Timothy Keller is probably my favourite living Christian theologian. I greatly appreciate his balanced and Biblical perspective on life in North America in the 21st century. So I was intrigued to learn about this latest book Uncommon Ground, a collection of essays he edited with John Inazu. This is a collection of 12 writers with a variety of experience and perspective. The focus is on finding “common ground” amidst the vast diversity of opinion and experience that currently exists, both within the Christian church and between Christians and those with different beliefs. The focus here is definitely American and the ever-growing divide in American politics and religion, but I found it still very applicable as a Canadian.
…it is the unwavering support of many white evangelicals for a president whose politics and policies comfort some of them but whose words and actions mock Christian values and alienate nonwhite voices. Or the insistence of many white evangelicals that the United States is a “Christian nation,” that something of “ours” has been lost to a more pluralistic and less accommodating culture. These perspectives in many ways reflect the white evangelical world from which I came. And it is a world that feels increasingly inaccessible to me.– The Translator: John Inazu
Where should Christians stand on politics? Should they take a stand on politics? How can they work alongside those of differing beliefs? What about the variety of ideas within the church itself? How can Christians support the valuable work being done both in the church and outside of it? How do they stand up for justice and morality? What does that look like.
Those are big questions and there is a wide variety of perspectives here. While none of those questions can be fully answered within the scope of these essays, it feels like a good jumping off point for further thought and discussion. I particularly appreciated the balanced approach of diverse voices. Each essay is titled with a noun, which serves to identify the speaker’s perspective and focus, as well as promoting a role in society that Christians can and should take.
Keller’s is the first essay and he sets the tone well by outlining his own experiences. After becoming a Christian while attending quite a liberal college, where being religious definitely made you stand out, he took his first job as a minister in a Bible Belt town, a place where attending the local church was an asset for personal and business gain. He found himself between agreeing with his liberal, atheist friends on matters of social justice more so than with the Christians in his town. Since then Keller has gone on to write many books and he is the pastor of a church in New York City. I appreciated this start to the collection because I remember the feeling of being on the outs as a Christian in a West Coast university. And I remember feeling even more like an outsider when Peter and I moved to the Fraser Valley after university, living in a town where attending church was the norm but our political values were seen as extreme left.
I have learned that being a Christian is not ultimately about mastery and control, either of myself or of others or of the world, but about embracing the vulnerability, dependence, and love that comes with living inside the life of Jesus, embraced by the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit as God’s beloved child, and resting there.The Caregiver: Warren Kinghorn
As I finished Uncommon Ground, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in the United States. In this atmosphere, the final essay by Claude Richard Alexander Jr. felt very timely. While I can’t assume that Alexander’s essay would be the same in response to current events, I did find it to be a helpful perspective from an African-American man speaking on Peace-Making, both in a familial context and in a broader, national one.
This call to peacemaking is not a call to evade or avoid issues, but to face them, deal with them, and overcome them. Peacemaking calls us to address the forces and factors behind unrest, unease, and lack of well-being. Making peace and striving for justice are intimately entwined…It means asserting the dignity of the image of God in all persons, advocating for the equal treatment under the law of all persons, and redressing wrongs perpetrated against any person.– The Peacemaker: Claude Richard Alexander Jr.