Confidence in the Gospel
Our engagement in the world in an anxious age is made possible by our confidence in the gospel in a pluralistic society where people have profoundly different beliefs. We won’t always be able to persuade those around us that our beliefs are right and theirs are wrong. Indeed, some of our most important beliefs stem from contested premises that others do not share. But recognizing the existence of these disagreements should not prevent us from holding to what is ultimately true. Our beliefs can be true, and we can hold these warranted beliefs confidently even though others reject them. For this reason, recognizing the social fact of difference should not be mistaken as relativism. To the contrary, a greater awareness of our distinctiveness that comes from confidence in the gospel can encourage us to work to strengthen the social fabric for the good of others.
This kind of posture is what one of us has called “confident pluralism.” As Christians, we can engage with the pluralism around us because our confidence lies elsewhere. We can acknowledge genuine differences in society without suppressing or minimizing our firmly held convictions. We can seek common ground even with those who may not share our view of the common good.
Engaging across difference is not without risk. Duke professor Luke Bretherton warns against several dangers that such engagement may bring. There is “co-option,” in which the church ends up becoming a mere instrument for political or social cohesion, “competition,” in which the church becomes just another affinity group demanding its rights, and “commodification,” in which the church becomes another form of therapy, private fulfillment, or lifestyle choice. The allure of acceptance and accommodation increases the need for the practices of discipleship, formation, and worship that remind us why the church is not a political party, an identity group, or a social club.
In the other direction, we risk rejection and misunderstanding. There will be those who dismiss practices like prayer, forgiveness, and proclamation as naïve and impractical. These reactions should not surprise us. Confidence in the gospel is and has always been a radical idea for this world. The gospel is the otherworldly hope that sustains us. It is the hope that encourages Christians to enter into broken and wounded places, with acts of friendship and love. It is the hope of black Christians who choose to believe and forgive in the face of racial injustice, and of Christians of all races who join in the difficult work of restoration and reconciliation. It is the hope of Christians who stand with Muslims in the common cause of religious liberty.
The audacity of Christian hope is that Jesus Christ came into the world, and is reconciling all things to himself. He is both the subject and object of our confidence, and as generations of saints who have come before us have testified in word and in deed, he is sufficient. It is with that hope and that confidence that we engage in the world in an anxious age.
John D. Inazu is associate professor of law and political science at Washington University in St. Louis and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He is the author of the new book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference (University of Chicago Press). Timothy Keller is founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and author of several books, including most recently Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Penguin).