Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Politics in Context
April 29, 2011
by Gideon Strauss
I am writing this after the first day of attending the Q conference in Portland, Oregon. Q is an annual gathering “where church and cultural leaders come together to collaborate and explore ideas about how the gospel can be expressed within our cultural context.” As I listened and participated in yesterday’s conversations, I am reflecting on how the calling to graceful citizenship connects with the way in which the gospel is expressed in contemporary American politics. Two words are standing out for me in these reflections: vocation and future.
The framing presentation for the conference was from my dear friend Steven Garber, of the Washington Institute on Faith, Vocation, and Culture. Steven spoke on vocation, reflecting on ways in which Christians can contribute to our common culture: common grace for the common good.
Telling the stories of individuals seeking after meaning in places as diverse as the robotics research labs of American universities to film schools in China, Steven emphasized that “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.” Woven in with what God is doing in God’s world are our God-given callings. And every manner of lawful work, every aspect of a faithful life—not just a professional life in the church, not just those parts of our lives that connect with overt devotional practices—derives its meaning from the calling of God. As Os Guinness has taught, God calls us: God calls us first to himself, and then to a particular life.
In my conversations with conference participants, many affirmed that this was perhaps the most important thing they heard at Q. That one may be called to serve God and neighbor in business, or the arts, or homemaking, or the academy, or farming, or wherever, as Frederick Buechner suggests, our “deep gladness” intersects with the world’s “deep hunger,” is both liberating and convicting.
Citizenship is a part of the vocation of every Christian. In particular in a constitutional democracy like America, Christian citizens share with all citizens a responsibility, alongside those with government authority, for the character and direction of our common political life. We are called to help shape a political community in this American republic that is marked by public justice—and as we answer this part of our call, however it may rank among the other aspects of our calling, we draw on common grace so that we may contribute to the common good.
A second word that stood out for me was “future.” Two speakers, Todd Deatherage of The Telos Group and Mel McGowan of Visioneering Studios, each spoke of the significance of eschatology. Todd in one conversation emphasized that the way in which we understand the Bible to speak of the future has great implications for how we understand and respond to the conflict in the Middle East, and in particular how we think about justice and peace for the nation of Israel and the Palestinian people. He argued that an eschatology that diminishes our capacity to care equally for both Israelis and Palestinians as bearing the image of God as human beings, and our concern for finding some historical political arrangements that will be good for both Israelis and Palestinians, that will bring both peace and proximate justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, cannot be adequate to what the Scriptures teach. Similarly, Mel warned of an eschatology that diminishes our care for the world, our care for culture, and our capacity to engage imaginatively with both architecture and city design. “If it is all going to burn,” it does not matter much if we build buildings and neighborhoods that enable our true humanity to flourish. But if God is intent on renewing the earth and on drawing our cultural contributions into his future world, then it very much matters how we include liveability and beauty, care for creation and for humanity, into our built environments.
In every part of our lives, including our politics, a
biblical sense of God’s future is crucial. God is patient, and God cares deeply
about this created world: he intends not to destroy it, but to renew it, and to
include the work of our hands in it. And here our vocations and the future of
God’s world intersect. The work we do, the lives we live, matter, and they
matter for eternity. So also our politics. May we be citizens of the United
States of America in such a way that our work as citizens may grace the future
world to come with justice for all.
—Gideon Strauss is editor of Capital Commentary and CEO of the Public for Public Justice.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”