volume from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.