Being Civic Minded (1 of 2)

This version of this blog originally appeared on The Green Room.

Tim Keller’s son works as an urban planner in New York City. By virtue of his job, he attends a number of neighborhood meetings in which major public works projects are discussed, vetted, and more. He notes that if a neighborhood has a high concentration of Jewish families and individuals, you can always count on them to come out in droves and participate. Jews are inherently civic minded, Keller’s son notes.

This civic mindedness come from the Old Testament. Jewish theology views the law as an incredible gift of love. To counterbalance the chaos of the Fall, and in a grace filled attempt to help the covenant people reclaim the idyllic bliss of Eden, our missional God gives His people the law to bring order out of sin’s chaos.

Judaism emphasizes order, and therefore guides its adherents to be people who bring order to themselves, their families, the marketplace, their communities and more. Jews are people of order, and therefore are civic minded. They know order for all their neighbors is a good, God-honoring activity.

Protestant theology rests on a line of thought that begins with Paul, continues with Augustine, and culminates in Luther’s reaction to the law in order to lift up the power of salvation by faith alone. Luther’s corrective was necessary to aright a skewed ontological soteriology and sacramental obsession. In Protestant thought, however, the law becomes a burden. A burden that produces a temptation towards works righteousness.

The gift nature of the law appreciated by our Jewish cousins is neglected in Protestantism. Therefore, the order brought about by the law as it pertains to society is de-emphasized shifting our focus to personal salvation rather than communal peace, justice, and beauty.

A holistic view of the law as a gift of love is essential in the faith and work renewal movement. The reason is this. God is a God of order. God desires for us to live in order and not chaos, hence God provides the law. The order that the law brings amidst the chaos of fallen Creation is a gift of God. For a cultural flourishing and a common good to expand, as hoped for at the core of the faith and work movement, civic mindedness rooted in order must occur.

Although as Christ followers we are free from the law, we recognize the order we are called to help create through the power of the Holy Spirit. The gift of order given to us as a covenant people through the law is a gift we need to extend to our neighbors, neighborhoods and cities. Urban design, environmental sustainability, free and fair elections, and much, much more bring order, and Christ followers need to be there in the room, in the town hall meeting, in the design charrettes seeing the kingdom of God unfold before them.

In my next post, I look at how being civic minded has been neglected in the faith and work movement thus far, and yet is so necessary.

Dr. Case Thorp leads The Collaborative, and serves as the senior associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.

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