A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars by Jonathan Merritt
May 5, 2012 10 Comments
Let’s start with the unique value of this book, A Faith of Our Own. The big question of this book is how should Christians’ faith influence our political views and how we engage in political discourse? More importantly, how do we as Christianity instigate meaningful change in this world in a way that is in tune with the kingdom over worldly political processes? What makes these questions so important is that they are questions more and more young people are asking. What makes Jonathan Merritt’s perspective unique is that he grew up in a family that was entrenched in Christian conservatism. Just to give you an idea he starts the book with a story as a senior in high school having lunch with Jerry Faldwell trying to get him to come to Liberty University. His family has connections with the Religious Right.
By reading Merritt’s thoughts you gain insight into the struggles and questions of many young adults today in regard to faith and politics (I am still wondering how the word politics didn’t make it into the title of this book). The biggest concern is trying to find consistency in faith and politics by wading past all the junk to the core of what is really most important. Reading Jonathan’s perspective will help you understand where many young adults are coming from, what they have had to wrestle with and will make you, no matter what your political leaning, consider your own approach to faith and politics.
As has already been mentioned, Jonathan Merritt grew up in the inner sanctum of conservative Christianity. He has seen the inner workings of how previous generations have tried to put faith and politics together and reflects on how there can be a better fit than what he experienced growing up. He saw inconsistencies (and plenty of them) in how Christians of previous generations seemed to seamlessly and effortlessly interweave faith and politics in a way that seemed to be more about politics than it was about faith. That incongruity didn’t sit well with Jonathan and it doesn’t sit well with many today.
One of the issues I have with the book is that in dealing with these inconsistencies Merritt has a tendency to overgeneralize various demographics to a particular view. It is all very black and white. You get the feeling that all older people have problems buying into conservative politics and put politics over faith and young people have found the difficult balance. Here is another example. When talking about the perspective of young Christians he says,
“More than being central to their theology, the gospel has become integrated into their entire lives.” Well, has it? That is an overgeneralization. Is there some truth in that statement? Sure but you could say the same thing about older Christians as well. Taking faith seriously is not exclusive to young people.
Jonathan believes Christianity has bought into the game of politics hook, line and sinker rather than mapping out a more biblical approach to how Christians engage their lives in what really matters. Merritt argues that for far too long Christians have allowed the political parties to use us as a voting block to move their agendas through while we mistook our partnership with politicians as a means to advance and engage in God’s mission. His contention in this book is that our identity as Christians must shape our politics and not the other way around. He also believes that our identity as Christians overcomes the dividing lines between parties as the commonality we find in Christ can bring those who disagree on the issues together worshipping the same God.
Do you think the church has bought into political agendas (his conclusion is usually right wing ones) at the expense of God’s mission and our identity in Christ?
Starting in chapter five there is a turn in the tone of the book. The gist is that there are more important things in life than politics. There are needs and hurts in the world that need healed that the church must be a part of and cannot let anyone or anything (including politics and culture wars) distract us from being involved in those things. These issues transcend politics and political parties. These issues bring Christians of various political views together in harmony. When you help the poor, serve the hurting, and reach out to the lost there is a unity those things bring to those who practice them together. Politics get put aside.
So how do we make this change? Merritt argues the change will never come from the top down (we have tried that over and over and failed). The change must come from the bottom up and the inside out (p.123). In other words, if we are going to change this world, we cannot depend on the tools of the world to get the job done. The primary way the world tries to get big things done is through politics. Leveraging politics to the advantage of Christianity is too small. There is a greater power at work in people of faith that can and will bring about significant and eternal change to this world.
One of the ways Merritt attempts to give a solution is through a discussion of their church plant, Cross Pointe Church. He talks about their unity in diversity and how they are attempting to be the church God wants them to be. They are trying to make a difference in the world. This all led me to wonder if it really takes church plants in order to make the necessary changes. He makes a big point out of having to split off of their 125 year old church that was “steeped in tradition” (p.156). What do you do with those who are left behind? How does that congregation go about doing the work of making the transition to being more mission minded? There are many churches in that situation and I would like someone to share some thoughts on how to bring them hope without having to split off to make the necessary changes. I am not being critical of church planting at all. We need more of it but we also need to help existing churches grow to a healthy place as well.
These are difficult waters to navigate and I am grateful Merritt wrote this book to start the conversation. I believe both young and old are starting to see the inconsistencies that have been in the church for years when it comes to these issues and that more and more people have a burning desire to be in the mission, making a difference. We have much to learn and much room to grow.