Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Christ and Crisis
By Timothy Sherratt
September 8th, 2014
Entering the new academic year, I found myself reading Charles Malik’s Christ and Crisis.* Published in 1962, these seven Christian meditations on the state of the world prove surprisingly prescient now at the end of a long summer full of wretched stories of human evil in Syria and Iraq, ongoing atrocities in Nigeria, Ebola in West Africa, Russian meddling turning more deadly in Ukraine, and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.
Malik may not be much read today but Christians pondering the relationship between politics, economics, culture, and the Church have much to gain from consulting his writings. Lebanese diplomat extraordinaire, philosopher by training, and sometime President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, he helped shape the 1948 U.N. Declaration on Human Rights. He was well placed to appreciate the challenges of the postwar international order, and the independence movements that brought so many new nations into being. All this he surveyed through the lens of a convinced Christian faith. A trenchant critic of modernity in the West, he viewed the revolution in technology as exposing core spiritual deficiencies.
Writing as a Christian statesman from a small country embroiled in religious and political conflict—Malik died at his Beirut home in 1987 amidst the chaos of the Lebanese civil war— he speaks to our age of competing ideologies and American power. “Who,” he writes, in reference to the newly independent nations in the early 1960s “can give us the warmth and security of his fellowship without exploiting us and without infringing upon our freedom and self-respect?” Here is a question as urgent as ever as the United States stands on the brink of a wider military role in Iraq and Syria and as Europe and the United States consider the choices presented by Russian interference in Ukraine.
Christian meditations of this kind risk becoming time bound when the events on which they reflect appear only in the rearview mirror. To be sure, international communism’s grasp exceeded its reach in ways not apparent in the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis when the book was published. But the clash of worldviews will be with us for the foreseeable future, and the need for just and skillful negotiation remains as urgent as it ever was.
But it is Malik’s grasp of the cost of discipleship that makes his reflections especially pertinent. He issues a bold declaration of the Good News but warns of the necessity of exercising faith in patient cooperation with God. “There is absolutely no magic in our life with God,” he warns. “We must traverse the whole gamut of human suffering and trial.” When we “catch the faith of the saints,” Malik warns, we must exercise patience “before Jesus Christ reveals himself to us as the cause and the meaning of the crisis of our life and the crisis of the world.”
Integral to our cooperation with God is participation in the life of the Church. For Malik, the Church’s principal task is to uphold faithfulness to Christ. The Church has the authority to preach forgiveness and love. Its only powers are the “weapons of the Spirit,” which are wielded “helplessly, namely, with the naked help of the Cross.” Pursuing the security of the state is not the Church’s task, but the Church must understand the sources of war and disorder that threaten the state. In a manner reminiscent of Abraham Kuyper, Malik disavows a direct political role for the Church in favor of an indirect one, teaching and inspiring Christian statesmen.
Christians in the United States cannot assume the same level of commitment to the Church on the part of believers that Malik could. Whether caught up in the fashion for spirituality without religion or simply tiring of endless discord, many younger Christians resist joining churches. Their resistance may rob them of blessings Charles Malik took for granted, not least the Church’s sheer diversity and the Hope that is its persistent message to the world in dark times.
- Timothy Sherratt is Professor of Political Science at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts and a Fellow with the Center for Public Justice.
* Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962
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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.”