Author Steven Garber wrote one of those rare modern books that I have read twice. Some years ago I developed an answer that I cleverly gave to folks who, upon seeing my immense library (before I sold nearly 15,000 books over the last few years), would gasp at my floor-to-ceiling library shelves and ask me, “Have you read all of these?” I calmly answered, “I’ve read some of them twice.” This was true. Hoping I could read them all was only a pipe dream but unless pressed hard I did not admit to that until I gave up reading them all in my late 50s and realized I should break up the Armstrong collection sooner than later.
Steven Garber’s book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP), was one of those books that I actually did read twice. It is a truly magnificent book. I recommend it to everyone who reads this blog.
Steven Garber taught for many years on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program and then became scholar-in-residence for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities. He serves as a board member for some of the most interesting ministries I know: Ransom Fellowship, A Rocha and the Telos Project. He is also a consultant for the Wedgwood Circle, the Murdock Trust, the Demdaco Corporation and the Mars Corporation. Steven combines that rare ability to think philosophically but to respond in ways that touch ordinary people and change lives. He is a clear, compelling and brilliant writer. I cannot recommend his written material too highly.
Steven Garber’s newest book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP), poses what the author believes to be a difficult dilemma for all serious human beings who think deeply: “What will you do with what you know?” In some way this is the THE question that we must all eventually face at different times and in differing contexts.
How do we keep our eyes fixed on the complexity of our broken world, especially since the 1980s, and then choose to engage with it in a deeply Christian way? Hannah Arendt used the word banality to describe the ordinariness of man. But Garber believes it is ordinary people living in uncommonly good ways that produce extraordinary life.
Garber writes of taking students to the Holocaust Museum in Washington for many years. (If you have not been then I highly recommend it. It is one of the five most important museums in America!) Steven says that as he walked his students through the museum he told the story of the “banality of evil” in the lives of countless men and women all over Europe. These people (and not all were Germans by any stretch of the imagination) did not see themselves as implicated in the world around them. In the words of Simone Weil these people did not see their neighbors as neighbors. They failed to pay attention to what Nazism really meant for Europe and the world and their thoughtlessness became a tragic summary of Arendt’s judgment about banality.
But Garber believes such banality goes both ways. If most of Europe was Eichmann-like, offering “the obedience of corpses” in thousands of terrible ways, there were marvelous exceptions. In every nation of Europe there were people, ordinary to most of those around them, who did the extraordinary thing and chose to truly love their neighbors. This story raises another important question for Garber: “Can we know and love the world at the same time? Knowing its glories and shames, can we still choose to love what we really do know? Is there any task more difficult than that?”
Garber believes that the sociological and philosophical questions of our modern world conspire to haunt us. One reason for this is the “info-glut character of contemporary culture” as we know it.
In a typically moving bit of prose Garber writes:
Responding to the critique of postmodernism–a word that [Walker] Percy was using as early as the 1960s to explain the soul-strained character of contemporary life–makes most of us wonder whether anything is every really true for everyone all the time. We do not need to read the philosophers to understand this. As the twentieth century has become the twenty-first, the air we breathe is full of the ether of “whatever” (Chapter Tw0).
Knowing what I now know about this world what am I going to do about it as a responsible Christian thinker who lives well and seeks to act in obediential faith? Garber answers this question as well as any, and I do mean any, modern Christian writer.
I am grateful to say that I met Steven Garber at Wheaton College about two years ago. My respect for him as a writer is now only exceeded by my respect for him as a person. He is a wonderful man and has an important message that everyone who reads my words, and respects my ideas, should hear. I highly recommend this wonderful new book. It is an “instant classic” for me.