Public Faith in Action

Miroslav Volf, Brazos Press, 2016, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        We live in a pluralistic society; what does this mean for us as we seek the common good across religious and cultural commitments and differentiations? Volf was born in Croatia, a part of the Yugoslav community state; his father was a Pentecostal minister in an Orthodox community. So Volf lived in a thoroughly multi-faceted—religious, economic, political—society.

        ‘Our communities need vibrant conversation to thrive. The church flourishes as a community when followers of Christ deliberate with one another about the implications of our common faith. Civic communities flourish when their members debate public questions in good faith and in pursuit of common goods’ (p 215). Our communities also need action—courageous, humble, just, respectful, compassionate engagement.

        Volf identifies 17 public issues (including marriage, wealth, migration, war, torture, freedom of religion), and five personal characteristics of citizens (including, humility and compassion).

        Each brief chapter concludes with guided discussion on the topic, and a brief annotated bibliography. I’ll just touch on just a few of the issues.

        •Education guards against distortion 1) reducing education to economic growth 2) pursuing education to gain social prestige 3) hoarding rather than sharing the benefits of education.        •Emphasize 1) that education is not only acquisition of skills and knowledge, but formation of character 2) access should be equitably distributed 3) communities other than schools (families, churches) should be involved.

        •Health Care 1) funding for public health measures that give people opportunity to live healthy lives 2) ensuring that everyone has access to affordable basic care 3) priority in combating health problems that affect primarily the poor.

        Volf eloquently invites us to identify the common good in our pluralistic society, as part of our personal response to Jesus’ call to the kingdom.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.