A Public Faith
How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good
Covering such timely issues as witness in a multifaith society and political engagement in a pluralistic world, this compelling book highlights things Christians can do to serve the common good. Now in paperback.
Praise for the cloth edition
Named one of the "Top 100 Books" and one of the "Top 10 Religion Books" of 2011 by Publishers Weekly
"Accessible, wise guidance for people of all faiths."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Highly original. . . . The book deserves a wide audience and is one that will affect its readers well after they have turned the final page."--Christianity Today (5-star review)
Part 1: Countering Faith's Malfunctions
1. Malfunctions of Faith
4. Human Flourishing
Part 2: Engaged Faith
5. Identity and Difference
6. Sharing Wisdom
7. Public Engagement
"Our efforts as people of faith to bring our religious convictions into the public arena have clearly malfunctioned in recent years, but Miroslav Volf does not want us to retreat to a 'private faith' mentality. Instead he offers profound counsel about how faith-based public advocacy can promote the common good in our increasingly pluralistic world. This important book is packed with wisdom!"
Richard J. Mouw, president and professor of Christian philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Why should Christians use the resources of their faith to speak to and serve the common good rather than reducing the faith to a message that soothes individuals or energizes them to pursue success? And how can they do that without coercing those who are not Christians? In A Public Faith, Miroslav Volf sets for himself the daunting task of addressing these two deep and urgent questions in a way both that is widely accessible and takes account of the scholarly literature. He succeeds on all counts. It is a wonderful guide for the perplexed in our times."
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology, Yale University; senior fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia
"Firmly rooted within his own tradition of Christianity, Miroslav Volf has produced an indispensable guide for voices of faith within the arena of public discourse. A Public Faith is arguably the most important book on the topic since H. Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture."
Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history, Columbia University
Named One of the Top 100 Books and One of the Top 10 Religion Books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly
2012 Nautilus Silver Book Award Winner
2011 Book of the Year Award, Foreword Magazine
Named a "Best Book of 2011" by Englewood Review of Books
"With a goal of generating hope for Christian communities in today's pluralistic world, Volf encourages Christians to share and receive gifts of spiritual wisdom, to speak truth in their distinct religious voice, and to live generously with people of other faiths. This insightful exploration of how Christians may faithfully engage today's political and pluralistic culture provides accessible, wise guidance for people of all faiths."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Volf puts his finger on one of the most relevant and hotly contested subjects in our world today--the role of faith in public life. . . . When people start taking their faith commitments and living them publicly in a pluralistic world they are bound to encounter others who, equally convicted, are living out their faith. This is at the root of so much violence in our world. For Christians however, Volf is adamant that our role is not accommodation to the culture (idle faith) or the total transformation of the culture (coercive faith), but creative engagement with the world. . . . This book will be an invaluable resource to Christian communities who are working out for themselves what this creative engagement with the world looks like in their context."
Ryan J. Bell,
"[Volf] is one of the most well-respected modern theologians to address the issue of religion and politics in a fairly systematic way. His contribution in A Public Faith is highly original. As someone who has read widely in the area of religion and politics, I found the book learned, interesting, and creative. It is written accessibly and will interest laypersons and scholars alike. The book deserves a wide audience and is one that will affect its readers well after they have turned the final page."
Christianity Today (5-star review)
"Reviewers typically do one or more of five things: they point out where, in their judgment, the author is confused or mistaken; they explain difficult passages; they elaborate some point that they think the author treated too briefly or superficially; they posit that something the author did not discuss should have been discussed; or they talk about something other than the book. Yet nothing that Volf says seems to me confused or mistaken. There are no difficult passages that call for elucidation; the writing is lucid throughout. . . . The discussion throughout is at just the right depth and extent for the purposes at hand. There is no gap in the discussion that calls to be filled. And the book is too important to justify changing the subject. . . . Volf has a gift for asking the right questions and for introducing helpful categories, and . . . he is never satisfied with simplistic answers to his questions. . . . Volf describes his book as 'a sketch of an alternative to totalitarian saturation of public life with a single religion as well as to secular exclusion of all religions from public life.' It's a guide for the perplexed who seek to live in the open space between those two unacceptable alternatives."
"[A] valuable [contribution] to the understanding and practice of 'public theology'--a burgeoning, enthusiastic field in need of both clarification as to its nature and scope and fresh thinking as to its content. . . . . It is written primarily for reflective practitioners rather than scholars, and while it does not contain much that will be new to specialists it does contain many novel and winsome formulations that should refresh and stimulate them as much as its primary audience. It is an insightful, wise, and accessible introduction to how the Christian faith should engage faithfully, prophetically, humbly, discriminatingly, and creatively with the cultural challenges and opportunities presented by its location in many diverse host cultures. . . . [This book offers an] exemplary generosity of spirit and richly nuanced wisdom."
Studies in Christian Ethics
"Volf has become a major voice in world-wide Christian theology, respected by scholars, leaders, and readers of his many books from across the broad spectrum of faith. . . . Volf draws insights from important Muslim and Jewish scholars and ponders how the Christian faith has often 'malfunctioned' in the public sphere and how we might serve the common good, as followers of Christ, in our religiously pluralistic context. Very insightful."
Capital Commentary (Center for Public Justice)
"Volf offers an important argument for how difference and disagreement in public, including those of an 'engaged faith,' can be productive for our democratic politics."
"[Volf] is one of the best theological interpreters of America's current social, religious, and political landscape. . . . He's that rare breed of scholar-writer who can popularize erudite theology without diminishing its scope or masking its subtleties. . . . A Public Faith will make for interesting reading. . . . As candidates and their partisan backers exploit religious language for political gain, Volf has provided the conceptual and linguistic tools for changing the terms of a tired debate."
Debra Dean Murphy,
Englewood Review of Books
"At once erudite and accessible, Volf explores the place and role of religion, Christianity in particular, in public life. . . . He wrestles with many of the most vexing contemporary questions, such as the alleged link between faith and violence."
Anthony B. Robinson,
"This accessible political theology should be viewed as a significant revision of Richard Mouw's Pluralisms and Horizons. Moreover, it is not inconsequential that Volf constructs much of his proposal employing David Ford's compelling model of Scriptural Reasoning and Nicholas Wolterstorff's Christian philosophy, which wholeheartedly subscribes to a political pluralism. Read behind this whole text, once again, is Volf's personal history and struggle against the political coerciveness of communist Yugoslavia and the genocide that took place between Christians and Muslims from Serbia, Bosnia, and his native Croatia. A worthy read!"
"If there is any one theologian writing today that may deserve to be considered a true public intellectual it would be . . . Miroslav Volf. . . . Volf writes passionately about some of the themes raised by Neuhaus, however it is clearly a twenty-first century book. It is global, and it is attentive to a variety of religions. [It] is less a response to the hegemony of the secularists . . . [and more] a reflection on how to be faithful to Christ in a pluralizing world of huge diversity, ideological and religious. . . . If Neuhaus' Naked Public Square was the right book for the right time a generation ago, Volf may have written that book for us today. This is the right book for the right time, urgent, clear-headed, insightful, and good. We can be grateful for his wide vision, his deep concerns, and his graceful desires to see Christ honored in the public square in ways that are humble, tolerant, and just."
Q Ideas blog
"[This] gifted Christian theologian answers a pressing question in a pluralistic culture, arguing that nonexclusionary theological truth is not only possible but also socially healthy."
"In any election year, debates rage about the role of religion in public life. This excellent volume should be required reading for all candidates running for public office, among others. . . . Excellent notes and index. . . . Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers."
G. H. Shriver,
"This is quite simply the right book at the right time by a well-respected Yale theologian who draws on some of the best writers among . . . mainline Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox thinkers, helping us navigate the complex cultural setting of pluralism, resentments about fundamentalisms, theological violence, and--still, at least until people read this book--a quietism that suggests we needn't think much about pubic life. . . . This is serious, nuanced, [and] evangelical in the best sense. . . . Give this to anybody you know who is active in activism or public discourse."
"[An] important [book] on contemporary Christianity in the public square. [It] sets out a refreshing way forward within our changing cultural contexts. . . . Miroslav Volf is characteristically radical, but inclusive, clear, and concise."
"Volf's irenic expression of the role of Christian faith in public life is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the foul winds of today's culture wars. . . . Volf's book is thought-provoking and insightful. In defending his case for an 'engaged faith,' he carefully probes the models available and steers a middle path between secularism and theocracy. Both of these extreme sides in today's culture will benefit from reading this fine little book."
"Volf reminds us that Christian faith is public and that part of the mandate of our public faith is to serve the common good. Can we resist coerciveness and work for our neighbor's flourishing? Can we stay true to our unique identity while also listening well to others? The gospel requires it, and our culture is desperate for it. Volf offers good wisdom for our times."
"At the root of Christian faith, argues Volf, is a view of human flourishing that is diametrically opposed to desire satisfaction. Neo-liberalism has convinced us that satisfying personal desires is what matters most, but Christian satisfaction is found in first seeking the common good. This is his strongest argument. Volf deftly massages in quotes by Nietzsche, Marx, Max Weber, Doris Lessing, and Charles Taylor. He shows in his own writing how to be open to discussion, how to set up strong boundaries and identity, and how to engage the world by sharing wisdom, love, and forgiveness. In so doing, he models the openness that is often lacking in atheist critics of religious faith. . . . How can you square away the countless atrocities done in Christ's name? It makes you wonder, does faith even matter apart from your private world? Miroslav Volf responds with a resounding 'Yes.'"
"A fresh vision of how religious people may live publicly with both faithfulness to their traditions and respect for religious others. . . . A Public Faith presents another nuance on the ever-developing study of 'Christ and culture.' This area of inquiry has recently produced both pastoral . . . and technical works. . . . Volf succeeds in achieving a balance between the two, making A Public Faith appropriate for scholar and student, pastor and parishioner alike."
M. Caleb Murphree,
"[A] superb book. . . . Volf offers helpful insight into Christian identity in a pluralistic world and outlines ways Christians can share their wisdom. The questions Volf addresses in this wise book puzzle pastors, parishioners, and the public. He is particularly adept at poking holes in popular but overly simplistic solutions to the question of religion and public life. Though it is much more than this, the book may be read as a sort of apologetic directed at those who dismiss religion as the problem. Pastors will find it an encouraging, illuminating, and helpful resource for preaching. The clarity of Volf's writing and the accessibility of his thought recommend it for a lay book study or Sunday School class. Theologians, ethicists, and anyone who struggles with questions of religion and public life will find this an excellent statement of why and how Christians ought to be working to mend the world."
Raymond R. Roberts,
"We are the first generation in Western culture that is facing the real prospect of living in a statist society. . . . In this very clear and readable treatment of both the problem we Christian believers have and some real solutions, Volf lays down a path every one of us needs to seriously consider before we are forced to be totally isolated from society around us. . . . He implores us as solid believers to wisely but actually engage our multi-faith society and pluralistic world on every front. . . . This 174 page book needs to be read by all of us on the front lines of ministry today."
The Network blog (Christian Reformed Church)
"Volf's book is compelling for two reasons. First, unarguably, we live in an increasingly pluralistic world. Arguing for Truth may be seen as an intolerant assault on groups holding different beliefs--a grasp at power. Consequently, ultimate beliefs are privatized, social norms become increasingly arbitrary, and we lament the loss of something intangible from our society without the tools to reclaim it. Volf navigates a way forward toward renewed dialogue without coercion regarding the most fundamental values we hold as people--informed, contained, and transmitted through our religious beliefs. . . . Second, Volf's focus on human flourishing as a shared framework and goal of religious- social engagement is very timely. . . . Volf positions religious 'wisdom' as a potential source for helping bring out the best in each of us and society. From a philosophical perspective, this approach reintroduces the criterion of correspondence into religious dialogue, asking the question, 'Do these teachings help us live and thrive as humans in community?' This is a legitimate question, one too often neglected in religious debate."
Journal of Education and Christian Belief
"Volf draws together his lifelong focus of relating theology and culture in a pluralistic world. . . . A Public Faith is a constructive work. Volf seeks to balance public pluralism and religious exclusivist belief. As a Christian he does not back down before competing worldviews; yet he rejects simplistic categories in defining how the church should relate to other religions. In short, the author argues that the religious freedom Christians desire should be extended to those of other faiths. . . . This work calls for a close reading but is not out of reach of most readers. As he envisions a harmonious world, or the need to strive for one, Volf emerges as a majestic thinker and architect for how public Christian expression can function. With careful reading A Public Faith will benefit anyone interested in the intersection of Christianity and other religions."
Sarita Fowler with J. Scott Horrell,
"A manifesto for Christian engagement with the world. The introduction makes reference to Niebuhr's influential Christ and Culture, and in many ways we might see this as attempting a similar task for a new generation, negotiating a middle way between the opposite errors of what Volf terms 'idleness' and 'coerciveness.'. . . . Cogently argued and clearly expressed, this is a relatively accessible book which deals with vital matters to all people of faith and goodwill in our society. Well worth a discussion in your book group or for an inter-faith gathering?"
"Nothing that Volf says seems to me confused or mistaken. There are no difficult passages that call for elucidation; the writing is lucid throughout. . . . The discussion throughout is at just the right depth and extent for the purposes at hand. And there is no gap in the discussion that calls to be filled. . . . Volf has a gift for asking the right questions and for introducing helpful categories. . . . Volf describes his book as 'a sketch of an alterative to totalitarian saturation of public life with a single religion s well as to secular exclusion of all religions from public life.' A Public Faith is a guide for the perplexed who seek to live in the open space between those two unacceptable alternatives."
"Miroslav Volf packs a lot of ideas into his small book. He admirably then tries to unpack them for a general audience. I think most of his ideas are right, a few of his ideas might be other-than-right, and still other ideas make me wonder what might be right. So I am delighted to have this opportunity to engage A Public Faith from a congenial, but not identical, point of view. . . . Volf's pithy book encourages A Public Faith that believes, proclaims, exemplifies, and effects the Kingdom of God. My concerns and questions themselves bear witness to the quality of its provocations, provocations to 'love and good deeds.'"
John G. Stackhouse Jr.,
"[A] modest and yet bold attempt to sketch what might be a Christian contribution to the common good. . . . Volf possesses a genuine commitment to religious political pluralism and is interested in how different faith traditions in a non-competitive way could bring their visions of the good life into the public sphere. Yet this commitment by no means compromises his loyalty to the Protestant Christian identity which is his own. . . . I very much sympathize with Miroslav Volf's proposal of how people of Christian faith could bring their vision of human flourishing into the public sphere without violating the genuinely pluralistic nature of this sphere."
"A rich contribution to religious ethical reflection in today's public arena."
M. T. Dávila,
"The problem of how to allow for religious difference while maintaining social cohesion is never far from the surface in pluralistic societies. It is at the root of rather vicious public debates and only rarely the subject of respectful dialogue. Miroslav Volf's newest book . . . is delightfully different in its reasoned advocacy of a middle way between religious totalitarianism and hyper-secularism. . . . I am deeply appreciative of [Volf's] efforts to raise up the duty of Christians to contribute to the healing of the world while avoiding the accommodation of liberal churches as well as the idleness or coerciveness of sects. . . . Christians need not avoid the world or (foolishly) hope to totally change it. But it may be possible to find ways of powerfully witnessing to a fuller vision of human flourishing at the level of culture rather than turning again to politics. Perhaps most of us cannot even imagine what that might look like, but enlarging our imaginations is exactly what Volf's fine work calls us to do."
Julie Hanlon Rubio,
"Miroslav Volf's study of the public contribution of faith communities is written with typical clarity and insight. . . . Much of his work reflects an expertise in inter-faith dialogue, particularly with respect to Muslim-Christian relations. He has much insight to offer along the way. Successive chapters are replete with examples drawn from a breadth of scholarly and popular literature. The engagement with social-scientific research points to an increasingly important interface for contemporary theology. Volf should also be commended for the seriousness of his work--he does not indulge in polemics or point scoring or an unnecessary parade of his erudition. His scholarship is addressed to a wide audience and reaches for examples and citations which will advance the understanding of his readership. Yet, although this is a popular work, it will make demands on his readership. The ballast of footnotes and subsidiary comments ensures that other scholars will pursue the small print with interest. . . . Volf writes in a manner that is conciliatory, persuasive, and attractive. My sense is that he is fundamentally right in relation to the way which he seeks to articulate a strong Christian witness within the public square. . . . We should look forward to further contributions in this area from one of the leading public theologians of our day."
"An award-winning book from one of the world's most respected theologians. . . . A Public Faith is a gift to the church and to the world, and an excellent book for activists and public theologians."
Australian Journal of Mission Studies
"Besides climate change, there are no more vociferous topics for debate today than the public role of religion, particularly Christianity in the West. Croatian (now Yale-based) theologian Miroslav Volf's ground-breaking writings . . . and his own cross-cultural background in one of the most culturally and religiously vexed areas in the world, the Balkans, equip him well for this task. . . . Volf's A Public Faith is an accessible Christ & Culture for a more pluralistic world of resurgent public religions."
Ethos (Evangelical Alliance Centre for Christianity and Society)
"Volf continues to impress me with his depth of insights. He does this while actively engaging from different angles from multiple perspectives. From religions to political platforms, he respectfully highlights the similarities of all the three major monotheistic religions, and at the same time, allow[s] each of them to retain their distinctive identity. He practices what he writes. The mood is tender. The thrust is clear. The goal is wide and far-ranging. If anyone likes a good guide on how to engage non-Christians, the secular culture, amid a climate of distrust of religions, this book is a must read."
Panorama of a Book Saint blog
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