So what is Christian realism? What are its central principles? The last chp in John Stackhouse, Making the Best of It, outlines the principles of Christian realism. I’m about to give you a quotation from this book and I’d like to hear your response:
To describe Christian realism, I’d quote this passage from Stackhouse (p. 288), and I quote it for you to see how you respond to it. Is this, in other words, the way we are called to behave?
Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the politician has to hold his nose and make a deal. The chaplain has to encourage his fellow soldiers in a war he deeply regrets. The professor has to teach fairly a theory or philosophy she doesn’t think is true. The police officer has to subdue a criminal with deadly force. We are on a slippery slope indeed — and one shrouded in darkness, with the ground not only slippery but shifting under our feet. So we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it.
Now four principles — with lots of subpoints and nuances and qualifications:
1. A mixed field, mixed motives, and mixed results: This might be the best section in this whole book. He uses the parable of the wheat and tares to show that world is mixed, we have to co-exist, and we will work with various motives and we not always get what we hope. There is sin and graft and there is ambivalence. So, we cannot hold out for all-or-nothing results.
2. The Normal … and beyond: the goal is steering societies, converting communities, improving individuals. A big idea here is that cultural precesses are not controllable and history doesn’t take straight lines. (He has a long section, slightly drawn out by too many nuances, on miracles and the normal.)
So, and here is another way Stackhouse defines realism: we either choose never to do something prohibited in the Bible or … big one … we “do whatever will be truest to the revelation of the will of God, taken as a whole, recognizing that in a topsy turvy world sometimes one must do what one would never do in Eden or in the New Jerusalem, something that is objectively impure but that nonetheless is the best of the available options and will produce the most shalom in the situation” (275).
That’s it. That’s what realism is.
So, we need to see where we are in the Story, we need to recall both the creation commandments and the redemption commandments, we need to see that in the Story God enters into a world of violence, and we need to distinguish our work from God’s work. (Those commands: cultivate the earth, love God-love others, love each other in the church, and make disciples of all nations.)
3. Faith and faithfulness: we are to trust God, to trust ourselves, to trust others.
4. Liberty and cooperation: our own liberty, the liberty of others, and unity and diversity in the church.