"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Civility

I've always benefited from reading Os Guinness. The Call is one of the best books I've read and I've given out several copies. According to the Discerning Reader review of A Case for Civility it is a must read for me as well. In this election year, it might just be a good read for all of us. A brief blurb from the review:
Much of the answer to whether or not we’ll learn to live with our deepest differences depends on rejecting two erroneous responses to the culture wars. First, we must say no to a “sacred public square”—a situation where one religion has a position of privilege or prominence that is denied to others. As he refutes the sacred public square, Guinness laments the state of the Religious Right and the damage it has done to faith in America. We must also say no to a “naked public square”—the situation where public life is left devoid of any religion. This is what is advocated by the new atheists. Both of these responses to the culture war are in contradiction to the Constitution.

The alternative to both is a “civil public square.” “The vision of a civil public square is one in which everyone—peoples of all faiths, whether religious or naturalistic—are equally free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faiths, as a matter of ‘free exercise’ and as dictated by their own reason and conscience; but always within the double framework, first of the Constitution, and second, of a freely and mutually agreed covenant, or common vision for the common good, of what each person understands to be just and free for everyone else, and therefore of the duties involved in living with the deep differences of others.” If we are to have a civil society, we must first have a civil public square.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Miguel said...

Eddie, I read this and was reminded of what Tim Keller wrote in his recent publishing, "The Reason for God." While Keller is speaking to Christians and skeptics his admonition certainly applies to all beliefs.

"I commend two processes to my readers. I urge skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined "blind faith" on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them. I also urge believers to wrestle with their personal and culture's objections to the faith. At the end of each process, even if you remain the skeptic or believer you have been, you will hold your own position with both greater clarity and greater humility. Then there will be understanding, sympathy, and respect for the other side that did not exist before. Believers and non-believers will rise to the level of disagreement rather than simply denouncing one another. This happens when each side has learned to represent the other's argument in its strongest and most positive form. Only then is it safe and fair to disagree with it. That achieves civility in a pluralistic society, which is no small thing."

I agree with Keller whole heartedly. Our discussion with the culture at large needs to involve presuppositional awareness in our interactions. Granted, this may sound "idealistic" in a..."like that's gonna happen" kinda way. But I believe it is the charge of them who are informed to do so to bring to the cultures discussion table unmitigated attempts for all to asses the epistemological contours of our beliefs; albeit in a subversive way that doesn't necessarily employ erudite terms.

6:43 PM EST  
Blogger Miguel said...

Also, I believe it is also essential to engage the culture in such philosophical/belief system analysis manner precisely because we as human beings already do engage life in such a way. The benefit we have on this side of history is that it has become more common now...(and indeed the trickle effect from "high culture" to "low culture" takes time)...to think according to a postmodern as opposed to moder bent. This is actually beneficial for the church because postmodern thought better coincides with the biblical doctrine of man and sin. The benefit of this is that society can become more apt "to entertain a thought without accepting it"...and this is at the least, the kind of posture of dialogue we need for the Holy Spirit to work in minds and hearts.

If God is Sovereign then even the Zeitgeist is subject to Him.

I believe Os vision coincides with this approach.

6:52 PM EST  
Anonymous joshua said...

Christians are always trying to set up their own antitheses in order to find the middle road of balance. And the synthesis of the conclusion shares the same reality with the previous antitheses: none is biblical. We need to get away from Hagel, and get into Christ.

Guinness is naive. The final authority that rules the land will always set the parameters for which religons and beliefs are allowable and unallowable. The question is much simpler than Os suggests. What should be the final authority of our nation?

If this authority allows for the "civility" of same-sex unions, for example, is it really civil? On whose terms?

All public squares are holy. They draw the lines somewhere and on the basis of those lines certain views are to be kept away--to be separate, thus a holy square.

Guinness and others like him seem to assume the myth of religous neutrality, and seem to be oblivous to the necessity of a holy culture, any way you cut the pie. Does Guinness really think we can have a public square that is
"devoid of religion?" Does he really promote the wickedness of a square that invites all faiths to participate?

I'm big on free speech, but not so naive to think that it doesn't have limits. But precicely where you draw those limits is where you draw a sacred/profane boundary. A Holy public is in simply any public with laws. But even a lawless public is something of a religous statement.

11:24 AM EST  
Blogger Taliesin said...

Joshua,

How do you handle the fact that the New Testament does not picture nor endorse a political activism on the part of believers? I think one of the problems of the 20th Century in America was that the church aspired to political influence. I see this as contrary to the pattern of the New Testament witness. We engage the culture at the level of ideas, not at the level of law.

Peter tells us to be ready to give a reason for our hope, but to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Paul encourages us to live peacefully with all men (Romans 12:18).

I don't think Guinness is naive. I think he believes in the transformational nature of the gospel. That message will change lives and no other message will.

8:45 PM EST  
Anonymous Joshua said...

Taliesen,

Where does the N.T. revoke the
"political activism" endorsed in the O.T.? You are working with a strange hermeneutic if the silence of the N.T. on a subject equals its disconcern for the subject. Where does the N.T. prohibit bestiality?

Your quotations are badly misapplied and prove too much if you think they teach political passivity. Do you vote?

I agree that the gospel will change lives, and no other message will. But polticial activism is not an alternative to evangelism. It is the fruit of a responsible Christian citizen.

I say Guinness is naive because I believe many Christians like you and him don't know what to do with your changed lives in the political square.

I would be happy to challenge your thesis that the N.T. doesn't endorse "political actiivism", but could you first admit that Christian political activism is distinct from christian evangelism?

11:59 PM EST  
Blogger Miguel said...

I too agree that the church cannot be passive...especially, considering our form of government...because its contextually appropriate...to engage politically. What I mean by this is for social justice.

As Christians I believe that the ground we posit is the ground that all are on whether they realize it or not. Because Christ is Lord over all then it's appropriate that we speak where we stand publicly and as universal truth.

Here is a good post to read concerning the evangel and social justice...."Faith Seeking Understanding"

11:40 AM EST  
Blogger Roger said...

Eddie,
It grieves me that you have been de facto labeled as naïve by one of the comment authors. I guess you can take comfort in the company of other simpletons like Os Guinness and Tim Keller. I must include myself in that same naïve cadre.

To my brother who is commenting on this post – you come off as arrogant, condescending, and willing to impute motive. None of those are attractive and, quite frankly, it does not display Christ-likeness. If you were correct (and I think we have some common ground) who could or would actually listen to it?

4:04 PM EST  
Blogger Taliesin said...

Miguel - thanks for the link. I especially liked the statement:

It’s not an either/or. One can be passionate about social justice, about pursuing real, concrete healing in people’s lives while also being passionate about the Gospel and seeing that person’s heart transformed by the renewing power of the Spirit.

I think the same is true about taking a stand for the faith as the one truth. Where I disagree with you, Joshua, is that the stand for truth means we have to be the one's in power. Paul stands on Mars Hill and makes exclusive claims, but he does so with civility. It may be naive to believe we can do the same, but if so then naive I'll be.

In part because I really don't believe anything that Christians do is distinct from evangelism. Like it or not Satan will use our activities to darken the minds and hearts of others. While it is ultimately the Spirit through the Word that removes the veil, our lives should not be stumbling blocks either.

Roger, thanks for the support. If naive is the worst anyone ever calls me, then I'll be fortunate.

8:30 PM EST  
Anonymous joshua said...

Roger,


The person I expect to listen to me is the person who is not overly sensitive about a strong opinion on an issue. A person who knows a little about the give and take of rhetoric on a blog post.

Calling someone naive is not name-calling, but a descriptive term--in this case descriptive of the person in my view who doesn't realize the full implications of Guiness's (or Keller's) view. Naive doesn't mean stupid, but in our context it simply means "deficient in informed judgment." No biggie.

Roger, was I really so arrogant in calling someone naive that you can't even address me as Josh? After all those Negras we've been through together.

Eddie,
I don't even know who you are but if it is helpful, allow me explain my use of naive.

If think the position of Os is too much of a quick fix, one that overlooks (despite his good training) significant philosphical and theogloical problems. To be precise, my view is that such a position is philosophically naive and theologically erroneous. In short, on this issue "Guiness is naive." No biggie.

If we were talking politics, I might say something like "If you think Bush is in control, you are naive."

Anyhow, I hope this is helpful. If you are local, perhaps we can go to Miguel's and pound some beers and discuss how naive you guys are.
jk!

josh

8:35 PM EST  
Blogger Miguel said...

If the reviewers account of what Os is aiming at is true, that we have to say no to a "sacred public square" or a "naked public square"...then I too agree there is a sort of naivete about it. That statement gives the impression that Os believes there is a neutral ground.
If this is the case then the ground in which we seek to engage unbelievers would be a faulty one. However, I am not so sure that Os is really saying..."The church needs to engage the culture on the presupposition that there is neutrality." It could be that Os simply identifies the reality that until Christ comes there will be no Theocracy...or 'christian nation'. Whether our plural culture realizes neutrality is a myth or not, the fundamental issue is not the noetic effects of sin specifically, but the heart of worship.

I am not sure what Os is really go for. That's why its a book and not a paragraph. But I am not so sure that men like Keller and Os, are capitulating to erroneous thinking be seeking to engage the culture on a 'philosophical' level. There are many ways to start a conversation with people, culture. There is not necessarily a one way method. However, if it is done without positing a biblical worldview then we have already lost footing and have forfeit to speak as ambassadors of one who is Lord over all.

Joshua, your a clear cut communicator. Perhaps too clear cut. I think what goes unsaid does more speaking in my opinion than what is said. I know this doesn't clear either party, the messenger or receiver. We all gotta seek to understand first before seeking to be understood. Usually, that approach gives a more personal and friendly feel then pure abstracted depersonalized sounding argumentation.

I am not saying the latter is bad. It's just that text needs to be adorned better with personability. Which you did do on your last comment. I know in person your a friendly individual and not an ass. I think the medium coupled with how we receive it transmissions are made difficult by our lack of being more circumspect, intentional or aware of attempting courtesy.

I hope this makes sense. If not....you all just suck.

;)

1:33 PM EST  
Anonymous joshua said...

I think I could take Guinness, but Keller has those huge thumpers. I don't know if I want one of those clubs in the forehead. Plus he's a New Yorker.

Has anyone seen his feet? I bet his hoppers kick like a mule.

3:44 PM EST  

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