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Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World
Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World
John G. Stackhouse
Oxford University Press, 2008
384 pp., $87.00

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Roger E. Olson


Real-World Christian Ethics

A successor to Reinhold Niebuhr.

Is John Stackhouse the evangelical Reinhold Niebuhr? It's not a perfect fit, but it's close.In Making the Best of It, Stackhouse, Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology at Regent College, expounds a new Christian realism or realistic Christianity very much in the tradition of the man whose motto was "Love everyone; trust no one."

For doubters I cite this statement of real-world Christian ethics in Making the Best of It:

Most of the time … we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the [Christian] politician has to hold his nose and make a deal. The chaplain has to encourage his fellow soldiers in a war he deeply regrets. The professor has to teach fairly a theory or philosophy she doesn't think is true. The police officer has to subdue a criminal with deadly force. We are on a slippery slope indeed—and one shrouded in darkness, with the ground not only slippery but shifting under our feet. So we hold on to God's hand, and each other's, and make the best of it.

That is Christian realism in a nutshell—refusing to abdicate public responsibility in a sinful world where one has to make difficult choices and sometimes even compromise with sin and evil when necessary to achieve a greater good.

The counsel of perfectionism is to withdraw from public involvement because it sometimes means getting one's Christian hands dirty. Stackhouse disagrees. Throughout the book he takes on John Howard Yoder and his followers, who argue that obedience to the law of love as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount takes precedence over effectiveness. Stackhouse's impatience with perfectionists and separationists is surpassed only by his impatience with triumphalist Christians who attempt to take over and dominate the public realm with theocratic dreams (however veiled or even denied).

To the abdicators of Christian responsibility for the common good of the public square, Stackhouse, following Niebuhr, points to our vastly different cultural, religious, and ...

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