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The phrase "the common good" is a longstanding fixture of political rhetoric, and it may very well be coming to a church near you. But while the phrase has found a certain cachet among cosmopolitan Christians, thanks in part to NYC pastor Tim Keller's teaching that Christians should be a "counterculture for the common good," its meaning is at times vague: Who is included in the word common? And who gets to decide what is good?

To more helpfully define "the common good," This Is Our City executive director Andy Crouch sat down with Gabe Lyons, a parachurch leader who's given a lot of thought to the phrase in recent years. His annual Q conference, to be held in LA next week, describes its mission as "ideas for the common good." They discuss the historically rich phrase (with much theology derived from Catholic social teaching) and how it informs our presence in our communities.

Here's a guide to their conversation:

:15 What is the common good and where did the term come from?

1:45 The common good measures society by the way it treats the most vulnerable.

2:20 Christians are called to be a counterculture for the common good.

3:15 The idea of the common good reorients us.

4:00 Is this just another redo of the social gospel?

5:00 The danger of pursuing the common good.

6:00 The importance of pursuing the common good in community.

6:40 God is the ultimate common good.

Andy Crouch and Gabe Lyons Define the Common Good

And discuss how Christians can revive the historically rich phrase.
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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Rick Dalbey

May 06, 2013  1:57pm

I can’t believe that Gabe Lyons first heard of the term, The Common Good through Tim Keller. Where has he been? This has been a key socialist phrase for over 100 years and was recently adopted by the democrat party, becoming the theme of ultra-liberal Jim Wallis’s new book On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common Good. In fact Andy Crouch first seems to be arguing the opposite in this discussion, that the needs of the least, the few, the weak trump the needs of the greatest number of people. Then he reverses and dispenses with the concepts of “right and wrong” in favor the fulfillment of the needs of the many. Andy says, “Christian common good is not rooted in a social analysis of what is right or wrong but it goes to this deeper question, what leads human beings to flourish”. Christian theology is rooted in right and wrong, the holiness of God, not driven by the most common good. Gabe and Andy are either quite confused or disingenuous.

Rick Dalbey

May 06, 2013  1:30pm

As anyone who has watched Star Trek realizes, two competeing phlosophies are expressed through Spock and Kirk. Spock expresses Vulcan philosophy as, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. That’s secular Vulcan logic. However, Kirk often defies that code and places the needs of the few or the individual above the needs of the many. Spock’s utilitarian arguement has been expressed forcefully by Lenin, Marx, Stalin, Chairman Mao and recently by the Democrat party. Enlightened western society has been informed of a transcendant, rights oriented, Judeo Christian ethic which views the right of the individual as divine. We have a higher calling and a social ethic which is not driven by concensus, but revelation. The rights of one cannot be trampled on by the many, no matter the common benefit. Judas’ was crushed when the perfume worth a year’s salary was wasted upon one man, when it could be sold to benefit the many. Judas then betrayed Jesus and returned to his zealot roots.

J Thomas

April 13, 2013  10:14am

We need to be careful about this phrase "common good" because it lends itself to misuse by modern secular communists and socialists who see Christianity as opposed to their communal systems, thus being defined as a social ill rather than a "common good". We need to realize that this is the language of the day. The think tanks who promote Progressive ideology and policy have already made the intellectual and policy commitments that Christian systems of social service are to be replaced by atheistic government institutions. As Christians, this is obviously not in line with our purpose. So the "common good" of the Progressives in the Democrat and Republican political platforms is diametrically opposed to the "common good" of Christianity, which is not social service but being an aide to help people enter relationship with the Holy God. Social service has to be defined by that, not walked around it.

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