Disclaimer: Miroslav Volf is one my of future Yale professors, so I’ve gotta be EXTRA charitable in my review!!
“Christian identity is not established primarily by denying and combating what is outside, but by embracing and highlighting the center of what is inside – Jesus Christ as the Word who took on flesh and became the Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world.” From pp. 95.
Let me begin by stating that this book is a very accessible read. Volf is an academic theologian, but lately he has been writing for a wider audience as his ideas have become widely accepted with Christianity. If you are new to theology, or haven’t ever ventured outside of your local bookstore’s “Christian Living” section, I would recommend this book as a worthwhile starting point.
Throughout the book, I was always surprised by the depth of philosophical insight Volf possesses. Even seemingly ordinary discussions of everyday life are packed with extraordinary perceptions about culture. The first part of the book aims to counter the various “malfunctions of faith.” As everyone reading this would likely agree, Christians have not always done a good job in bringing their faith to the arena of public discourse. The two errors he discusses extensively are that of idleness, when one’s faith refuses to get involved, and coerciveness, when one’s faith doesn’t respect the integrity of others by forcing their conversion. Idleness happens as believers think their faith is not relevant to their everyday lives or think its moral requirements are too difficult. On the other hand, coerciveness occurs when Christians want political power or worldly success in the place of a desire to love their neighbor as themselves. It could also happen as a result of that faith’s dwindling influence, and manifest itself as the attempt to force its observance upon others. As I mentioned in my previous post on culture, Volf too argues for a middle ground in which Christians recognize the unique contributions of their faith and utilize them for the good of the world.
Volf criticizes the modern idea that the good life can be summed up by personal experiences of satisfaction while returning to St. Augustine’s theology of God as the object of real human desire. As Christians, we believe that our way of life provides the best way for individuals of the world to live. Contrary to idleness or coerciveness, he advises Christians to understand their faith’s role within public life, whether at work, school, or play.
The second half of the book deals with the theory of a lived-out faith engaging the world. Volf, coming off his most recent researches into globalization, communicates this through the perspective of a pluralistic world. Because there are many religions and many ideologies vying for influence and more adherents, love must be our central guide. This means that we give our faith tradition to others while at the same time being willing to accept the good that comes from others. Many times, Christians view their own truth pursuit as over because they have Christ. But this is to neglect the necessity of openness in public dialogue to the wisdom others may offer. Toward the end, Volf suggests that religious people should bring their faith into everyday life not by declaring its differences from others nor its similarities with others’ social programs, but by being itself. In other words, it is a call for authentic Christianity to be presented to the world in the hopes that the lifestyle and message of Christians be successful in making the world a better place.
Overall, Volf’s voice is very welcome to the discussion of religion’s role within public life.
Check out my other reviews here.