What does it mean to have the "mind of Christ" and to live out the Gospel in the real world? What is the will of God on economics, abortion, immigration, health care, homosexuality, and war? And why is it that Christians so often disagree starkly on these issues?
Left, Right and Christspotlights those differences, as two thinkers (Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners and D.C. Innes of World Magazine) from very different ends of the political spectrum argue, respectfully and impressively, that their positions reflect "the mind of Christ," or—less boldly, perhaps—the most faithful and efficient way to promote the flourishing of the image of God in human communities.
For me, this book is timely. As a Christian theologian, I suppose it is rather embarrassing to admit that I haven't given a great deal of time and energy to thinking through the sorts of issues this book addresses. I've reflected on them here and there, of course, as they bubble up in the media and public discourse. But I've given little sustained time and effort to thinking through the implications of my Christian faith in terms of what that means for taking a well-reasoned position on a number of social issues. Perhaps I've hidden under the protective umbrella of more abstract theological interests. But I've come to realize that theology cannot remain in the abstract. While we rightly reflect on God's mysteriousness and incomprehensibility, God's love is specific and his mission is tangible. It is lived out socially and experienced culturally.
I have come to realize, with greater intensity and clarity over the years, that these issues matter to theology and to the church. They matter deeply, not only for human flourishing, but they matter because the Gospel matters and because the Gospel connects to the personal, the particular, and to the brokenness of real human needs, real human questions, and deep human desires. But even those who agree that the Gospel implicates real human life and culture can disagree as to what that looks like. So we are back to square one.
By now, the fact of major differences of opinion within Christianity is something most of us have simply come to expect. Protestants, in particular, have reflected those differences in sometimes fractious, sometimes irenic, ways. As a natural consequence of the Protestant ethos (for better or worse), it's part of our DNA. The priesthood of all believers, "soul liberty," and the primacy of the Bible's authority (over creedal formulations) for theology and ethics have contributed to a sense that, of the giving of opinions, there can be no end.
So, given the inevitability of differences of opinion, is there any point in discussing them? Christians will differ on immigration, health care, economic disparity, homosexuality, etc., and that's that. Perhaps we should just all agree to disagree, get along as best we can, and put our hope for unity in something other than political agreement (say, in the experience of salvation in Christ and in central theological convictions). There's something right about that, of course. In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty. Culture, context, individual leanings and passions, family of origin, etc., all refract into a kind of healthy plurality of opinion.
However, the sense of the inevitability of disagreement, and shrill voices in public debate, can lead Christians to shut down conversation and harden our positions. But we have a responsibility to continue the conversation, and to remain open to the potential of changing our minds, should our positions be shown to be insufficient or unfaithful. That's why books like this, which lay out the options in careful and honest ways, are so needed. When it comes to the question of human flourishing, Christians ought not allow the fact of plurality to paralyze our pursuit of that which is most just, most biblical, and most Gospel-advancing. The conversation must continue in earnest.
Thankfully, we hope in the Savior—not in human effort or human wisdom—to bring the renewal of all things and final shalom to the earth and to our human community. "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).
How might we sort through the maze of complex angles, issues, variables, competing values and interests? We should, of course, look through the lens of our faith. But that also requires peering through the window of the eschatological coming of God. What might human flourishing look like when God comes to dwell, finally, with humanity—with mortals? We cannot achieve that vision, that ideal, that picture in the here and now, but we can testify to it in the way we interact and relate with each other as human community, and in the way we imagine the interplay of all tools at our disposal, whether government, law, and public policy, or church, evangelism, community service, and discipleship.
How do we participate in and contribute to the full flourishing of human life on the earth, while witnessing to the holy love and loving forgiveness of God? What is the "mind of Christ"? Let's keep the conversation going.
11/23/2011 5:00:00 AM