How Now Shall We Live?

January 1 st 2000

How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999, 491 pp., $22.99 US)

In How Now Shall We Live?, Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey provide an essential guide for Christians trying to understand the implications of their faith for every aspect of contemporary life. For persons of other faiths, and for those who are holding open their options in terms of ultimate commitments, this book is a helpful explanation of what Christians believe and why these beliefs demand civil engagement in our common, public life.

While it is an important book, How Now Shall We Live? does not suffer from self-importance. Arguments are made with clarity and elegance and key issues illustrated with captivating stories written in a simple style.

Road map

The book begins with a convincing explanation of why worldviews matter, that radical differences in worldviews lie at the root of the "culture wars" now being waged in every area of life in North America. The source of conflict lies deeper than the surface disagreements between conservatives and liberals, prudes and libertines, traditionalists and diverse "lifestyle lobbyists," pro-lifers and pro-choicers.

The present cultural conflict is over what really matters, about how we understand the whole of reality. And since ideas inevitably have consequences, the conflict is about how we shall live.

Colson and Pearcey argue that Christianity offers the truth about reality, "a road map to find our way amidst the confusions and perplexities of everyday life." They unfold the meaning of a Christian worldview in terms of the central questions that any worldview must answer: Where did we come from, and who are we? What has gone wrong with the world? What can we do to fix it?

They answer these questions in three large sections, each investigating one of the three over-arching elements of the Bible story:

  1. God's creation of the universe and human life;

  2. the fall of humanity into sin and how it marred God's good creation;

  3. how God has provided a means of redemption in Jesus Christ.

A humble, subtle program

In their final section, the authors build on their worldview analysis, sketching the contours of a Christian agenda for cultural renewal, or restoration. They propose a humble, subtle program of hard work by Christians in service to all our neighbours, not just abstract theory. They tell stories that show that this agenda is doable, and is already part of the everyday lives of many Christians around the world.

One example comes from Colson's own organization, Prison Fellowship International, to combat poverty in the developing world:

In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, one section of the city houses more than 65,000 people in shacks that are nothing more than wood and corrugated metal lean-tos. With no sewers, no plumbing, and no city water, the stench is sickening. Children run naked in the streets while adults sit on the sidewalk, staring vacantly.

In the midst of these desperate conditions, Prison Fellowship International has started a micro-enterprise project that takes people out of the nearby Mantalupa Prison, mentors them in a church, and then loans them $120 to buy a pedicab (a bicycle with a cab on the side, used for ferrying passengers and packages through crowded streets). The loan program has become a stunning success: 95 percent of those who receive loans repay them within nine months.

I visited the program and saw the parking lot where thirty brightly painted pedicabs, all bearing the Prison Fellowship logo on the front, were lined up like automobiles in a showroom, polished and gleaming in the sun. Greeting us were the proud pedicab owners (all former inmates) and their families, along with the pastors who mentored them.

The former inmates had put together a concert, and as they stood on the stage singing, one little girl, perhaps four years old, with brown button eyes, pulled herself up onto the platform and walked toward her father, who was standing in the front row. She clutched his legs and looked up with an adoring expression; he looked down and began to caress her hair. That picture is frozen in my minds eye; everything I have done in the ministry over twenty-five years was worth that one moment—to see an ex-prisoner, ex-gang member with a loving family, a job, and hope.

Work and economic confusion

A central part of Colson and Pearcey's agenda for cultural renewal is to address the profound confusion over work and economic life in contemporary North American society, a confusion that results partly from the narrowed-down, materialistic presuppositions that still shape the thinking of secular opinion leaders on these issues.

But it is not only secular opinion leaders who must take the blame for our society's present economic confusion. The authors head their chapter on work and economics with this epigraph from Dorothy Sayers, the English mystery writer and essayist: "In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments. . . . She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred."

Colson and Pearcey observe that many Christians feel as if their faith has nothing to do with their work, to the point of questioning whether their faith is relevant to their daily lives. Why is this so? They argue that while "earning an income and supporting our families is a prime undertaking in our lives," and while "we spend the majority of our waking hours working," the church has largely abandoned these topics. "How often," they ask, "have you heard a sermon about the biblical view of work and economics?"

That the church fails to address this significant part of our lives is made worse by the contribution that Christians could bring to economic life in our societies if they were well-grounded in a Christian worldview. "Only the Christian worldview," argue the authors, "provides the moral foundation essential to preserving free economic systems; only the Christian worldview provides a high view of work that gives meaning and dignity to human labour."

 

Gideon Strauss was the editor of Comment from 2000 to 2010. He is currently Associate Professor of Worldview Studies at the Institute for Christian Studies, a graduate school of philosophy in Toronto, and a senior fellow with the Center for Public Justice in Washington DC. Gideon also facilitates vocational discipleship in churches in his native South Africa.

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