Faithful in public

Miroslav Volf's faith in Christianity and allegiance to Jesus' message has landed him in the public square and made him into a political pluralist, too. These affinities are behind his newest book, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (Brazos, Aug.).

"Jesus taught that in everything, we should do unto others as we wish them to do unto us, and ‘everything' means also giving space in the public realm," explains Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology and founding director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. "The command to love our neighbor, even the enemy, requires reciprocity at the political level."

Originally from Croatia, Volf has been a professor at Yale since 1998, where he has taught, lectured, and written about violence and nonviolence in religion. "One of the main sources of violence perpetrated by religious people has to do with the public role of faith," says Volf. "I am opposing two prevalent but contrasting opinions on this subject. One is exclusive secularism, which wants to push faith out of the public realm, and the other is religious totalitarianism, which seeks to saturate the public realm with a single religion. If we pursue either of these, the consequence is violence."

The theme of how theology can—and should—show Christians how to live is central to why Brazos published Volf's newest book. Says Robert N. Hosack, executive editor at Brazos, "What's at stake is not simply how to think truthfully but how to live truthfully in today's multifaith society."

Theology's practical relevance is essential to Volf's own identity as a writer and scholar. Volf explains: "Because theology addresses the way God relates to the world, it must seek a wider audience beyond a narrow group of specialists." And, says Volf. "If theologians don't write for a general audience, theologically illiterate leaders will, and this is not to the good of theology."

Volf says that his audience is Christians, but he also hopes that members of other traditions will "look over their shoulders" and find something appealing, too. "I want to energize my audience to be engaged in public life, but I also hope that at the center of their engagement will be a vision of what it means for human beings to flourish."