Book Review

Public Faith in Action by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

Reviewed by Kelli Summers Sorg, June 21, 2015

One of the problems with discussing theology, someone once said, is that you have to say everything all at once. Our world and culture seem to move so quickly, there isn’t time for a nuanced discussion of conflicting viewpoints. People and institutions are informed by the 10-second ‘sound byte’, and that includes the Church. Public Faith in Action manages to walk the knife edge between too much information and not enough.

In this book, the authors have given us resources to think about the problems of our time and reflect on them theologically. The book models for the thoughtful reader how to think, assess and act in ways that are faithful to one’s convictions.  Importantly, the authors have done so without giving prescriptive, doctrinal advice.  This is not another religious book that tells the reader what to think and what to do. The best of its kind that I have read, Public Faith in Action offers the reader the tools to make up her or his own mind in a way that, unlike almost every other communication in our world, does not push an agenda.

Divided into sections by topic, the book can be used as a resource to dip into the ‘hot-button’ issue of the moment (the environment, aging, justice, poverty, etc.). The first chapter alone, discussing the Christians’ commitments and the actions that are the result of those commitments should be required reading for anyone considering opening their mouth in the public debate about anything.  A professor of mine used to call this “epistemic humility”, knowing what you don’t know. Volf and McAnnally-Linz write: Public engagement as citizens of modern democracies…..requires us to know what bearing Christian faith has on all aspects of life.  We are all amateurs when it comes to at least some aspects of public life. The authors’ goal is not for the Christian to withdraw from the arena and wait for some supernatural salvation. The goal of this book, and its predecessor, Public Faith, is for the Christian to be part of the creative solutions to our public ills.

“Take this book as an invitation to conversation”, they write, “Above all, take the book as an invitation to action: see what happens when you follow Christ into public engagement.” Public Faith In Action succeeds in giving the reader thoughtful tools and parameters to do just that