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A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  464 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Debates rage today about the role of religions in public life. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, various religions come to inhabit the same space. But how do they live together, especially when each wants to shape the public realm according to the dictates of its own sacred texts and traditions? How does the Christian faith relate in the religious pluralism ...more
Hardcover, 174 pages
Published August 1st 2011 by Brazos Press
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Miroslav Volf believes it is possible to be unapologetically Christian, or otherwise religious, in a pluralistic world without resorting to violence or, alternatively, isolating yourself into a cultural ghetto. He argues that Christians can choose a third way of seeking the public good while remaining faithful to the core values of their faith--the dignity of humans in the image of God, the servant way of Christ, the care of creation. Along the way, Volf also discusses why believing people have ...more
Dayo Adewoye
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In a globalized world where traditional geographical and cultural boundaries are being broken down and people and ideas freely travel across the globe, how can the collision of faiths be kept peaceful? How can society eliminate the threat of imposition (i.e., that the principles of a particular faith would not be foisted on the rest, as the agenda of radical Islamists is)? Specifically, how should the Christian community respond to this trend?

This is what this book seeks to address. It is writte
Mu-tien Chiou
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Volf dissects the dysfunctions of faith in its public application by its problematics in the ascension on the one hand and of return on the other.

Ascent malfunction can be easily understood as the lack of real connection with God (yet the believer or the church leader pretend to have done so). But Volf is ambivalent about the deeper causes of what he calls the “functional reduction [of the divine]” in this situation (he did allude to a lack of faith, misappropriated religious symbols, and even
Alex Stroshine
Miroslav Volf's "A Public Faith" is an excellent declaration of how Christians can engage with the rest of society in an increasingly pluralistic world. Volf discusses many of the contentions people have with religion such as the tragic history of religious violence that has left millions dead. In answer to this, Volf suggests that "more religion" is needed in order to guard against "malfunctions" of religion (e.g. some will use only certain tenets to support their aggression without also holdin ...more
Robert D. Cornwall
Miroslav Volf's latest book A Public Faith is a necessary read for Christians wishing to be present in public. Volf speaks to Christians, encouraging them to be present in public, serving the common good. There are, he says two poles to avoid, a private, idling faith, that is focused on what happens inside the person or the religious edifice, and one that is coercive -- seeking to impose its vision on the broader public. As to the latter he uses the figure of Sayyid Gutb, whose philosophy underg ...more
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, ethics
A helpful look at ways in which faith should and can serve the world around us. Much of this was covered in Volf's other books, especially "Flourishing" and "Allah". I found the first three chapters, lectures given at Regent College, perhaps the most helpful. Volf explains there how faith often malfunctions. We ascend to an encounter with God, but instead of descending to take that encounter to the world and living a prophetic faith, we instead keep it to ourselves and retreat into personal myst ...more
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Really helpful account of how Christian faith can find authentic expression in our multicultural world.
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If more Christians (or, honestly, people of any faith) listened to what Volf has to say, we would all have reason to rejoice.
Jason Keel
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
Miroslav Volf set himself a daunting task with this book: to counter the assertion that religion should be left at the door when entering the public arena while acknowledging the failures of religious people throughout history and today to work for human flourishing without resorting to tyranny, and suggesting a viable way forward. Well, he more or less did it. I found A Public Faith to be not only thoughtful, but practical. He could not be as thorough as some will, not doubt, want, but this vol ...more
Scott Wozniak
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intellectual Discussion of Faith and Public Life

This is a mix of profound passages and basic points. It took me a long time to finish because I’d hit a slow section and leave the book for a while. But I’m glad I finally finished.

He shares that healthy faith is both experiential and prophetic. It’s both about my personal transformation and my public engagement. When you try to make your faith all about one without the other you end up with an unhealthy and inaccurate faith.

Also, he refuted poin
Allison Griffiths
Extremely thought provoking. How does christianity effect us as citizens in thought and deed. We have to really think through the ramifications of faithful living in our world. Excellently written, Volf lays out the arguments from schools of thought, past and present that caused me to examine how my theology and citizenship interact. We are neither to be totalitarian in politics because of faith nor are we to be pluralistic because of our politics.... instead we are to be genuine lovers of God l ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
This isn't a particularly long book, but does raise some interesting questions about how Christians (or religious people? I never could quite understand whether he was suggesting a normative framework for Christians or all religious people.). In sum, though, he lays the groundwork for what faith ought to look like in a pluralistic environment. There were two quotes that I found particularly insightful regarding the tension between religion and the modern world. The first, regarding secularism:
Ross Emmett
Volf provides a tour of Christian social ethics that walks a middle path among the various schools of thought. While brief and written in a plain, almost casual style, there is much here to mull over. His basic message is captured in the "Two Noes and One Yes" section on pp. 93-97. After arguing that the way Christians confront society is via their personal difference from the mainstream of society (the Christian is always different than a culture without being completely separate from it), he s ...more

Volf uses a fairly straightforward taxonomy of religious practice to argue for a pro-active Christianity in the world. He distinguishes between "mystic" religions (that seek only to attain to a transcendent moment) and "prophetic" ones (which attain that . . . and then let it shape how they engage the world), and shifts from there to an articulation of why the church needs to offer its wisdom back into the world.

It's straightforward and sensible argument, and I think it will appeal mostly to pas
Bob Price
Jun 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Miroslav Volf's A Public Faith ought to be mandatory reading for any Christian who wants to speak about politics in a halfway intelligent way.

Volf, a Professor of Political Theology at Yale, is an extremely intelligent man and has a great deal of insight into religion, theology and politics. One does not need to agree with him in order to understand that he has a great deal to say. If he and I were to sit down and have coffee, I imagine that most of the time would be spent in disagreement...but
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was an excellent introduction and defense of the idea that Christians and all the major religions should be committed to the project of plurality in a truly liberal democratic society. This idea runs counter to the prevailing religious and secular views. Volf presents a convincing case for the idea that secularism itself operates as a religious system, and has become illiberal in our religiously pluralistic culture. He presents a convincing case that neither secularism nor any religion ...more
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Needed contribution from a careful thinker on the interplay of faith's relationship to culture.

Much of the literature on this topic is overdrawn and lacks nuance. Not so with Volf. He refuses to be pinned down by any of Niebuhr's categories of Christ and Culture. (In fact Volf's lack of reference at all to such formal categories is a dismissal of such a rubric.) He refuses to be carried away either by the Eeyore-like pessimism of the isolationists or the pollyanish optimism of the transformati
Tim Hoiland
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faith, justice, politics
The role of faith in the public square is a theme I’ve been considering a lot lately, thinking about the need for civility in place of the contentious rancor so prevalent on both sides of the aisle, even (or especially) in Christian circles. And not only civility as a sort of quiet, passive alternative to culture wars, but somehow redirecting those energies into something a little more worthwhile, like a commitment to humble service — not seeking just our own self-interest, but instead working t ...more
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Miroslav Volf thinks about and teaches deep things. But they're all rooted in his understanding of God's graciousness, generosity, and gifts. That understanding is applied to the public sphere and our multicultural (multireligious) world. Volf makes a strong argument for recognizing and honoring the diversity of religions and their perspectives, while not necessarily giving up one's own deeply rooted way of being in the world. He's speaking to a non-violent pluralist way of faithing as integral ...more
Nancy Peifer
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and thought-provoking book on being a Christian in public in our current cultural climate where it is not acceptable to have a belief in a religion that claims to be the one true way. This book is intellectually challenging; sets Christianity (uncomfortably) alongside Islam in terms of both faiths seeing themselves as the one true way; forces readers who are serious Christians to acknowledge the poor track record Christians have in evangelising in a way that "loves your neighbor as you ...more
Alex Richmond
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: snanned-books
I was born into the Church, and as such, I feel it has given me a good view on the best and worst the Church does in the name of its values. I also live in a country and society that seems more and more anti religious. I picked up this book to get an idea on what the Church's place in this word it. Volf argues that we as Christians (or Jews or Muslims) should not live apart from society, or enforce our faith as dominant over others, but to live in society, open with our faith. We should also str ...more
Merv Budd
May 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
How do we engage a society that seems to be pursuing experiential pleasure as that which makes for the good life? How do we offer a unique perspective and contribute to the common good of society that would create a curiosity into the teaching of Christianity? These are, in part, what Miroslav Volf explores in this thoughtful exploration of current culture and the witness of Christians within it.

This book is not specifically about evangelism or witnessing as evangelicals have typically understoo
Philippe Lazaro
Nov 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: christian
“The cure against Christian violence is not less of the Christian faith, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more of the Christian faith. I don’t mean, of course, that the cure against violence lies in increased religious zeal; blind religious zeal is part of the problem. Instead, it lies in stronger and more intelligent commitment to the Christian faith as faith.”

–Miroslav Volf

I was introduced to Miroslav Volf years ago when I heard him speak at a conference. I loved his perspective, informed
Dennis Henn
Sep 19, 2011 rated it liked it
I did lots of underlining in the first couple of chapters and much less toward the end as he worked out his thesis in practice. With the emergence of Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, and Sarah Palin, with the ongoing legacy of Reed's Christian Coalition, Dobson's Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson, with 9/11 and the spread of militant Islam, I wondered what space a public faith could rightly occupy. Volf creates that space and challenges those who say religion should be privately held, that deci ...more
Jonathan Hiskes
Nov 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
Volf argues that religious people, instead of putting aside their faith in public life, should speak and live out of the heart of their religious conviction. The book was too apologetic for my taste, arguing that Christianity and other monotheistic religions aren't inherently violent, coercive, or incompatible with modern pluralistic societies. He argues, plausibly, that weak (or "thin") expressions of religion are more likely to produce violent zealots that robust religious communities. I didn' ...more
Seth Little
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For American Christians reading this book I suspect Volf’s vision for public engagement will both educate and inspire. His distinction between faith that "soothes and energizes" versus faith that is a way of life is robust and, I think, in line with questions arising from many Christian communities today. I also really appreciate his commitment to acknowledging the complexity of the world and thus the need for a complex, dynamic approach to religious public engagement. And although the author ma ...more
Oct 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Miroslav Volf lays out an excellent presentation on how we can bring our faith into public and politics while still respecting the faith/beliefs of others. It is a sound and reasonable outline. Those who are sound and reasonable are probably already engaging in public and political discussion in these ways. Those who are not, likely will not. Instead, they will attempt to use a majority or misuse a minority to force and coerce their will and beliefs on the populace. Volf certainly realizes this ...more
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Miroslav Volf's slim volume charts a course for people of faith -- Christians, in particular -- in the public square. Increasingly, popular opinion would prefer that citizens leave their religion at home and feels irritated or threatened when they won't. The book does not aim to outline a full-blown theology of public engagement but has a more modest goal: to propose a negotiated way of life that avoids the poles of withdrawal and triumphalism. According to Volf, promoting common good through a ...more
Mar 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Miroslav Volf argues that people of all religions should bring their distinct faiths, those parts that overlap and those that do not, to public life. They should not try to pretend they are all the same, as they are not. Good points to hear and I think the world would be a better place if more people were able to do that.

Unlike all the other Volf books I have read, I had a hard time getting into this one. I had to force myself to finish thinking that he would end with some great summation of his
Danny Yang
Nov 26, 2012 rated it liked it
"One way to make my point would be to say that accommodation happens whether you intend it or not; it is a given. Difference, as I understand it here, is an achievement, a conscious exercise in defining one's identity around the center of faith in dynamic give-and-take with surrounding cultures by practicing the love of God and love of neighbor. The positive result of both de facto accommodation and conscious drawing of permeable boundaries is inculturation—an expression of the Christian faith i ...more
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Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the founding director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. “One of the most celebrated theologians of our time,” (Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury), Volf is a leading expert on religion and conflict. His recent books include Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities, and ...more

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“To live with integrity, it is important to know what's right and what's wrong, to be educated morally. However, merely KNOWING is not enough. Virtuous character matters more than moral knowledge. The reason is simple: like the self-confessing apostle Paul in Romans 7, most of those who do wrong know what's right but find themselves irresistibly attracted to its opposite. Faith idles when character shrivels” 9 likes
“Christ has not come with a blueprint for political arrangements; many kinds of political arrangements are compatible with the Christian faith, from monarchy to democracy. But in a pluralistic context, Christ’s command “in everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12) entails that Christians grant to other religious communities the same religious and political freedoms that they claim for themselves.” 4 likes
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