A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good

Miroslav Volf, Brazos Press, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Here is a book that treats the basic experiences of the west: how can we work for the common good in a pluralistic society? It’s the question that the early church struggled with, but they discovered that they could frequent the same agora (market place) while worshipping in different temples. ‘The lamps were different but the light was the same.’

        Volf explores witness in a multi-faith society and political engagement in a pluralistic world, and asks three simple questions: how does the Christian faith malfunction in the contemporary world? What should be the main concern of Christ’s followers? How should Christ’s followers go about realizing their vision of living well (common good) with diverse people of diverse faiths?

        He cites Wolterstorff’s summary of Christian response to pluralism: 1) because there is one G-d all people are related to that one G-d on equal terms; 2) G-d’s central command is to love our neighbour; 3) we can’t claim rights we’re not prepared to extend to others; 4) religion can’t be coerced. Volf points out that Christians will exert their influence less from close to the centres of power and more from social margins (different from post-Constantinian perspectives).

        Volf defines the common good as the flourishing of people: love of G-d and neighbour, universal beneficence, experiential satisfaction (p 60). He points out the task of Christians to witness: not as a tyrant who imposes, not as a merchant who sells, not mere teaching, not as a mere midwife (eg Socrates). Good givers will respect the integrity of receivers.

        A book that asks the right questions in our task of working in a pluralistic society for the common good.

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