Book Review: Public Faith: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity

Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity. By Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2016. $21.99, Hardcover, ix+240 pps.

Authors Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz are theologians concerned with Christians living and embodying Christ’s teaching to love God and neighbor. In Public Faith: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, these authors say, “Determining what is just requires practical wisdom and faithful discernment.” The Christian faith is not insular and selfish. In the American democracy Christians live with people of different sexual identities, faiths and cultures. Christians living in this type of democracy should empathize and engage with others wisely, especially if we espouse the teaching of Christ to love God and our neighbors.

Public Faith presents a road map which assists Christians on the journey of cultivating culture and faith with non-Christians and other Christians, living peaceably. Disciples of Christ are never passive—idle and doing nothing—, but active and involved. This is how we are to live as Christ’s disciples in the 21st century. The authors make this clear in the introduction when they write, “This book is about the public lives of ordinary disciples of Jesus Christ and the public goods those lives should promote. It’s about the Christ-centered convictions that should shape our judgments and also the Christ-like character that should shine in our actions.” In this book Christians are reminded that public faith is about shining the light of Christ in the world.

The book consists of 25 chapters which are divided into three sections: Commitments, Convictions and Character. The chapters are concise and clear in how Christians are to approach every day with which God blesses us. The three divisions of the book are markers along the way of discipleship reflecting stewardship of our resources and leadership. Of Christian participation the authors provide these helpful words, “Today, we have to discern how to participate faithfully in the mission of Christ in novel and rapidly changing ways.” There is a great opportunity for Christians to give up the self-betraying association with the far right politics of the United States controlling public life and embrace the challenges of cultural and religious diversity affording Christians in the public role of putting faith into action in solidarity with others.

It seems to me that in the chapter called,“Work and Rest,” the authors come to a premature stop, specifically when it comes to details of Christians putting faith into action regarding workplace justice issues. For example, I hoped to read about union busting because we live in an economy where businesses refuse to bargain with the common worker. What good is there that education meets workforce needs when unions are not welcome at a table where decisions are made? This book leaves that question unanswered.

Recently, I had dinner with a couple who moved to the city of Grand Rapids from Flint, Michigan. I asked them for the reason of their move. They said, “Pastor Ron, we moved here for fresh water. Flint’s water is poisoned and the people of Flint hold the governor responsible. We still have family in Flint who are being told they have to pay their municipal water bills for poisoned water. We feel betrayed by a government that continuously puts money before us, the people.” I prayed with them and I thought about Public Faith. Are we, Christians, negatively impacting the lives of other Christians with a rush to judgment, not connecting with others wisely? Are we complicit with the greed and corruption of the government?

Ultimately, this book reminds us of the need to live and love God and others in this democracy while facing the challenges of cultural and religious diversity with a public faith that is compassionately wise. It shows us that we should vote with a virtue that backs up our love and that we should live in a way that serves God in reaching out to others because this gives God the glory.

R.L. Hunsucker