Today we wrap up Chapter 8, “Principles of a New Realism,” in John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It. The fourth and final section deals with “Liberty and Cooperation.”
Liberty and Cooperation
Out of his experience of wrestling with sin, fearing death, and longing for a good God, Martin Luther rejoiced to affirm that the Christian is free from worrying about his destiny, is therefore free from egocentricity, and so is free truly to love God and his neighbor. We can extend this insight to affirm that the Christian is thus free to tend the earth without selfishness. And, according to the redemption commandments, the Christian loves his fellow Christians and serves the rest of the world in genuine regard for the other, rather than out of concern for his own gain. (297)
That said, Stackhouse goes on to remind us that of the win-win-win concept. Life is not a zero-sum game between God, others, and ourselves … where the good of one in this triad comes at the expense of the others. Shalom is the optimal condition for all three. When we pursue shalom for others we also benefit God and ourselves.
We are active participants in the realization of shalom. While law gives us guidance we are not automatons executing explicit commands in every waking moment of our lives. We are volitional beings. The imagery that came to my mind was parenting, where we set boundaries and give instruction to our children, but our hope is that that they internalize values that will guide them, making boundaries second nature. Key to the New Testament is the idea that we have freedom but the primary focus of that freedom is on, as Stackhouse notes, "freedom for the other." We also have the responsibility to not only avoid the bad in favor the good, or choose the lesser of two evils, but often to discern and act on the greater of two or more goods.
God has given us freedom. Stackhouse notes that God creates humanity and then commands us. This implies a freedom to obey or disobey. “One doesn’t command a fork, a flower, or a flood.” (300) Yet that freedom is not absolute. I like his ship passenger metaphor with regard to ignoring God’s law.
Furthermore, we are not the only ship passengers on board. Our exercise of freedom must take into account others, which certainly includes respecting their freedom.
Stackhouse observes that we all share a natural tendency to insist on the universal applicability of things that seem right to us and that often leads us to seek a hegemony that reinforces our view. Then he offer’s this:
At its core, that church is about love and community. Stackhouse emphasizes that, “love and community cannot grow out of coercion.
Stackhouse goes on to note that any human project certainly requires cooperation between people and that mean curtailment of freedom. That said, we still ought to look for how we can give as much freedom as possible as people pursue their vocations. Stackhouse is also concerned that we be conscious of “… much less benign motivations of some of those who seek greater state control over individuals and intermediate institutions such as families, churches, and nongovernmental organizations." (302)
Next he makes some important remarks regarding liberal democracy.
He goes on to acknowledge other weaknesses.
He also writes:
Later, he reflects on the tension between providing as much justice, compassion, and stability as possible with the least curtailment of freedom for individuals and groups.
He concludes this subsection with some thoughts about international implications as well.
Unity and Diversity in the Church
In this last brief section, Stackhouse revisits his notion that diversity in the church, with our various denominations and traditions, is not a bad thing. There are is no way a single form of Christianity can reflect all the richness that is there. Yet he acknowledges, without specificity, that unity needs to be around some sense of “mere Christianity” … and even if we think our tribe has a better handle on what that is, we can still be partnership with others who share that “mere Christianity.” Stackhouse believes that we should be open in to others in three important ways:
- We need to “… be open to considering a stance different from the what [we] have maintained heretofore in the name of tradition, if the cultural situation has changed importantly.”
- We should find grounds for ecumenical cooperation among those adopting the same stance.
- “… we should be willing to at least consider affirming others in stances different from ours, even at apparent cross-purposes to ours, as we recognize that Christ may have called them to this apparently contradictory , but perhaps also complementary, stance. (308)
This completes Chapter 8, dealing with “Principles of a New Realism.” Next we will turn to the final chapter where Stackhouse offers his concluding thoughts on what all this means for the relationship between church and culture.