What is courage? This is a tough question beyond a certain superficial level, and one that Joe Rigney has tackled in his new book Courage: How the Gospel Creates Christian Fortitude. (Because everything these days has to be part of a series, this is the third book in the “Growing Gospel Integrity” series–so far all excellent.) Specifically he’s interested in the virtue of courage from the Christian perspective, though he also acknowledges that it is a general virtue available to non-Christians well, unlike, say, a fruit of the Spirit.
And this is the rock on which his definition kind-of crashes. Don’t get me wrong, this is an excellent little book that you should read and be blessed by. But at the end of the day if courage is a virtue that is available to everyone (and it self-evidently is), then there’s nothing particularly Christian about it. Which isn’t to say that Christians can’t or shouldn’t be courageous. It’s just to note that we’re dealing with a question of common grace, rather than the result of particular grace.
But what is courage? Rigney gives us a two-page definition at the end of a chapter called “Defining Courage,” but even this isn’t all. Over and over through the book we get various statements beginning with “courage is…” For example:
“Courage is a habit of heart and mind that overcomes fear by clinging to (or reaching for) what is good in the face of hardship, pain, and danger.” (35)
“Courage is a kind of glad-hearted stability and manifest hopefulness in the face of hardship.” (102)
Again, there’s nothing particular Christian about these definitions. Rigney points out that Christians use courage differently–we use it in defense of the Gospel and in the face of situations in which non-Christians have no particular reason to find themselves. But that’s a different use of the same virtue, not a different virtue. And maybe that’s where we need to land. Courage is a virtue for everyone, but we Christians have specific things that we’re courageous about that we don’t share with unbelievers.
So read this book and learn to be more courageous, but also remember that courage is a virtue for everyone, not something that we believers have the corner on.