Public Faith in Action – Review
Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, July 2016. Brazos Press, ISBN 9781587433849, 256 pages. RRP £12.99 (paperback)
This book is divided into three parts, consisting of twenty-five readable chapters that can be digested independently. Part 1 states that Christ is the centre and norm, and the church the visible body of Christ, inspired by the Spirit to enable “the entire creation to flourish”. Interpreting Scripture is encouraged around “the Christian doctrine of love”. Part 2 looks at wealth, the environment, education, work and rest, poverty, borrowing and lending, marriage and family, new life, health and sickness, ageing, ending life, migration, policing, punishment, war, torture, and freedom of religion, all containing much to think about. I was disappointed, however, to find no chapter on learning disabilities. Part 3 has chapters on courage, humility, justice, respect, and compassion. The key message in these chapters is: “inaction can make us directly complicit in injustice”.
On the environment, the authors write: “Each nonhuman creature is seen to have their own intrinsic value, rather than existing simply for human use and benefit”. I welcome their stress on the goodness of each part of creation highlighted by Genesis 1 and was struck by the the observation that humans “are latecomers on the scene of the one creation” . There is a helpful summary examination of key texts: Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15. However, I was surprised that Ellen Davis, Norman Wirzba and Terrence Fretheim are not mentioned.
The following is interesting: “We must seek to…pass it [creation] on improved to future generations”. What do the authors mean by “improved?” They use the word “flourish” in the context of leading life well, in the sense of shalom which “encompasses good health, a sense of well-being, good fortune, the cohesiveness of community…”. Elsewhere they write, “Above all, we should not damage creation by leading acquisitive and wasteful lives”. These words are welcome. But I wonder what is sufficient to flourish? The book did not help me reflect on this. The authors do not mention the jubilee laws of the Bible which might have helped give some weight to those who reflect on what is ‘enough’.
The authors underline that humans are uniquely made in the image of God, reinforcing that “we are responsible agents within creation”. Does this mean that some, particularly people with profound learning difficulties, are not made in God’s image? The phrase “made in the image of God” is rare in the Bible. What does it mean? Is it a measure of a person’s value or worth? The authors’ view may tend towards a justification for social hierarchy, elevating some human beings over others. Consequently, then, are some aspects of creation better than others? I found the discussion to be weak in this area and insensitive to studies in the theology of disabilities.