Book Review: Uncommon Ground ed. by Timothy Keller & John Inazu

Uncommon Ground – Timothy Keller & John Inazu (Thomas Nelson, 2020)

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.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Uncommon Ground ed. by Timothy Keller & John Inazu”

  1. I like the quote that says, “I have learned that being a Christian is not ultimately about mastery and control. . .” and wonder in what way the author meant it. Is it more about mastery and control of ourselves, or trying to exert control over others? The only place where I run into issues with religion are 1) using it as an excuse to do nothing (which I’m seeing loads less of in recent years), and 2) Christians who believe that they must control others by wrestling them into salvation, lest they be damned. I see that type of Christian more in the southern states of the U.S., but it’s still a thing. What are your thoughts on the quote?

    1. I read it as finding peace in our own lack of control over the world and relinquishing that sense of and need for control to God. I believe that Christians are called to action and we are responsible for our own choices but I also believe that ultimately, God is in control. Christians will sometimes refer to “peace that passes understanding” and it usually refers to something like this – finding peace amidst chaos through understanding that we do not have the final say. You’re absolutely right about those two issues within religion. It can be an excuse to do nothing or it can be an excuse to do harm to others in the name of “good”. To me, accepting that God is in control means that, ultimately, the actions of others are not my responsibility but God’s. At the same time, I do believe that part of being a Christian means working to improve the world we live in and of course we can have huge influence on those around us. I let go of control in my own life by making decisions based on what I believe and understand of God and what he wants for me.

    2. When I see Christians doing good work together in a community-spirit, I always think of those of faith who follow the example set forth by Jesus. Good acts like that always warm my heart. But O’Connor’s stories reflect the way some people feel about religion, and her backwoods fanatics can be frightening!

    3. I wish I could say that what O’Connor portrays is fictional or an idea that has faded away with time but I know that isn’t true. I’m encouraged too though by the people who do follow the example of Jesus. It was encouraging to read this book with its stories of Christians working toward social justice and equality.

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